04-29-07

How fickle we humans are and the judgments we make about people.  It seems that we are constantly trying to size up the situations around us and be the first ones to give a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” on people and the things they do.  Paul certainly saw his share of this during his lifetime.  In Lystra, Paul was welcomed as a “god”, but evicted as a trouble maker (Acts 14).  When Paul and his shipwrecked companions landed on the island of Malta (Acts 28), it was the other way around.  As the people watched Paul adding sticks to the campfire, a snake bit him.  The people watching decided that Paul must have been an awful criminal deserving of the punishment of the gods.  Yet when Paul didn’t fall over dead, they decided he was a god instead.  And when Paul went on to heal the leading citizen’s father, and in fact lots of people got healed, well they decided Paul was indeed a good guy after all.

Did Paul change between the time that he was shipwrecked to the time he performed miracles?  Of course not.  He was the same Paul he had been all along.  It was the people’s opinions of Paul that changed.  And they changed because they were wrong in their initial judgment of Paul.

Beloved, we too need to be careful in how we “judge” people.  A person going through a difficulty, whether it’s a snake bite or a financial bite, may not be going through that difficulty because they’re bad.  It may be that God wants to do a work in their lives.  And for those who feel you’ve been harshly misjudged by others, take courage.  God knows your heart.  And He’s the only one whose opinion really counts.

04-22-07

It was a strange period in Israel’s history.  Frankly it reads much like some of our own lives, filled with ups and downs. For a few years the people would follow the Lord, but then they’d fall away and do the stupidest things.  The days after the death of Gideon were some of those stupid days.  The story in Judges 9 follows one of Gideon’s own sons, a man named Abimelech, a man who wanted to be king.

Abimelech was one of Gideon’s seventy sons, a son of one of Gideon’s many wives.  Abimelech was from Shechem, and Abimelech had this urge to be large and in charge.  So Abimelech gathered the people of his hometown together and gave them a speech about supporting him as the sole successor to his father and having them make him king.  And his mother’s brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of all the men of Shechem; and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother” (Judg 9:3 NKJV).  Sounds like politics to me.

This might not seem like a big deal, until you see the results of their decision.  Abimelech took this support, killed 68 of his own brothers, and started a period of strife, killing, and civil war.  Thousands died as a result of this bad decision.

The thing that really nagged me about their decision was how they came to it.  Did you notice that little phrase, “and their heart was inclined”?  They followed their heart.  They “felt” like following Abimelech.  And the result was disastrous.  Beloved, be careful about decisions based solely on your feelings. Sometimes our heart is wrong.

04-08-07

The Promised Land is where God wants you to be.  It’s the Christian life lived as it was meant to live.  It’s a life different from the world.  It’s living in a land that is fruitful.  As Joshua (Hebrew for Jesus) took the people in, there are some beautiful pictures for us to learn from.

After the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they had to stop and be circumcised (Josh. 5).  None of the men born in the wilderness had ever been circumcised.  Before God gives victory in the Promised Land, there needs to be a cutting away of the flesh, a dying to our sin nature.  I find it interesting that they were circumcised after they crossed the Jordan.  It would leave them vulnerable to the enemy while they were healing.  But circumcision comes after crossing – you don’t clean up your life before you come to Jesus – you come to Jesus and He will clean up your life.  Victory comes through weakness.  Victory comes through death.

After they were circumcised, Joshua had a visitor, the “Commander” of God’s army.  Joshua wanted to know if this person (I believe it might have been Jesus Himself) was on their “side” or not.  The Commander responded, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come” (Josh. 5:14).  And in response to this, Joshua fell on his face and worshipped.  What was happening here? Sometimes I think that conquering the enemies in my life requires getting God on my side.  But victory comes when I get on God’s side.  God isn’t my servant, I need to be God’s servant.

Two steps toward victory.  I need to die to myself.  I need to live for God.

04-01-07

It seems to me that we are pretty quick to give up on people.  As long as the ballplayer hits homers, we cheer.  But the moment he goes into a batting slump, the cheers turn to jeers.  TV shows like “American Idol” and “Survivor” hone our skills of dumping losers and voting them off the island.  It creeps into relationships as friends part ways or marriages dissolve.  And I’m afraid that for some of us, we think this same mentality must exist in our relationship with God.  We’re just waiting for Him to give us the big cosmic boot for that last stupid thing we did. Beloved, God is not like us. The God who is full of mercy and slow to anger is the God that loves each of us.  And He doesn’t give up too quickly.

Here’s a case in point.  Jesus warned Peter that Peter was going to deny Jesus.  And even though Peter promised that he would never stumble, Peter turned around and denied Jesus not once, but three times.  And to make things worse, Jesus was right there when Peter did it.  We might expect Jesus to proclaim Donald Trump’s famous words, “You’re fired”, but Jesus makes no such pronouncement.  In fact, after the resurrection, Jesus tracks down Peter to make sure that Peter knows that he is not only still employed by Jesus, but loved as well.  Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him.    “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep” (John 21:17 NKJV).  Yes, you might have failed Him, but He’s not giving up on you.  He still loves you.  And He wants you to follow and serve Him.

03-25-07

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27 NKJV).

It must have seemed as if their world was unraveling.  If I could get comfortable living with anyone, it would be Jesus.  For three years they walked, ate, and learned daily from their Master.  And now Jesus was saying that He was going to leave them.  Jesus even said that they would all flee and deny Him.  Right into the middle of this turbulence, Jesus interjects this comforting promise of peace.

True lasting and satisfying peace comes from one place.  It comes from Jesus.  The world’s idea of peace is an absence of conflict.  Nations sign “peace” treaties when they are ready to stop fighting.  But God’s peace is different.  God’s peace isn’t limited to a lack of tension; God’s peace comes in the middle of the storm.  The peace that Jesus gives can come when you’re boss is giving you grief, when it seems your family is falling apart, or even if you’re sitting in jail.  Think of Paul and Silas singing songs at midnight from their jail cell in Philippi.  This is God’s peace, the eye of the storm, the calm in the middle of chaos.

How do I receive this peace?  It comes from trusting. Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1 NKJV).  Is your confidence resting on Jesus?  Is He big enough to handle the storm in your life?  Put the problem into His hands, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time.  Ask Him to handle the situation.  Trust Him to handle it.  And receive His peace.

03-18-07

Jesus was often misunderstood.  His own brothers didn’t quite understand who He was (John 7:5).  When He healed on the Sabbath and challenged their traditions, they misunderstood (John 7:23).  They knew Messiah was to come from Bethlehem (John 7:42), but when they saw Jesus’ Galilean driver’s license, they assumed He was born there instead of Bethlehem – and again they misunderstood. They reasoned among themselves that no prophet ever came from Galilee (John 7:52), probably because in Jesus’ day, the Galilee was a place of settlers, backwoods people who didn’t have much education.  Religious teachers came from Jerusalem, not Galilee.  Religious teachers were sent from Jerusalem to Galilee, not from Galilee to Jerusalem.  Yet even their assumption about Galilee was wrong, because in their own Scriptures the prophets Jonah, Elijah, and Nahum all came from Galilee.

So when Jesus began to teach and become known, He was an enigma.  People didn’t know what to do with Him.  And as a result, He was misunderstood.  Jesus said simply, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24 NKJV).

I wonder how many people I’ve misunderstood?  It’s not uncommon for me to get frustrated or angry at people or situations.  But it’s so embarrassing when I’ve worked up such a righteous indignation only to find that I simply and totally didn’t understand.  I was looking at the appearance of things and didn’t bother to find out what was really going on.  May God help us look past the appearance of things.

02-25-07

Mary or Martha?  Servant or sitter?  The story that Luke records (Luke 10:38-42) tells us of an incident where these two sisters invited Jesus over for dinner.  In Luke’s account, Martha was “distracted with much serving”.  She was upset because it seemed as if she had to do everything for the occasion and Mary was just sitting in the living room listening to Jesus.  We love Jesus’ response, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42 NKJV).

If we’re not careful, we can come away from that story being critical of Martha, the busy servant. We can get the idea that Jesus just wants us to sit at His feet all day long and never get anything done.  But beloved, it’s important to remember the context of the story.  In the beginning of Luke 10, Jesus has sent out a group of seventy on a sort of “mission trip”.  They had visited many cities, talked to a lot of people about Jesus, been involved in seeing God do miracles, and had even cast demons out of people.  They were very busy servants.  In the middle of Luke 10, Jesus teaches about what it means to “love thy neighbor”.  When Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, the lesson is that loving your neighbor means to meet the needs of the people you run into.  If you claim to love others, you will serve, serve, serve them.

There is no choice to make in being a “Mary” or a “Martha”.  We need to be both.  We need to serve and sit.  If I am bothered and worn out with serving so much, I need to learn to sit.  But if all I do is sit, I need to learn to serve.

02-18-07

John the Baptist’s call in life was to get people ready.  He was supposed to get people ready for the Messiah.  He was supposed to get people ready for the kingdom.  He was supposed to get people ready for God’s work in their lives.  A part of John’s message dealt with the assumptions that people brought when they showed up at his meetings.  He said, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Luke 3:8 NKJV).
The Jews certainly have a proud heritage.  They are the people through whom God chose to reveal His plans for the world.  They are the people from whom the Savior of the world would come.  They are a people with a rich heritage of godly men and women who trusted in God.  But part of John’s message was to shake them loose a little from their heritage.  They needed to be careful they didn’t just rest in the fact that they were descended from Abraham, they needed to have the faith of Abraham.

We have also been blessed with a good heritage.  I live in America, a land that still allows freedom of worship. I go to a pretty decent little church.  I think the pastor even seems to be an okay guy.  But I need to be careful that like the Jews that John was talking to, I don’t rest on my heritage.  God doesn’t just want to work in the lives of people around me; God wants to work in my life.  He doesn’t just want to be the “God of my fathers”; He wants to be “my God”.  Are you ready for Him to work in your life today?

02-11-07

As Jesus was teaching the people in the Temple, various religious leaders came up to challenge Jesus and His teachings.  Among those who challenged Him were the scribes, the fellows who were the experts in the Scriptures.  One of the scribes actually had some good things to say.  He talked with Jesus about the most important commandment, the command to love God (Mark 12:28-34).  But for some reason Jesus later went on to give a warning.  Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, “the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, “who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40 NKJV). There are “good scribes” and there are “bad scribes”.
Studying the Scriptures is a necessity for the believer. The Scriptures are the fuel that keeps the fire of our faith alive.  But if we’re not careful, our studying can puff us up and twist our spirituality.  The good scribes are those who learn the Scriptures and realize that they must work at loving God, loving people, and staying humble.  The bad scribes are the ones who slip into the pride that demands attention.  Their focus isn’t on God or on loving people; their focus is on getting into the spotlight, demanding respect, taking advantage of people, and putting on a good show.

Beloved, as you study the Scriptures, be careful to maintain the attitudes that keep you useful.  Love the Lord.  Serve others.  Walk in humility.

02-04-07

It was about the most amazing rescue that had ever occurred or would ever occur in history.  Two million people miraculously rescued as the Red Sea parted and they were rescued from their enemy.  And yet, as the people caught their breath on the other shore, things began to unravel.  They soon found that they had run out of water.  When they finally found an oasis, the waters were bitter, unfit for human consumption (Exo. 15).

Though this was a real, historical event, I can’t help but ponder on how much the event parallels our own lives.  We may have been through the greatest of deliverances, we might have experienced God’s touch in the most amazing of ways, and yet we find ourselves camped out and stuck in a place of bitterness.  Oh how bitterness robs us in life.  It poisons our heart.  It takes the wind out of our sails.  It stops us dead in our tracks as we sink into deeper levels of anger and depression.

But this didn’t stop Moses and it didn’t stop the Lord.  When the people complained about the bitterness, he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet… (Exo 15:25 NKJV).  I don’t think the lesson is about herbal remedies.  I think it’s about the tree.  It’s about the cross.  And when our lives seemed poisoned with bitterness, we need to bring the cross into the middle of the bitterness and remember the love that God displayed toward us as His Son bore our sorrows.  Let Him take away the poison of bitterness.  Drink deep of His sweet, sweet mercy.