12-17-06

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time … (Jonah 3:1 NKJV)
He didn’t want to go in the first place.  He hated those evil Assyrians that lived in Nineveh.  They deserved God’s judgment.  And to think that God seemed reluctant to wipe them out! You know the story – the first time God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he refused.  After spending a couple of days in a fish, Jonah gave in.  But as the story continues, I sense that Jonah was still quite reluctant to be a part of God’s mercy to the Assyrians.  In fact, when God showed mercy to Nineveh, Jonah had the gall to get mad at God!

Sometimes we agonize over whether we’re doing God’s work well enough.  Now don’t get me wrong, I think we ought to serve the Lord with excellence.  I don’t think we ought to give God our second best. But sometimes we get to thinking that the results of the work depend on how well we perform.  In reality, the results of the work depend on the power of the Word we speak, and the type of hearts that it comes in contact with (Mat. 13:23).  Our biggest part in God’s work seems to simply be available to go where God sends us.  Don’t forget that Jonah was a key part of one of the biggest revivals in the history of the world, and he wasn’t a very nice person.

Here’s the point:  Is God asking you to do something, go somewhere, or say something?  You may not sense the importance of what He’s asking you to do.  You may not think you’ve got the right words to say.  You may not think your heart is right.  Just do it.  Let God take care of the results.

12-10-06

Hosea was asked to do a difficult thing.  God wanted Hosea to marry a prostitute.  When they had kids, God had them named horrible things like “no mercy” and “not my people”.  Sin carries a horrible price.  Sin brings such pain.  But the story didn’t end there.  When Hosea’s wife started cheating on him, God taught Hosea to bring her back.  This would be a lesson of how God loves His people.  Even when they go astray and don’t trust Him, God loves His people. God’s love isn’t aimed at getting even; God’s love is aimed at restoration. As I look at the whole book, a couple of things stand out to me.

First, love has hard things to say.  Those middle chapters of Hosea where the people’s sins are spelled out are tough, but they’re also the truth. Before God can restore me, I need to face my problem.  Just because you love me doesn’t mean that there isn’t going to be a time when you need to tell me something difficult.  Love will say hard things.

Second, love doesn’t quit.  Love seeks out the lost one. “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from him” (Hosea 14:4 NKJV). God hasn’t quit loving you.  He wants you close to Him.

Third, love heals.  The big sin of the nation was how they followed after idols.  But one day, having been changed by God’s love, they would say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?” (Hosea 14:8 NKJV).  You may not like everything I do, but if you’ll keep loving me, who knows what might happen?

Beloved, this how God loves us.  This is how we are to love one another.

12-3-06

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Prov 1:7 NKJV)

Some Christians are knowledge junkies.  Maybe it’s because we place such an emphasis on things like knowing the Bible.  Sometimes knowledge is kind of fun.  It’s great to discover new truths.  It’s also nice to be confident of the truth.  But knowledge also has its problems.  Paul tells us that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor 8:1b).  If we’re not careful, knowledge can become a weapon, a way we hold power or authority over people.  Our attitude can become, “I can tell you what to do because I know more than you”.
Now if we’re going to put together a “who’s who” of smart guys, I imagine Solomon would be towards the top of anyone’s list.  Solomon was a true “renaissance man” nearly 2300 years before there was a Renaissance.  He studied biology, architecture, agriculture, philosophy, poetry, and music.  But Solomon found that the pursuit of knowledge itself was nothing but vanity, a waste of time (Eccl. 1:16-18). 

Solomon wrote that learning the fear of God was where true knowledge begins.  What does it mean to “fear God”?  It means to reverence God.  It involves the realization of how small I am and how BIG God is.  It’s knowing that God is the one who controls whether I wind up in heaven or in hell.  It involves me realizing that every breath I take I owe to God’s work in my life.  It’s taking God’s requirements for me seriously.  It’s making my intimacy with God my first priority.  It’s not placing a priority on how much I know, but on how well I know Him.  That’s what “smart” is all about.

11-26-06 Happy Thanksgiving!

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psa 133:1)  It seems to me that there aren’t a lot of things I dread as much as spending time with people I don’t get along with.  While I want to stay away from people like that, I think God’s heart is for me to learn how to work past our struggles and have unity despite our differences.  I’m beginning to think it’s a part of growing up.

It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. (Psa 133:2)  The anointing oil dripping down the priest’s head is a picture of the work of the Holy Spirit.  The work of the Spirit is magnified when we work towards unity.  And nothing quenches the Spirit as much as division.

It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing; life forevermore. (Psa 133:3)  The snow and rain from Mount Hermon are the source of water that flows into the Jordan River and waters the land of Israel.  Even the land of Zion, the place of blessing, is watered by the dew of Hermon.  We may think that nothing could be better than the blessings that come from God’s presence in Zion, yet even those blessings are refreshed and watered from the blessings that come from unity.  The best God has for us is multiplied in unity.

Are you facing an opportunity to spend time with difficult people?  Oh how important it is that we learn to be gracious, patient, merciful, kind, and loving toward those around us.  We may feel justified as we say an unkind word or respond in anger.  But God wants us to grow towards the things that make for unity.  It’s the heart of God.
 

11-19-06

Your word is very pure; Therefore Your servant loves it. (Psa 119:140 NKJV)
The Psalmist gives us one of his many reasons for loving God’s Word.  The Hebrew word translated “pure” is a goldsmith’s term used to describe metal that has been refined, having all the impurities removed.  It describes something that has been “tested” and proven to be true. In our nation, we have a governmental agency that “tests” new drugs before allowing the public to use them.  When a doctor prescribes something for my blood pressure, I want something that has been proven safe and effective.  Am I looking for help in life?  Am I looking for answers?  God’s Word has been proven safe and effective.  Some of the saints of yesteryear would write the initials “T” and “P” in the margins of their Bible next to the passages they had “tested” and “proved”.  You too will love God’s Word if you’ll put it to the test.

There’s another thing about God’s “pure” Word that I love as well.  When I wash the dishes, I have found that the dishes come out cleaner if I use pure, clean water.  When I turn on the shower, I expect pure water, not sewer water to come out. My point is that cleansing only takes place when you’ve got something pure to wash in.  Now I don’t know about you, but I find that just living in America can easily fill your mind with filthy thoughts.  TV may be a fun way to spend an hour, but sometimes I feel like I’ve just bathed in sewer water.  God has a better way to wash us.  God’s Word can clean the dirtiest of minds.  The more of God’s Word I get into my brain, the cleaner my thoughts. I just love that, don’t you?

11-12-06

They were tumultuous times for the disciples.  Jesus had been betrayed by one of their own.  They saw Jesus condemned and then crucified among thieves.  Three days later Jesus rose from the dead and began to make appearances over the next forty days. But after Jesus ascended into heaven, they were alone again as they waited for the Holy Spirit’s power.  During this time the disciples came to a conclusion that they needed to replace Judas with a new twelfth apostle.  How did they come to that decision?

The disciples documented the decision with an obscure verse taken from Psalm 109:8, “Let his days be few, and let another take his office.” At first glance, the verse seems like some random rationalization for their decision, until you read the entire Psalm.  I imagine one of the disciples reading through the Psalms and being shocked by what he came across in Psalm 109.  David describes betrayal, “In return for my love they are my accusers” (vs. 4).  David calls for judgment on the betrayer (vs. 7).  David describes having a crowd looking at him and shaking their heads (verse 25, Mat. 27:29).  I wonder if that was when the light went on in the disciple’s head.  David was talking about what Jesus had been through those last six weeks!  And then verse 8 stood out, “let another take his office”.  And with that, the apostles knew they needed to replace Judas.

Beloved, God’s Word is alive.  It is able to speak to me and my situation.  God wants to guide me.  God wants to answer my questions.  I just need to pray, read, and listen.

11-05-06

Sometimes we struggle with the concept of worship.  Why should we worship?  Why should we take time to give God honor and praise?  Often we look at the things God has done for us, the ways He’s answered prayers, or how He’s blessed us and these become our reasons to worship God.  But worship also ought to come from something far more basic.  David wrote, “In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand” (Psa 95:4-7 NKJV).
Worship does not just depend upon whether I’m having a good day.  Worship does not depend upon whether or not I happen to like the music that the worship band is playing.  Worship does not depend upon whether God has answered my recent prayers or not.  Worship ought to come from the fact that God is my Maker and I owe my very existence to Him.

I am not here by chance.  I am not an accident in the cosmic scheme of things.  I am a created being.  I was made for a purpose.  There is a God in heaven who formed me and who watches over me.  There is a God who loves me so much that He wants to spend eternity with me.  There is a God who loves me so much that He sent His Son to die in my place so I could come to know this God in heaven.  These are reasons for worship that never change.  Even on my worst day, I can worship the God who made me. Come, let us worship.

10-29-06

Baruch was a friend of the prophet Jeremiah.  Together they had gone through some of the worst times in the history of the nation.  Baruch served as a scribe for Jeremiah.  He even helped preach Jeremiah’s messages in the Temple (Jer. 36) while Jeremiah was in prison.  Along with Jeremiah, Baruch had watched the destruction of their beloved Jerusalem.  We know that the prophet Jeremiah went through times of discouragement, but it seems that Baruch shared those feelings as well (Jer. 45:3).  It was in a time of struggle that God gave Jeremiah a message for his friend:  “And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh,” says the LORD. “But I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go.” (Jer 45:5 NKJV).
It seems to me that our own desires can be one of the great sources of tension, frustration, and even depression.  When our minds are caught in a loop of wanting the wrong things, the difficult times become even more difficult.  James wrote, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (James 4:1 NKJV)

I wonder how much of my frustration would go away if I replaced the desire to have “great things” for myself with a desire to do great things for God?  Peace comes when I learn to take my eyes off of “me” and put them on “Him”.  Just like in Baruch’s time, life isn’t always easy.  But I can endure tough times when I keep my desires aimed at God instead of me.

10-22-06

The people of God had reached a point in their history where they were going to be facing a difficult time of judgment.  God needed a special man who would speak clearly about God’s heart and God’s plans.  When the people awoke from their complacency, they would need someone who had pointed the way back home.  And Jeremiah was that man.  We can look back at the ministry of Jeremiah and see how vital his role was in history.  But at the time, Jeremiah had a hard time seeing that his life had any value at all.  He’d give a serious warning (Jer. 20:3) only to have someone takes his words and use them to mock him (Jer. 20:10).  Jeremiah was threatened, beaten, and thrown into prison.  Very few people seemed to understand the seriousness of the nation’s situation. 

At times, this was simply too much for Jeremiah and he fell into despair.  He found himself wishing he had never been born (Jer. 20:14).  How did Jeremiah keep going?  Jeremiah wrote, “But the Lord is with me as a mighty, awesome One” (Jer. 20:11).  He could keep going because he clung to the One who would not let him down.

Sometimes it’s hard for us to see ourselves the way that God sees us.  Sometimes we think that we’re not that important.  When life is filled with opposition, we too can entertain the same kinds of thoughts of despair that Jeremiah had.  But what if God thinks that you’re just the right person for what He wants to do?  What if you’re exactly what God is looking for?  Don’t give up.  Cling to the mighty, awesome One.  He won’t let you down.

10-15-06

All through the Scriptures we see the various contrasts between the person who trusts in the Lord and the person who doesn’t.  Just look at the picture Jeremiah paints,

Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.” (Jer 17:5-8 NKJV)
How do I know if I’m trusting God rather than trusting man?  I think one of the indicators is found in my prayer life.  Where do I go first with my needs?  Do I seek out human help or God’s help?  I’m not saying that I’ll never need to ask a human being for help.  I’m not saying that I can’t be the answers to my own prayers by getting up and taking action. The issue is where I look for help first. Sometimes I justify my lack of trust by shooting up quick little prayers as I try to deal with a problem.  I try to convince myself that my little “help” aimed at God means I trust Him. Certainly there are situations that require a quick reaction on my part, but I’m seeing that most “emergency” situations are things I knew I should have been praying for all along. Consistent prayer.  Trusting His guidance.  This is what turns a barren desert into a well-watered, fruitful garden.