02-24-08

It seems like it must have started off as a chance to get away and take a break.  The disciples had been sent out on little mission trips preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and casting out demons.  At the same time, word had come that John the Baptist had been executed by Herod.  And so Jesus took the guys and they headed off to a deserted place. It seems that they were intending to take a well deserved break.  But things didn’t turn out that way.  The crowds got wind of where Jesus was going and instead of thirteen men getting a chance to rest, they found themselves in a tidal wave of ministry as thousands of people showed up at their retreat.  A day of rest turned into a long day of ministry and the disciples began to encourage Jesus to send the people away so they could all find something to eat.  Jesus responded by saying, “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13).  We look back at this incident and realize that Jesus was testing the disciples and teaching them a lesson of faith.  But I imagine at the time they thought He was crazy.  All they had was a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.  And thousands of guests.

You know the rest of the story.  The disciples gave Jesus what little they had.  He took it, blessed it, and miraculously fed the entire crowd with leftovers to boot.

Are you feeling a bit stretched lately?  Feel like you need to take a break but instead of a chance to rest all you can see are hungry people?  Take what little you have and give it to the Lord.  He can bless it and multiply it, but you must first give it to Him.  The question is not about what you have to give, but whether you’ll trust Him to use it.

02-17-08

One of the themes you’ll see as you read through Leviticus is the theme of sacrifice.  Though there are different reasons for each type of sacrifice, here’s a couple of things they all have in common.

Substitution.  Laying hands on the animal (Lev. 1:4) meant that it was taking your place on the altar. When I watch that animal being consumed in the flame, I remember that I’m the one being totally given to God.  Substitution also reminds me of Jesus.  He was the one who didn’t know sin, but became sin for us as He died in our place.

Cost. Sacrifice wasn’t intended to be cheap.  It cost the worshipper something to bring an offering (Lev. 1:10).  I wonder in our world of WalMarts and Costcos if we don’t sometimes try and find the cheapest bargains when it comes to our relationship with God.  We don’t like it if that religious side of us starts to cost too much.  But Jesus said you could tell a lot about where my heart is at by where my treasure is (Mat. 6:21).  If I asked you to audit my life, would you find “God” at the top of my expense list?

Pleasing to God.  It is one of the consistent things I read over and over concerning sacrifice done properly.  Sacrifice is “a sweet aroma to the LORD” (Lev. 1:17).  It’s not that God loves the smell of barbeque.  It’s the aroma of true worship that God appreciates.  We know that the greatest commandment in the Bible (Mat. 22:37) is to love God.  God loves it when the sincerity of my verbal expression of love is matched by the type of offering I bring.  He is well pleased.

02-10-08

It had happened the day before.  Jesus and His disciples walked into the city of Jerusalem early in the morning when He stopped to see if a fig tree had any fruit on it.  When Jesus found no fruit, He said, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”  I’m sure the disciples just chalked it up to Jesus being in a grouchy mood.  But the next morning as they again made the walk into the city, they passed the same fig tree and saw that it had withered from the roots up.  The disciples seem to have been blown away with what they saw.  Jesus told them that they needed to “have faith in God”.  Then Jesus went on to say, “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24).

It seems to me that the kinds of activities that I consider part of “daily life” are things that I just take for granted, things that I just take care of on my own.  I wonder if I keep God in a box and only let Him out for those kinds of things where I am aware of how much I need Him.  But Jesus handled all of His “daily life” with faith.  He walked in a trust relationship with God all the time.  He even walked to breakfast trusting God.

I’m not sure how much of my breakfast I handle with faith.  I usually think of “faith” as something that belongs in that time slot I label “devotions”.  But as I watch Jesus, I think my idea of faith is a bit small.  God wants me to grow in trusting Him throughout the whole day.  I wonder if I stretched my faith at the breakfast table, if perhaps that would build my faith in the prayer closet.

02-03-08

Jesus had been telling some not-so-easy-to-understand parables.  At first the disciples were a bit confused as to why Jesus was being so vague in His teaching.  But Jesus said there was a reason for it.  God’s desire is for people to want to understand.  The ones who want to understand are the ones who are going to profit from His teaching.  But profiting from God’s word doesn’t just come from learning to understand.  The true profit of God’s word comes from what you do with what you understand.

Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. “For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:24-25) 

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that as long as we keep reading our Bible that we’re going to be growing as a Christian.  But maturity as a Christian doesn’t come just from reading the Bible, or even from learning to understand what I’m reading.  True maturity comes from learning to do the things in God’s word.  Growth comes when I learn to “use” (Mar. 4:24) the things that I’ve understood in God’s word. This kind of growth even comes with a built in blessing.  Each time I learn to obey the Lord, I find that God opens a door to a deeper relationship with Him.  This is what Jesus means when he said that to the one who “has”, more shall be given.  Am I hearing?  Am I understanding?  Am I obeying?  That’s when I’m growing.

01-27-08

It is one of the most memorable examples of grace and forgiveness in the Bible.  Joseph’s brothers are groveling for forgiveness.  But Joseph seems surprised that they don’t get it.  Joseph didn’t blink when it came to forgiveness.  He replied to the brothers, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Gen 50:20)

Joseph could have gotten stuck.  Sometimes we are so focused on the injustice brought in our life that we can’t see the bigger picture.  Perhaps we think that we have a certain inalienable right to a pain-free life. Joseph could have played the victim.  After all, his brothers were the ones that started all the misery in Joseph’s life.  They had sold him to the Ishmaelites, which led to his slavery, which led to false imprisonment.  It’s all connected, right? Sometimes we can take ourselves down a path of bitterness because we can’t let go of that one injury.  For the rest of our lives we are the victim, continually finding ways of connecting our current misery with that one injustice.

Somehow, Joseph was able to get past all those things.  He was able to forgive.  Joseph got over himself.  He saw beyond his discomfort. He wasn’t a victim.  In fact, he could see purpose in his suffering.  Joseph realized that as great as his own personal tragedy was, God had used it to get him into the place where he could save his family.  In fact, without that injustice, Joseph would not have been able to help anyone.

Beloved, don’t get stuck in bitterness.  Let it go.  God can take what the enemy intends as tragedy and turn it to good.

01-20-08

It might have started off as an innocent question, trying to find out just how far you should go.  Jesus had been talking about facing a person who has hurt you when Peter pops the question, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Mat 18:21). It’s at this point that Jesus tells the story about the man who owed a very large debt.  After the master forgave the humongous sin, the servant turned around and demanded that his friend pay him back a smaller debt that he was owed.  When the master heard about this lack of forgiveness, “his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.”  It’s at this point that Jesus gives a warning, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Mat 18:34-35)

Forgiveness is something we all want to receive, but the truth is that we are often pretty reluctant to give it.  It’s one thing when I am faced with my own sin and realize my helplessness to pay back my debt to God.  I cry desperately for my Master’s forgiveness, which He willingly gives.  But I’m a bit slow to put myself in the shoes of that acquaintance that has wronged me.  I feel justified with my bitterness.

Beloved, forgiveness is not an easy thing.  Like Peter, I set a pretty low bar when it comes to how often I forgive.  Forgiveness is something I have to constantly work at and refine in my life.  Forgiveness is not something I can grow complacent in.  It’s something that God is very serious about in my life.  I need to forgive like I’ve been forgiven.

01-13-08

It was his greatest treasure. It was what he had looked forward to his entire life.  It was even something that had been promised to him by God.  It was something that was good, not evil.  And yet now God had asked him to give it up.  The “it” was a son, a longed for, much beloved son.  And God said “Sacrifice your son”.  It probably didn’t make sense.  It probably didn’t seem right.  But Abraham heard God and did what God said. You and I know that God did not require Abraham to follow through and actually kill Isaac, but Abraham didn’t know that at the time he set out to obey the Lord.  And then we read about God’s response to Abraham’s obedience:  “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son; blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies” (Gen 22:15-17). 

We could talk about the importance of Abraham painting a picture of God one day sacrificing His Only Son for us, but don’t miss the basic issue – God asked, and Abraham said “yes”.  As a result of obedience, not only would Abraham be blessed, but his descendants would be blessed as well.

It’s not a lot of fun when we sense that God wants us to do something that’s hard.  We may not understand what God is trying to do.  We may not see how it could be a good thing.  But God is looking for men and women who are available to Him, and oh what He wants to do through us when He finds a willing heart.  Trust and obey.  There is no other way.

01-06-08

Jesus is at the beginning of His ministry.  He has been baptized by John, heard God’s approval, and was led into the wilderness to be tempted.  All of life is about dealing with temptation, but when you are stepping out to be used by God, you better learn to face the reality of Satan’s whispers.  In the first temptation Jesus has been fasting for forty days … when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” (Mat 4:3)

Initially, we may think that the temptation was about bread, but it goes deeper than that.  It’s about what you call “living”.  What does it take to keep you “alive”?  Some of us may conclude we simply need food and water.  But life tends to be a bit more complicated than that.  Food and water may start out our list of necessities, but it rarely ends there.  I prefer to add just a few other items like a place to live, a job, and now that I’m thinking about it, let’s make that a comfortable place to live and a nice job.  Of course the real list in my head is pretty long and complicated.  The real issue is about all that other “stuff” that I find so necessary to live, to be happy. 

Jesus’ response to Satan needs to be my goal in life.  But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'” (Mat 4:4). A healthy “life” is one that has learned to depend on God and His Word.  Do I find “life” in the things that come from God’s mouth concerning me?  Am I content with the things God has decreed for me?  May we find real “life” today.

12-28-07

I have a confession to make.  I really want people to like me.  I know that for some people that sounds like I have a problem, and perhaps I do.  But I also have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only person who wants people to like them.  As you grow up, you learn about what kinds of things you need to do in order to get a person to like you.  One easy way is to say something nice to the other person.  If I tell you that you look nice today, you might like me better than if I told you looked ugly.  Think of Eddie Haskell on “Leave it to Beaver”, “Gee Mrs. Cleaver, you sure look nice today…”

But in reality, flattery just for the sake of getting someone to like you doesn’t last very long.  In fact, if you have an “Eddie Haskell” in your life, you probably don’t enjoy all their compliments, do you?  Solomon was pretty wise when he gave us this gem:  “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue” (Prov 28:23) 

Now when Solomon says it’s better to “rebuke” than to “flatter”, there are some things to keep in mind.  I have this suspicion that the “rebuke” Solomon is talking about isn’t a Marine Drill Sergeant yelling in your face.  I have this idea that it’s a little closer to what Paul wrote in Eph. 4:15, “speaking the truth in love”.  I personally don’t enjoy criticism for the sake of “honesty” if I have this suspicion that the person criticizing me doesn’t care for me.  But when a person is honest with me, and I know they are giving their difficult truth in love, it becomes something I can benefit from.  Want someone to like you?  Choose carefully how you proceed.

12-23-2007

Getting treasures by a lying tongue is the fleeting fantasy of those who seek death (Prov 21:6).
It’s a pretty straight forward statement.  Yet the more I stop and ponder this truth, it’s deeper than first glance.

We might use this proverb to talk about people who try and con others by lying to them.  In the movies we kind of like those “con men”, whether it’s Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “The Sting” or George Clooney and Brad Pitt in “Oceans Eleven”.  Even though those movies are based on deception, we feel that the victims “deserved” what they got because the victims were the bad guys.  Right?  But come to think about it, real life doesn’t often work like the fantasy of movies.  Lying rarely helps any situation.

In real life, Solomon’s proverb goes beyond “con jobs”.  The truth affects our daily lives. Sometimes the “treasures” we are trying to get by deception aren’t counted in the millions of dollars, but are more subtle.  Sometimes the treasure is gaining or keeping a friend.  And so we tell a little lie about who we are in order to “help” the relationship.  But what happens when the truth comes out?  Sometimes the treasure we are looking for is simply being able to live with ourselves.  But the person we are lying to isn’t one that lives outside of our skin, we are lying to ourselves.  We may not always like the truth about ourselves, but change and growth can’t come without truth.

Real treasures come from truth.  God wants us to be truthful with one another (Eph. 4:25).  God wants us to be truthful with ourselves (Ps. 51:6).