03-16-08

Just to the north of the Temple in Jerusalem, there’s a gate in the eastern wall called the “Sheep Gate”.  This was where they would bring in the animals destined for sacrifice in the Temple. Near this gate was a facility with a large pool and places for people to hang out.  The place was called “Bethesda”, or “House of Mercy”.  The rumor was that miracles happened there.  Supposedly an angel would come by from time to time, stir up the water, and the first one in the pool was healed.  You can imagine the great numbers of hurting people that hung out there.  Jesus walked passed many of the crowd to pay particular attention to one man who had been sick for almost forty years.  I don’t know what kinds of things you might say to this fellow, but Jesus asked him a question, one that might be thought of as insensitive.  He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6) When the man offered his excuse that no one was there to help him, Jesus simply told him to pick up his bed and walk.

There are all sorts of places we go to for healing.  Doctors, hospitals, counselors, friends, even church. I guess I should probably be a little insensitive and ask you the same question Jesus asked, “Do you want to be made well?”  How serious are you about things changing?  After all, sometimes illness has it’s advantages.  Sometimes I get stuck in my excuses and can’t see where the real answer lies.  I wonder why nobody will help me into the magic waters.  Dear hurting one, real mercy, real answers begin with Jesus.  Other people may eventually help in the solution, but Jesus says to you, “Take up your bed and walk”.  You take action.  Respond to Jesus.

03-09-08

“Enough is enough”.  “It’s time for things to change”.  When you hear people say things like that, it almost sounds patriotic.  America is a nation founded on change. We pride ourselves on our independent spirit.  Sometimes change is exactly what is needed.  Sometimes we need to stand up to “the man”.  After all, Moses was an agent of change as he stood up to Pharaoh and demanded, “Let my people go”.  But as we work our way through the Scriptures, we find that not all change is good.  Not all rebellion is right.

As Moses led the people through the wilderness, there were a group of folks who began to be unhappy with the leadership of Moses and Aaron.  Korah and his friends (Num. 16) talked as if Moses was some sort of hot shot who liked to boss people around.  They accused Moses of acting like a “prince” over the people.  When Moses heard these accusations, he was devastated, even falling on his face.  Moses knew more than anyone that he never wanted the job of deliverer.  In the end, God took care of Korah and the other rebels, though it wasn’t without a cost.  Other people had gotten swept up in the movement and many people suffered because of the rebellion.

So when is it right to say “enough is enough”?  I wonder if some of it has to do with your heart.  Korah’s revolt was characterized by pride and a desire for position.  Moses’ revolt was characterized by reluctance and humility.  When you’re unhappy with the way things are beloved, check your heart.  God is looking for humility.

03-02-08

Is it wrong to be ambitious?  Is it wrong to have big dreams?  I guess those are a couple of loaded questions.  It seems to me it all depends on what you are ambitious for.  If your ambition is to promote yourself, become a hotshot, control other people, or maybe even make a bazillion bucks, you might have a problem.  But having ambitions for things like bringing people to Jesus, serving God, building up His kingdom, or comforting hurting people all sound like good things to me.  What if I have big ambitions for God?  How do I see those things take place?  Jesus tells us how God bases promotion in His company:  “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10)

Are you looking to “climb the corporate ladder” in God’s kingdom?  Then set your eyes on learning faithfulness.  The smart manager doesn’t have to wonder how well an employee is going to do if they get promoted.  A smart manager can already tell by how the person is doing where they are.  If that person is dependable in handling the mundane tasks of their lesser job, it’s probably a good bet that they’re going to continue being faithful in the bigger responsibilities.  On the other hand, the person who consistently fails to do even the littlest things is not going to be someone you’re going to be able to trust with bigger things, no matter how hard they lobby for that promotion.

Got any ambitions for God? Go ahead and make your plans for the future.  But don’t forget that the path to godly promotion is paved with faithfulness.

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.