Monday, September 9, 2019

Roots and Fruits

 

[Graphic of a tree with roots]


“He shall be like a tree planted by streams
of water, which yields its fruit in
season and whose leaf does not wither.”
—Psalm 1:3

Trees fascinate me. I love the variety, the shapes, the different leaves, and how the trees and leaves look in different seasons. Trees have often seemed like major décor in God’s world—decorating and defining space, shading, and quietly fluttering in the breeze.

I am impressed that, often, the Scriptural writers use trees to teach us, to describe a characteristic, and to liken the trees to some quality in our lives. In the verse at the beginning of this blog post, we see the offspring of a healthy tree: leaves and fruit. Often these elements supply life-sustaining food for humankind and animals. They also give evidence to us of health, strength, usefulness, and beauty.

Yet, we don’t often see the most important part of the tree because that part lies deep underground. In a healthy specimen, more than half of a tree remains beneath the surface of the ground. There, it reaches out for nourishment from the soil and for deep springs of life-giving water.

Trees that have stunted roots, those that grow quickly and sprout early, often do not have the stabilizing power of those that have grown over many years. Jesus uses this principle in His well-known “Parable of the Sower” found in Matthew 13:5, when He teaches about the farmer’s seed:

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

Our growth in grace follows a similar timeline. God plants His Spirit in us. But, God wants to grow us deeply into the “soil” of His written Word wherein we will grow in our knowledge of, and relationship with, Him and His church.

We must not look for our Christian lives, or our churches, or our ministries to “spring up overnight.” Rather, we must allow time, difficulties, and the seasons of life to develop God’s process of deeply rooted spiritual growth.

Seeds of vegetation scattered on a soil with rocky places will spring up quickly and die off quickly because they haven’t grown deep roots into the nourishing soil. Likewise, our personal spiritual formation that develops too rapidly with unnatural enthusiasm and without putting deep “roots” into God’s written Word, without cultivating faithfulness to a local church, and without spending time with mature fellow Christians will ultimately run the risk of burning out and of failing to produce useful spiritual fruit.

Instead, let’s find a beautiful large tree. And, let’s think of the seasons of its life and how deeply the roots must have reached. Then, let’s allow God to mature us spiritually in the same way. We must remain patient and look forward to the sweet fruit and beautiful leaves which will surely appear.

 

 

Monday, September 2, 2019

Digging Ditches

 

[Photo of a shovel being pushed into the dirt]


Digging Ditches

While the harpist was playing, the hand
of the Lord came upon Elisha and he said,
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Make this
valley full of ditches.’ For this is what
the Lord says: ‘You will see neither wind
nor rain, yet this valley will be filled
with water, and you, your cattle and your
other animals will drink.’ This is an easy
thing in the eyes of the Lord; he will
also hand Moab over to you. You will
overthrow every fortified city and
every major town. You will cut down
every good tree, stop up all the springs,
and ruin every good field with stones.”
—2 Kings 3:15-18 NIV

Are you ready for a blessing? King Joram of the Northern Kingdom and King Jehoshaphat of the Southern Kingdom had been marching with their armies for seven days. But, they had no water for themselves, or for their animals. They knew that they could never fight their enemy, Moab, in this condition.

They asked Elisha, the prophet of the Lord, what they should do in their helpless, desperate state. I like the fact that before Elisha gave an answer, he asked for a harpist to come and play music. During the music, God spoke to Elisha so he could share the words captured in the Scripture verses above.

Even though they asked Elisha to petition God in their behalf, these kings were not prepared to receive the blessing for which they were asking God. As Charles Spurgeon suggests,1 they needed to make a…

…believing preparation for the divine blessing; they were to dig the trenches in which the precious liquid would be held.

How often do we pray, asking for God’s blessing, while we remain unprepared to receive the answer?

In a story recorded in Acts 12, when the disciples gathered for prayer for Peter’s release from prison, they were astonished when he stood at their door. Like them, we often pray without really believing in God’s miraculous ability to answer our sincere prayers.

If God has led us to pray for a blessing of deliverance, or enlargement, or wisdom, or protection, or peace, or anything else we desperately need, we must also show our faith in Him by preparing to receive that blessing. Although God may not use our expected methodology in answering our prayers, if we make a believing preparation to receive that answer, we will clearly see His answer come to pass.

______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning and Evening. McLean, VA: Macdonald Publishing Company, Public Domain. p. 275.

—Posted: Monday, September 2, 2019

 

 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Sibling Rivalry

 

[Photo of a brother and sister arguing]


“If anyone thinks he is something when he is
nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should
test his own actions. Then he can take pride
in himself, without comparing himself to somebody
else, for each one should carry his own load.”
—Galatians 6:3-4

Where does sibling rivalry come from? Largely, I’d say, it comes from jealousy, selfishness, or both. Even the Bible has stories of such family arguments. These stories caution us about the common, but contentious, occasions between brothers and sisters, both at home and within our churches.

One such story occurs in Luke 10:38-42. You know how this story goes. Martha is cooking, while pots and pans pile up in the kitchen. But, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to Him teach. Martha complains to Jesus and He sides with Mary because she chose to do “the most important thing.” Mature Martha loves Jesus. So, she undoubtedly responds in humility and love for her sister, as well.

Jesus tells another well-known story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. In this story, the younger brother rebelliously takes his inheritance money, recklessly spends it on foolishness, but later returns home to ask forgiveness from his father. The older brother, who has remained faithful and continued to work for his father at home, doesn’t appreciate the celebration and the banquet given to this ne’er-do-well sibling. The rift may have separated these brothers permanently. But, we aren’t told.

My last illustration from Scripture can be found in Mark 10:35-45. This story shows what can happen within a faith community infected with rivalry. Brothers James and John come to Jesus and ask if they can sit in the two most prominent seats in heaven—one on Jesus’ right and the other on His left. The remaining ten disciples became so indignant that Jesus has to sit them all down and tell them:

…whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

These stories illustrate the way that small rifts between brothers and sisters can cause disunity in our homes, workplaces, and in our churches. Each such rift provides an entrance for the work of the evil one. This kind of disharmony harms the witness of the body of Christ and affects the power of the Holy Spirit to work freely in that body. Scripture admonishes us often to work at keeping peace with our brothers and sisters, particularly within the church.

As Paul tells Christ’s followers in Ephesians 4:3:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

We may expect, even tolerate, sibling rivalry between little children. But, among mature believers, we must ask God to protect us from the sins of jealousy and selfishness that create an atmosphere ripe for disunity. In our homes, in our places of work, and particularly in our churches, may God’s peace grow and abound to Christ’s glory!

 

 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Move Ahead

 

[Photo of two sneaker feet stuck in concrete]


The Lord said to us at Horeb, “You have
stayed long enough at this mountain.
Break camp and advance.”
—Deuteronomy 1:6

I am “risk averse.” As a pianist and organist, I always look at printed music, even though I have a particular piece completely memorized. I try to stay out of crowds, afraid of the danger that may lurk there. I avoid certain sections of highway during snowstorms, lest I become involved in an accident. I like to plan ahead. And many times, I have opted to stay put rather than move ahead.

The Israelites showed this same kind of aversion to risk. Or, let’s be honest, they displayed a decided lack of faith during the time they wandered in the wilderness. They had certainly seen God perform amazing miracles for them in their escape from Egypt. He had supplied their needs and protected them. Still, they persisted, with heavy cement-laden feet, to resist forward movement in their lives, individually and as a nation.

When God calls us to take a risk, our arguments usually begin with a long list of “what ifs.”

  • What if we come up against things we’ve never seen before—men that look like giants, violent land owners, walled cities we may have to conquer?

  • What if we die of plague, starvation, wild beasts, or warring enemies?

  • What if we run out of food or water?

  • What if we take a wrong turn and lose our way?

  • What if…

In the first two chapters of Deuteronomy, God reminded the Israelites of His faithfulness. And, He reminded them of their lack of faith. He had prepared really big things for them in the days ahead and He needed them to get moving.

Twice we read that God said, “You have stayed here long enough.” He reminded them that He had watched over them and provided for them for forty years. Later, He egged them on to move and take possession of the land He had promised them since the days of Abraham.

I like the second verse of the hymn, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”1

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy, and shall break
with blessing on your head.

When God prompts us to move on, to venture out and trust Him, we must move forward in faith, fully relying on His provision and protection. If we turn a deaf ear to God’s call to move onward and insist on standing still, mired in the fast-drying cement of our current situation, we stand the greater risk of getting stuck where nothing will move us.

______________________

1 Cowper, William. God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Verse Two. Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reflection

 

[Photo of the moon rising over a lake]


When Jesus spoke again to the people, he
said, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in
darkness, but will have the light of life.”
—John 8:12

“You are the light of the world. A city set
on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light
a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a
stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before
others, so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
—Matthew 5:14-16

Have you ever considered how differently the brightness of the moon affects what we can see at night? Driving seems so much easier. And, the distance we can see is so much farther. Nights with a full moon allow us to see so much more than we can see when the moonlight is absent or diminished.

Scientists tell us that the phases of the moon, and the amount of light we observe from the moon, results from how much of the moon’s surface faces the sun and reflects the sun’s radiance. The moon produces no light of its own. It serves only to reflect the glory of the sun.

When we meditate on Jesus’ words in the first Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, where He told is that He is the Light of the World, we must realize that Jesus has given us the same designation that Creator God gave to the moon. As His devoted followers, Jesus expects us to understand that we give divine light to those around us only to the extent that we reflect Him. The more “face time” we have with Him, the more fully we will reflect His powerful light.

In the second Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, where Jesus said that we are lights of the world, He used the illustration of a lamp. Even if we shine as lamps in this dark world, we must have oil, or power, from some source other than ourselves. The image of oil in the Bible often refers to the power of the Holy Spirit.

We cannot expect to give off the Light of Christ in this world unless we reflect Him, just as the moon reflects the sun, nor can we shine as lamps without the oil of the Holy Spirit. The divine light must come from outside our own selves.

This question, then, is worth asking ourselves: “Is the ‘light’ I give off coming from the dimly lit bulb of my own selfish glory, or do I truly reflect the glory of my blessed Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the glory of God, my Father in Heaven?”

How we answer that important question makes a difference. And, that difference is like night and day!

 

 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Slaying the Dragon 1

 

[Photo of a dragon breathing down fire]


 “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
 —James 4:7

David and Karen Mains, in their marvelous children’s book, Tales of the Kingdom,2 tell a story of Amanda, a princess, who, despite warnings, takes home a dragon egg, hatches it, and makes a pet of the baby dragon. At first she enjoys playing with the little guy and does everything she can to domesticate it. But, before she realizes it, the dragon has become much too formidable for her to control and she has to kill it to save her own life.

Private sins are like that. We try to housebreak them and keep them under our control. Our secret fantasies, the so-called minor offenses we hide and whitewash, never stay the same. Like the dragon, they grow too large for us. The gossip we share with just one friend becomes too easy to share with many more. The anger we allow to spill out in occasional verbal outbursts at others soon becomes a way of life.

Recently I read this quote from J. C. Ryle in the book, Diamonds in the Dust 3 by Joni Eareckson Tada:

We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself in its true colors. Never when we are tempted will we hear sin say to us, ‘I am your deadly enemy…I want to ruin your life.’ That’s not how it works. Sin, instead, comes to us like Judas with a kiss. It comes to us like Joab with outstretched hands and flattering words. Sin, in its beginnings, seems harmless enough—like David walking idly on his palace roof which happened to overlook the bedroom of a woman. You and I may give wickedness smooth-sounding names, but we cannot alter its nature and character in the sight of God.

We need to remember that the dragon has a burning breath and a dangerous tail. When we first entertain the idea of letting him near us, or even domesticating him for our pleasure, we need to slam the door on him and flee.

We can never hope to serve God effectively with known sins in our lives. The longer we let them grow, the more attached we become to them, and the harder it gets to slay them.

Please pray with me:

Oh, Lord, give us Your Holy Spirit’s power to recognize the first sign of a deadly sin and flee from it. Help us to stay very close to You, hour by hour, so that we can be protected by Your loving arms and have the power You give us to resist the devil. Amen.

______________________

1 This blog post was originally published on June 16, 2014.
2 Mains, David and Karen. Tales of the Kingdom (Kingdom Tales, Book 1). Elgin, IL: David C. Cook Publishing Company, ©1983, Chapter 10.
3 Tada, Joni Eareckson. Diamonds in the Dust. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, ©1993, Devotional for June 8th.

 

 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Little is Much

 

[Photo of five loaves and two fishes]


“Your procession has come into view, O God…
There is the little tribe of Benjamin, leading them.”
—Psalm 68:24, 27

Jesus understood small things and appreciated their worth. In Luke 21:1-2, He remarked about an incident, barely noticed by anyone else:

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” He said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.”

Jesus honored the smallest things by pointing them out and using them for His glory. The story recorded in John 6:1-15 of the five thousand plus people who came to hear Jesus speak, points to His use of small things.

These people had come out from nearby towns and had been there many hours listening to Jesus. He told the disciples that they needed to feed them. They brought Jesus all they could find: the small lunch of a little boy that contained five small barley loaves and two fishes. Jesus showed His appreciation and used this small gift by multiplying it to serve all five thousand people present, with twelve baskets of food left over.

What do we have so little of that we feel God cannot use? Time? Money? Talent? Strength?

In Judges 6-8 we read the account of Gideon in the days when the Midianites invaded the land of Canaan. God called Gideon to save His people. In Judges 6:14-15, God said to Gideon:

“Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The story goes on to point out how God chose to use this reluctant warrior. God chose to use Gideon because Gideon was the weakest available: the runt of the litter.

We need to think beyond ourselves, too. Maybe God wants our family, or our neighborhood, or our work department, our school, or our office staff to do something big for Him. Even more, maybe He purposes to use our little church for a big ministry, when it may seem that plenty of mega-churches in our area could do the job so much easier.

God’s voice asks of the prophet in Zechariah 4:10:

“Who dares despise the day of small things?”

Instead of bemoaning our lack of anything, let’s praise God for small things and small strength. He wants to show His mighty power through us. May we submit to His will and watch the blessings follow!

 

 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Stepford Christians

 

[Photo of a woman cleaning a counter]


“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen,
masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder,
for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
It is not surprising, then, if his servants
masquerade as servants of righteousness.
Their end will be what their actions deserve.”
—2 Corinthians 11:13-15

The 1975 movie, The Stepford Wives, has remained in my memory, not only as a very bizarre story, but as an example of how very like the “Men’s Association” our enemy—the prince of this world, Satan—operates.

The story takes place in the affluent idyllic town of Stepford, Connecticut. A new resident, Joanna, notices how strange all the women seem to appear. They are fawning wives, mindless, and perfect in every way.

What she doesn’t realize is that one-by-one, the husbands of the “Men’s Association,” who make it their mission to completely control their wives, have killed off their wives and replaced them with perfectly engineered robots. These robots look identical to the wives. And, the robot wifes have absolutely no flaws whatsoever.

These formerly very successful professional women, now transformed into robots, think only of pleasing their husbands in every way. Since they are not real, they have given up any resemblance to the actual personhood of each wife they have replaced.

Joanna watched as one of her more “normal” neighbors seemed to go through this metamorphosis. For one thing, her tennis court in the back yard was dug up and replaced with a putting green for her husband. Only when Joanna’s own family becomes victims of the “Men’s Association” does she try to escape in order to protect her own life.

We would all love to be the perfect model of a Christian, not only pleasing to God, but especially pleasing to each other. We study the right “moves” of Christians we admire and try very hard to imitate them. We learn to play the game of “church” and strive to never allow our own sinful natures to become visible. To openly acknowledge sin, to repent, to ask forgiveness takes too much humility. To do that we would have to admit we cannot live the Christian life in our own strength.

While it may seem honorable to overlook faults in others and to look for the best in each other and in our churches, we should never tolerate to just plainly cover-up sin and hide horrific wrong-doing. Christ did not die for people who pretend to be without fault. He died for sinners and welcomes anyone who in reality comes to Him in honest confession.

The world, like Joanna, watches us. Anything that smacks of being phony is clearly evident to them. Why would they want to join a group of perfect people anyway, especially when they know their own hearts?

We glorify God the most when we rely on Him for His grace to live our lives according to His desires and when we willingly acknowledge and repent of our sins. Away with the plastic complexion and the nylon hair, and the mindless play-act!

 

 

Monday, July 15, 2019

The End in Mind

 

[Photo of a hiker looking over the trail]


“Being confident of this, that he who began
a good work in you will carry it on to
completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
—Philippians 1:6

I love the title of Eugene Peterson’s book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.1 In this book, Peterson shares the “Psalms of Ascent.” Pilgrims repeated these Psalms as they traveled up to Jerusalem for feast days. Peterson likens the Christian walk to this pilgrimage.

God sees our lives, beginning to end, and plans to mature, or “complete,” us throughout. I understand the concept.

As a teacher, I can remember the fall when the school system changed my schedule from being an iterant teacher—in two or three buildings—and placed me at one elementary school full time. I could now think of these children as “mine.” And, I could map out what I felt they needed to learn, step-by-step, from kindergarten through the fourth grade. Even more, I could see them grow over these years.

This long view, or “longitudinal” plan, allowed me to plot each year. Then, I could plan each month or season. Finally, I could plan each individual lesson.

God has a longitudinal plan for our lives. Just as I didn’t share the full scope of the curriculum with my second graders, or burden them with constant assessments and adjustments for their growth, neither does God do this with us.

Sometimes, it looks as though God must not have a plan. Or, it appears that we have gotten off track somehow. In Romans 8:28, God assures us that:

…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Said another way, His plan for us, though it may seem hidden, will weave all the threads together in the end.

Carolyn Custis James, in her book, Lost Women of the Bible,2 describes those who walk this long walk as theologians. She writes:

The word theologian doesn’t appear in the Bible. Old Testament writers used a warmer, user-friendly expression, describing people who “walked with God.” A theologian takes a long walk through life with God—living in his presence, going his way, learning to see the world through his eyes, and getting to know his character so that trusting him in the dark stretches won’t be quite so hard. The theologian sees God at the center of everything. She lives with a profound confidence that he holds the whole world (including her) in his hands.

Sometimes it seems we are not moving forward. From day to day, things look and feel the same to us. But, when we look back, and we can do this through meditation and through looking at former journal entries we’ve written, we see that, indeed, God has led us, and we have moved closer to His ideal.

While on the pilgrimage, enjoy the sights. Know that God has planned this marvelous journey with a magnificent end!

______________________

1 Peterson, Eugene H. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction 2nd edition. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2000.
2 James, Carolyn Custis. Lost Women of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2005. p. 34.

 

 

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Child Proclaims the Parent

 

[Photo of and adoring mother and child]


“Let your light shine before men that they may see
your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
—Matthew 5:16

When people observe a male child, we often hear them remark, “He looks so much like his father.” Within a family, we can see, even more closely, the presence of family resemblances. “Aunt Roberta’s hands remind me of Grandma’s.” Or, “I see that Joey is losing his hair at just about the same age as his father did.”

During my years as an elementary and middle school teacher, I heard the comment after colleagues met parents at conference time: “Well, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree!” Our children do not only carry the physical characteristics of their parents. They also often carry the personality traits and life styles, as well.

The sentence from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” stated at the beginning of this blog post, speaks to us in a similar vein. When people see our good deeds, they shouldn’t praise us, but rather they should praise our Heavenly Father.

Do we often think of the loving Creator-Sustainer God when we see His good works in the people that we know? Do we cause people to pause and consider our own behavior, as though Christ Himself is living His life in us and through us?

Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it this way:1

The child tells us a great deal about his parents, does he not? The child not merely tells us things about himself, he tells us much more about his parents. As you watch the behavior of a child you are really learning a great deal about the discipline, or lack of it, at home. The child proclaims the parent.

In referring to Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus speaks about loving our enemies, blessing those that curse us, doing good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us. Why should we do all these things? We do these things that we may be children of our Father who is in heaven.

Again, Dr. Lloyd-Jones writes:2

That is why we have to do it, that we may be like our Father, that we may proclaim the family to which we belong… So the next time you are in doubt about some course of action, whether you should do a certain thing or not, do not spend your time arguing with someone as to whether it is right or wrong, simply ask, “Is that sort of thing worthy of my Father’s son [or daughter]? Is it consistent with the family to which I belong, the Father who has put His own name on me and whom I represent among men?”

Parents hope for their children to represent the family well, to make them proud, to have others observe what the years of training, disciplining, and loving have produced. In the same way, our Heavenly Father looks at us and desires that we represent the family into which He has placed us. Out of sheer gratitude, we should apply ourselves to look like Him!

______________________

1 Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. God’s Way of Reconciliation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972. p. 334.
2 Ibid.

 

 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Imitate

 

[Photo of a family praying]


“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”
—1 Corinthians 11:1 NKJV

Can you say, “Imitate me?” Can I? I’m not talking about a “Simon Says” game here. This declaration to “Imitate me” comes from the divinely inspired words of the Apostle Paul.

When I held my public school teaching position, I often thought about my “off-duty” persona, my example in the community. I know many teachers who say, “What I do on my own time is my own business!” They give little or no thought about the kind of influence they have on anyone watching them during non-school hours. But we, as Christ’s ambassadors, have a higher calling (2 Corinthians 5:20).

We study God’s written Word to see what God may instruct us about this or that circumstance and how we should live among those who don’t know Him. According to 1 Timothy 4:12 (NKJV), God wants us to:

…be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

Even knowing these words of instruction, we constantly fail at this kind of living. But, if we study our own behaviors and stay attuned to the Spirit of Christ—the Holy Spirit—He will prick our conscience when we need His forgiveness and restitution because of our deeds, and when we need a heartfelt turn-around.

We must remember that people watch our lives and either have their negative suspicions about God and the church verified by the way we behave. Or, through our faithful behavior, they come to understand our Savior, as they view His divine Presence in our lives.

In addition to unbelievers, we can be sure that children and new believers in the faith constantly look to us for examples of behavior they should imitate. Whether we present them with good behavior or bad behavior, we have a profound effect on their spiritual growth. Their Christian formation, their language, their reverence for the things of God, their priorities all take on the qualities they see in us.

In a day when young people see popular “models to imitate” in rock stars, celebrities, even political figures, we must attune our hearts and our lives so that we imitate the Lord Jesus Christ in all things. If we do this, we will live our lives in a way that will become worth imitating!

 

 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Perspective

 

[Photo of a a giant shoe about to crush people]


“He sits enthroned above the circle of the
earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.”
—Isaiah 40:22

You may remember the 1989 movie, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” in which a scientist father accidently shrinks his two teen-age children and two of their friends. This poses all kinds of dangerous threats to these teens, as they battle to stay away from danger while their father searches for them.

Sometimes our perspective gets out of whack, just as things did in this movie. We see problems that loom nearby in such a way that we dwarf God by allowing Him to fall away into the background. In such a case, we need an adjustment to our perspective.

Many of the Psalms reveal the way in which saints of the past had to deal with their perspective. Some Psalms begin with tales of woes too large with which the psalmists can cope. Once they get a different view of God, the enormity of their problems contract to a much more manageable size.

In Psalm 73, Asaph, the musician, begins his Psalm remembering how he had nearly slipped away because he was looking at the prosperity and the seeming good luck of the wicked. He says he felt oppressed until he entered God’s sanctuary and got a different perspective. He ended the Psalm praising God’s goodness and sharing his gratitude for the riches of God’s grace. Verses 25 and 26 give us a glimpse:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Many times the psalmists have to remind themselves of the greatness of God. They do this by talking directly to themselves through the words they write in their Psalms.

This same kind of reminder can stir us, as well. We can see God, in His proper perspective, in our church services, or after a prolonged period of time spent in reading His written Word. When this happens, we see the extent of our woes in a much clearer way. We can shrink them down to size and allow God to show us His power and wisdom that rule over us.

I like the way that Paul explains the process of moving from despair to faith by means of a new perspective in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

It’s important for us to remember that a proper perspective can change everything!

 

 

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Art of the Blend

 

[Photo of blended colors]


“God has arranged the parts in the body, every
one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”
—1 Corinthians 12:18

When we think of the work of an oil painter, we often neglect to consider the artistic competence and sensitivity needed to prepare the paint used for the project. A good artist considers the pigments of color and the medium through which to use those colors. He or she also chooses between solvents for the viscosity (thickness) of the paint and the varnish that will give the appropriate glossiness to the finished work.

Perfumers also study their art by learning about the distinguishing characteristics of fragrances. Because of the keen sense of smell needed, the most skilled ones of these people get dubbed “Noses” by those in that field. Such perfumers know the strengths and power of each fragrance and carefully blend only those which augment the others.

Similarly, organists exhibit concern about what choices they make in registering the sounds for each piece of music they play. My first organ teacher quizzed me for the names of each pipe when I had my eyes closed. Is the sound a reed, a flute, a diapason, or a string? Does it match the intended mood the composer of the music requires for this particular piece? Is one stop too sharp to play alongside another because it will cover the sound or blend poorly?

God, the most creative of all artists, looks at His church in much the same way as these other professionals look at the works they produce. He desires to create something beautiful for His world out of the flesh and blood of His people in specific locations. Look around at your local church. God has placed people of various ages, various races, various abilities, and various limitations.

He has carefully gifted His people with talents and abilities, and with a wide range of life experiences. Children love to gather around old Uncle Pete because of his kind and loving ways. Grandma Pearl gets everyone laughing each time they talk with her. Roy has such knowledge of Scripture that people flock to his class. And, Ruby sings like an angel and brings the Holy Spirit near whenever the congregation hears her voice.

Carrie and Fred have owned a successful business for many years and they freely give of the wealth God has provided them. They love to see God’s church blessed through their giving. Beverly doesn’t have money or abilities to teach, but when she gets in the kitchen she blesses the entire congregation through the foods that she so lovingly prepares.

God also places His people in churches where they need growth and maturity—perhaps even through learning to get along with others who see things in opposite ways from them. He is creating a beautiful body of work for His glory. We should stand in awe of His workmanship.

Look at those in your church as instruments in God’s hands, as gifts to you and others, and see yourself in a way that makes you happy to share with others the qualities that God has given you. Stand back and look at the picture God is painting in your congregation. Take time to smell the aroma of His blessing. Pause in a quiet moment to hear the music of His joy in your midst.

Praise the Artist of Heaven today for the magnificently creative way He has blended the people in your church into a powerful force for His Kingdom!

 

 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Stuck!

 

[Photo of a little girls stuck in the mud]


“You will not have to fight this battle.
Take up your positions; stand firm and see
the deliverance the Lord will give you.”
—2 Chronicles 20:17

Judah was stuck! They didn’t know which way to turn. Their enemies were coming against them.1 What to do?

The king proclaimed a fast and the people together sought the Lord for His help. God gave Jahaziel, one of the Levites, God’s message for them to “stand firm and see the deliverance of the Lord.” Their enemies ended up destroying each other. As a result, God’s people could only lift their voices in praise to Him.

I was stuck! That spring day so many years ago, I ran across the field in my tall barn boots and before I knew it, I had sunk too far into the mud to get out. I yelled for my father and he came and quickly pulled me out of my boots to rescue me.

Plenty of times in life we get stuck. We don’t know which way to go. The way we thought the Lord was leading us turns out to be a dead end. We try to step this way and that. But, we simply have no power to move.

I knew, standing there in the mud on that long-ago day, that my father would come to help me. He heard my cry. Likewise, our Heavenly Father sees us and hears us when we call out to Him in our distress. He knows the way to safety before we do. We can trust Him to help us out of our predicament and lead us onto the right pathway.

We learn the lesson of waiting patiently for our God when we have no place to go but to Him. We pray and stand still. And, as stated in Psalm 40:1-3, He will come:

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.

______________________

1 According to 2 Chronicles 20:2, their enemies consisted of a vast army.

 

 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Servant Winds

 

[Photo of a sailboat in full sail]


“He makes the winds his messengers.”
—Psalm 104:4

The Bible’s use of the image of “wind” fascinates me. Some passages speak of stormy winds, such as those sent to the ship in which Jonah tried escaping God’s call, as recorded in Jonah 1:4. Or, the stormy winds sent while the disciples maneuvered to cross the Sea of Galilee, as recorded in Matthew 14:22-36. Or, the stormy winds sent to Paul and the other prisoners traveling to Rome, as recorded in Acts 27:1-44. In each case, God had specific purposes for such storms.

In some cases throughout the New Testament, the word “wind” refers to the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:1-13, we read the story of the first Pentecost during which “a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” That powerful “storm” filled everyone there with the Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, recorded in John 3:1-21, He said:

“…the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So is everyone born of the Spirit.”

God’s people and His Church both need the “wind” of the Holy Spirit to blow within us, to remove the dust that has fallen upon us during the years we sat idle. We need to pray again that the Living Lord Jesus Christ would breathe His wind through us, sending us in new directions, bringing new birth by the Holy Spirit, and making the “wind” His servant to fulfill His purposes in us, through us, and for us.

Like seasoned sailors, we need to watch for the direction of the God-given spiritual winds and set our sails appropriately. We need to meet together and wait in prayer, just as the believers did after Jesus’ ascension, watching for Him and for His promised Holy Spirit.

This well-known hymn expresses the kind of prayer God wants us to pray:1

O Breath of Life, come sweeping through us,
Revive Your church with life and pow’r,
O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us,
And fit Your church to meet this hour.

O Wind of God, come bend us, break us,
Till humbly we confess our need;
Then in Your tenderness remake us,
Revive, restore, for this we plead.

______________________

1 Head, Bessie P. O Breath of Life. Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Endurance

 

[Photo of a woman running]


“Let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us.”
—Hebrews 12:1

“Life is not a sprint. It is a marathon.” You’ve heard that quotation. I would like to think that “Oftentimes, trials are not a sprint, but a marathon.” Some trials God gives us in our lives last a day or two. Others go on far longer than we could ever imagine and demand much more of us than we could have ever thought.

In fact, some troubles take far more strength and endurance than we would naturally have available. Don’t believe the idea that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle—by ourselves, alone. In fact, He often gives us more than we can handle just for the purposes He has of causing us to rely totally on Him to carry us beyond our own strength.

We can find comfort in the Sovereignty of God: His supreme, unlimited, wise authority over everything that happens to us gives us assurance that we are in His hands. Yet, does that mean we have no responsibility at all? Whereas some people think they have to manage everything in their lives, others think that submitting to, and waiting on, God alone, getting out of His way, allows Him to perform His will in us and through us.

I love the way that Carolyn Curtis Jones writes about this subject:1

[The writer of the Hebrews] put both ideas side by side without diluting either of them when he charged his readers to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” God marks out our race, and we are commanded to run. If we follow logic, sovereignty doesn’t remove human responsibility. It actually increases it. Human responsibility depends on an ordered world in which God is sovereign. You can’t be responsible in a world of chaos, chance and blind fate. Sovereignty frees us to act because we know God has a plan. We are part of that plan, for we are the agents through whom he accomplished his purposes… God calls us to full-throttled, active, and creative living.

Sometimes, God allows us to feel exhausted, to press us beyond our limits. As anyone who has taken athletic training, or even physical therapy, knows—if you have invested yourself fully in this experience—you will feel exhausted and pressed beyond your limits. But, the payoff comes from that pressing forward in strengthening your own self.

God wants to make us into marathon runners and warriors for His glory. In the end, we will not celebrate our great skill, but our great God. Only by our cooperation with His power and His loving wisdom, will the race be run. All glory to Him!

______________________

1 James, Carolyn Curtis. When Life and Beliefs Collide. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2001. (Amazon Kindle) Pp. 128-129.

 

 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Refresh

 

[Photo of rain falling on a flowered field]


“You gave abundant showers, O God; you
refreshed your weary inheritance.”
—Psalm 68:9

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that
your sins may be wiped out, that times
of refreshing may come from the Lord.”
—Acts 3:19

Without water, we would all die. We rely on God to supply the rain in order for us to live. I am amazed at how quickly my drooping indoor plants revive once I pour a little refreshing water on them.

We humans can live in a dehydrated condition for a while. But, without natural water and without God-given spiritual water, we cannot live with the vigor, joy, and beauty that God intended when He made us.

A deficiency in the electrolytes that keep our bodies’ electrical systems in balance shows up in lethargy, fatigue, heart rhythm problems, dry skin, and a host of other dire consequences that appear when we have not had enough water. Our bodies only become refreshed with a return to proper hydration.

Let me ask each of us this question: How are our “spiritual electrolytes”? Those of our churches? Can we detect a loss of spiritual hydration there? Sometimes, we hardly know when our spiritual posture sags from lack of the refreshment that God wants to provide for us.

In fact, Jesus addressed this problem with the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-45 and called Himself the “Living Water.” Once she drank of His life-giving spiritual water, she left her water jug, ran rejoicing, and called her neighbors to come at once to meet with Jesus.

In John 7:1-24, we read of Jesus preaching to the crowds at the Feast of Tabernacles, and calling them to come to Him for living water. Like those in that long-ago crowd who responded to Jesus, once we learn to rely on this “Water of Life,” we will need the refreshing and the life-giving health it gives in order to serve Him well.

When we fall into patterns of mundane worship, when we droop in our service to God, when our hearts do not beat with vigor for Christ, and when our tired service yields no fruit for others, we know that we need to stop and ask God for a refreshment of the “Living Water” that only He can give us through His precious Son. Fortunately, we only need to ask Him and He will surely supply us with this “Living Water.”

Let us pray that we will clearly see our weariness and, in response, ask God for “rain in the springtime” before we dry up and blow away. Let us ask God for showers of refreshing and a renewal of life, so that we can serve Him effectively.

I particularly like the way this hymn describes such a prayer:1

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way;
Lead us from night to never-ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine;
And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine. Amen.

______________________

1 Roberts, Daniel C. God of Our Fathers. Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Sting

 

[Photo of a bee about to sting]


“Where, O death is your victory? Where,
O death is your sting?” The sting of
death is sin, and the power of sin is
the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us
the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
—1 Corinthians 15:55-56

Whether you have an allergy to bee stings or not, the experience of being stung causes a pain that you will not easily forget. Two aspects of a bee sting cause the pain. First, the stinger itself, like a tiny sword, contains a sharp barbed point that stays in the skin until you remove it. Secondly, the venom causes a chemical reaction within one’s body producing pain and swelling.

St. Paul used the “sting” to illustrate the experience of sin and death. He paired these two poisons in Romans 6:23, when he wrote:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We can easily see how death carries a “sting.” No one can dispute that this ending point comes to us as the ultimate battle that we face. As believers in the Lord Jesus, however, we are assured of the absence of the “sting” of this enemy.

If you have experienced the death of a loved one who lived as a follower of and believer in Christ, you know that the terror, no matter how terrible the death, has been softened as a result of the sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross. Jesus dealt with the victory of death when He died on the cross and rose again from the dead.

We, as humans, experience many other kinds of “stinging” events in our lives. We know the pain of scary medical diagnoses, the loss of jobs, difficult financial straits, legal battles, and numerous other kinds of disappointments.

Sometimes, we have faith to believe all that God has told us in His word concerning our experience of death. But, in the midst of our particular trials, we fail to realize that He has also removed the “stinger” from these lesser struggles.

Reason with me that the God who has power over death, also has power over all other events in our lives. In response, let us resolve today, to face all of life and death by trusting our God to remove the venom from each powerful heartbreak. We must remember that He has removed the sting!

 

 

Monday, May 6, 2019

King Me

 

[Photo of chessboard]


“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give
my glory to another or my praise to idols.”
—Isaiah 42:8

Most of us have played the game of Checkers at one time or another and know that when our “man” reaches the first row of the other player’s side, we gleefully shout, “King Me!” As a result, we get an extra “man” on top and can move in any direction we want to move.

Don’t all of us want to be “King” of our lives in that way, so that we can move wherever we desire? According to Paul David Tripp:1

We all demand to be in the center of our world. We all tend to be too focused on what we want, on what we think we need, and on our feelings. We all want our own way, and we want people to stay out of our way. We all want to be sovereign [king] over our lives and to write our own rules… When we are angry, it’s seldom because the people around us have broken God’s law, most often we are angry because people have broken the law of our happiness.

Yet, over and over again in Scripture, Jesus reminded us that He is King and wants us to honor Him as King. Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 6:15-16, that He is:

God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

Again and again, Jesus taught about His Kingdom: how to become great in that Kingdom, how to enter the Kingdom, what the Kingdom is like, and to whom the Kingdom belongs. Those who belong to His kingdom have made, and continue to make, Him the Sovereign over their lives.

Our sinful nature compels us to want to be king of our own lives. The culture around us lives with that guiding principal. This poem perfectly demonstrates that philosophy.2

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
for my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
my head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
how charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

See the contrast in this passage from Philippians 2:8-11 written about our King of kings:

He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Though it requires of us humility and suffering, this remains the Kingdom to which we belong and the King to whom we bow!

______________________

1 Tripp, Paul David. Come, Let Us Adore Him. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Publishing Company, 2017. p. 83.
2 Henley, William Ernest, Invictus. Chicago, Illinois: Poetry Foundation Publishing Company, 2019.

 

 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Misunderstood

 

[Drawing of Jesus and Mary at the tomb]


Mary Magdalene went to the disciples
with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”
—John 20:18

Throughout much of history, largely because of the proximity of their stories in the Bible, many scholars and other individuals have confused the identity of Mary Magdalene (or, Mary from Magdala) with that of another unnamed woman. In order to rightly understand this narrative portion of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must examine more carefully the exact identity of this important woman, Mary Magdalene.

In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 7:36-50) we read the story of a woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in gratitude and worship. She had lived a sinful life as a prostitute and came to worship Jesus for forgiving her.

At the beginning of the very next chapter, (Luke 8:1-2), we read about a different woman, Mary Magdalene, who became one of Jesus’ closest followers. The Scripture tells us that Jesus had touched her and cured her from the possession of evil spirits and diseases. She has a distinct identity from the unnamed woman described in the previous chapter of Luke’s Gospel.

Nevertheless, this godly woman, Mary Magdalene, has been portrayed by writers and filmmakers as Jesus’ wife, as in the motion picture, The DaVinci Code. At best, the play, Jesus Christ Superstar, portrays Mary Magdalene as a fallen woman now in love with Jesus, comparing Him to her other lovers in the song: “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”

Even biblically knowledgeable Christians get the prostitute in Luke 7 confused with Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus called the evil spirits, setting her free. Mary Magdalene became a close follower of Jesus, sat at His feet, and traveled with His large group of disciples.

Throughout the New Testament, all four Gospel writers have mentioned Mary Magdalene only slightly fewer times than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene’s name appears in nine lists of women. And, it always appears first in those lists.

States a well-known writer, Carolyn James:1

Mary’s real story is with the twelve apostles. Her relationship with Jesus resulted in the transformation of a useless, self-destructing life into a masterpiece of his grace. She became a key contributor to the advancement of his kingdom and someone to whom all Christians are indebted. Mary and the other women from Galilee were not incidental to the stories of Jesus’ male disciples either. These women had a profound, life-changing impact on the Twelve.

At the tomb on Easter morning, here sat Mary Magdalene, in despair, weeping over her crucified Lord. She, out of whom Satan was cast, became the first to celebrate the victory of the seed of the woman prophesied to Eve in the Garden of Eden. But, as Carolyn James points out, not only did Jesus show Himself first to Mary Magdalene:2

He authorized and commissioned her to proclaim the good news of his resurrection to his brothers, the eleven apostles… Distinguished men down through the ages have bestowed upon Mary the title “apostle to the apostles.”

Considering the life of Mary Magdalene should cause us to ask some questions of ourselves. Do we feel like a misunderstood Christian? Do others think of us more because of a past reputation that has been forgiven, rather than the godly disciple Jesus is making of us?

We must not be disheartened. Jesus has a way of coming near and speaking to us in unprecedented ways—ways that show His love and choice of us as His treasured followers. He has not misunderstood us. In fact, He understands us best of all. We must rejoice in that knowledge!

______________________

1 James, Carolyn Curtis. Lost Women of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing Co., 2005. Pp. 188, 197.
2 Ibid.

 

 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Accomplished

 

[Drawing of Jesus leaving the tomb]


“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to
her, that her warfare is ended, that her
iniquity is pardoned; For she has received
from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
—Isaiah 40:1-2 NKJV

“Hold on,” you say. “That’s a Scripture passage that we heard preached during Advent!” Or even, “Isn’t that passage referring to the exiled Jews in Babylon? Are you saying they could now come home to Israel? And, are you saying this is an Easter passage?”

Think about it. Couldn’t this announcement refer even more to the work Christ accomplished on the cross? And, couldn’t this be the rightful message He could proclaim to His disciples on that Resurrection Sunday? Jesus ended the warfare that has come against us because of our sin. He died in our place and God brought Him back to life.

Jesus’ last words from the cross can be heard in this passage when He spoke, “It is finished.” To respond, we need only to accept that pronouncement over our sins and accept the work that He has already accomplished for us. We can stand in the wonderful position of peace with God through Jesus. Romans 5:1-2 tells us:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

This Easter, may we bask in the glory of the accomplished work of Christ, and sing with thanksgiving this now-accomplished Advent hymn:1

Comfort, comfort ye my people,
  speak ye peace, thus saith our God.
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
  mourning ’neath their sorrow’s load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem
  of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover,
  and her warfare now is over.

Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
  blotting out each dark misdeed.
All that well deserved his anger
  he no more will see or heed.
She hath suffered many a day,
  now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
  into ever-springing gladness.

______________________

1 Olearius, Johannes (1671). Tr. by Winkworth, Catherine. Comfort, Comfort Ye My People. Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Wail

 

[Drawing of Christ on the Cross]


“And he [Joseph] wept so loudly
that the Egyptians heard him, and
Pharaoh’s household heard about it.”
—Genesis 45:2

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.”
—Mark 15:37

Other-earthly; prolonged and deathly; loud and terror-ridden. This sound came from Joseph’s body, up from the depths of his soul when he revealed himself to his brothers. This unnatural act of forgiveness came with a terrible cost: months and years of turmoil.

Philip Yancey perfectly expresses this occasion:1

The brothers Joseph struggled to forgive were the very ones who had bullied him, had cooked up schemes to murder him, had sold him into slavery. Because of them he had spent the best years of his youth moldering in an Egyptian dungeon. Though he went on to triumph over adversity and though with all his heart he now wanted to forgive these brothers, he could not bring himself to that point, not yet. The wound still hurt too much.

I view Genesis 42-45 as Joseph’s way of saying, “I think it’s pretty amazing that I forgive you for the dastardly things you’ve done!” When grace finally broke through to Joseph, the sound of his grief and loved echoed throughout the palace. What is that wail? Is the king’s minister sick? No, Joseph’s health is fine. It was the sound of a man forgiving.

Now, change the scene. See Jesus during the last twenty-four hours of His life. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He fought in prayer with His Father: “Would You possibly take this dreadful task away from me? If not, I will bow to Your will.”

Jesus prayed until He could agree with the Father’s will. This death had to be died. This pain had to take its course. There was no other way. In order to fully love us, He agreed to the Father’s plan. On the cross, in torturous agony, Jesus gave Himself for the sins of the world.

What is that wail? Listen, and hear that horrible sound. It graphically illustrates that He came and willingly died for us all. The wail revealed the sound of this perfect Man forgiving—forgiving us!

Jesus asks us to forgive others as He forgave. We bow in prayer during this Holy Week to ask for His grace that will allow us the healing that comes from His wail and from our own.

______________________

1 Yancey, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace? Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997. Pp. 84-85.

 

 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Broken and Given

 

[Photo of raw grain in a bowel]


I say to you, “unless a grain of wheat falls
into the earth and dies, it remains alone;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
—John 12:24

And when he [Jesus] had given
thanks, he broke it
[bread] and
said, “This is my body, which is broken
for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
—1 Corinthians 11:24

By growing accustomed to our modern supermarkets and the plastic-packaged-machine-sliced loaves of bread we buy in abundance, we forget the raw materials and the deadly process that goes into such food. Of course, in Bible times, everyone understood what Jesus meant when He referred to broken bread. These people saw daily the practice of bread-making.

The wheat goes through a wounding process in which each grain gets ground down to the flour with which we make bread. In Jesus’ day, large mill stones crushed the grain and ground it. Using the image of broken bread, Jesus demonstrated the breaking of His own body by which the Father made Him food for us.

Even if we understand Jesus’ brokenness when we partake of the Sacrament of Holy Communion—the Lord’s Supper—we must realize that not only should we celebrate and remember Christ’s giving for us, He also wants us to give ourselves away in the same manner.

Here’s how author Ann Voskamp describes it:1

Live Eucharist. Practice communion… Feel abundant life. All I can think is this: this is how you make the ever-present Christ fully present. This is the beginning of becoming the gift. Allow Christ in you to give away the gift of Himself right through your brokenness. God gives God so we can be the givers. The gift-ers. (emphasis mine.)1

If we have felt the crushing of our hearts—most all of us have had such an experience—we must understand that Christ wants more from us than our single ripened grain of beautiful wheat. The way of the cross, on which His body was broken, has become a demonstration of God’s sacrifice for us. Now, He wants us to give our broken lives to others as bread, nourishment, and healing for them.

We can praise our risen Lord for the crushed body He gave for us. And, we can praise Him for the honor He gives us to demonstrate the same brokenness and sacrifice to a needy world in which we live.

______________________

1 Voskamp, Ann. Be the Gift. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2017. p. 57.

 

 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Cleansing the Temple

 

[Drawing of Jesus cleansing the Temple]


Jesus went into the temple and began to throw
out the people who were selling things there.
He said, “It is written in the Scriptures,
‘My temple will be a house for prayer,’ but
you have changed it into a ‘hideout for robbers’!”
—Luke 19:45-46 NCV

Jesus came to the temple at the time of Passover and saw the following scene:

Filling the Court of the Gentiles, thousands of pilgrims stream past the animal enclosures and money tables, creating a babble of noise broken by shouting merchants and crying children. Cramped against each other in makeshift pens, lambs and goats and oxen mill in nervous circles, the smell of fresh dung scattered by their hooves. Dozens of pilgrims wait for [the man] to inspect their offerings—small lambs tucked under arms, goats led by ropes, doves in reed cages.1

We have all read the story of Jesus coming upon this scene, angered by what He saw, and taking authority to overturn tables, scatter coins, and let loose the animals. He felt personally attacked because, unknown to the crowd, this was His temple on earth.

I often wondered what lesson God wanted us to learn from this account. How can we apply this to our world? I doubt anyone reading this has seen such a scene in their churches.

However, I am reminded of these verses from 1 Corinthians 3:16-17:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

Pretty strong words, right? It begs the question, “What would Jesus in anger like to overturn, or throw out, of our lives?” What does He see in us that does not belong? What should be replaced with prayer, or with a strong healing touch of the Holy Spirit’s power? Have we become so accustomed to the sight, smells, and noise of sinful activity that we no longer notice?

Oh, Jesus, You who died so that we might become a temple in which You feel comfortable to live, to pray, and to serve, please have mercy on us! Reveal to us the sinful clutter, the bellowing din and smelly sins that crowd out Your “still small voice” and Your beauty. Cleanse us, purify us. Reveal Yourself in love, rather than in anger. And, heal us, that we may carry Your precious Spirit glowing with light and peace to the world. Amen.

______________________

1 Brouwer, Sigmund. The Carpenter’s Journey to the Cross and Beyond. Nashville: Countryman-Thomas Nelson Publishing Company, 1997. p. 31.

 

 

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Brook Kidron

 

[Photo of The Brook Kidron]


“The whole countryside wept aloud as
all the people passed by. The king
[David] also crossed the Kidron Valley.”
—2 Samuel 15:23

“When he had finished praying, Jesus left with
his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.”
—John 18:1

Even today, as the photo above shows, the Brook Kidron carries the foul waste from the city of Jerusalem. King David—in fleeing from his son, Absalom, who had usurped King David’s power and proclaimed himself king—sorrowfully crossed this brook into the desert in order to mourn. David prayed that God would allow him favor to let him again see his beloved city of Jerusalem and the tabernacle of Jewish worship.

The King of Kings Himself took the same path on His way to the cross. He left, with Peter, James, and John, to spend the night in prayer on the Mount of Olives. Mark 14:33-34 describes Jesus’ spirit:

He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them.

Jesus gives all of His followers a Brook Kidron to cross. Sometimes, He give us many. Just as our Savior had to suffer, He gives us the path of suffering. Philippians 3:10 offers us this testimony of St. Paul:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing His suffering.

As God did with King David, and also with our Lord Jesus, He uses our Brook Kidrons to achieve His good will in us. I like the way that Charles Hadden Spurgeon puts it:1

The King of Kings himself was not favored with a more cheerful or royal road. He passed over the filthy ditch of Kidron, through which the filth of Jerusalem flowed. God had one Son without sin, but not a single child without the rod. It is a great joy to believe that Jesus has been tempted in all points like as we are. What is our Kidron? Is it a faithless friend, a sad bereavement, a slanderous reproach, a dark foreboding? The King has passed over these. Is it bodily pain, poverty persecution, or contempt? Over each of these Kidrons the King has gone before us.

What results did God plan of all these sorrows? David returned in triumph to his city. Christ arose triumphant from the grave. Thus, we have Spurgeon’s encouragement to us:2

Courage, soldiers of the Cross, the King himself triumphed after going over Kidron, and so shall you.

______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Morning and Evening. McLean Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company, Public Domain. p. 304.
2 Ibid.

 

 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Inside Out

 

[Photo of children with their inside clothes on the outside]


Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a
Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed:
“God, I thank you that I am not like other
people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or
even like this tax collector. I fast twice a
week and give a tenth of all I get.”

But the tax collector stood at a
distance. He would not even look up to
heaven, but beat his breast and said,
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I tell you that this man, rather than the other,
went home justified before God. For all those
who exalt themselves will be humbled, and
those who humble themselves will be exalted.
—Luke 18:10-14

Often in the dreary days of winter, or when the school year winds down, teachers and administrators create school-wide activities to bring some excitement to their students. They try “hat day,” or “mis-match day,” or “school colors day.” One such of these special days that I remember we called “Inside Out Day.” Everyone dressed with their clothes inside out.

I got to thinking: What if we wore our personal sins on the outside, instead of hiding them as if those personal sins represent our fraying seams and tags? If we dressed this way all the time, would that make us consider more clearly the way that God sees our sins?

More than fifty years ago, our Houghton College chaplain often said we came to church showing our “respectable exteriors.” We wore our best suits and shoes, showed everyone our smiles, and sang using our heartiest voices. What if everyone could see us on the inside, just as God does? He knows very well our hidden faults and our sins too dreadful and embarrassing to admit.

The parable Jesus told about the tax collector and Pharisee—a religious leader in the temple—illustrates this condition of heart. Jesus wants us to see that we live much of the time like the Pharisee did: respectable, confident in our holy living, and looking down on those we know who have major sin problems. Jesus asked which of the two men He actually justified. He wants us to humbly and willingly show our hidden sins to Him and to bow before Him seeking for His mercy, grace, and forgiving love.

During this Season of Lent, let us make a point of looking at the “wrong side” of our image—the side God alone sees and waits for us to confess to Him. If we need to take a day and wear something inside out, allow it to remind us of God’s all-seeing eyes and His readiness to cleanse us from our sins and dress us in the fullness of His righteousness!

 

 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Behold the Lamb!

 

[Painting of a lamb and the cross]


The next day John saw Jesus coming toward
him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world!”
—John 1:29

References to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” come up often in the New Testament Scriptures—from His baptism by John, all the way to Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Most often the image of the Lamb refers to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and His disposition as He made that sacrifice.

The challenge for us, who follow the Lamb during this Season of Lent, comes when we humbly acknowledge how far we fall from His standard.

The British evangelist and author, Roy Hession, refers to an address he heard in London in the 1940’s by a Mr. Marshall Shallis, who spoke of Jesus as:1

  1. The simple Lamb—helpless and dependent.

  2. The shorn Lamb—of His rights, His reputation, His position.

  3. The silent Lamb—never defending Himself or explaining Himself.

  4. The spotless Lamb—no resentment, no grudges, no bitterness.

  5. The substitute Lamb—carrying our sins, the scapegoat for us, scarred and humble.

If we make it our goal to be like Jesus, we need to consider how the Holy Spirit continually urges us to allow Him to accomplish more of these characteristics of the Lamb in us. We should accept the challenge during this Season of Lent to join in meditating on the love that led Jesus to become the Lamb for us. Then, let us listen as the Holy Spirit urges us to ask what qualities He would like to see blossom in our lives.

______________________

1 Hession, Roy, The Calvary Road. London: Christian Literature Crusade, 1950. Pp. 60-64.

 

 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Rending

 

[Photo of a man against a wall with his back to the camera]


“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return
to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and
compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in
love, and he relents from sending calamity.”
—Joel 2:13

In Bible times, rending, or ripping, your garments signaled a deep emotion: grief, anger, penitence, etc. The devout individual would use this act also as a symbol of deep repentance for sin when he or she cried out to the Lord. Yet, this act, over time, became an ostentatious symbol that belied a different inner reality.

The prophets of the Old Testament, and Jesus in the New Testament writings, warned against “playing to the crowd” by acting in holy ways without the inward changes the outward signs represented. As the prophet Joel warned in the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, God looks at the hard, humbling work in the heart and ignores the outward pretentions.

What kind of things do we do in our culture to represent repentance, or a turn around, in our spiritual lives?

Many people will attend Ash Wednesday services this week and wear the sign of the cross on their foreheads to demonstrate their heart intentions. But, quite likely, some will go through the motions and never truly deal with the sins they retain in their hearts.

When I attended high school many years ago, those of us who loved the Lord would carry our Bibles on top of our books. But, I also watched as teenage attractions led some to try to please someone of the opposite gender by playing the part of a devoted Christian and also carry a Bible on top of their books without actually ever allowing God to make a sincere change in their hearts and behaviors.

Some people join churches where the “important” people attend to “see and be seen.” This, too, illustrates “rending the garment and not the heart.”

Charles Spurgeon reminds us:1

Heart-rending is divinely wrought and solemnly felt. It is a secret grief which is personally experienced, not in mere form but as a deep, soul-moving work of the Holy Spirit upon the inmost heart of each believer… It is powerfully humiliating, and completely sin-purging; but then it is sweetly preparative for those gracious consolations which proud unhumbled spirits are unable to receive.

I am reminded of the beautiful recitative and aria in the oratorio Elijah by Mendelssohn. The texts for this solo come from the verse in Joel, which I quoted, and also from Job 23:3:

“Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might even come before his presence.”

Mendelssohn continues by quoting from Deuteronomy 4:29-31:

“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul… for the Lord your God is a merciful God.”

Let us watch the video clip that follows and allow God to speak to our inner beings, as we soon begin this Season of Lent:


[Graphic of a play video icon]


______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning and Evening. McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Co., Public Domain. p. 706.