Posted in 1John, 1Samuel, John, Luke, Psalms

The Father’s Joy

“He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

David experienced the positive side of God’s passion. Knowing this delight is the secret to great faith.

God’s love and delight in me means that, of course, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1Samuel 17:37) Perfect love casts out all fear. (1John 4:18) Perfect love is not my love for God, it’s His love for me. When this truth goes from being our theology to our identity, great faith is easy.

Yet this truth can be hard to grasp in our hearts, so Jesus gave us three stories in Luke 15 to explain the Father’s joy in us. The Father is like a shepherd looking for a lost sheep. When he finds it there is great joy and this is how all of heaven feels when one sinner repents. God feels like the woman who searches for a lost coin of precious value (Notice that it doesn’t lose its value because it’s lost!). When she finds it, she rejoices, because that which was lost to her has been found.

And then He tells of an earthly father that runs to welcome back his prodigal son. Instead of reminding him of the hurt the son has caused, the father, in his joy, throws an extravagant party for him.

The prodigal thought it was all about his bad behavior so he planned on coming back as a hired man instead of as a son. (Luke 15:19) The older brother thought it was about his good behavior so he was confused as to why he hadn’t received more, and was angry about his father’s welcome of the prodigal. (Luke 15:29-30) But it’s not about behavior; it’s about relationship. God knows that apart from grace we can’t be good, and that when we’re in Christ we can’t help but bear good fruit. (John 15:5)

The Father’s joy is in you! Have you come into the party called grace or are you standing outside because of the shame of sin, or the self-righteousness of pride?

Say it to yourself: “I am God’s delight. Not because I’m good, but because I’m His.” This is not just our experience when we first receive forgiveness; this is our name, our very identity. Believe it!

Posted in Isaiah

Is God Awakening the Muslim World?

“I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me.” Isaiah 65:1

A few years ago we had Tom Doyle speak at our missions conference. Tom has spent eleven years as a full-time missionary to the Middle East and has authored the book Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?  Below is one of the stories he relates in his book. My heart soars as I contemplate God’s love for people and the measures He is willing to take.

Hassan had a heart for Muslims and had studied for years to reach them for Christ but the results were disappointing. He had lived in the old part of Cairo, Egypt for two years and although he talked about Christ daily, he had not seen a single convert. Early one morning he was abducted and taken against his will across rooftops to a hatch door that he was commanded to open. Hassan was praying the prayer of a martyr, “Jesus, into your hands I commit my spirit,” but something extraordinary awaited him inside the foreboding room he entered.

The man who had kidnapped Hassan explained: “We are imams, and we all studied at Al-Azhar University. During our time there, each of us had a dream about Jesus, and each of us has privately become a follower of Christ. For a time, we didn’t dare tell anyone about this. It would, of course, have been our own death sentences. But finally, we could hide it no longer.

“We each prayed to Jesus for His help to learn what it means to be His follower. Over time, He brought us together, and you can imagine our amazement when the Holy Spirit revealed that there are other imams who have found Jesus as well. Now we meet here three times a week at night to pray for our families and for the people in our mosques to find Jesus too. We know you follow Christ. He has led us to you.

“I’m very sorry I had to frighten you with the mask and the gun, but I knew it was the only way to get you here. It was just too dangerous any other way. I apologize. But now our question is, will you teach us the Bible?”

Posted in 2Corinthians, Acts, Exodus, John, Revelation

Thinking Right

“But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” Acts 14:2

Belize and Mexico are two places I regularly go for missions trips and in both places you can’t drink the tap water. It looks fine but is contaminated, so you can’t drink it or you become sick. A few years ago our whole team got sick and it was traced back to a restaurant where they had cooked the chicken we ate in contaminated water. You only have to get sick once to become very careful about what you drink!

Are we as careful about our thoughts? In our text we have a group of Jews who “refused to believe” the good news of God’s love and redemption through Christ and then poisoned others with their judgments. When we stop seeing ourselves and others as loved and worth redeeming, we tend to take up the enemy’s accusations instead. (Revelation 12:10) This is poison. Satan sows suspicion and bitterness toward others in our minds if we let him, and he can even use us to divide homes, friends and churches. He knows that a kingdom divided will not stand and is the master at using poisonous thoughts to bring offense, isolation, envy, and jealousy.

The judgments we make appear to be “the truth,” so we justify ourselves in thinking them and even speaking them, but judgment isn’t the whole truth. God loves people and sent His Son into the world to save us, not to condemn us. (John 3:17) We overcome the accuser by testifying about the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11) which was shed for us and for everyone we know. The whole truth, therefore, is not just what is wrong with people, but must include what God has done through His Son to make them right. (2Corinthians 5:19)

When the children of Israel came out of Egypt, they drank from a water source that was poisonous. Moses cried out to God, and God showed him a tree. (Exodus 15:25) He cut it down, threw it in the water, and it became sweet. God didn’t show him a different place to drink that had pure water; He redeemed that which was bitter and made it sweet. He wants to do the same thing with our thinking. Why don’t we identify our poison, bring it to the cross, and allow God to sweeten our thoughts toward even the most difficult sinners in our lives.

Posted in 1Timothy, 2Corinthians, Ecclesiastes, Genesis, Luke, Malachi, Proverbs, Psalms

Monopoly Money

“Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb; and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.” Ecclesiastes 5:15

If you play Monopoly by the real rules a game should take about an hour. During that brief period Monopoly money has value – you can buy property, improve property, and pay your debts with its currency. But when the game is over you put everything away, put the box on the shelf, and there is no longer any worth in those dollars. It will be seen that the same is true of our money on planet earth.

Compared to eternity our time here is called a breath or a vapor. Money has value during this time and how we use it is one way God tests our hearts. Jesus said, “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth who will trust you with true riches.” (Luke 16:11) A few verses later He went on to say: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13)

How do we pass God’s money test?

  1. Recognize we are stewards, not owners. We are to love God and use money; not love money while trying to use God.
  2. We are to give back to God the first fruits of our income (Proverbs 3:9-10) which Scripture defines as a tithe or ten percent. (Genesis 14:20; Malachi 3:10-11)
  3. We are to be willing to share in any good deed as God leads us. (2Corinthians 9:7-8)
  4. As riches increase, we are to guard our hearts. (Psalm 62:10) Money is a useful servant but a terrible master.
  5. We are to trust God as our Source and be thankful because He “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1Timothy 6:17)
Posted in Malachi, Matthew, Philippians

The Mystery of Giving

“You (Philippians) sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more, I am amply supplied…Your gifts are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:16-19

We use giving boxes at our church instead of receiving offerings and rarely even talk about the importance of giving as part of our worship. It’s our response to a culture where many believe the church just wants their money. God loves people and He doesn’t want a system where anyone thinks you have to “pay” to stay in His grace.

Yet the self-sufficient God is mysteriously interested in our giving. He has placed, in giving, a number of incentives so His people will want to give freely to that which He values. Paul gives us three in the passage above:

  1. We increase our heavenly account. “I am looking for what may be credited to your account.” In Matthew 6:20 Jesus invites us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” in the context of giving, not to be seen by men, but by the Father in heaven. You can’t take money with you, but mysteriously, it seems we can send it ahead by investing in God’s interests.
  2. We please God by our sacrifice. “Your gifts are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Money is real to us, and God knows it. For most of us, giving more to God’s work means choosing for the present to have less stuff, or go on fewer vacations, or at least, having less in our retirement account. It is meaningful to God, a fragrant offering, when we choose to worship Him in this very tangible way.
  3. We secure future provision. “God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ.” Although we make a present sacrifice, God is committed to being the only true Benefactor in His kingdom. Those who give do not need to fear, He Himself has resources to draw on and will see to it that all our needs are provided for. He encourages all of us to test Him in the area of tithing, for instance, and promises to “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:10)
Posted in Hebrews, Matthew

Hungry in the Kingdom

“Of those born of women no one is greater than John the Baptist, but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From John until now the kingdom of God suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” Matthew 11:11-12

John the Baptist was marked by a spiritual hunger that was willing to do anything to live close to God. He lived in the desert separate from all the contaminating forces of this world. He embraced a life of simplicity and was committed to pleasing God and speaking what God wanted, even if it resulted in prison and death.

How could the least of us in the kingdom of God possibly be greater than John? John prepared the way for the kingdom but couldn’t enter it himself. He lived under a covenant that could only restrain evil behavior but lacked power to redeem the human heart. Even though John had an anointed birth and led an exemplary life that made him the best there ever was under the old system, that system could only get him to the doorway of the kingdom of God.

The least person born into this kingdom immediately has greater privilege before God, and greater access to God than anyone in the Old Covenant could ever reach. 

John approached God on the basis of the annual temple sacrifices of sheep, goats, and bulls while we approach the throne of grace with a confidence based on the once and for all sacrifice Jesus made of Himself. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

Isn’t it tragic when we as Christians live as though we’re still on the outside trying to get in? What if we combined confidence in what Jesus did for us, with the spiritual hunger of John? What if we lived hungry in the kingdom and used that hunger to easily access all those things that were out of John’s reach? I think we’d change our world!

Posted in John, Philippians

Equipped with Peace

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

The peace, or shalom (Hebrew) of Jesus, is vital equipment for the Christian life. It is to act as a guard for us, and as a thermostat for others.

  1. A guard for us. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) The world only gives you peace when all your troubles are solved. The peace Jesus gives is in the midst of troubles. His peace guards us from leading anxious lives that end up burning us out. This is not merely a positive attitude that things will get better, but a tangible presence that acts as a guard against fear and anxiety. We must grow in His peace; we must break the habit of living anxious, fearful lives and learn to practice His presence in the midst of the storm. We put clothes on every morning; let’s not forget to put on the peace He has given us for a guard.
  2. A thermostat for others. When Jesus said, “My peace…”, I think the disciples remembered the power of His peace. When the storm was threatening their lives, Jesus stood and said, “Peace be still.” Then the peace that allowed Jesus to sleep in the storm acted like a thermostat until the entire environment was as at peace as He was. The disciples were living as thermometers (a thermometer only reflects what is in the environment), like the world does, a storm outside had led to a storm of anxiety and fear inside their hearts to the point that they thought they would perish. When they reached the other side they met a demoniac who was so restless, not even chains could hold him. Once again, the peace of Jesus acted like a thermostat until the man came into his right mind and came to share the very peace of God. Think of it: “My peace I give to you.”

To give peace, we must have peace.  I don’t know your circumstances today, but I do know that God wants to give you peace in the midst of them. He then wants us to be a portal of His peace to those around us so that the very atmosphere is filled with the presence of redemption.

Posted in Hebrews, Psalms, Song of Songs

Prolonging God’s Discipline

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves and He punishes those He accepts. Endure hardship as discipline.” Hebrews 12:6-7

God doesn’t want to constantly discipline his children any more than earthly parents want to. He tells us in Psalm 32 He wants to guide us with only His eye, but He also assures us that He will use bit and bridle if He has to. Earthly parents tend to either under or over discipline, but our Father in heaven disciplines us perfectly for our good. (Hebrews 12:10)

What is often imperfect is our response which can lead to a prolonged discipline that was never intended. Here are two natural, but wrong responses to discipline:

  1. “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline.” We sometimes miss what God is trying to do in our lives, so we end up blaming people, the devil, or “bad luck” for something that God is trying to use to get our attention. Don’t just plow through life; listen for what God is saying. He wants to use our unhappiness to drive us close to Him so He can make us holy. (Hebrews 12:10) He uses hardship to soften us and beautify us if we will let Him. If we keep running away from difficulties He wants us to face, He will just bring larger ones until we finally slow down and listen to Him.
  2. “Do not lose heart when He rebukes you.” God loves us so much that He won’t let us go the wrong way without eventually intervening. If you think hardship is evidence that God has rejected you, you will become disabled by the very thing God intended for your healing. (Hebrews 12:13) When we believe the lie that God has rejected us, we end up on the disabled list and God waits for us to come back to Him like the father waited for the prodigal. When we doubt God’s love, darkness keeps us from the intimacy and adventure that should be ours in Jesus.

Let’s respond quickly to our Father and come out of the wilderness leaning on our Beloved. (Song of Songs 8:5)

Posted in Ephesians, Psalms

The Heartbeat of Missions

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Ephesians 1:18

The modern missions movement is often cited as beginning in 1732 when two Moravians by the names of Johann Dober and David Nitschmann were willing to sell themselves into slavery to reach the natives of the West Indies with the gospel. It wasn’t their act of going that became the heartbeat of missions, it was why they were going. Why would they leave the comfort of their homes and families to go reach people they had never met?

It is said that they called out to their loved ones on shore as the ship pulled away, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!” It wasn’t their love for humanity that called to them; or the fear that people would perish in hell if they weren’t reached with the gospel; it was their burning love for Jesus.

The gospel promises forgiveness and eternal life for us, but the Father isn’t just thinking of what we get; He’s thinking about what His Son gets. He had promised Him in eternity that if He would be born as a son of man, He would be given the nations as His inheritance. (Psalm 2:7-8) Think of it: Jesus died and shed His blood for every human being that you know. If He got His full inheritance, everyone would worship Him, love Him, serve Him, and follow Him.

We all have loved ones we want to reach for the gospel because we want them to be with us in heaven. Maybe instead of praying God would save them for their sake, or for our sake, we should pray that the Father would draw them, so that the Lamb of God might receive the reward of His suffering!

Posted in 2Corinthians, Isaiah, Psalms

Is Your Calling Hard? 

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ He said, ‘Go and tell this to the people: be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and be healed.’” Isaiah 6:8-11

Is it hard to do what you do day in and day out? Do you ever find yourself growing weary and falling into self pity? I sure have. In times like these it’s helpful to remember some of those who have gone before us.

Consider Isaiah’s calling in the text above. Basically God is telling Isaiah that if he does exactly what God wants, and says exactly what God says, people will get worse. God is in essence saying: “They don’t want the light so your ministry will actually make them harder but I want you to go to them anyway.” Really? And I thought my calling was hard.

Consider Paul’s calling. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; I’ve been in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2Corinthians 11:24-28)  Maybe my calling isn’t that hard?

Consider David’s calling. Psalm 54 was written by David when he was in the wilderness being chased by Saul and about to be betrayed by some of his own people, the Ziphites. This is the David who God had anointed king and had been called because his heart was after God’s heart. At this point he had not disobeyed in any way, yet he is not only not king but is living day by day with an army chasing him down.

How is your life compared to these? It’s amazing what a little perspective will do!