Posted in Psalms

Seeking His Face

“My heart has heard You say, ‘seek My face.’  Your face, oh God, will I seek.”  Psalm 27:8

A few years ago I went to India to train pastors, but the Sunday before we began, I was asked to preach in a church that met in an orphanage.  Kids of all ages joined us and sat up front.

The message was about who God is, His face, verses what He can do for us, His hand.  My point was that the higher calling is to seek His face, and that sometimes God calls us, right in the midst of our needs, to seek His face.  This Psalm is written while David is being chased by Saul and has a whole army at the door.  He desperately needed God’s hand, but God spoke to his heart about seeking His face instead.

After I closed with a general prayer for those who wanted to say “yes” to God’s invitation, the pastor came up and encouraged people to be prayed for individually.  No one came for their needs but only for greater devotion to seek God’s face.

At some point while I was praying for people, I told the pastor to invite those who needed healing to come forward.  The first lady explained through an interpreter that she had horrible pain throughout her body.  I prayed a brief prayer, and she turned around to leave.  I called her back.  “Tell us how you’re feeling?” I asked.  She said, “I’m healed; the pain is gone.”  I said, “Do you mean you’re in less pain?”  She insisted, “No, I am completely healed!”

It was then I noticed something; my hands were burning.  I told the pastor to tell the people my hands were burning, and if they needed healing they should come right now.  I prayed for all ages for the next hour, and everyone I prayed for felt the pain immediately leave their bodies.  I prayed for the sick the rest of the time in India but never saw the power repeated that was present that Sunday morning.

I think God’s heart was touched by the devotion of these orphans.  If we would seek His face in the midst of our great needs, He wanted us to know, we would also have His generous hand!

Posted in Revelation

Resting in God

“This is the message from the One who is holy and true… what He opens, no one can close; and what He closes, no one can open.”  Revelation 3:7

In the spring of 1987, I was excited about a potential transition.  For six months I had the impression God was leading me out of the business world (I worked as an Investment Broker), into full time ministry.

You can imagine my excitement when a pastor from Illinois came to interview me.  After our meeting, Pastor Braaten felt like this was God’s plan for their church, but it wasn’t automatic.  I needed to come down and “candidate” for the position, he explained.

So we loaded up our young family and went down to Grand de tour, Illinois to spend a weekend at the church, and I preached for them that Sunday.  I thought it went well, but Pastor Braaten called the next week, and informed me that I was going to have to return and preach a second time.

I had no idea how churches worked, so I didn’t take this as rejection, but just part of the process.  Before I preached the second time, Pastor Braaten brought me into his office.  “Some of the people didn’t like the way you walked back and forth last time.  Could you stay behind the pulpit instead of wandering around?” he requested.

No problem.  I thought it went well, but once again he called and said I would have to come down a third time to “candidate.”  Right before I preached the third time, he again pulled me into his office.  “Last time you stayed behind the pulpit, but you played with the gooseneck microphone the whole time, and it drove some people crazy.  Why don’t you go ahead and walk around again.”

After that message, the church officially asked me to be their youth pastor, and that was my entrance into full time ministry.  Why did it take so long?  I think God (and Pastor Braaten) wanted me at that church, and the church didn’t want me, but they couldn’t close the door no matter how hard they tried.

When we are resting in God, He is able to open doors no man can shut.  We don’t have to be impressive, we just need to trust in God.  And by the way, I’ve been “wandering around” while preaching ever since!

Posted in 1Corinthians, John, Matthew, Philippians

Assurance of Victory

“No temptation (test) has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tested) beyond what you are able but with the temptation (test) will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1Corinthians 10:13

 You and I can win every day, but to do so, we must begin by agreeing with God’s definition of what victory as a Christian looks like.

 First what it doesn’t look like.  Winning does not mean having no troubles, struggles, or issues to deal with.  Jesus said the wind and the waves will crash against every life (Matthew 7:24-27) and promised His disciples that they would have troubles in this world. (John 16:33)  He even warned us ahead of time to not be offended by this. (John 16:1-2)

 So what is victory, and how can I walk every day with assurance?  Instead of delivering us from life’s troubles, God promises to walk with us through them.  The same Greek word, “peirasmos,” is translated as temptation and test.  Which is right?  The same set of circumstances can easily be described as both a temptation and a test – Satan tempts to bring us down; God allows tests to purify and strengthen us.  God won’t always prevent a temptation, but in His faithfulness He will limit them, so that we can walk through our troubles with Him.  Tests invite us to draw near, so we will know the way He has provided for our escape even though “escape” may mean strength to endure through instead of a deliverance from.

 In school we need to pass tests to advance to the next grade and I think it’s the same in the kingdom.  God’s beloved children don’t get an identity of failure when they give into temptation but will just keep retaking the same test until we pass it.  We decide how long the process lasts. (Three weeks could end up being 40 years!)  He ultimately wants to build in each of us an assurance of victory that is able to say: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

Posted in Matthew

Stepping Out in Faith 

“Go and announce to them that the kingdom of God is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received.” Matthew 10:7-8

I arrived a little late to my son’s football game and couldn’t figure out what was going on – the teams were on the field, the crowd was in the stands, but it was completely silent. The school superintendent was standing at the front gate, so I asked him what was going on.

“There was a helmet to helmet collision on the opening kickoff,” he explained, “and the player from the visiting team hasn’t moved since. We’re waiting for the ambulance.”

A thought came unbidden into my head: “Pray for him.” I knew it wouldn’t be obedience to pray for him while sitting safely in the stands.  I was supposed to go out onto the field, put my hand on him, and pray for him there.

“But Lord, no one has asked me to pray,” I complained. Silence.

I started walking toward the field because I didn’t want to disobey. I walked down the sideline and felt I could still turn around without anyone noticing me, but then I came to the point where a decision had to be made. A group of adults, including referees and coaches, were surrounding a young man laid flat on his back in the middle of the field. I could either turn right and go out onto the field, or turn left and join the crowd in the bleachers.

I turned right. When I reached the group, I pretended like this was normal and I belonged there.

“I’m a pastor and I’m here to pray,” I said in a calm voice trying to reassure them that this was okay.

No one replied one way or the other but just backed away. I got on my knees, put a hand on the young man, and prayed a short prayer for God’s peace and healing to be released.

Just then the ambulance arrived so they put him on a stretcher, and we all followed back through the front gate to load him up. The visiting coach touched my arm on our way out.  “Thank you for praying,” was all he said. The young man was fine after being examined, but I never knew whether God healed him or whether he even needed healing.  What do I know for sure?  God wants to meet people at their point of need even if it’s awkward for us!

Posted in Hebrews

The Point of Choice

“Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 3:15

It was 4:00 a.m. and I was wide awake.  We were in Houston, Texas for my son’s wedding, and our hotel room was filled with family, so I quietly got up and slipped down to the dining area in the hotel’s lobby.

Because of the hour, there was only one light on, so I got a cup of coffee and set up for my quiet time with the Lord in a place where I could read and write.  A few minutes later the night manager, Lawrence, came over to talk.  With very little prompting he told me he was trying for a new beginning.  He was 35 and felt he had made some mistakes so he was buckling down – he was going back to school, working two jobs, and trying to make things right with his girlfriend.

“Lawrence, you’ll never really get a new beginning without Jesus,” I stated directly.  This didn’t put him off, in fact, he pulled out the chair across from me and sat down.  Lawrence believed in the Bible.  He just didn’t know what it said or how to respond to God.

After I shared the plan of salvation, I asked him if he was ready to respond to God.

“I don’t think I’m ready. I’d have to clean my life up first,” was what he said.

“Do you wash up in the sink before taking a shower?” I asked him.

After thinking about this, he smiled and said, “No.”  The whole point of salvation is that we can’t clean ourselves up, only our Savior can wash us, inside and out.  But he still wasn’t sure he was ready.

“Lawrence, God woke me up at 4:00 a.m. just to talk with you, and you want a new beginning.  When will you be more ready than you are right now?”

He assured me that this was what he needed and asked me to write down the prayer he could pray to accept Christ.  I prayed for him, shook his hand, and then the lights went on because the woman who prepares the breakfast had arrived.

I don’t know if Lawrence went on to make a full response to Jesus but I know God was speaking to him.  Whenever God speaks, we must make a decision – not making a decision is a “no” to God, and results in a hardening of our hearts.  

When we respond quickly to God’s promptings we don’t only have the satisfaction of obeying Him, our hearts also become more tender to hear the next time He speaks.

Posted in Luke, Malachi

Confidence In God’s Provision

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full-pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” Luke 6:38

It was November of 2004 in Minnesota when I received the call no homeowner wants to get. It was from my wife.

“Tom, it’s raining in the house.”

“What does that even mean?” I asked.

“Here’s what it means,” she replied, “I’m in our bedroom watching water drip through the ceiling onto our bed.”

I quickly grasped the problem as fear took hold of my heart. This was not a broken pipe – there were no pipes in our attic – this could only be a leak in our roof. It had been raining for days and apparently enough had leaked into the attic so that it was now coming through the ceiling of our bedroom!

We were a single income family living on a pastor’s salary with one child in college and three other children still at home. There was no extra money, no “rainy day fund,” though this was what we literally needed at the time.

We received a bid for a newly shingled house (that included removing the old shingles) from a roofing guy at our church for $5,800. Patching was not an option and the work had to be done quickly because winter was coming, so I needed to make a choice.

I had a talk with God. I reminded Him that we were His and that everything we had belonged to Him, and therefore it was His roof that was leaking. I reminded Him that I was a faithful tither and beyond, and that He had promised to open up heaven and pour out resources in my time of need.  He said He would rebuke the devourer for my sake. (Malachi 3:10-11)  I told Him that I was going to accept this bid unless He showed me a different way, and that His reputation was at stake if I couldn’t pay the bill.

In my journal at the time I recorded six different sources of money that came unexpectedly into my hands in the two weeks that followed my prayer. The roof was fixed, the bill was paid, and God’s reputation was intact!

Posted in Luke

Silent Night

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:3-7

“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given…” An engaged couple is found to be pregnant in a religious community. If they try to explain, they receive the silence given to fanatics; if they don’t explain, they’d be given the silent shaming of the immoral. As they come to Bethlehem, there is no family to greet them, in fact, there’s not even room at the public inn. The Savior comes into the world unattended by a nurse or a midwife, yet in the silence of that night heaven speaks clearly: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born for you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

Maybe the key to experiencing an increase of joy on Christmas is to turn down all the noise around us and to reflect more on both our need, and God’s provision of a Savior. “Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light; Radiant beams from Thy holy face, bring the dawn of redeeming grace; Jesus, Lord at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.”

Posted in 2Corinthians, Daniel, Genesis, Hebrews, John, Matthew, Psalms

The Gifts of the Magi

“Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

As we think about Christmas let us reflect on the gifts given by the magi which speak to the Gift given by the Father to the human race. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” (2Corinthians 9:15)

  1. Gold – The gift given to kings. The magi didn’t come to worship one who would become king; they came to worship Him who was born king. This caste of wise men from the east were likely in the order of Daniel with access to his prophecies. Daniel gave the time Messiah would appear (see Daniel 9:24-27) and alluded to His Divine nature as well as His universal rule. “One like a son of man…was given power; all the peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
  2. Incense – The gift offered by priests. In the Old Covenant kings were from the tribe of Judah and the family of David; high priests came from the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. But God’s promised Messiah would be both king and priest as was an obscure person in the Old Testament named Melchizedek. (Genesis 14:18) David prophesied about this new order of priesthood that meant there would have to be a new covenant: “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)
  3. Myrrh – The spice used for burial. Messiah would not only be the priest to offer sacrifice; He Himself would be the sacrifice. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The shepherds who were called to witness the birth were rabbinic shepherds whose job it was to watch over the lambs that would be sacrificed in the temple. On Christmas, God called them to watch over the Lamb that would replace all other sacrifices. “Jesus sacrificed for our sins once for all when He offered Himself.” (Hebrews 7:27) Let’s remember the true wonder of Christmas is the One born for us.
Posted in Isaiah, John

The Christmas Light

“The people (Galilee of the Gentiles) who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them…For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on his shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2; 6

We didn’t get the best looking Christmas tree one year. It wasn’t exactly a Charlie Brown tree, but it was kind of unshapely and rough looking. Our solution was to put an extra string of lights on it to take attention away from the tree and put it on the lights. It worked! When we turned  it on at night it rivaled any tree we ever had.

Our tree is like the human race – we need light. Our text refers to those in Galilee who will see a great light. What is the light? It turns out it will be a child, a son, who will be given to us. Oh, and by the way, this child will be called God in the flesh (Mighty God).

While Isaiah looks forward to the coming Messiah, John looks backward and sees something very similar. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In Him was life (zoe) and the life (zoe) was the light of men… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1, 4; 14)

The Greek word for God’s kind of life is zoe. The zoe in Jesus was the light of men. In John 5:26 He says, “Just as the Father has life (zoe) in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life (zoe) in Himself.” Then Jesus goes on to say something amazing in John 10:10, “I came that they (us) may have life (zoe).”

Jesus came to light us up. We don’t look good or do much good when we’re walking in darkness. It’s time to forsake the darkness and turn on the great light that first appeared in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. It’s time to receive the light (John 1:12) and then learn how to live looking up, so the light can draw others who are trapped in darkness.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)

Posted in Isaiah, Luke

The Shepherds

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you: He is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:8-11

The good news of great joy was not only for “all the people,” it was also to be incredibly personal, for the angel said: “a Savior has been born to you.” What did this mean to these shepherds?

At that time all Israel was waiting for Messiah because the prophet Daniel had given a timetable of when Messiah should appear on the earth. There is little doubt that the words of the angel would bring to the minds of Jewish shepherds the prophecy Isaiah gave about the Messiah: “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.” (Isaiah 9:6) They possibly felt that the joy would be the Messiah defeating Rome, and Israel becoming the governmental head of the nations again.

Yet this Child was born for a different reason than setting up an earthly kingdom at that time, and the joy would be much more than having a good leader running the government.

The fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem were used to raise the lambs used for sacrifices in the temple. The shepherds’ job was to watch over lambs whose sacrifice would cover over Israel’s sins one year at a time. Little did they know that the angel was calling them to watch over the Lamb who would take away the sins of the whole world; and that all the lambs they had watched over until that time pointed to this One baby, who was Christ the Lord.

Before Messiah rules on this earth, He needed to be a Savior that would die for the sins of all the people, including these shepherds. The great joy would be in the forgiveness of their sins which would allow them to have a personal relationship with God.

I hope you have made Christmas personal by receiving Christ’s forgiveness and by embracing a relationship with Him. God wants each of us to hear and believe the good news that brings great joy!