Posted in John, Matthew

Do You Really Want to Be Changed?

“When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, ‘Do you wish to get well?’” John 5:6

Why did Jesus ask this question when it seems the answer would be obvious? This man had been sick for 38 years! His life was confined to laying on a pallet waiting for a miracle that he didn’t really think would ever happen. We can imagine that he has told others that he wants to be better. He’s probably recounted many times all the things he would do if he was better, but now it’s real. Do you really want to get better?

Jesus pierces through our religious responses. We know the things to say and especially the things Christians are supposed to say. God doesn’t listen to our words as much as He does to our hearts. John the Baptist rebuked the Pharisees telling them that they weren’t the children of Abraham just because they said they were. They had to mean it enough to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” It’s not about appearance, but reality. Jesus said to the Pharisees and Scribes, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.” (Matthew 15:7) Where is your heart? Have you been mouthing words to God while your heart has been somewhere else?

Maybe you’ve been stuck in sin or in self pity and have asked the Lord to deliver you out of it. Do you really mean it or are you just saying it? When you and I get serious with God, He gets serious with us. When Jesus saw that this man was sincere He told him to do something, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” As he obeyed the power of God came into him and that which had remained the same for 38 years was changed.

Can God change you?  He can; but you have to mean it enough to listen to His voice and then obey what He tells you to do.

Posted in 1Peter, Exodus, Psalms

Trusting God in the Storm

“Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:13-14

The Israelites were being squeezed between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea and there didn’t seem to be any way out. In their humanness they began to speak out of their fear instead of their faith. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11) They had seen God’s power in the past, but they hadn’t really learned to trust His heart so when the storm came they operated in fear instead of faith. Have you been there? Are you tempted to go there right now? Moses gives them three instructions of how to trust God in the storm that are as applicable today as they were back then.

  1. “Do not be afraid.” You and I don’t have to be afraid. God knows what’s going on and He has everything under control. He loves us and He won’t abandon us when we need Him the most.
  2. “Stand firm.” This is the time to hold on to God. Peter says the devil goes about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour so Christians need to “resist him, standing firm in the faith.” (1Peter 5:8-9) Our enemy makes a lot of noise and preys on our fears.  It’s time to recognize who is behind the voice of fear and stand against him in Jesus Name.
  3. “Be still.” When you’re afraid it is easy to speak wrong things and do wrong things that only make the situation worse. “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations.” (Psalm 46:10) Stop the train of anxious thoughts; quiet your heart, and let Him fill you with a fresh sense of His Presence. He is exalted in our storms when we trust Him.

If the Israelites hadn’t been squeezed they never would have seen the miracle of the Red Sea opening. I believe God has a miracle for whatever seemingly impossible situation you’re facing right now. Don’t be afraid; stand firm, and be still. You are not alone. God is fighting for you!

Posted in Luke

God’s Care for Detail

“Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? And yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

“His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” The truth of this song goes to another level when you experience God’s providential care first hand.

We were in Minneapolis one weekend because I was speaking at a friend’s church on Sunday morning. Our daughters joined us from Winona on Saturday night but were sleeping at a friend’s dorm. Late Saturday night I received a call while in bed: “Dad, the car died. I got it into a parking space but it won’t do anything when I turn the key.” “That’s fine, Honey, we’ll deal with it tomorrow.”  How we would get it fixed on a Sunday afternoon in a strange city was beyond me and I needed to sleep, so I just told the Lord I was trusting Him.

We finally got to the stranded car at about 2:00 pm. I got it out of the parking spot and into a large parking lot where it promptly died again. A guy in the parking lot gave me directions to an AutoZone nearby, so I jumped the car again, and headed toward it while the rest of the family followed in our van. Just as I turned the final corner toward AutoZone the car died again. After navigating it over to the curb, I noticed that we were right in front of an auto repair place so I tried the door and it was open! I peeped my head in where a grizzly looking man told me that the shop was closed. He told me he had only stopped by the shop to pick up some tools for a friend; Sunday was his day off. When I told him our predicament he agreed to look at the car.

For a total of $70 he ended up putting in a new battery and an alternator. AutoZone is only a parts store and would not have been able to help us if we didn’t have a mechanic who could put the parts in. We were on our way within an hour!

Maybe there are large things that God hasn’t come through on yet, but don’t let that mystery keep you from experiencing the little ways that He cares for us every day.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Mark, Matthew, Romans

Are You In Christ?

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?” 2Corinthians 13:5

Are you in Christ and is Christ in you – for real? Christianity is not about being nice or about having a certain set of beliefs or rules. It is about the very life of God being inside of us igniting a lifestyle of faith, devotion, and love. How could someone fail the test the apostle Paul encourages us to take? I think there are two ways to fail:

  1.  You were never really converted to Christ in the first place. Jesus said, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Faith takes us beyond our logic and reasoning, so to be saved you and I must embrace what Christ has done for us on the cross and trust our eternity to Him in childlike belief. When we respond to God’s drawing in that way, the Holy Spirit will bear witness in our spirit that we are the children of God. (Romans 8:16) It’s not that you will never have a doubt in your mind, but there will be a knowing deep inside that God has saved you by His grace. 
  2.  You were once saved but you have backslidden. All of us have ups and downs so I thank God that we don’t go in and out of grace because of our weakness and immaturity. However, the seed of salvation can be choked out by the fear of man, the inordinate desire for other things, the worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of riches. (See Mark 4:16-19) Can it be so choked out that the life of God that was once there is completely removed? I don’t know, but there are enough warnings about it that if you don’t need new life, you certainly need the life you had before resurrected. Repent and ask the Spirit to renew His work in you with childlike faith.

I think it is important to take this test from time to time in light of the fact that Jesus said that “many” would presume to be saved that won’t enter into heaven. (Matthew 7:21) But I also think that continually taking the test can lead to the paralysis of analysis. Check presumption, but don’t let the enemy get in and rob you of legitimate faith by accusing thoughts that undermine your confidence in God’s goodness toward us in Christ.

Posted in 2Samuel, Psalms, Song of Songs

Honest to God

“My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” Song of Songs 2:14

God wants to hear your voice. Not an echo of somebody else, not a voice that has been lost in religious tradition, He wants to hear the real you. David said in Psalm 51:6, “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being.” God values honesty above all else. He wants to see your face, not a religious mask that you may think He wants to see. With God honesty is where the action is. When sin is real to us, then confession is real, forgiveness is real, His Presence is real, and the hope He alone gives is real. If something is wrong ask the Holy Spirit to show you what is going on in your heart.

When we are less than honest as Christians, we may still appear religious, but our hearts go lukewarm. I think the reason why “the hiding places,” are mentioned is that we can easily play Christian when we are around others, but it’s not as easy when we’re alone. Psalm 51 records David’s prayer of repentance after his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. No doubt David had played the part of “man of God” all the way through and no one would have known if God hadn’t spoken to Nathan the prophet about what David had done. When Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2Samuel 12:7), David’s heart was pierced and he once again became honest in his innermost being.

When we are being real with God He delights in our fellowship, our worship, our work and even in our fun. It may be painful up front, but honesty always brings us closer to God. You don’t have to put your best foot forward because He knows what the other one looks like anyway. And guess what? He still loves and likes you.

Posted in 1John, Hebrews, James

Cleansed from Dead Works

“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:14

What an amazing verse showing a glimpse of the Trinity working together in our redemption. Christ, who shed His blood for us, offers Himself through the Holy Spirit to God the Father who accepts His sacrifice on our behalf. The result is that we are cleansed of dead works. What are dead works? I think they may look like good works, but are from a wrong motive so they are dead in God’s sight even though they may be considered right in man’s. Hebrews 10:2 says that the power of Christ’s sacrifice is that we no longer need to feel guilty for our sins. It’s why His sacrifice is superior to the Old Testament sacrifices that could never remove the feeling of guilt but only added to the consciousness of sins.

It is easy as a Christian to live in guilt instead of grace. We feel guilty or condemned so we let that motivate us to do the right thing or, “to do our duty,” regardless of how we feel. We hope that by performing the act that guilt demands we will be relieved of guilt’s hold on us. The problem is that when we are done performing that act we will only feel guilty again for not performing another. Guilt is an insatiable taskmaster that makes you miserable and everyone around you miserable.

God has another solution for our guilt; He wants us to bring it to Him. If it is legitimate guilt because of sin, He wants us to ask forgiveness so that He can cleanse us, not by our performance, but by Christ’s performance for us on the cross. (1John 1:9) If it is illegitimate guilt, or condemnation, He wants to expose its source so we can take a stand against the accuser. “Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) If Satan can’t keep us from Christ, He will try to make us unfruitful in Christ.

God loves us and He has died for us, so that we will have a life-giving and guilt free relationship with Him. “What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

Posted in Galatians, Mark

The Engine of Grace

“I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Galatians 2:20-3:3

The story is told of the man who first heard about the Model T and decided to have a look. He was impressed with the shiny chrome and the leather seats so he paid the asking price, hooked it up to his horse, and started pulling it home. What the man didn’t realize was that the Model T came with its own engine.

The Christian life is not difficult; it’s impossible. Oh, you may be able to polish up the outside a little through mere will power and even impress people, but genuine from the heart Christianity is impossible with man. When Peter asked Jesus who could be saved, he answered frankly: “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

Thankfully God designed the Christian life to come with its own engine; His powerful grace. The Galatian Christians knew that they were saved by grace through faith, but then they started living as though it was by works. They were in danger of nullifying the engine of God’s grace by hooking all the demands of Christianity up to their own ability to keep the law. The joy and peace that comes when we share Christ’s light burden and easy yoke (because He does most of the pulling) were quickly disappearing, and their religion was becoming hard, dull, and void of the miraculous power of God.

Paul questions them in verse five, “Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” Whenever our Christianity becomes man centered we are left with what man is able to do, and that’s not much. 

Whenever I fall into the trap the Galatians were falling into I remember the man with the Model T. It sure is easier to sit down and let the engine do the work!

Posted in Exodus, James

Gems Around Us

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” James 5:7-9

God is patient with His people. Just because a corn crop isn’t ready to be harvested doesn’t mean the farmer isn’t pleased with its progress and growth. God is pleased with our process even though we’re not finished, so we need to be patient with ourselves and with those around us.

During worship one Sunday when I was about to preach on the above verses, a man in our congregation had a vision and gave permission to share it: “I saw beautiful gems. Many, many beautiful gems. They represented the beauty of God’s Kingdom. They were all around us. Then I saw the significance of when we complain and grumble. When we do this, we cover and slather our eyes with mud and we stick our faces in the mud, both of which cause us to have an inability to see the beauty of God’s kingdom around us.”

Everything God creates is beautiful, but I think we are His gems. The breast piece the high priest had to wear in the Old Covenant had twelve precious gems on it representing the twelve tribes of Israel. (Exodus 28:21)  God wanted the priest to know that His people are His gems.

Maybe you have been hurt by people or by the church, so how you see others is tainted by your wound. Why not forgive? Why not consider how you have hurt others and have needed their forgiveness? We all need a new beginning so we have to be willing to give others a new beginning too.

The truth is that, even though you’re flawed, you are God’s gem, but the only way you’ll believe it is to grant that all those around you are also His gems. Father, remove the mud of accusation from our eyes, so we can see one another the way You do.

Posted in Ephesians, Revelation, Song of Songs

The Proposal

“I am dark but lovely.” Song of Songs 1:5

I love to officiate weddings because engagement is such a beautiful picture of what is happening on planet earth right now. Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and we will sup together.” (Revelation 3:20)  Jesus’ knock is His proposal to the human race today.

When Paul gives the original marriage text of a man leaving his father and his mother to be joined to his wife, and the two becoming one he gives this explanation, “This is a mystery, but I speak of the relationship of Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32) Every earthly wedding is pointing to another wedding; the wedding feast of the Lamb. Right now, everyone who has said “yes” to Jesus is engaged to Him and called to be part of that eternal partnership.

The reason I preach the gospel at weddings is that many people who don’t regularly come to a church assume God’s not interested in them, and nothing could be farther from the truth. They don’t feel like they’re “the type” of person Jesus loves because of sin they’ve committed or shame they’re carrying or because they haven’t been to church lately. On a mission trip, I gave the example of a $20 bill to demonstrate our value before God. First I held up a crisp $20 bill and asked how much it was worth. Then I stepped on it leaving a footprint. “Now how much is it worth?” I asked. Then I crumbled it up in my fist and threw it away. When I found where it had gone, I picked it up, unwrinkled it, and asked for a third time, “How much is it worth now?”

When people betray us, abuse us, or belittle us, it’s easy to feel we have less value. When we sin against others and against God and experience the shame and regret of having done things we can’t take back, we naturally feel devalued. But before God we’re like that $20 bill. Nothing we’ve done, or had done to us makes God love us less.

We are dark, but lovely to Him. You are the one He desires and He is knocking. He’s knocking through pain, through beauty, through sin you can’t conquer on your own… even through weddings, church services, and weekly devotionals! But no one gets engaged just by someone asking; we need to say “yes.” We need to open the door by saying from our heart, “Jesus, come in, love me, wash me, and make me who You want me to be.”

Posted in Job, Psalms

The Song in the Night 

“At night His song is with me… I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’” Psalm 42:8-9

It is one thing to love and praise God when everything is going good; it is another thing to love and praise Him when it feels like darkness is crushing you.

In this dark night of the soul, we can’t see God’s purpose or understand His goodness, yet it is most important that we learn to sing at this time – I’m calling it the song in the night. Why is this song so important?

  1.  It forces us to focus on who God is instead of what He does for us. Satan’s accusation against Job was that he was using God and didn’t really love him. (See Job 1:9-11) Do we really love God or are we only using Him because we love ourselves? The song in the night purifies our worship.
  2.  It forces us to either go deeper in our faith. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls, all Your waves and breakers have swept over me.” (Psalm 42:7) Trees planted by water have shallow roots. Trees in a hostile environment either have roots that go very deep, or the tree dies before maturity. Listen to how deep the roots of the Psalmist have gone in this time of difficulty: “As the deer pants for the streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2) Instead of turning away from God, His pain brought him to a new place of thirst for God Himself.
  3. We are no longer dependent on the faith of others. Darkness isolates us and raises questions about God’s goodness. Do I really believe or have I only been part of a social group who wants to believe in a personal God so they can be protected from life’s hard realities? God allows this time so that we can experience Him ourselves instead of on the coattails of others.

Does it feel like darkness is suffocating you? This could be your faith’s greatest hour. It’s time for you to take up the song in the night.