Posted in Mark, Psalms

The Gift God is Offering

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?… One thing you lack: go and sell what you possess and give it to the poor… and come follow Me.” Mark 10:17; 21

 What if the gift we are asking God for is different than the one He’s offering?  The rich young ruler already had a good life but saw it could be better if he had the promise of eternal life.  He asked Jesus what He had to do to ensure that gift but didn’t like the answer.  “But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” (Mark 10:22)

 He was willing to do something, but Jesus asked him to let go of something.  He wanted to improve his life, but Jesus wanted to become his life.  He wanted to add a room to his house, but Jesus wanted to tear down the house he had built and start over with Himself as the foundation of a new building.

 He ended up walking away sad.  The gift he asked for was different than the one God was offering.  I wonder if we have answered Jesus’ call to let go of our control, or if we have redefined what He’s offering to accommodate our own desires?  

Better to be sad than deceived. I wonder if the rich young ruler ever reconsidered and followed Jesus on His terms?  If he did, he would have found that God is not opposed to us having stuff; He just doesn’t want our stuff to have control over us.

A few verses after this young man walked away sad, Peter said: “We have left everything and followed You.”  Here was Jesus’ response to him: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

 When we withhold nothing from Him, He will withhold no good thing from us! (See Psalm 84:11)

Posted in Genesis, Proverbs, Mark, John, Romans, 1Corinthians

The Power of Words

“Have faith in God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Mark 11:22-23

 When God speaks everything changes!  There may be darkness and chaos, but when God speaks, light and order come in response to His word transforming the world. (See Genesis 1)  But what happens when we speak?  I don’t believe there is intrinsic power in our words, but I do believe that our words can be filled with power if we speak out loud what God has spoken to our hearts.

 Speaking expresses faith.  Romans 10:10 says we believe with our hearts and then speak with our mouths resulting in salvation.  What we believe about God and the world will affect what we speak and what we speak will then affect the world around us.  Proverbs 18:21 says, “life and death are in the power of the tongue.”

 So what is God speaking to this world?  May our hearts be filled with the truth of John 3:17: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  We are not called to be positive in a negative world; we are called to be redemptive in a fallen world.  We don’t ever have to live in a bubble that denies the brokenness and darkness all around us; we only have to believe that God has a redemptive plan for everything and everyone who is broken and dark. 

 Moses allowed himself to become frustrated and hit the rock when God told him to speak to it.  The rock, which represented Christ (1Corinthians 10:4), had already been struck (a picture of Jesus dying on the cross), so God wanted Moses to have enough faith to just speak.  If he had spoken to the rock it would have flowed with water for all the people, for God was the One telling him to speak.

 Today He’s telling us to speak His redemption over our own lives, the lives of our loved ones, and over this nation.  What are you speaking?

Posted in John

Abiding in Christ

“Abide in Me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” John 15:4

 The Greek word for abide, meno, is from the noun, mone, which means home.  The noun form is used a few verses earlier, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23)  When I say to a guest, “make yourself at home,” I’m telling them to relax because they belong here.  Have we given God that kind of welcome?  Do we believe He gives us that kind of welcome?

Jesus invites us to make a new home with Him.  He doesn’t want to be a hotel we visit on Sundays, and He doesn’t want to be an apartment we rent from month to month to keep our options open.  He wants us to make the investment of our lives by building a home together with Him, and He gives us the blueprint of what the new home will look like.

 First, it will be large.  It must be because there seems to be room for everyone.  “This is My command, love another.” (15:12)  There’s room for all Christians, for strangers, and even for enemies.  It turns out Jesus is planning on inviting a lot of people over to the new home!

 Secondly, it’s a happy home.  “These things I command you so that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be full.” (15:11)  If we aren’t there yet it’s not because it’s not part of the blueprint, it’s only because the new home isn’t fully built yet.

 Thirdly, it’s a unique home.  “If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, ask whatever you desire and it will be done.” (15:7)  His presence and His word so purify our desires that who God has uniquely made us, becomes part of the new home.  The life of Jesus is going to be expressed differently in each of us, so it’s important not to compare ourselves with each other.  The home you build with Jesus will look different than the home I build with Jesus.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Hebrews

An Inconvenient Truth 

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.   Since then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.” 2Corinthians 5:10-11

 In 2006 Al Gore released a documentary on global warming called, “An Inconvenient Truth,” urging us to do something to make changes in the environment before it’s too late.  It’s not just about us, he urged, it’s about the world we’re giving to our children.

While I’m all for stewardship of the earth and reducing carbon emissions, there’s another inconvenient truth that troubles me way more than global warming – it’s the final judgment.  It turns out that our lives on this planet will one day appear like a vapor in light of eternity, and that the choices we’re making now determine how our judgment will go then.  To live in light of that day is to know the fear of the Lord.  To live ignoring our accountability to God is reckless and dangerous.  As Hebrews 10:30-31 says, “For we know Him who said, ‘It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  That is, it’s terrifying to be completely unprepared for our judgment day.

Here’s the inconvenient truth that must be told:  Jesus came the first time as a Lamb to save the world, but He’s coming the second time as a Lion to judge it.  I want to be ready for that day and I want to persuade others to be ready as well.  Let’s change our lives now, let’s serve God now, and let’s seek His presence now before it’s too late.  Jesus took God’s judgment on sin when He died on the cross, so that we could be forgiven.  Let’s make our identity in Him and receive His love now instead of being exposed by His holiness then.

Posted in 2Timothy, John, Matthew

The One Behind the Scriptures

“All Scripture is God breathed…” 2 Timothy 3:16

The Bible is one of God’s most startling revelations of Himself. It was written over a period of 1600 years by over 40 different human authors with a variety of backgrounds, from three different continents, and in three different languages, yet it is one story, one history, with one message. It is by far the best selling book in history. You probably have one, or maybe even a few, lying around your house. The question is how does one read the Bible in a way that he will find God and not just be frustrated by the seeking?

There were two major religious groups at the time of Christ that had access to the Scriptures but didn’t find God: The Sadducees and the Pharisees. To the Sadducees Jesus said, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)  They were a group that had exalted intellect and human wisdom above the word of God. They didn’t believe in angels, miracles, or the resurrection of the dead, even though the Old Testament Scriptures taught these things. Because of this grave error they lost all understanding of spiritual things. Many in America have made a similar mistake. When you put your opinion above the word of God and only believe the parts of the Bible that agree with your thinking, you make yourself out to be the final authority and end up denying the God of the Scriptures. Submit your heart to the Scriptures, humble your mind before God, and you will find yourself being changed by God’s word as you seek to apply it to your life.

The other group who had access to the Scriptures was the Pharisees. Jesus said to them, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.” (John 5:39)  The Pharisees believed every jot and tittle of the Scriptures from Genesis to Malachi, but they had exalted them to the place of God. They lived for rules and interpretations and spent much of their time arguing doctrines and splitting hairs over who was the most right, while attacking anyone who didn’t share their insights. Unfortunately many Bible believing people get caught in this trap today. The Bible is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to reveal a living Person who is in love with us. Truth itself, Jesus said, was not a belief system, but found in His Person. He said, “I am the truth…” (John 14:6)  He is the Word that became flesh. He is the One that the Scriptures were written to reveal. Read your Bible to find the One behind it and you will find life in Jesus Christ.

Posted in Isaiah, Luke, Psalms

The Way Forward

“In repentance and rest you will be saved; in quietness and confidence is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

 Sometimes the way forward is to go back.  Repentance is when we return to God and find our rest in His forgiveness and acceptance again.  The new beginning He gives requires an exchange of strength.  Instead of seeing our activity and energy as the way forward, we learn to quiet ourselves and to find our strength in God.

 “Cease striving and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)  Quieting ourselves and encountering God will produce a new confidence to face life’s challenges that isn’t based on our ability to control, but on God’s ability to work all things for His glory and our good.  Here’s the end of Psalm 46:10, “Then I will be exalted in the nations; I will be exalted in all the earth.”

 In our text above, Israel was unwilling to repent.  They decided to go forward even faster than they had begun, and they became a sign to others of what not to do. (Isaiah 30:17)

What was God doing while they rejected His counsel? “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and He waits on high to have compassion on you…”  God is waiting for you and me to come to the end of ourselves and our own devices, so He can have compassion on us!  Sometimes the way forward is to recognize we’re eating pig’s food, come to our senses, and then return to our Father no matter what it looks like. (see Luke 15)

 It turns out that the One who owes us nothing, longs to give us everything, if we’ll just come home!

Posted in 1John, 1Timothy, 2Peter, Ephesians, Galatians, Hebrews, John, Psalms, Romans

The Value of Godliness

“Train yourself to be godly.  Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1Timothy 4:7-8

 To train ourselves to be godly is to reorder our lives in a way that makes living close to God our highest priority.  Asaph said, “the nearness of God is my good.” (Psalm 73:28)  In what way is godliness good for us?

 First, Paul says it’s valuable in this present life.  Later in his letter he gives a qualifier: “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out.” (6:6-7)  The more we pursue godliness with contentment the more we live defined by God and the more all other definitions fade away.  We are not our financial net worth, or what other people think we are, or even how we define ourselves – we are God’s masterpiece! (Ephesians 2:10)  Only the godly grow away from the traps of this world into their true identity.  Letting the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20) be the One who defines us is tremendously liberating.  His perfect love drives out fear and insecurity (1John 4:18), so that we can simply be ourselves filled with His Holy Spirit.

 Then Paul says godliness has value for the life to come.  Asaph says that those who live “far from You will perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You.” (Psalm 73:27)  The ungodly will “perish like beasts” (2Peter 2:12) and “be consumed” eventually in the eternal fire (Hebrews 10:27), but the godly will share eternal life with God.  This is the simple gospel: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 Godliness begins by forsaking our own works and by putting our trust in Jesus Christ because salvation is God’s gift to us.  “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness (right standing with God!).” (Romans 4:4-5)

Posted in Isaiah, John

Kingdom Mode

“Of the increase of His government and peace (shalom) there will be no end… The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:7

The Father has promised the Son that His kingdom (government) and His presence (peace) will continually increase. The Father’s own zeal will accomplish this – not man’s efforts or programs. Where will this increase happen? In and through you and me, His adopted children. We are carriers of the kingdom and the Presence of the King Himself!

When the world goes into crisis mode, we can go into kingdom mode. On September 11th, 2001, I received a phone call from the manager of the area wide Christian radio station. The church secretary had to find me because I was in the sanctuary praying and meditating on the morning’s One Year Bible reading from Isaiah 8:12-14: “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the One you are to fear…and He will be a sanctuary (for you).”

The manager told me that one of the twin towers was hit by terrorists and that another plane was hijacked and he was asking pastors to pray over the air. There was such a presence of God on me because I knew that He had prepared me for this. Darkness was having its day, but God didn’t want us to focus on what the world was focusing on, or respond in the way the world would respond. We were to fix our eyes on Him and find sanctuary in Him, and that’s what I prayed for everyone who was in the midst of this horrible crisis.

The world goes into crisis mode when there is a crisis and many wrong decisions are made because they are based on the hurt, fear, anger, or frustration the situation has caused. This is when Jesus wants to increase His government and peace in us – we are to fix our eyes on Him and go into kingdom mode. Don’t focus on darkness or respond to it.  What is God saying? What does God want you to do? All you need to do to break darkness is bring a light into it. Light is always stronger than darkness.

“In Me you may have peace, in the world you will have trouble. Let your heart take courage for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) In every situation around us we are either a thermometer that simply reflects the environment, or a thermostat that sets it. God’s plan is that we would so host His presence, and have such confidence in Him that we would automatically go into kingdom mode when a crisis arises and be thermostats of His kingdom and peace.

Posted in John, Psalms, Romans

The Glasses of Faith

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

My daughter, Anne, and I went out for a date together during one Christmas break and saw the movie, “Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” The main reason we wanted to go was that it was in 3-D and required special glasses to view. I loved it. A couple of times I took my glasses off to see what the screen looked like without them. Although you could tell something was there it was all hazy and confusing. If people had slipped into the wrong theater they never would have guessed the beauty that was there right in front of them. You can’t see right if you don’t have the right glasses.

Life is like that. If you put on the glasses of faith you are able to see God everywhere and behind everything. Even bad things that He allows are able to be worked for something good if we will give them to Him. (Romans 8:28) Jesus said in John 5:17: “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” God is working – He may not be doing what we want Him to do, He may not be moving at the pace we’d like Him to move at, but He is working if we choose to see Him.

Now the devil is also working all the time. Much of what he does in this world is quickly reported on the news, so if we get the wrong glasses on we can easily fall into despair. It takes discipline in this world to keep seeing God because our God glasses easily fall off in the midst of life’s difficulties. Without the glasses of faith you easily focus on your problems and that only leads to anxiety and discouragement. Church, prayer, and Bible reading are important because they help us keep our glasses on, or to get them back on if they’ve fallen off.

David said, “I would have despaired unless I had believed…” He had to choose to believe that God was in control and that His goodness would be revealed at some time in the future even though his present circumstances were horrible. 

The need of the hour was to wait for God to come through. There was nothing he could do to make his circumstances better, only God could. He needed to courageously trust God and refuse to give into despair. Is that where you are today? Let me encourage you to wait for God. You will see the goodness of the Lord in your circumstances if you’ll just remember to keep putting on the glasses of faith.

Posted in 2Peter, Luke, Matthew, Philippians

Living Ready for His Return

“Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealer and buy some for yourselves.’” Matthew 25:5-9

The great work of this life is to live ready for Christ’s return. He has delayed His return because He doesn’t want anyone to perish (2Peter 3:9) and is even now calling sinners to repent and turn to God. But what about the danger to those who have begun their journey but are now distracted by other things? How do we ensure we don’t end up like the foolish virgins Jesus describes in Matthew 25? There are three things we can do daily, so that we’re living ready for His return.

  1. We must stay awake. Jesus said that before Noah’s flood and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, people were “eating, they were drinking, they were marrying…they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building.” (Luke 17:27-28) The problem was that these legitimate things were all they were doing – they had lost track of a living faith in God. The busyness of this world easily lulls us to sleep and pretty soon we are relying on past experience instead of present relationship.
  2. We must trim our wicks. Yesterday’s sins, regrets, and successes have to be trimmed away to walk with God today. Listen to Paul’s encouragement: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) 
  3. We must have fresh oil. The foolish virgins think they can get oil from other people – it’s not possible. You can’t get your relationship with God from your grandma, parents, or pastor, however godly they may be. Go to the dealer Himself. He has fresh oil for every single day. The cost is only the time and effort it takes to seek Him for it. Jesus has already paid the price, so we can always be filled with the Holy Spirit. Your Father loves you, Jesus died for you, so all you need to do is ask each day.