Posted in 2Chronicles, 2Corinthians, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, John, Luke

The Best Wine

“You have saved the best wine for last.” John 2:10

I am convinced that God has saved the best of His Spirit for those who are older. I’m not an expert on wine, but I know that the older it is, the more valuable it becomes.

Paul said we are renewed in our spirits “day by day” and that we are being transformed “from glory to glory.” (See 2Corinthians 3-4) The picture here is of ever increasing glory as we grow older in the Lord.

Think about it: The temptations that were so strong in youth no longer grip us when we age, and the youthful pride we often had in our own strength no longer deceives us. As we age, we become better positioned to lose our life for Jesus so that we can find our life in Jesus.

It’s not that the Holy Spirit (wine is compared to the Holy Spirit in a number of places in the New Testament) gets better over time, but simply that less of His outpouring is wasted because of the wisdom gained by walking with God for many years. But only if we grow older in the right way.

There will always be a temptation of getting stuck in the past. In Luke 6:39 Jesus says, “But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is good enough,’ they say.” This warning is about how our past experiences with the Holy Spirit can prevent us from entering into the fresh thing the Spirit wants to do.

Solomon warns us to not “long for the good old days.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) God says in Isaiah, “Do not dwell on the past; it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19) Dwelling on the past, even the glorious past, will keep us from perceiving the new thing God is doing.

It seems that if we believe our best spiritual days are behind us, then they are. But just think about some of the past giants of faith: Moses was 80 when he led the people of God out of Egypt, Daniel was well into his eighties when he was delivered from the lion’s den, and Anna was 84 when she prophesied about Jesus. (Luke 2:37) God is searching for people to show Himself strong through (2Chronicles 16:9) no matter what their age. So why not you? Why not us?

Posted in 2Corinthians, Hebrews, James, Revelation, Romans

The Disabled List

“Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled but healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13

The author of Hebrews is writing about how to respond to hardships in life. All hardship, he says, is part of God’s discipline or training, to grow us up. (Hebrews 12:7) Yet the very hardship that was designed by God for our healing can end up hurting us if we respond in the wrong way. We need to strengthen ourselves and stay on the straight path in these trying times, or we are in danger of ending up on the disabled list.

What makes us weak in hardship are the lies of the enemy. A few verses earlier we are warned to not be discouraged by discipline, or to take it as a sign of God’s rejection. God loves us and His discipline is actually a sign of His acceptance. (Hebrews 12:4-5)

A great danger in 21st century America  is the belief that God’s chief end for us is to be happy right now, so anything difficult must be prayed away or rebuked as being from the devil. God wants us to be healthy, not just happy, and sometimes that means He allows things in our lives that we wouldn’t choose for ourselves. Even if the devil initiated the difficulties because he hates us, God will use them for our good if we’ll trust Him. (2Corinthians 12:7-9; Revelation 2:10)

Because of this, James tells us we should rejoice when we face various trials because God’s end is that we would become complete in Him, lacking nothing. All we have to do is allow patience (our patience with God) to finish its work. (James 1:2-4)

Are you in a time of difficulty? It is easy to be offended and wander away from God. Strengthen yourself right now by embracing the truth. God loves you and this present difficulty is only going to make you better if you just hang in there. Choose to trust in God’s love and rejoice in His wisdom even when you can’t figure out how something so hard can work for your good. (Romans 8:28)

Posted in 2Corinthians, Ephesians, Isaiah, John, Matthew, Proverbs, Psalms

The Secret of the Lord

“The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant.” Psalm 25:14

The margin of my Bible has “intimacy” as an alternate translation of “secret.” I believe that  a certain measure of the fear of the Lord is necessary for anyone to come to Christ. Proverbs says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) A revelation of God’s love for us in our weakness and immaturity is necessary to grow us up in our faith. (Ephesians 3:17-19) But I think to walk close to God’s Presence another level of the fear of the Lord is required. 

It says in Isaiah 11:3 that Jesus delighted in the fear of the Lord. He experienced the secret promised by Psalm 25:14, enjoying the continual intimate friendship of His Father. He didn’t fear man, He didn’t fear death, He didn’t fear storms, He didn’t fear lack of supplies – He only feared God and cared only about obeying what the Father was saying. (John 5:19)

Maybe the idea of the fear of the Lord seems heavy to you. I think it was just the opposite for Jesus which was why He was able to say, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) He only had to please the Father to be a complete success. Paul said something similar to this: “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent (from the body), to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord…” (2Corinthians 5:9-11a)  

Only one ambition! What a simple life, what an easy yoke, what a light burden. May God pour out the Spirit of the fear of the Lord on each of us and make it our delight for His glory.

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 2Corinthians, Ephesians

The Call to Sexual Purity

“For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.  But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent.” 2Corinthians 11:2-3

 Why has God given us sexual desire and attraction to the opposite sex and then commanded that we control that desire and attraction to save it only for our present or future spouse?  To get to the why of sexual purity we have to go back to why God made sex in the first place.  When we understand what it pictures we will more easily be able to accept and even delight in His call to sexual purity.

 In the text above, Paul says we are called to be the bride of Christ and have only eyes for Him; pure and undivided in our devotion.  In Ephesians 5:31-32 he says: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”  So marriage was created to speak of this higher relationship with Christ and human beings.

 The two become one not by intercourse but by this “leaving” all others, and this “joining” to only one another.  The two becoming one flesh, sexual intercourse, consummates and celebrates that shared devotion to only one another.  Why did God make sex fun?  Why did he give us desires that are fulfilled in this act of passion?  Because it represents the spiritual pleasure available to us in our union with Christ.  There is fullness of joy in His presence.  But our union to Him is not based on spiritual pleasure, but on His devotion to us and our singular devotion to Him.  Spiritual pleasures make it easier to stay devoted to Him, and it strengthens our resolve.  It makes our relationship more than a duty; He is our delight.

 God created sex within marriage to sweeten our commitment to our spouse, so they wouldn’t be our duty, but our delight. Our singular commitment to them pictures for all the world to see our commitment to Christ who left His Father’s home, took on flesh, died and rose again, just so we could be His forever.

Posted in 1John, 2Corinthians, John

Assurance of Forgiveness

“If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1John 1:9

 When we come to Jesus in simple faith and trust Him for our salvation we become “righteous,” or right with God.  The gospel isn’t about what I can do for God, but about what God did for me on the cross.  “He who knew no sin (Jesus), became sin, in order that we (I) might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Corinthians 5:21)

 Yet as Christians we are still broken in many ways and that leads to unplanned sins.  God’s presence and power are in us and as we walk with Him He is gradually healing us, but it is a process and not an immediate result.  Until we’re completely healed (which actually won’t be until heaven!), we’re going to need many new beginnings.  God knew this, so He promised to forgive us along the way.

 His forgiveness is “just” in His eyes because Jesus already died for those sins.  He doesn’t arbitrarily forgive sins just because He loves us; He forgives us when we’re in Christ because the full punishment for sin has already been paid.  Because of Jesus, the only sin that can’t be forgiven is the one we are unwilling to confess. (See John 9:41)

 Be honest and be humble.  Keep short accounts with God and know that He is gradually healing you on the inside, so you won’t have to confess the same things over and over forever.  As we’re healed in one area, however, He will start shining His light on another.  All we have to do is keep walking in the light (John 1:7) which is another way of saying we simply need to walk with God.

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 2Corinthians, Daniel, Jeremiah, Luke, Mark, Matthew

Two Events of Judgment

“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.  But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.  For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.”  Matthew 24:34-37

 I have come to believe that Jesus is describing two events of judgment in His discourse on the future (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 17 and 21) and that they are very different to prepare for.

One event, the destruction of Jerusalem, will happen in their lifetime, or their “generation.”  It is a time of God’s wrath on the Jewish people for rejecting Christ (Luke 21:22-24); it will feature an abomination of desolation being set up in the holy place (Matthew 24:15); and  it will be horrible but “cut short,” otherwise all of the Jewish elect would be wiped out.

  The rescue for the church at this time is to flee Jerusalem when you see these things happening.  “All these things” were to be expected within their generation and they would be as visible as a fig tree budding indicating that summer is near.  There will be a fulfillment of  “all that is written” (Luke 21:22), a reference to Daniel’s seventieth ‘seven’ (Daniel 9:27), and Jeremiah’s allusion to a time of Jacob’s trouble. (Jeremiah 30:7)

   The second event Jesus describes is not just in Judea, it’s world-wide (Luke 21:35); Jesus doesn’t know when it’s going to happen; the elect don’t have to flee, they are taken; and there are no signs to prepare for it, so people have to live ready.  This coming event is not a judgment on the Jews for rejecting Christ (that already happened in the destruction of Jerusalem), but on the Gentiles who have rejected Christ. (Luke 21:24) 

 By the end of their generation this second judgment will be imminent, or “at the door,” (Matthew 24:33-34) because it will occur immediately after Jesus appears in the clouds.  We are now living between the first and second judgment events in a time of God’s favor. (2Corinthians 6:2)  This is the time to respond to God’s salvation!

Posted in 2Corinthians, John, Luke

The Joy Serving

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed (happy, joy-filled) if you do them.” John 13:17

When people arrived at a feast in that time, it was customary for a slave to wash everyone’s feet as they entered, but in all the preparations for the last supper the disciples had missed this detail. Each of them apparently felt that this job was below them, so it appeared it would go undone. Then the unthinkable happened. One far above them went lower than they were willing to go. Not only did Jesus wash their feet, He called them to wash each other’s feet (willingly serve each other), and in the text above said this was the key to their happiness.

He explained that this attitude was also the key to their greatness: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-26)

Our level of joy is not to be a victim of our own sense of entitlement. In other words, we don’t have to wait until we are treated in a certain way to have joy. Our joy can be found in God’s delight in us regardless of how other people are treating us. I found out this truth the hard way while pastoring in northern Minnesota.

A group of thirty wanted me out of the church and had started a secret campaign of visiting members in their homes to try to get the necessary votes to remove me. God was moving in the congregation and so was the enemy. There was a deacon who represented the thirty, but whenever I tried to meet with them it got postponed. It finally occurred to me that they didn’t want to be reconciled, they wanted me gone. This was their church and they weren’t going to leave, so I would have to.

How do you pastor a church Sunday after Sunday when this is happening? The Lord made it clear that they didn’t have to like or respect me, for me to serve them. I wasn’t to defend myself or be offended by their attitudes.  I was to serve them for His sake. (2Corinthians 4:5) His affirmation was better than theirs anyway!

Emptying ourselves, rolling up our sleeves, and serving whoever God puts in front of us is the key to lasting joy.

Posted in 1Corinthians, 2Corinthians

Idolizing Leaders

“For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” 1Corinthians 3:4-7

We are in danger of erring in two ways in our attitude toward those leading us. We can dishonor them and lose the benefit God wanted to bring through them, or we can idolize them and lose the benefit God wanted to bring through other leaders who are different from them. Let’s look at the second one today.

Paul says that when we identify with only one leader and set Christian leaders in some type of a contest against each other, we are acting like mere men. God has called us to the high calling of favored sons or daughters who are carriers of God’s own presence.  We are the very temple of God! (2Corinthians 6:16)  Yet when we reduce Christianity to our favorite speaker we have missed the whole point. 

To say you follow Paul instead of Apollos means that you are missing out on what God wanted to give you through Apollos. From God’s perspective, Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (Peter) belong to you; they were raised up and anointed for your benefit so you could come into fullness. To choose one over another or exalt one over another is to miss what the other one was supposed to bring to your life.

To idolize a leader is to set them up for a fall. A few years ago a man was set up as the greatest prophet in America so much so that it was thought he didn’t even need to be part of a local church. He would come from his place of being alone with God and tell us the word of the Lord and we honored his unique place; many times in an idolatrous way. He succumbed to an addiction to alcohol and also was found to be involved in sexual sin. Would this have happened if we had prayed for him more instead of idolizing him? I don’t know.

What I do know is that at the end of the day those who plant and water, however gifted they may be, are nothing, but only instruments that help you grow in the grace of God. Honor leaders, receive from leaders, but please don’t idolize them. It puts them at greater risk and it keeps you from seeing the reason for their existence.