Posted in 2Corinthians, Luke, Revelation

The Rudder

“My house shall be a house of prayer.” Luke 19:46

In the spring of 2009 the woman leading our weekly prayer meeting requested prayer because the burden of leading was heavy on her. She was in charge because she was a known intercessor and I knew I wasn’t. Early one morning while praying for her, I received an impression of a large ship with a small rudder. A sentence came into my mind, “Lead the church from the prayer meeting.” With this thought came an immediate understanding of three things:

  1. I had been trying to lead the church from Sunday mornings to that point.
  2. Because of this I was leading the church politically (human effort) instead of spiritually (trusting God).
  3. The large ship represented the church and the small, unseen rudder; the prayer meeting. God was asking me to take my place as the leader of the prayer meeting.

From that time until this I have tried to lead our prayer meetings. From that time we tell all who come to our membership classes that we consider the prayer meeting our most important gathering of the week.

If you’ve ever been to a Tuesday night you know it’s not very impressive. Yet it’s the prayer meeting that gives me confidence God is in all the other ministries at church, including Sunday mornings.

Jesus said: “My house shall be a house of prayer.” Until we’ve prayed, we should do nothing. Once we’ve prayed, we should only go forward as God directs. This is true of a church, but it’s also true for individuals. We are the house God lives in today. (2Corinthians 6:16)

So what’s the rudder in your life? What is the underlying motivation for all you do? Is it money? Fun? Selfish ambition? Family? Responsibility? The same Jesus who turned the tables over in the temple knocks on our door today asking for our permission to enter. He is still filled with zeal to make us a house of prayer but has chosen to wait for us to make prayer a priority in our lives.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)

Posted in 1John, 2Corinthians

Taking the Trash Out 

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” 2Corinthians 2:14

Alice and I once returned to our home to a horrible smell. Something was rotting in our trash can so we quickly tied up the bag and moved it to the outside garbage bin in our garage. The smell was so bad that I was already looking forward to Monday morning when I would take it to the curb and the trash man would take it off our property forever.

A Christian’s life is supposed to smell like faith, hope, and love; “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him,” but sometimes it smells like something else. In our trash cupboard there is one bin for trash and one for recyclables. There are at least three bins in the Christian life that need to be quickly tied up and given to God or a bad smell starts coming from our lives.

  1. The sin bin – When the Holy Spirit makes it clear to us that we have sinned against God or people we need to quickly and fully confess and repent. If we justify ourselves it doesn’t go away, it starts smelling like condemnation. The Holy Spirit exposes our sin because it comes between us and God and wants only for us to confess it so we will have confidence again. (1 John 1:9)
  2. The trouble bin – Part of living on this planet is that we face various types of troubles every single day. If we don’t get them to God right away our lives start smelling like anxiety and eventually fear. God allows troubles because He wants us to trust Him and to get to know Him through His intimate care of us.
  3. The disappointment bin – When we are disappointed with God or people we become vulnerable so we must give our disappointments quickly to God. When we don’t, they turn into discouragement and if we let discouragement go long enough, it becomes depression.

You know, there’s an interesting thing about our trash man – he will only take the things that are at the curb. He never comes into my garage looking for the garbage. If it’s not at the curb, it doesn’t get picked up. It’s time to let go and let God!

Posted in 2Corinthians, Ephesians, Matthew

Experiencing Joy

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44

I am convinced that joy is the key to advancing the kingdom of God. If you find joy in something you automatically want to share it. After the Packers won the Superbowl no one had to command Packer fans to share the news with their friends. When we have great joy in something, sharing flows naturally from it. As John said about writing his first epistle, “These things we write so that our joy may be made complete.” Sharing is actually part of completing the joy we have experienced. 

So how do we experience joy? It’s all about finding a treasure that is hidden in a field. The treasure is God’s love, forgiveness and salvation that can all be experienced by coming to Jesus Christ. Paul calls this relationship with God through Christ, God’s “indescribable gift.” (2Corinthians 9:15) Into this gift we find that God has generously poured every blessing we could ever desire. This gift of intimacy with God will keep being unwrapped for all eternity by those who value it. (See Ephesians 3)

I think the “field” in this parable represents the church, so to experience God’s treasure sometimes we have to get past what’s wrong in whatever congregation we attend.  We may feel the church is outdated, or that we don’t like the music, or we may be bothered by the preacher or the people around us in some way. 

Someone said that if you find a perfect church don’t go there; you’ll ruin it.  Sometimes we have to get past the humanity we find in the church to find the Divine, but be assured that if Jesus is being preached, and the Word of God is being honored, God is there, even if He seems to be hidden from time to time.  Be faithful; there’s a treasure of surpassing value that God wants to reveal to each of us that will bring increasing joy to our ordinary lives.

Posted in 2Corinthians, 2Timothy, Matthew

Where are Your Eyes?

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.” Matthew 14:30-32

God wants us to walk in faith. We might think that when Jesus told Peter to come out of the boat and walk on water that He would keep the water still to make it as easy as possible, but that’s not how He works. Peter got out and the wind got stronger leaving Peter a choice to either keep his eyes on Jesus or to look at the waves and give in to the fear of self preservation. Clearly the wind was under the Lord’s control because as soon as they got to the boat the wind stopped and the waves calmed. The test was then over, Peter got rebuked for his lack of faith, but he was no worse for the wear for going through it. It wasn’t really about life or death as Peter might have thought; it was just a test.

How does God see our  present difficulties? He could easily solve every problem we have right now, but He’s trying to build our faith. The wind is blowing and seemingly calling for our attention, but we must keep our eyes on the Lord to stay walking on top of our circumstances instead of under them. As Paul says, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2Corinthians 5:7)

Where will we focus our eyes? Joshua could have looked at God’s promise and presence or at the giants they would face in the land. Gideon could have looked at the odds of his army of 300 defeating the Midianite army of 135,000, or he could look at the One who sent him and gave him a promise. David could have looked at Goliath or at the One who made Goliath look like a little school yard bully that needed to be taught a lesson.

A verse we should all have memorized is 2Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self discipline.”

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 1Peter, 2Corinthians, Exodus, Psalms

Diamonds in the Rough

“As for the saints of the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.” Psalm 16:3

David didn’t just forgive God’s people, and he didn’t just tolerate the saints; he delighted in them. How can we do the same? I think the key is seeing them the way God sees them: Diamonds in the rough.

In Exodus 28:17 God commanded Moses to make an ephod with four rows of three precious stones each. The stones represented the twelve tribes of Israel and the priest was to remember that this was how God felt about His people by wearing this ephod over his heart whenever he came into God’s presence. Four rows – three in each row – ruby, topaz, emerald; turquoise, sapphire, diamond; jacinth, agate, amethyst; beryl, onyx, jasper – the saints are God’s jewels.

A frequent accusation against believers and an argument against the truth of Christianity is hypocrisy. When an unbeliever sees a so-called Christian fall short of their expectation, they say out loud or think to themselves, “I thought you were supposed to be a Christian! Hypocrite!”

But the authentic Christian doesn’t claim to be a perfect diamond, but a diamond in the rough. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” says the apostle Paul, “so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” (2Corinthians 4:7) We have a sin nature; we have a struggle going on inside of us, but we also have a new nature and are part of a new creation.

Our responsibility toward one another is to look past the rough and start seeing and speaking to the diamond. Christians often focus on the wrong thing and get paralyzed by sin and shame, their own, and that of their brothers and sisters. Can we look past the rough? Peter exhorts us, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1Peter 4:8) Don’t you want others to love you like that? We can’t excuse sin but after confession, we dare not dwell on it, or we will miss what God is seeing.  

His delight is in the saints; let’s learn to delight in them too.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Romans

Becoming the Real You

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2Corinthians 5:17

Modern psychiatry helps people understand why they do what they do by looking into their past. The premise is that you and I are products of our past. If we can identify where we have been hurt, rejected, and abused in the past, we can better understand why we react the way we do today.

While this can be helpful, especially if identified hurts are forgiven, Jesus comes to a human being in the opposite way – from our future. When you give your life to Jesus Christ you are no longer a product of what has been (that is all washed away by His precious blood), but of what He is making you by His grace. He has predestined you to “become conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29)

In Christ we are a new creature. The old is passing away. Don’t dwell on the old in you, or you will remain trapped by it. Dwell on what He is doing by His grace, and the power of the old will lose its grip. When you dwell on the old in other people you tend to trap them with labels. “That’s just how he is.” If you look beyond people’s faults and find Jesus and what He is doing, it inspires them to rise.

A missionary in India was discouraged because many of his converts to Christianity were still clinging to some of their old habits. He prayed about this on a walk and the Lord directed his attention to a tree that had lost almost all of its leaves, but there were several dead leaves still clinging to the branches.  The Lord whispered to him something like this:

“There are two ways of getting the rest of the leaves off. One way would be for you to climb up there and cut each one off individually. That would be a lot of work. The other would be for you to wait until spring, when the new life will come through the same shoots and push the old leaves out naturally. Don’t worry about their old habits. Get them focusing on their new life in Christ and they will eventually find themselves completely free.”

Focus on what you are becoming, and thank God you’re not trapped by who you once were. You’re becoming the real you!

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.