Posted in Luke

Seeing Your Brother

“But when this son of yours who has squandered your property…” “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again.” Luke 15:30,32

You were not just made for a relationship with God; you were made for a relationship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. The older brother had stopped seeing the prodigal as his brother – he only saw him as his father’s son: “this son of yours…”

When the prodigal left, his father’s heart broke, not just because of what he was losing, but because of what his oldest son was losing. The father had heard these sons laugh together, seen them compete with each other, and watched them defend each other their whole lives. He probably dreamed of them being life-long friends who would enjoy seeing their children grow up together and enjoy the bonds of family. The family was broken up when the prodigal left, and it was a great loss for everyone. Our sin doesn’t just separate us from communion with God, it hurts the whole family.

When the wayward son returned, the father was overjoyed because the family could be whole again, but the older brother didn’t see it that way. When he refused to join the party, the father went outside to reason with him: “This is your brother who had died to all that is good and beautiful. He is back; we can be a family again. Please embrace him and let us rejoice together.” (My paraphrase)

The father was ready to make him a son, but his oldest was not ready or willing to see the prodigal as his brother again. His life was smaller because of it.

How about you? Has the Father come to you and asked you to give a brother, sister, friend, parent, or child another chance? Let’s die to our right to be angry or wounded; let’s forgive and start seeing value in the broken people around us that God is trying to redeem. Let’s go into the feast and rejoice in God’s love together, for the sake of our Father, and for the sake of our own brothers and sisters.

Posted in 1Peter, Isaiah, Psalms

Quieting Your Soul

“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.” Psalm 131:1-2

David learned how to quiet his soul. Infants immediately seek for milk when near their mother’s breast and have to be weaned away from the habit.  After a child has been weaned, they will rest quietly on their mother’s lap without frantically searching for food. Similarly, we naturally worry about that which we cannot control and have to be weaned from this tendency, so that we can find our rest in God. How do we quiet our noisy souls within us?

  1. Accept with humility the limits to human understanding. Although we can learn things about God, there are heights and depths to who He is and the way He does things that are beyond our capacity to figure out. David had surrendered those areas and recognized that it was only his pride that kept him from trusting God just because he didn’t know the answer to all the “whys” of this life. 
  2. Recognize that God is the center, not you. “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted in all the earth…” (Psalm 46:10) Astronomers have recently  discovered that there are billions more stars than they originally thought. The earth is a small place in a small galaxy that is a small part of the universe. The greatness of the heavens should help us to grasp both the enormity of God and the smallness of us. When we become large in our own eyes, anxiety easily creeps in. Our strength doesn’t come from our activity, but in our quietness and confidence in God. (Isaiah 30:15)
  3. Trust God’s love for you and in His willingness to save you.  Weaned children rest content because they have now eaten solid food. It is not enough to stifle our need for control, we must actively feed on God’s love and salvation. You are safe in His care. Although you can’t control anything, He can, and He will exercise loving and wise oversight to our lives if we will only trust Him. Peter says it this way, “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1Peter 5:7)
Posted in Psalms, Revelation

An Audience with the King 

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You understand my thoughts from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways…. How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.” Psalm 139:1-3; 17-18

In 2010, then President, Barack Obama, came to Madison and while he was here made a surprise visit to La Follette High School. When the football coach called the team together, the president addressed running back Jaylen Plummer by name and said he knew that he had scored three touchdowns in a game played the Friday before. Plummer’s response when interviewed by the Wisconsin State Journal about the meeting: “amazing, … the president knows my name.”

What an experience!  A regular high school student having such a personal meeting with the most powerful man in the world. Our president is the CEO of the world’s largest economy and the commander-in-chief of the world’s largest military.  There’s no one who comes close to wielding that much power. For him to take the time to stop at a regular football practice and then to show knowledge of such a specific event – truly amazing.

Now consider with me for a moment what it means that God wants to have a personal relationship with you. There have been many presidents and there will be more in the future if Jesus doesn’t come back, but there is only one God. There is no one like Him; He is the beginning and the end. He isn’t just the president of one country, He’s the King of all kings. He’s not just the CEO of the world’s economy, He owns everything and provides for His children out of His boundless riches. If it doesn’t exist, He can create it. He needs no military because the word out of His mouth can slay all the armies of this world in a moment. (Revelation 19:15)

No doubt President Obama was briefed on La Follette’s football game on the way to the surprise visit. He had just learned about the three touchdowns and would probably forget about them an hour after the meeting. God doesn’t need a briefing on you. He knows your name and everything about you. The only thing He forgets is your sins when you bring them to the cross. I hope we never lose the amazement that the King of the whole universe wants to be our friend.

Posted in John

Redefining Success 

The friend who attends the Bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the Bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:29-30

I am redefining success on the basketball court. It used to be all about winning or losing which meant leaving the game either excited, discouraged, frustrated, or depressed, depending on the final score and how I played. My new definition is that just getting exercise is a “win,” but it’s a difficult transition because I’ve labored under the old mindset for a long time. I have to remind myself each game of my new way of looking at it. “It doesn’t matter that I missed that shot or that we are losing by 10; I’m playing, sweating, and running – I need nothing else to enjoy the game.”

The text quoted above is John the Baptist’s response to disciples who came to him with the news that his ministry was decreasing while someone else’s was getting bigger. “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan…well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” What they were really saying was something like this: “Do something! We’ve got to get the crowds back here because we’ve always baptized more people than anyone else. Let’s get some posters up, let’s interview the man on the street and find out why so many  are going elsewhere. Why not have a party with free pizza?”

Americans love results. Bigger is always better. Work hard and if it’s not producing, work harder. Results rule. John had a different definition of success in life: intimacy with God. He informed his disciples that his joy was not in the ministry, so it really didn’t matter whether it was getting bigger or smaller. His joy was in hearing the Bridegroom’s voice and in being His friend.

To be a friend of God and to respond to Him with joyful obedience when He speaks is the greatest thing you and I can do. It’s not about production, it’s about the relationship. The Westminster Confession states: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Remember to enjoy God today and you already have the win.

Posted in Matthew

Private Devotion

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” Matthew 23:25-26

Several years ago I was on an extended fast with the purpose of obtaining more of the power of God and the gifts of the Spirit. One day near the middle of the fast I was crying out to God for these things, and He spoke a clear word to my mind. I believe it was God because it was so different from what I was praying, and clearly not the result of my natural thought processes. Here was the thought: “I never want your public anointing to be greater than your private devotion.”

With that thought came an immediate realization that my current public anointing was already greater than my private devotion which meant that I was in a dangerous place as a minister. Here I was praying for more public anointing, which would have made the imbalance even greater, while God was wanting to do something more foundational inside of me. Needless to say, the focus of my fast changed from that moment on. It’s not that I still didn’t want the power,  I just knew the road to it must include a greater devotion that could sustain the greater ministry.

The Pharisees were concerned  about the outward. They measured God’s favor by their outward blessings and continually sought to put forward the best possible image of themselves. They were more concerned about how they appeared before others than about how they actually were before God. Jesus told them to stop focusing on the outward and to start cleaning up the private, inward parts. He assured them that if they would do this, the outward would take care of itself.

Don’t worry about being a Christian example to others. Concern yourself with actually being a Christian before God. Having to appear to be anything other than you are in public is a massive burden and almost impossible to keep up. No wonder Jesus’ burden was so light; He never worked on appearing. He made sure things were right before the Father, He kept a strong private devotion, and then just lived it out all day.

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 Hebrews, Psalms

Delighting in God

“Delight yourself in the Lord…” Psalm 37:4

A few years ago I had a life changing experience while preparing for church early one Sunday morning. The text on this particular morning was from Hebrews 12: “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” and I was praying through the message and planning the altar call.

I was going to tell a story about a father who was coaching his kindergarten son on how to win the “all class race” which was taking place that day. His son was very fast, but also easily distracted, and the dad knew it didn’t matter how fast he was.  If he didn’t run straight, he wouldn’t win. So he made a strategy: “Son, when the race starts I will be directly across from you at the finish line. Don’t worry about who is running next to you, or bother watching your own progress; just focus on me, and run straight into my arms.”

The question I was going to ask our people was: “What’s at the end of your race?” What are you really living for? Is it money? Pleasing people? Your retirement? etc… As I was thinking how powerful this was going to be, a question jumped into my mind which I knew was from the Lord. “What’s at the end of your race?” I knew instantly it wasn’t what I thought it was.

The answer came quickly as well as the consequences of my wrong priorities. “Jesus” was not at my finish line; it was something subtly different called, “Influence for Jesus.” It was plain to me that I had become a worker for God, before I was a lover of God, and equally clear what the costs were of my wrong priorities:

  1. I wasn’t delighting in God, because my reward was no longer Him, but in  how many people I was influencing for Him. 
  2. I had lost my delight in people. I could no longer enjoy people because I always needed them to do something. People were becoming projects that I had to work on instead of people that I could just enjoy. 

The final sentence I heard whispered in my spirit was this: “I’m calling you to be My bride, not My PR man.” 

A bride represents the Bridegroom in a different way than a promoter does. She knows Him intimately, and has even taken on some of His fragrance. Yes, she can answer all the basic questions, but that is not her joy. Her joy is to be with Him, and her influence is spontaneous, not forced. This is what Jesus wants from us.

Posted in Galatians, Luke

Missing True Intimacy

“He answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends….’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.’” Luke 15:29,31

You can go to church, keep the ten commandments, and have everyone think you’re a good person, yet miss true intimacy with God. The older brother in the story of the prodigal son represents the Pharisees who were also listening to him and grumbling to themselves, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2) The name Pharisee means, “separate one.” These guys kept all of God’s laws outwardly, went to synagogue all the time, and presumed that they were pleasing to God because of their performance. The older brother was angry that the father had received back the prodigal because he felt that his younger brother didn’t deserve forgiveness and the party his father threw for him.

In the text quoted above Jesus  tells of how the older brother had  served the father and kept all of his commandments. The brother then complained that nothing has been done to reward him for all of his performing. He was living more like a slave than a son and was waiting for the father to pay him. The father says, “you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.” You can’t work for what is already yours. If he wanted to have a party all he needed to do was ask. That is how grace works.

Galatians 4 tells us that Jesus was born under the law so that he might “redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” It goes on to say that the Father has sent His Spirit into our hearts so that you and I are “no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)  We could never have become God’s children by the law of performance because His holiness demands a perfection we could never obtain. So He sent His own Son who lived perfectly under the law and then died as a sacrifice for all of us who have broken the law. We become His children by receiving His grace.

Sometimes we lose track of grace when we’ve been in the church awhile and begin to think that we are worthy of the place we have in Christ because of all our service. It is important that we keep the “amazing” in grace, remembering that He came to save and love undeserving people just like us.

Posted in Luke

The Heart of God 

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

Hopefully we have all heard the truth many times: “God loves you.” But what does that really mean? Jesus tells a story in Luke 15 to explain God’s emotions for sinful human beings.

A son leaves home demanding that he get his share of the inheritance. He spends it all quickly, carelessly, and sinfully, and when he runs out of money he works for a farmer, but is paid so little that he longs for the food the pigs are eating. At this point he decides that he will go home, admit his sins, acknowledge that he is no longer a part of the family, and ask to become a hired man.

The hired man in that culture worked for a slave’s wages but didn’t stay in the house. The prodigal’s feeling was that his father might be willing to provide for him, but that he would not want to be close to him, or to even have him around.

Do you ever think that’s how God feels about you? He may meet your needs because He is good. He may forgive your sins because Jesus died for them and legally He has to. But the bottom line is that He doesn’t really like you, or desire you because of the person you’ve been. I think a lot of us can feel this way in our hearts even though our minds may be able to give all the right answers.  Perhaps we don’t really know God’s heart for us.

As the prodigal starts home, he may have been rehearsing to himself all of his sins and wondering what kind of a reception he would receive. Would it be avoidance; the lights are all shut off, the door is locked and no one answers no matter how many times he knocks? Or would it be guilt; “Do you have any idea what you have put your mother and I through…” with a rehashing of all his sins after all their generosity! Or would it be cold business? “Here is the amount you took when you left. Yes, you can have a job, but you will pay back everything that you owe.”

Jesus explained how God really feels when any of us sincerely repent and ask His forgiveness: “He was filled with compassion, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.” No guilt trip, no avoidance, no coldness. God rejoices over you and I and His heart is intimacy, not performance.

Posted in Colossians, Ecclesiastes, Revelation

Bored

“All things are wearisome… That which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say, ‘See this, it is new?’” Ecclesiastes 1:8-10

King Solomon was in the same state that many Americans are in today. He was bored. He had money, position, and time to do everything and anything he wanted, so he tried it all and still found himself bored. He sought after pleasure through laughter, alcohol, and sex.  He sought satisfaction through work, education and the accumulation of wealth. (See Ecclesiastes 2) After all his pursuits he said, “All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them…. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)

Under the sun. That’s the key. If all you live for is that which is under the sun, your life will be mediocre at best. You may have an existence, but you won’t really live. You may accumulate a lot of stuff, and have lots of toys, but eventually they will bore you. I don’t think many Americans are caught up in gambling today because they want to get rich. I think it’s because people are bored with life under the sun, and gambling gives them a little excitement.

There’s a better way. Seek for the One who is over the sun. Jesus said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) When a person truly lives for God a new purpose guides their activities; a new excitement comes into even the mundane duties of life. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” (Colossians 3:23-24)  All of a sudden housework becomes holy. You’re not just cleaning for your family, you’re cleaning for Jesus. Work becomes more challenging because you’re not just trying to please the boss, who only checks once in a while, you’re trying to please the real Boss, who is watching all the time. Life is exciting over the sun.

Are you bored? Stir yourself to seek the One who makes all things new.