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 John, Romans

The Condition of Mercy

“I will have mercy on those I have mercy…” Romans 9:15

There is a tradition of theology that believes there is no condition human beings can meet to receive God’s mercy.  They believe that before time, God sovereignly chose those who He would have mercy on.  These are the elect and believe in Jesus only because God chose them to believe in Jesus.  Paul’s argument in Romans 9 is key to this theology: “It does not depend on man who runs or wills, but on God who has mercy.” (Romans 9:16)

Although I have many friends in this tradition, I disagree with their interpretation of the argument Paul is making in Romans 9.  I believe Paul is using dynamite to blow up the present Jewish thinking before laying down God’s provision for mercy.

The Jews are certain that God has to give mercy to those who are seeking to follow the law.  Paul makes it clear that God doesn’t have to give mercy to anyone.  He is the Potter and we are the clay, and the clay doesn’t have the right to question the Potter about what he’s making.  Even if God arbitrarily chooses to make some of us objects of His mercy, and others objects of His wrath, we would have no “right” to question Him.  God decides who He has mercy on, not us.

So who does He choose?  Paul comes to his point: “So the Gentiles who weren’t seeking to be right with God, found Him.  Why?  Because of faith.  While the Jews who were seeking to be right with God, didn’t find Him.  Why?  Because they sought Him by works instead of by faith.  They stumbled over the great rock in their path.  God warned them of this in the Scriptures when He said,  ‘Behold, I place a stone in Zion that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall.  But anyone who believes in Him will never be disgraced.’” (Romans 9:30-33)

God is not arbitrary!  He sent Jesus to die for the world, and anyone who believes in Him will receive the mercy of God and eternal life. (John 3:16)  Those who reject Him will stumble over the One who was sent for them.  The whole argument Paul makes doesn’t conclude until the end of chapter 11 where He gives God’s heart one more time: “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so He could have mercy on everyone.” (Romans 11:32)

Jesus didn’t just die for the elect; He died for everyone!  If we meet His condition for mercy we can be assured that we are one of those He chooses.

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

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 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 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 2Timothy, Revelation, Romans

The Puzzle of the End Times

“Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy and all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near.”  Revelation 1:3

The God who helps us with our smallest problems is the Ruler over history.  History will one day be seen to be His story, and knowing that brings a blessing to our lives especially at times when they seem pointless or chaotic.  John wrote Revelation from Patmos, an island prison where the emperor, Domitian, had sent him because of “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9)  As God revealed His bigger plan, we can imagine John’s comfort in the soon coming of the Lord and the assurance of His ultimate victory.

The evil and darkness of this world will be short lived.  As surely as Jesus came the first time to save us from our sins, He will come a second time to secure His bride, judge the world, and set up His kingdom. (2Timothy 4:1)  Just how these events will unfold is unclear.  There are many pieces to the end times’ puzzle and no one but God knows exactly how they fit together, yet John tells us in the text above that there’s a blessing in just contemplating the mystery.  What exactly is the blessing?  I believe it’s more of the fear of the Lord.  Let me explain.

Paul tells us to “behold both the kindness and severity of God” in Romans 11:22.  Our tendency is to only behold His kindness because it’s pleasant, but it’s in beholding His severity that we grow in the fear of the Lord and stay in a place where we will only experience His kindness.  The end of Romans 11:22 goes like this: “…to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.”  Jesus wants nothing for us but kindness, but to ensure that blessing, we must have the courage to behold His severity.  When someone warns me of danger I feel love, not offense. 

 Jesus came the first time as a Lamb to save the world; He’s coming a second time as a Lion to judge it.   At that time it won’t matter how close our theology about the end times matches what actually happens, but only that we are in a right relationship with God.  May God engage both your mind and heart as you join me in contemplating the end times’ puzzle over the next few days.

Posted in Ephesians, Luke, Romans

The Generosity of God

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” Romans 8:32

Any sense of entitlement in us will undermine our faith. God never gives to us because He has to; He gives because He wants to. The gospel starts by revealing to us that God owes us nothing but hell because of our sins, and then proceeds to show us His kind intention of adopting us as His sons and daughters. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

I was speaking in Uganda about entitlement and told a story where God revealed to me that I had been waiting for an apology from Him. I felt I had been mistreated just like Job and the older brother did (Luke 15:26-31), and that attitude was keeping me from experiencing the generosity of God.

After I was done speaking a woman found me and said I had to talk with her friend, Annette. Annette was laying on a mat on the floor of the church and was unable to get up because of crippling pain in her back. Through an interpreter, Annette told me that God spoke to her through the message. She had experienced a number of setbacks and had been angry with God. Now she was free because God showed her she needed to let go of her bad attitude.

I felt in my heart that God now wanted to heal her body, so I asked if I could pray for her back. After a brief prayer, I told her to move her back around and eventually told her to stand up. As she did, tears started to pour down her face.

“Ask her why she’s crying,” I said to the interpreter.

The answer was what I was hoping: “She says God is healing her back.”

Before my next teaching, she came to the front with the joy of the Lord on her face and gave testimony to what God had done in her heart and then in her body. Everyone then rejoiced in the generosity of God.

Sometimes we become focused on the outward miracle we need while having the wrong attitude in our heart. Do you feel God owes you something because of your obedience, sacrifice, or prayers? Why not lay down your disappointment, acknowledge that God is not in your debt, and focus on His generosity?

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not, also along with Him, graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)

Posted in Romans

Taking Time to Give Thanks

“Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine – where are they?’” Luke 17:15-17

We glorify God when we recognize what He has done for us by giving thanks. God’s not looking for a repayment which would be impossible, but He is looking for our sincere thanks for the good things He does for us. How sad that Jesus would have to ask, “The nine – where are they?” Why didn’t they come back and thank Jesus? Probably for some of the same reasons you and I don’t spend more time giving thanks.

  1.  Maybe they were too busy. Now that they received their healing there were a hundred things they needed to do. They needed to return to their families; they needed to look for work; they needed to make up for lost time. Thanksgiving is a simple thing but it does take time which is a precious commodity. Make it a priority to devote time every day to just stop and give thanks to God.
  2. Maybe they had a chip on their shoulder. “God owes me…” When we feel like God owes us anything we start taking His blessings as payments for our devotion and service instead of that which He has freely given us out of His love and grace. Maybe the nine were angry at God because of their leprosy so when they were healed it didn’t produce gratefulness, but more like, “it’s about time.” It is good to remember that God owes you and me nothing. “Who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?” (Romans 11:35)
  3. Maybe they were overly focused on themselves. When our lives are all about us we miss the big picture and fall into the delusion that we are independent. Remember, every breath we draw comes from the God who made us, and we continue to exist only due to His mercy. He’s the sun we orbit around, so we need to be careful not to make ourselves the middle. There is no greater use of the breath He has lent us than to give thanks back to God.
Posted in 1Thessalonians, Colossians, James, Jeremiah, Psalms, Romans

Give Thanks

“In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1Thessalonians 5:18

Many times we aren’t sure what God’s perfect will is for a situation, so we waver between one direction and another. “God, couldn’t you speak more clearly so that I would know for sure?” Well, this passage is crystal clear and it’s right in the word of God; “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will…” The interesting thing about God’s will is that it is not as much about what we do, as it is about how we do what we do. Listen to this verse: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:23) Whatever you do! Praying, eating, playing, watching football, shopping…. whatever.

Our text doesn’t say “for everything,” evil does happen, but rather, “in everything.” How can we thank God in every single circumstance we are in?

We can always thank Him for His love which endures forever. God loves you and me right now no matter what we’re going through! How wonderful is that?

We can thank Him that He is in control. However bad things may seem, everything that is happening has at least been allowed by God and has not surprised Him. We can thank Him for always having a plan for good no matter how badly we have messed things up. (Jeremiah 29:11) We can thank Him for His wisdom which is able to work “all” things for our good. (Romans 8:28) He will use our trials (self inflicted or God ordained) to make us complete and content in Christ alone. (James 1:2-4)

No matter what is going on we can thank Him that our real life is, “hidden with Christ in God,” (Colossians 3:1) and that our real home is in heaven. We can thank Him for the forgiveness of our sins and for His guiding presence in our future. We can thank Him for the cross, and that whatever hardship we are going through is nothing compared to what He went through for us. We can thank Him for being good, for being our Father, for being our Savior – for being our everything. As the Psalmist has said, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His loving-kindness is everlasting.” (Psalm 107:1)

Posted in Romans

Believing God

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-since he was about a hundred years old-and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” Romans 4:18-21

There’s a difference between believing in God and believing God. Let’s look at Abraham’s process of believing God, so we can learn how to believe God as well.

He heard from God. “So shall your offspring be,” was a reference to Abraham gazing at the stars and hearing the voice of God. This is the beginning of faith – God speaking. (Romans 10:17)

He faced his circumstances. He was a hundred years old, and Sarah was barren – it would take a miracle. All human hope of the promise coming true was extinguished; it would take direct intervention from God. Faith never asks us to live in denial of our circumstances, but it often does ask us to believe God in spite of them.

He kept believing. The beginning of faith is exciting, but what if what was promised doesn’t happen right away? “He did not waver through unbelief.” He didn’t but he could have. He could have questioned whether God had really spoken at all, or whether He really meant what He said. He could have thought of all the others who had prayed and didn’t seem to be answered. It’s easy to waver through unbelief. He chose to believe God and to keep believing God.

What has God promised you? If nothing, then get into His word and ask Him what He has for you. Position your life to hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit and you’ll be surprised at how alive Jesus is today. When He speaks, I encourage you to go from believing in God to believing God. Whether it’s for salvation, healing, restoration, provision, or a direction He’s leading you in. Time in His word and in His presence will purify our thoughts, so we can know the difference between what God is actually speaking and what we are only imagining. Take what is truly of God and believe Him for the great things He wants to do in us, for us, and through us.