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 2Samuel, Revelation

A Place at the Table

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

Jesus isn’t inviting us to a one-time experience, but to an ongoing relationship. Amazingly, we’re not the only ones who eat when we come to His table. Jesus also eats with us.  The longing of His heart for fellowship with us is satisfied when we open our hearts and take our place at the feast He has prepared.

In 2Samuel 9 we have the story of Mephibosheth. He was king Saul’s grandson and Jonathan’s son. David sought him out because he wanted to show kindness to one of Jonathan’s descendants in order to honor the covenant of friendship he had made with him.

When Mephibosheth was brought before David, he was afraid for his life because it was customary for a new king to wipe out all the descendants of the king he replaced. (2Samuel 19:28) But mercy, not judgment, was in David’s heart. He gave Mephibosheth all the property Saul had previously owned, making him a wealthy man, but he wanted to do something more than just give him property. David wanted to have an ongoing relationship with him so he gave him a place at his dinner table as if he was one of his own sons. (2Samuel 9:11)

Redemption doesn’t just give us immediate access to the wealth of heaven, it gives us a place at the King’s table. However, just because there was always a place set for Mephibosheth doesn’t mean he always came to meals, just like God doesn’t force us to take the place He’s made for us to have fellowship with Jesus.

The church in Laodicea had said in its heart, “I need nothing.” They were living as Christians apart from intimacy with Christ and had become spiritually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17) Jesus was pursuing their fellowship and was ready to restore spiritual riches, eye salve and garments of white to remove their shame, but they had to respond to His knocking.

He was inviting them to a meal, but not just one meal; the invitation was to start taking their place at the table for all the meals. Physically we need to eat regularly and this is a picture of our ongoing need of daily fellowship with our Savior.

Jesus is still knocking today, have you taken your place at His table?

Posted in Galatians, Genesis

Heaven’s Laugh

“Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’ And she added, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’” Genesis 21:6-7

The joy Sarah experienced when she had Isaac (Isaac means “laughter”) would be shared by others when she told them the story. She was barren, Abraham was too old, and she had given up on having children long ago. People would laugh for joy because this child was tangible evidence of three things:

  1. God is alive. Because of the circumstances, this was clearly a miracle that only a living God could do.
  2. God is good. Life can be harsh and frustrating, but this child was a desire fulfilled that gave Sarah, and anyone who would hear about it, a taste of how good God is.
  3. God is gracious. Sarah had tried to have a child her own way through Hagar, and then laughed cynically when she heard God’s promise of her having a child. (Genesis 18:12) When she was asked why she had laughed, she lied because she was afraid. Yet God did the miracle anyway! God does wonderful things, not because of our great faith, but in spite of our imperfect faith.

What does this have to do with us? Everything. “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.” (Galatians 4:28)  The God who owed us nothing but death, gave us eternal life. The one who was heading to hell is now on the path to heaven.  The life that was degenerating in isolation is now regenerating through adoption into God’s own family, by the Spirit of life.

We are the miracles that should bring heaven’s laugh into this dark, cynical world. God loves us and Jesus died for us!  Don’t forget to laugh today at how wonderful these simple truths are.

Posted in Isaiah

Horse Talk

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it…yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He waits to show you compassion.” Isaiah 30:15,18

A few years ago  my wife and I went with our missionaries to a horse farm where horses are used to teach spiritual truths. Our director asked all of us to be quiet while we observed her with a horse who was unfamiliar with her. She asked us to imagine her as God, and the horse as us, and encouraged us to listen to what the Holy Spirit might teach through the experience.

She was in the middle of a circular pen set up in the arena and had a headset microphone on that allowed us to hear everything she was saying without her having to raise her voice. The horse was then let in with her and she began speaking softly to him, but he was having none of it. He began running around in circles ignoring her, but she kept speaking and never took her eyes off of him.

Once in a while the horse would kick or change direction or even speed up to let her know he resented being locked up in this small space with her. She just kept speaking tenderly and waited for him to tire out. Finally it happened.

All at once the horse stopped, went right to her, and bowed his head, letting her touch him. She told us this was an act of surrender. Now when she spoke and walked around the horse followed her wherever she went.

Here are a few reflections:

  1. The circular pen was something artificial that she created for the purpose of establishing a relationship with the horse. Our circumstances are like the pen. God allows us to feel penned in only for the reason that we might come to Him, surrender, and establish a stronger relationship. Even though the horse ignored the director, she never took her eyes off of him and never stopped speaking to him. God’s eye is on us even when we resent our circumstances and kick and snort to communicate our unhappiness with Him.
  2. Horses were created to be ridden in the beautiful outdoors, not stuck in a pen. God wants to have an intimate relationship with us where we become one with Him. The sooner we embrace this purpose by surrendering to Him, the sooner the adventure of  “riding” with Him will begin.
Posted in Isaiah, Psalms

A New Beginning

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your Word.” Psalm 119:67

We had a house cat when we lived in Minnesota named Sugar, and one day Sugar wanted to go outside. The problem was that it was freezing cold and we were in the middle of a snow storm. She put up her paws against the glass patio door in our dining room and meowed at the top of her lungs. I explained to her that she didn’t really want to go outside; she wouldn’t like it. But she wasn’t listening and was driving me crazy with her persistent meowing.

There were so many things she could enjoy if she would just get away from that door. She could watch TV with the kids who were home from school. She could sit on Beth’s lap and allow Beth to gently pet her for hours. She could go down in the basement and eat some more or go up to the bedroom and sleep on Beth’s bed. She had options, but she wasn’t interested in any of them. She wanted to go outside.

Finally I said, “Alright, you asked for this.” I opened the door and she shot out. I then closed the door and after about five seconds she wanted back in. Now she was pawing the other side of the glass door  and meowing at the top of her lungs to get back in.

I want to assure you that it was always my plan to let her back in – she was a house cat after all and belonged in the house with us. But she wasn’t coming back in that easily. Before a new beginning was offered, I wanted her to get a taste of life out in the winter storm. If she wasn’t fully convinced, I reasoned, once I let her back in she would quickly forget about how cold and windy it was and think she wanted to go out there again.

When she finally came back in she had obviously learned her lesson because there were no more episodes of her wanting to go where she wasn’t allowed.

Sugar’s story is often our story with God. We get bored doing the right thing all the time and think we want to investigate the “dark side,”  or what the Bible calls sin. Instead of enjoying all of God’s legitimate blessings we crave something that is off limits and become convinced that we will be happier if we have it. God then becomes “mean” in our eyes because He won’t let us have what we want. We pout. We whine. And then finally He allows an opportunity for us to have what we want.

If we won’t listen to His word, He hopes we’ll listen to our lives. Life doesn’t work when we disobey God. Even when we disobey and stray far from Him, He waits for our return, “longing to show us mercy.” (Isaiah 30:18)

Posted in 1Timothy, 2Peter, Genesis, Hebrews, John, Revelation

The Tree of Eternal Life

“God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” Genesis 3:5

After the enemy questioned the Word of God by asking Eve, “Did God really say that,” he questioned the character of God. In the text above it’s as if he’s saying, “God is holding out on you and doesn’t have your best interests in mind.” Once Eve took this bait, she could justify taking matters into her own hands to accomplish what was “best” for her. Instead of trusting God, she became suspicious of Him, and disaster followed. Is anything different today?

The irony of the attack quoted above is that God was offering Adam and Eve something only He possessed,  but it could only be found in the other tree; the tree of life. We find out in Genesis 3:22 that this tree would more appropriately be called the tree of eternal life because whoever ate its fruit would “live forever.” Adam and Eve were being offered, in the fruit of this tree, the very life of God who “alone possesses immortality.” (1Timothy 6:16)

Today God is offering eternal life again through another tree; the cross. His purpose is not to restore us to the state of Adam and Eve before they fell, but to give us the eternal life they never embraced. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

What will happen to those who don’t come to the cross and eat of the life only Jesus can give? They will outlive their bodies and face judgment (Hebrews 9:27), and then be cast into hell to pay for their sins against humanity. (Revelation 20:11-15)  After that they will be destroyed in hell (Matthew 10:28), be consumed by its fire (Hebrews 10:27), and perish like the beasts (2Peter 2:12) when they experience the second death of the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

Let’s trust God’s heart for us and receive the eternal life He died for us to have!

Posted in Jeremiah, John

Drinking the Spirit

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit…” John 7:37-39

The words Bilbo spoke in The Lord of the Rings came to me several years ago: “I am like too little butter scraped over too much bread.” Running, ministering, doing… all on fumes. I’d been like a cell phone that is beeping to tell you it’s low on power. I told myself it needed to be charged but maybe I could make one more call before I lost power? Recharging takes time and sometimes we feel like we don’t have any to spare.

How about you? Do you need a drink from the fountain of living water? Have you learned how to survive even while you’ve got signs everywhere that there is nothing in the tank?

Jesus invites me and you to come to Him again for a fresh drink of the Holy Spirit. How do we drink of the Spirit?

  1. Recognize that there is a difference between actually drinking of the Spirit and only believing in drinking, reading about drinking, or talking about drinking. (If any of these constituted drinking, I would be continually renewed.)
  2. To drink I must own my need to drink and bring that thirst to Christ Himself. Oftentimes we bring our thirst to the empty pleasures of this world that turn out to be cisterns that are leaking. (Jeremiah 2:13) We get a small emotional renewal up front but in the end we become even more weary.
  3. To drink I must believe in the abundant grace of God and that He has created me for intimacy.  He died so that sin could not keep me from Him, and He lives to help me drink of His Spirit who He knows I need.
  4. To drink I must make time. Bilbo got away. The cell phone must be plugged in for a while and be unavailable to carry around for a time.

But what about all the people who “need” me? If you take serious time for renewal you may touch fewer people, but God will be able to touch more. And in the end, people really need God, not you, anyway.

Posted in Jeremiah, Psalms

The Greatest Reward

“Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things…” Jeremiah 9:23-24

The greatest benefit of being a Christian is not something God does for us, but God Himself. The greatest reward for praying, serving, or sacrificing therefore is not an answered prayer or a changed circumstance, but an increased revelation of who He is. Think about it: our future is only as good as God is. It wouldn’t matter where we went if the One who was there was not filled with beauty, love, and righteousness. If God wasn’t perfect in every way then our future would be unstable and unpredictable. It’s not His promises, but His character behind His promises that is our ultimate guarantee.

It is a shallow Christianity that is just trying to get what God offers in salvation without seeking the God behind the offer. Who is this that has promised all of heaven to those who come to Him in faith? Who is this who has died for us and calls us to be His bride? Who is this who has made us to be the very children of God, sons and daughters, who no longer are to live in shame, fear, and guilt but in the security of the beloved?

Do you enjoy God? I hope so. If not, you’re missing something very important. Instead of trying to make your life work just so, or trying to make your dreams come true, seek to make God Himself your delight. Everything else will fall into place if you aim for the greatest reward. As David wrote, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

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.