Posted in Psalms, Mark

The Gift God is Offering

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?… One thing you lack: go and sell what you possess and give it to the poor… and come follow Me.” Mark 10:17; 21

 What if the gift we are asking God for is different than the one He’s offering?  The rich young ruler already had a good life but saw it could be better if he had the promise of eternal life.  He asked Jesus what He had to do to ensure that gift but didn’t like the answer.  “But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” (Mark 10:22)

 He was willing to do something, but Jesus asked him to let go of something.  He wanted to improve his life, but Jesus wanted to become his life.  He wanted to add a room to his house, but Jesus wanted to tear down the house he had built and start over with Himself as the foundation of a new building.

 He ended up walking away sad.  The gift he asked for was different than the one God was offering.  I wonder if we have answered Jesus’ call to let go of our control, or if we have redefined what He’s offering to accommodate our own desires?  

Better to be sad than deceived. I wonder if the rich young ruler ever reconsidered and followed Jesus on His terms?  If he did, he would have found that God is not opposed to us having stuff; He just doesn’t want our stuff to have control over us.

A few verses after this young man walked away sad, Peter said: “We have left everything and followed You.”  Here was Jesus’ response to him: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

 When we withhold nothing from Him, He will withhold no good thing from us! (See Psalm 84:11)

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

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 Isaiah, Luke, Psalms

The Way Forward

“In repentance and rest you will be saved; in quietness and confidence is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

 Sometimes the way forward is to go back.  Repentance is when we return to God and find our rest in His forgiveness and acceptance again.  The new beginning He gives requires an exchange of strength.  Instead of seeing our activity and energy as the way forward, we learn to quiet ourselves and to find our strength in God.

 “Cease striving and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)  Quieting ourselves and encountering God will produce a new confidence to face life’s challenges that isn’t based on our ability to control, but on God’s ability to work all things for His glory and our good.  Here’s the end of Psalm 46:10, “Then I will be exalted in the nations; I will be exalted in all the earth.”

 In our text above, Israel was unwilling to repent.  They decided to go forward even faster than they had begun, and they became a sign to others of what not to do. (Isaiah 30:17)

What was God doing while they rejected His counsel? “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and He waits on high to have compassion on you…”  God is waiting for you and me to come to the end of ourselves and our own devices, so He can have compassion on us!  Sometimes the way forward is to recognize we’re eating pig’s food, come to our senses, and then return to our Father no matter what it looks like. (see Luke 15)

 It turns out that the One who owes us nothing, longs to give us everything, if we’ll just come home!

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 Proverbs

Trees and Flowers

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

 How do we navigate all the relationships in our lives?  How can we love people and be loyal to people when we have so little time to share between so many? How can we reach out and love new people yet still give the necessary time and investment to the valued friendships we already have?  Only by giving all our relationships to God, and by discerning His purpose in each one. Each of us will be called to have a few trees in our lives, and many flowers.  Likewise, each of us will be called to be a tree to a few people and a flower to many others.  Let me explain.

 A tree is someone who is with you the rest of your life.  A tree may not be as beautiful, or as fragrant as a flower, but they are steady through good times and through bad.  They are the friend who sticks closer than a brother, the friend who loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17), the friend who is willing to speak the truth even if it hurts (Proverbs 27:6), and the friend who believes in your destiny in God even though they know all your sins and faults.  A tree is a blessing from God and should be valued and not taken for granted. As someone said, “you can make new friends, but you can’t make old ones.”

 Flowers are temporary. They are beautiful and fragrant and they enrich our lives by the grace they impart even though they aren’t called to be trees.  These are people God brings into our lives at just the right time to give us a message, to pray for us, or to pick us up when we’re down.  We must thank God for them and not resent their seemingly temporary nature in our lives.  All of them will be trees in eternity, but down here they are called to be someone else’s tree.  If you think everyone should be a tree to you then you will go through life feeling hurt and betrayed by those God called to be only flowers to you. “Why did they move away?”  “Why did they send such a short response to my email?”  “Why did they pretend to be my friend when they obviously weren’t?”  We can easily judge flowers we wanted to be trees and end up shutting our hearts down in self-protection so we don’t get hurt again.

You and I will be disappointed with some people and be a disappointment to others, but there is One we can always please who is the ultimate Tree – Jesus!

Posted in Isaiah, John

Kingdom Mode

“Of the increase of His government and peace (shalom) there will be no end… The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:7

The Father has promised the Son that His kingdom (government) and His presence (peace) will continually increase. The Father’s own zeal will accomplish this – not man’s efforts or programs. Where will this increase happen? In and through you and me, His adopted children. We are carriers of the kingdom and the Presence of the King Himself!

When the world goes into crisis mode, we can go into kingdom mode. On September 11th, 2001, I received a phone call from the manager of the area wide Christian radio station. The church secretary had to find me because I was in the sanctuary praying and meditating on the morning’s One Year Bible reading from Isaiah 8:12-14: “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the One you are to fear…and He will be a sanctuary (for you).”

The manager told me that one of the twin towers was hit by terrorists and that another plane was hijacked and he was asking pastors to pray over the air. There was such a presence of God on me because I knew that He had prepared me for this. Darkness was having its day, but God didn’t want us to focus on what the world was focusing on, or respond in the way the world would respond. We were to fix our eyes on Him and find sanctuary in Him, and that’s what I prayed for everyone who was in the midst of this horrible crisis.

The world goes into crisis mode when there is a crisis and many wrong decisions are made because they are based on the hurt, fear, anger, or frustration the situation has caused. This is when Jesus wants to increase His government and peace in us – we are to fix our eyes on Him and go into kingdom mode. Don’t focus on darkness or respond to it.  What is God saying? What does God want you to do? All you need to do to break darkness is bring a light into it. Light is always stronger than darkness.

“In Me you may have peace, in the world you will have trouble. Let your heart take courage for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) In every situation around us we are either a thermometer that simply reflects the environment, or a thermostat that sets it. God’s plan is that we would so host His presence, and have such confidence in Him that we would automatically go into kingdom mode when a crisis arises and be thermostats of His kingdom and peace.

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 Daniel, Revelation

The Beast

“The beast which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come out of the abyss and go to his destruction.” Revelation 17:8

In Daniel 7 the beast has its body destroyed and is thrown into the blazing fire when the Messiah returns to the earth. (Daniel 7:11; 13)   How can Vespasian be the beast when Jesus didn’t return to end his reign?  In fact, after the Jewish war ended Vespasian reigned six more years until his peaceful death in 79 AD.  How can he be the beast when everything that was supposed to happen to the beast didn’t happen to him?

Is it possible that the beast is both the one who appeared in history using Vespasian and the one who inspires and possesses a future anti-Christ?  The beast, according to the text above, is more than a human being; it is a creature of darkness that has been released in the past, now is restricted, and will be released again before the coming of Christ.

The Apostle John writes Revelation after one of the judgment events has already occurred in history (the fall of Jerusalem), and before the final one (after the second coming). John assures us that the beast who comes up out of the abyss, and once was (had already appeared), now is not (is not presently active in the world), yet will appear again before he is destroyed.  

What Daniel sees is a composite of both comings of the beast. Just like Old Testament prophecies about Jesus are sometimes confusing because they don’t distinguish or even see two comings of the Messiah; Daniel can’t see two comings of the beast.  He can only see what God shows him, so what he describes is everything that the beast will do until God destroys him.

In Daniel we’re told that after the beast changes Jewish law (Vespasian did this at the destruction of the temple), the saints will be placed under his control for a time, times, and half a time. (Daniel 7:25) This is a reference to his second appearance where John sees a future anti-Christ speaking “great blasphemies against God,” waging “war against God’s holy people and conquering them,” and being “given authority to do whatever he wants for forty-two months.” (Revelation 13:5-7)   Revelation 12:14 calls this same period, “time, times, and half a time,” the same words used in Daniel seven.

Posted in Daniel

The Little Horn

“While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it.” Daniel 7:8  

“The ten horns are ten kings who will rule that empire.  Then another king will arise, different from the other ten who will subdue three of them.” Daniel 7:24-25

Almost all scholars identify the fourth beast of Daniel 7 as the Roman Empire who would have “iron teeth” (7:19) and would “devour the whole world, trampling and crushing everything in its path.” (7:23) What they disagree on is who the ten kings were and who the eleventh king was who began as a little horn.  Instead of trying to figure out when the ten successive kings begin, I propose we focus on how he comes to power.  He begins as “the little horn” and doesn’t become king until three of the other horns or kings are subdued before him.

Remarkably there is an event in our history that fits this description.  When Nero committed suicide in 68 AD, the leadership of the Roman Empire was up for grabs.  Sixty-nine AD has become known as the year of four emperors.  Galba, Otho, and Vitellius all seized control for a time but eventually they were subdued before Vespasian.  Vespasian began as Nero’s general (a little horn – a leader, but not a king) and was then the emperor for ten years after coming to power.  If he is the eleventh king all we need to do is count backwards to find the first.  Five of the kings have already been accounted for (Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian), so who were the other six?

Before Nero was Claudius, then Caligula, before him was Tiberius (the emperor during Jesus’ ministry), then Augustus (emperor when Jesus was born), before him was Julius Caesar who wasn’t called an emperor but “Dictator”, and finally, before Caesar was Pompey, who wasn’t called emperor or dictator, but “Sole Counsel.”

Is there any logical reason why God would identify Pompey as the first of the eleven kings when there were many other Roman leaders before him?  There is. Israel did not belong to the Roman Empire until 63 BC when Pompey invaded Jerusalem and desecrated the temple.  He was the first leader (king) in Rome when God’s people, Israel, came under the rule of the Roman Empire.

Posted in Daniel, Mark, Matthew

Daniel’s Seventieth ‘Seven’ – Part Two

“He (a coming prince) will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” Daniel 9:27

After the Messiah is put to death, Gabriel says “the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary and its end will come like a flood.” (Daniel 9:26) The next verse, quoted above, is a description of this event that will happen during the seventieth ‘seven.’ 

Jesus said that this “abomination of desolation,” spoken by Daniel the prophet (Matthew 24:15) would be fulfilled in the generation that He lived in.  “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Mark 13:30) 

Many commentators don’t believe the seventieth ‘seven’ occurred in Jesus’ generation so they put it off until the generation before the Lord’s return.  They treat the fall of Jerusalem as a foreshadowing of the events that will happen again before the coming of the Lord which is why so many are certain the Jewish temple has to be rebuilt. But all this is conjecture and not in the text.  In Mark’s gospel only one question is asked and it’s about the destruction of the temple (not about His coming or about the end times) and the sign they should look for: “the abomination of desolation.” (Mark 13:14)

Yesterday we looked at what actually happened in their generation and the abomination that was set up in the destroyed temple.  Now let’s reread Daniel’s seventieth ‘seven’ in light of this history: 

“And he (Vespasian) will make a firm covenant with many (Galilean Jews) for one ‘seven.’ (The war went from 66-73 AD)  In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. (The temple was destroyed at the three and a half year mark, so sacrifices could no longer be made.) And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation (the Roman ensign was sacrificed to where the temple had been), until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”  Daniel’s seventieth ‘seven’ was fulfilled in the first century, just like Jesus said it would be.