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 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 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 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 Isaiah, John

The Christmas Light

“The people (Galilee of the Gentiles) who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them…For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on his shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2; 6

We didn’t get the best looking Christmas tree one year. It wasn’t exactly a Charlie Brown tree, but it was kind of unshapely and rough looking. Our solution was to put an extra string of lights on it to take attention away from the tree and put it on the lights. It worked! When we turned  it on at night it rivaled any tree we ever had.

Our tree is like the human race – we need light. Our text refers to those in Galilee who will see a great light. What is the light? It turns out it will be a child, a son, who will be given to us. Oh, and by the way, this child will be called God in the flesh (Mighty God).

While Isaiah looks forward to the coming Messiah, John looks backward and sees something very similar. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In Him was life (zoe) and the life (zoe) was the light of men… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1, 4; 14)

The Greek word for God’s kind of life is zoe. The zoe in Jesus was the light of men. In John 5:26 He says, “Just as the Father has life (zoe) in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life (zoe) in Himself.” Then Jesus goes on to say something amazing in John 10:10, “I came that they (us) may have life (zoe).”

Jesus came to light us up. We don’t look good or do much good when we’re walking in darkness. It’s time to forsake the darkness and turn on the great light that first appeared in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. It’s time to receive the light (John 1:12) and then learn how to live looking up, so the light can draw others who are trapped in darkness.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)

Posted in Isaiah, Luke

The Shepherds

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you: He is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:8-11

The good news of great joy was not only for “all the people,” it was also to be incredibly personal, for the angel said: “a Savior has been born to you.” What did this mean to these shepherds?

At that time all Israel was waiting for Messiah because the prophet Daniel had given a timetable of when Messiah should appear on the earth. There is little doubt that the words of the angel would bring to the minds of Jewish shepherds the prophecy Isaiah gave about the Messiah: “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.” (Isaiah 9:6) They possibly felt that the joy would be the Messiah defeating Rome, and Israel becoming the governmental head of the nations again.

Yet this Child was born for a different reason than setting up an earthly kingdom at that time, and the joy would be much more than having a good leader running the government.

The fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem were used to raise the lambs used for sacrifices in the temple. The shepherds’ job was to watch over lambs whose sacrifice would cover over Israel’s sins one year at a time. Little did they know that the angel was calling them to watch over the Lamb who would take away the sins of the whole world; and that all the lambs they had watched over until that time pointed to this One baby, who was Christ the Lord.

Before Messiah rules on this earth, He needed to be a Savior that would die for the sins of all the people, including these shepherds. The great joy would be in the forgiveness of their sins which would allow them to have a personal relationship with God.

I hope you have made Christmas personal by receiving Christ’s forgiveness and by embracing a relationship with Him. God wants each of us to hear and believe the good news that brings great joy!

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 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 Colossians, Isaiah, John, Philippians

Are You Willing?  

“If you are willing and obedient you will eat the best from the land.” Isaiah 1:19

A minister in the 1950’s was complaining to God saying, “God, you said if I was willing and obedient, I would eat the best of the land and I’ve been obedient.”

He had been a pastor when God told him to start traveling because he wasn’t really a pastor, he was a prophet and a teacher. Even though it was difficult to leave the security of a pastorate, he obeyed God. The problem was that he wasn’t making it. His shoes were worn out, his wife and kids were barely surviving, and there was constant financial pressure on his home. All this when he had only obeyed God and stepped out in faith.

The Lord answered this man with a whisper: “You’ve been obedient, but you haven’t been willing.” When he told this story, he said that he instantly became willing in response to God’s prompting, and it started to change everything in his life.

Did you know you can be obedient and not be willing? You can do the will of God and carry out your responsibilities as “have tos,” but that’s not good enough for God. He only releases His full blessing over us when we “want to.” It’s not enough for Him that we serve Him; He wants us to be happy about it.

The sweet Spirit of God was given so we would have both power to God’s will as well as the “want to.” Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God who works in you to will (the want to) and to act (the power to do) according to His good purpose.”

The way we change all of the “have tos,” in our lives into “want tos,” is by embracing the cross and doing them for God instead of for man. Jesus said that no one took His life from Him; “I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18). You and I have the choice of resenting our “have tos,” or of making them “want tos,” by doing them for God.

How we do what we do changes everything and puts us in the place of God’s full blessing. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).