Posted in Acts, Isaiah, Mark, Matthew, Philippians, Proverbs, Romans, Titus

Getting Back on the Wall

“No longer will they call you Deserted, or name you Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah (My delight is in her)…for the Lord will take delight in you.” Isaiah 62:4

Yesterday we gave several ways those God genuinely sets on the wall (in a place of authority to pray) fall off of it. Today we look at how to get back on it. “A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16)

  1. Accept your calling. Romans 11:29 tells us that God’s “gifts and call are irrevocable.” Just because you don’t like the place God has given you, or feel like you’ve failed at it, doesn’t mean you get a new call. Our lives won’t work until we embrace God’s plan and flow with it. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14)
  2. Forgive as you stand praying. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25) If we insist on justice, eventually God will have to give us the justice we want for others. (See Matthew 7:1-4) We don’t need someone to be sorry for us to forgive them. If we do, forgiveness will always be difficult. Here’s why – let’s say someone does say they’re sorry for the way they’ve treated you. How will you know if they’re really sorry? And even if they appear to be sorry, are they sorry enough? If they’re sorry enough, will that for sure mean they’ll never do it again? All we need to forgive is to remember that the greatest injustice didn’t happen to me; it happened to Jesus. The truly innocent Lamb of God died in my place – that’s injustice. Part of my worship is to lay my injustices at the foot of the cross and freely forgive those who hurt me. This is part of what it means to know Jesus “in the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10)
  3. Embrace your identity. The strength to stay on the wall is not in seeing your prayers answered; it’s in the fact that God’s delight is in you. We are favored sons and daughters not because of our works, but because of His great mercy toward us in Christ. (Titus 3:5-6) We don’t gain favor by praying; we pray from His favor. Our great reward is not in what He does for us, but in our relationship with Him. Until we grasp this reality it will always be hard to stay on the wall.
Posted in Proverbs, Psalms, Song of Songs

Hidden Shame

“The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Proverbs 28:1

A man once described his walk with God as being on a treadmill. He felt he could never make progress because eventually he would stumble again in the area of lust. Every other area, he found, he could set his will and be victorious, but he was utterly defeated in this area and it was robbing him of confidence with God.

How do we overcome immorality and the shame it brings?

  1. Wage war against it. Jesus died on the cross so we could be forgiven and have a new beginning. Many today have stopped fighting and changed the gospel to a license to keep sinning in this area. They say something like this to themselves: “God understands how weak I am and why I’ve stopped even trying to be sexually pure.” No, He doesn’t. He didn’t stop when it was difficult for Him, He shed His blood, He took the shame and pain of the cross and drank the cup of the wrath of God for us. How can we stop fighting to be pure because it’s too hard?
  2. Wage the right war. After we’ve set our heart to be pure it is easy to get into wrong thinking, so here is a warning: If we try to wage war against our own sexuality we will become angry with God. God made us sexual beings. The fact that you’re attracted to the opposite sex is not sin, it just means all the equipment is working. Jesus said lust in the heart is like adultery, not a thought in the mind. When a lustful thought comes into your mind, you are being tempted, you haven’t yet sinned. Don’t let the thought have a place; press delete instead of downloading it. It’s not a sin to be tempted!
  3. Get into the word of God. “Your word have I treasured (hidden) in my heart, so I might not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11) God wants our fantasy life, and all hidden thoughts to be transformed by the word of God.   
  4. Delight in God’s love for you. We are dark but lovely to God. (Song of Songs 1:5) I honestly don’t think anyone can win the lust battle without experiencing the higher pleasure of God’s love for them. It can be hard for men to connect emotionally with God, but it is really important. In Christ, we are the favored, beloved, children of God. His plan is for our success, not our failure!
Posted in John, Proverbs

The Key To Fruitfulness – Part One

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” John 12:23-25

Jesus speaks first about the necessity of His own death but then He alludes to the necessity of ours. If Jesus chooses to preserve His life, He can’t save us.  If we choose to live protecting ourselves, we can’t bear fruit as Christians. What does death to self look like?

First, we must die to our plans. Proverbs 16:9 says: “Many are the plans of a man’s heart, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” We are not discouraged from making plans, but only from clinging to them. Make a plan, give it to God, and then plan on the original plan changing to conform to God’s purpose. If our identity is in our plan, we will find ourselves continually disappointed and disillusioned when they don’t work out exactly how we thought.

We began a Sunday night service several years ago because we were having to turn people away from overcrowded nurseries in the morning services. Our plan didn’t work because we couldn’t get families to change to Sunday night, so we ended up solving the Sunday morning problem in another way. But in the process, we recognized God had a different purpose for Sunday nights. It has become the service of choice for many who want more and appreciate the culture of waiting on God at the altar since no one has to pick up their kids. 

A second area we need to die to is our property or wealth. Jesus answered the rich young ruler’s question about eternal life by telling him to sell everything and give to the poor, and to then, follow Him. He went away sad because he owned much property (one translation: “had great wealth”). The Lord impressed on my wife during a retreat we took, that her great wealth was her children and their unmet needs were what was making her sad. Jesus invited her to really let go of her “great wealth” by giving her children completely to Him, so she could follow Him without sadness anymore.

What’s your great wealth? What’s holding you back from complete abandonment to God? The reason why God pries things out of our hands is so that we will be open to receive all He has for us. He is not against us owning property, but He insists that our property doesn’t own us!

Posted in Luke, Proverbs

Getting Back Up

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

Jesus’ prayer concern had nothing to do with Peter denying Him three times; in His mind that was a done deal. What He was concerned about was Peter having the faith to get back up after he had fallen. Peter was about to fall hard and he couldn’t see it coming. In fact, in the very next verse he tells Jesus that he is “ready to go both to prison and to death” for Him. The reality is that he isn’t ready to stand up for Jesus in front of a servant girl. After his failure he would experience the shame and remorse of his actions verses what he had promised. He would loathe himself for a season.

But Jesus prayed that his faith wouldn’t fail. That Peter would remember God’s love for him and God’s wisdom to take even our brokenness and make something good out of it. That he would be able to look beyond himself and see the bigger picture, recognizing God’s hand even in allowing his failure.

When God looks at our lives, like He did at Peter’s, He sometimes makes a big call for change. It seems like we are put in survival mode when He brings something to bear on us that literally exposes everything inside of us. Sometimes it’s a failure that brings this to light, sometimes it’s a trial, sometimes it’s’ a difficult relationship, and sometimes it’s just God’s direct dealing. When God goes there you aren’t going to get better until you agree with Him about the depth of the problem and begin to face it with His love and grace.

When we sit in shame, condemnation, and self loathing instead of getting back up again in faith, all it means is that it’s going to take that much longer. Proverbs says that a righteous man falls down seven times and gets back up. (Proverbs 24:16) Successful Christians are not those who never fall but those who have learned how to get up quickly!

Posted in Ephesians, Hebrews, Matthew, Micah, Proverbs

Why We aren’t the Judge

“All the ways of a man are right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the motives.” Proverbs 16:2

For years growing up my brother, Jimmy and I would come home from school, eat a bowl of cereal, and watch Gilligan’s Island. From time to time the entire episode would be about something that happened on the island in the past.

Skipper would start telling about the event and all of a sudden we were back there; but it was all from Skipper’s perspective. He was in the middle; he was doing the right thing while those around him were doing questionable things.  He was the hero; that’s how he remembered it.

The episode would return to the present, and then another character would start to give their version of the story (Ginger, the professor, sometimes Mr. Howell) and in their memory they were the hero. And then finally, Gilligan would start talking about it and we’d go back a third time. Where others’ versions had Gilligan at blame, Gilligan always had himself being somewhat heroic. Yes, bad things happened but he was actually part of the solution, not the main problem. The funny thing was we were never told what actually happened – only three different perspectives of the same event.

This is why Jesus told us not to judge. (Matthew 7:1) We experience life only from our own perspective and even our own motives are often hidden from us. When we feel others have wronged us, or betrayed us, it’s important to realize that that’s probably not how they see it. Instead of believing the worst and playing judge, we’re called to believe the best and let God be the judge. Where there has been definite sin, we’re called to forgive “as God, in Christ, has forgiven us.” (Ephesians 4:32)

All things are laid bare before Him to whom we will give an account. (Hebrews 4:13) God calls us to do what’s right in His eyes: “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)  It’s humanly natural to have mercy for ourselves, love justice for others, and walk in the pride of being a judge, instead of submitting to God as the only one able to judge rightly. The Holy Spirit wants to help us live differently. He wants us to apply justice to ourselves while giving mercy to others. This is part of what it means to walk humbly with God.

Posted in Luke, Proverbs, Psalms

Choosing Well

“Few things are necessary, really only one, and Mary has chosen the good part.” Luke 10:42

A recent quote I heard has really struck me, “It is almost impossible to overestimate the unimportance of most things.” Think about this for a moment. All talk about food and drink is really unimportant. All talk of sports is really unimportant. All talk of weather, past, present, and future is mostly unimportant. All speculation of how the rich and famous live is meaningless and most talk of others is to no valuable end either. It’s amazing how much we are able to talk without really saying anything important.

“Small talk,” is what we call it. It is purposely unimportant because it breaks the ice in relationships without causing controversy. I get that, but I hope our lives are aiming at something more valuable, or we may end up as empty as most conversations.

Mary was seated at the Lord’s feet listening to His Word. There is nothing more valuable than a life focused on a relationship with God. Proverbs 1:32-33 says, “…the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to Me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” This is the good part.

Martha became distracted by her serving and ended up with the bad part; working for Jesus but no longer listening to Him; around Him, but not personally experiencing Him. Jesus is helping her to leave a distracted lifestyle by telling her that what Mary has, she has chosen. It’s as if He’s saying, “Martha, you are not a victim of your circumstances. You too can choose the good part.”

King David made this choice in the midst of his adventurous and busy life. “One thing have I desired and that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord (the Presence of God) all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

If something other than Him is the aim of our life, we’re on a tangent. Why not make a better choice today?

Posted in 1Corinthians, Proverbs

Resisting Temptation

“If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1Corinthians 10:12-13

Part of the enemy’s strategy in getting us to give into temptation is seizing us and making us feel there is no choice except to sin. When God asked Adam what he had done the reply was, “The woman You gave me…” Basically, “it wasn’t my fault! It was the woman’s fault; in fact, it was kind of Your fault since You gave me the woman.” Then God asked Eve what she had done and she also shifted the blame: “The serpent deceived me and I ate.”

Our excuses are irrelevant to God and do not lead us into freedom but only into greater bondage. No matter what the circumstances were around our sin, Scripture tells us that God provided a “way out” if we had only looked for it and prayed about it. Proverbs tells us that whoever hides his sin (puts the blame somewhere else) will not prosper, but whoever “confesses and forsakes” it will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13) Own your sin; confess it, confess that you didn’t look or pray for the way out, and then forsake it.

But how much better it is to resist temptation and not fall into sin. God’s main strategy for us to keep from sinning is to flee that which is tempting us. The idea that we can handle being close to sin without falling into it is a deception because we are all weaker than we think we are. In fact, “if you think you are standing firm be careful that you don’t fall!”

Adam and Eve were given a whole garden to enjoy, yet Eve chose to stand right next to the one tree that was forbidden. Not smart. When I was a young believer I had developed a fixation for a certain young woman in our home town. As I was reading Proverbs the warning came, “Don’t look into her eyes.” (Proverbs 6:25) So from then on I made it a point to not look her in the eyes when I was around her, but I would still find myself driving by her house hoping that she was outside. Later I read another Proverb that said, “Don’t even go near her house.” (Proverbs 5:8) I was stunned. God’s strategy was not “get close and try to be strong”, but simply stay far away.

What is the area of your greatest weakness? Why not enjoy the rest of the garden and stay far away from that tree!

Posted in Hebrews, Joel, Proverbs, Romans

Maintaining a Soft Heart

“How blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.” Proverbs 28:14

One definition of the fear of the Lord can be inferred by its opposite. If hardening your heart is how you express not fearing the Lord; then the true fear of the Lord must involve maintaining a soft, responsive heart. So how do we do this?

First by repentance. To stay soft we must be good at repenting. Joel 2:13 “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.” God doesn’t want us to fall into trouble, so He wants us to really repent (our hearts) and not just appear to repent (our garments). A great definition for repentance is given in the verse before our text: “He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

Secondly by prompt obedience. Hebrews 3:7-8 says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion during the time of testing in the desert.” Every time God speaks to us we have the potential of becoming softer or harder. Purpose to obey Him no matter what, small or big, if He will make it clear to you that it is Him speaking. There are many voices speaking today: our own anxieties, demonic influences, false religious expectations; but also the sweet Spirit of God. Test what you are hearing and if it is the voice leading you toward “righteousness, peace, and joy” (Romans 14:17), obey without hesitation and reap the benefits of having a tender heart before God.

Posted in Ecclesiastes, Proverbs

Our Need for One Another

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

There’s an African proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” The above text is the Bible’s way of stating this same truth. You may go fast for awhile, but if you’re unwilling to do the work of friendship, eventually you will fall and won’t be able to get back up because God created us to need Him, and to need each other.

A few years ago a friend was telling me about his cousin who along with his wife adopted three children from Russia. They couldn’t have any children of their own so decided to bring these children into their home. Well, it turned out to be much harder than either of them thought it would be and it led them to the point of despair many times.

The husband told my friend something like this, “We both said ‘I’m done,’ many times through the years, but as God arranged it, we were never saying it at the same time. When one of us was ready to give up, it just happened that the other one somehow had found encouragement, so we kept going.” He said, “I don’t know what would have happened if we had both been in the place of despair at the same time.”

It’s funny that the way we get really close to people is by walking with them through their low times and by letting them walk with us through our low times. “A friend,” the Proverb says, “loves at all times.” (Proverbs 17:17) We can’t even know how good of a friend we are, or how good of friends we have until we’ve seen them, or they’ve seen us, at our worst. “All times,” means good and bad.

Have you been hurt or betrayed by a friend or by a church? Are you living in isolation because you don’t feel like the work of living in community is worth it? I want to encourage you to reconsider because God wants us to walk with Him and with His other children. It’s His plan and no other will work.

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.