Posted in Mark, Psalms

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 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 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 Galatians, Psalms

What Happened?

What has happened to all your joy?” Galatians 3:15

Joy is a good measure of our Christianity because true joy is only found in the presence of God. (Psalm 16:11) Apparently the early joy the Galatian church experienced had faded. In the text above, Paul is bringing this fact to their attention so he can get to the source of the problem.

They were still living; they were still religious; and maybe even still zealous for the faith, but the joy was gone. What happened? Have you ever been there? Still doing what you’re supposed to be doing, but over time, losing the heartfelt energy that comes from the joy of the Lord?

Paul identifies the freedom the gospel brings as the source of releasing God’s joy, and the loss of that freedom as the block to it. Jesus came to free them from the slavery of a performance identity, so they could know what it is to be the beloved children of God. (Galatians 4:6-7)

They knew this joy once but are now being seduced by teachers who are preaching a different gospel. The gospel these teachers are promoting makes more sense because it involves them keeping more rules and “earning their keep” instead of the free gift of grace through faith alone. Paul exposes the deception and calls them to return to the true gospel and to stand firm in it. The central verse of Galatians is chapter five, verse one: “It was for freedom that Christ set you free. Stand firm therefore in your freedom and do not be enslaved again by a yoke of bondage.”

Do you know you’re a beloved child of God with the full rights of an heir of God? (Galatians 4:6) If you understand the gospel correctly it should make you laugh. Paul says that we, like Isaac (whose name means laughter), were born of a promise. (Galatians 4:28) Sinners deserving death were saved, not by any work of their own, but just by believing God’s love and promise to us in Christ!

May God restore to each of us the joy of our salvation and may that joy overflow to all those who are around us every day.

Posted in Psalms

Preparing the Way 

“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23

It is easy to give to a grateful person and difficult to give to one that takes what you do for granted. Many years ago now our great Aunt Ruth decided to disperse some of her enormous estate. From the money she gave her sister, our grandmother, $100 was sent to me and to each one of my five siblings. I had never met Aunt Ruth but I was very excited about the $100 because at the time I was a broke college student. With the money there was a note from my mom that said to be sure to send Aunt Ruth a thank you note.

I was thankful and certainly planned on sending a note, but it just never happened. Sometimes stopping to say thank you is just unintentionally forgotten because of our busy lives that are always rushing to the next thing. Well it turns out that none of my siblings ended up sending Aunt Ruth a thank you note either, except for my sister Sheila. Sheila didn’t just send a note, she wrote a letter, detailing what she was doing with the generous gift sent to her. A month later, Sheila received a second check for $100 directly from Aunt Ruth. None of the rest of us got one. We certainly didn’t deserve a second check, in fact, we hadn’t deserved the first one.

And that’s how it is with God’s blessings as well. Sometimes I think it helps to remember that we are owed nothing, and that every blessing that comes to us is because of God’s generous love. He doesn’t want us to live in guilt because of His gifts, but He does want us to be thankful. The only sacrifice a thank offering requires is the time it takes to stop and reflect on our blessings. It won’t only honor God, it also prepares the way for His continued blessings.

Posted in Philippians, Psalms

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23

Sometimes it’s a sacrifice to give thanks. Maybe it’s because things aren’t going well right now, or because God hasn’t done the big thing you’re asking Him to do. Yet the word of God encourages us to give thanks even when we’re not in the mood, and it still honors Him. My number one defense against discouragement is thanksgiving. When I find myself down I will recount God’s blessings starting with salvation, then family, health, job, and every blessing I can think of. It’s difficult to be both depressed and thankful at the same time.

Thanksgiving brings us quickly into God’s Presence. “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart…” (Psalm 100:4) No wonder our sacrifice of thanksgiving prepares the way for God’s salvation. Think about human relationships. Isn’t it easy to give to a thankful person and hard to give to someone who takes you and your gifts for granted? I think it’s the same way for God. He encourages us to pray when we are anxious about anything and “with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) Before we have even received what we are praying for, we are to give thanks. For what? How about for the last time God answered your prayer, or for who God is and that He even cares about our needs, or for the promises He has given that we can believe and pray back to Him as we ask.

The word says that after we turn our anxiety into prayer with thanksgiving, “the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) I wonder if thanksgiving is the key to breaking through to peace. Prayer without thanksgiving can actually just be worrying in front of God. Thanksgiving brings in an element of faith and victory even if we haven’t seen the answer yet.

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 1John, 1Samuel, John, Luke, Psalms

The Father’s Joy

“He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

David experienced the positive side of God’s passion. Knowing this delight is the secret to great faith.

God’s love and delight in me means that, of course, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1Samuel 17:37) Perfect love casts out all fear. (1John 4:18) Perfect love is not my love for God, it’s His love for me. When this truth goes from being our theology to our identity, great faith is easy.

Yet this truth can be hard to grasp in our hearts, so Jesus gave us three stories in Luke 15 to explain the Father’s joy in us. The Father is like a shepherd looking for a lost sheep. When he finds it there is great joy and this is how all of heaven feels when one sinner repents. God feels like the woman who searches for a lost coin of precious value (Notice that it doesn’t lose its value because it’s lost!). When she finds it, she rejoices, because that which was lost to her has been found.

And then He tells of an earthly father that runs to welcome back his prodigal son. Instead of reminding him of the hurt the son has caused, the father, in his joy, throws an extravagant party for him.

The prodigal thought it was all about his bad behavior so he planned on coming back as a hired man instead of as a son. (Luke 15:19) The older brother thought it was about his good behavior so he was confused as to why he hadn’t received more, and was angry about his father’s welcome of the prodigal. (Luke 15:29-30) But it’s not about behavior; it’s about relationship. God knows that apart from grace we can’t be good, and that when we’re in Christ we can’t help but bear good fruit. (John 15:5)

The Father’s joy is in you! Have you come into the party called grace or are you standing outside because of the shame of sin, or the self-righteousness of pride?

Say it to yourself: “I am God’s delight. Not because I’m good, but because I’m His.” This is not just our experience when we first receive forgiveness; this is our name, our very identity. Believe it!

Posted in 1Timothy, 2Corinthians, Ecclesiastes, Genesis, Luke, Malachi, Proverbs, Psalms

Monopoly Money

“Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb; and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.” Ecclesiastes 5:15

If you play Monopoly by the real rules a game should take about an hour. During that brief period Monopoly money has value – you can buy property, improve property, and pay your debts with its currency. But when the game is over you put everything away, put the box on the shelf, and there is no longer any worth in those dollars. It will be seen that the same is true of our money on planet earth.

Compared to eternity our time here is called a breath or a vapor. Money has value during this time and how we use it is one way God tests our hearts. Jesus said, “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth who will trust you with true riches.” (Luke 16:11) A few verses later He went on to say: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13)

How do we pass God’s money test?

  1. Recognize we are stewards, not owners. We are to love God and use money; not love money while trying to use God.
  2. We are to give back to God the first fruits of our income (Proverbs 3:9-10) which Scripture defines as a tithe or ten percent. (Genesis 14:20; Malachi 3:10-11)
  3. We are to be willing to share in any good deed as God leads us. (2Corinthians 9:7-8)
  4. As riches increase, we are to guard our hearts. (Psalm 62:10) Money is a useful servant but a terrible master.
  5. We are to trust God as our Source and be thankful because He “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1Timothy 6:17)