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 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.

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 Hebrews, Psalms

Delighting in God

“Delight yourself in the Lord…” Psalm 37:4

A few years ago I had a life changing experience while preparing for church early one Sunday morning. The text on this particular morning was from Hebrews 12: “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” and I was praying through the message and planning the altar call.

I was going to tell a story about a father who was coaching his kindergarten son on how to win the “all class race” which was taking place that day. His son was very fast, but also easily distracted, and the dad knew it didn’t matter how fast he was.  If he didn’t run straight, he wouldn’t win. So he made a strategy: “Son, when the race starts I will be directly across from you at the finish line. Don’t worry about who is running next to you, or bother watching your own progress; just focus on me, and run straight into my arms.”

The question I was going to ask our people was: “What’s at the end of your race?” What are you really living for? Is it money? Pleasing people? Your retirement? etc… As I was thinking how powerful this was going to be, a question jumped into my mind which I knew was from the Lord. “What’s at the end of your race?” I knew instantly it wasn’t what I thought it was.

The answer came quickly as well as the consequences of my wrong priorities. “Jesus” was not at my finish line; it was something subtly different called, “Influence for Jesus.” It was plain to me that I had become a worker for God, before I was a lover of God, and equally clear what the costs were of my wrong priorities:

  1. I wasn’t delighting in God, because my reward was no longer Him, but in  how many people I was influencing for Him. 
  2. I had lost my delight in people. I could no longer enjoy people because I always needed them to do something. People were becoming projects that I had to work on instead of people that I could just enjoy. 

The final sentence I heard whispered in my spirit was this: “I’m calling you to be My bride, not My PR man.” 

A bride represents the Bridegroom in a different way than a promoter does. She knows Him intimately, and has even taken on some of His fragrance. Yes, she can answer all the basic questions, but that is not her joy. Her joy is to be with Him, and her influence is spontaneous, not forced. This is what Jesus wants from us.

Posted in Luke, Psalms

The Longing of God’s Heart

“How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” Luke 13:34

Parents and all those in authority are used to taking care of everyone else, so it’s often hard to allow someone else to take care of us, even God. Why were the Jews unwilling to allow God to intimately care for them as He longed to do? I think it was because it meant they would have to humble themselves and admit they were really just vulnerable little chicks who needed to be taken care of.

We pride ourselves in America on our ability to be independent. The books on success encourage us to tell ourselves we are strong and can do anything we set our mind to do. But the truth is that we are not strong in ourselves, and we aren’t mother hens who are able to take care of everyone else. We too, are only little chicks, who need to be gathered under the wings of God.

Isn’t it awesome that the all sufficient One has a longing at all? He has a longing we can meet by simply acknowledging we are not as important as we thought, we aren’t as smart as we appear, and we are not as invincible as we would want everyone else to believe. We are in fact, like little chicks who need to be gathered under the wings of our Savior to simply be held and protected by Him. Could there be a more intimate picture than a chick being hidden in the secret place of its mother’s wings? God longs to have you and I that close to Him.

I love this truth even though I easily forget it. I often pray something like this, “Lord, here I am, your little chick. Go ahead and meet the longing of Your heart by holding me. Go ahead and do what you’ve been waiting to do, pour out your grace upon me.” David prayed along these lines in Psalm 61:4: “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Is it any wonder he is remembered as the man after God’s own heart, when His longing to dwell under God’s wing was matched by God’s longing to gather him to that place of intimate care?

Maybe you’ve been weary taking care of everyone else and today you need to let God take care of you. Why don’t you pray right now and ask Him.

Posted in Psalms

Seeking His Face

“My heart has heard You say, ‘seek My face.’  Your face, oh God, will I seek.”  Psalm 27:8

A few years ago I went to India to train pastors, but the Sunday before we began, I was asked to preach in a church that met in an orphanage.  Kids of all ages joined us and sat up front.

The message was about who God is, His face, verses what He can do for us, His hand.  My point was that the higher calling is to seek His face, and that sometimes God calls us, right in the midst of our needs, to seek His face.  This Psalm is written while David is being chased by Saul and has a whole army at the door.  He desperately needed God’s hand, but God spoke to his heart about seeking His face instead.

After I closed with a general prayer for those who wanted to say “yes” to God’s invitation, the pastor came up and encouraged people to be prayed for individually.  No one came for their needs but only for greater devotion to seek God’s face.

At some point while I was praying for people, I told the pastor to invite those who needed healing to come forward.  The first lady explained through an interpreter that she had horrible pain throughout her body.  I prayed a brief prayer, and she turned around to leave.  I called her back.  “Tell us how you’re feeling?” I asked.  She said, “I’m healed; the pain is gone.”  I said, “Do you mean you’re in less pain?”  She insisted, “No, I am completely healed!”

It was then I noticed something; my hands were burning.  I told the pastor to tell the people my hands were burning, and if they needed healing they should come right now.  I prayed for all ages for the next hour, and everyone I prayed for felt the pain immediately leave their bodies.  I prayed for the sick the rest of the time in India but never saw the power repeated that was present that Sunday morning.

I think God’s heart was touched by the devotion of these orphans.  If we would seek His face in the midst of our great needs, He wanted us to know, we would also have His generous hand!

Posted in 2Corinthians, Daniel, Genesis, Hebrews, John, Matthew, Psalms

The Gifts of the Magi

“Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

As we think about Christmas let us reflect on the gifts given by the magi which speak to the Gift given by the Father to the human race. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” (2Corinthians 9:15)

  1. Gold – The gift given to kings. The magi didn’t come to worship one who would become king; they came to worship Him who was born king. This caste of wise men from the east were likely in the order of Daniel with access to his prophecies. Daniel gave the time Messiah would appear (see Daniel 9:24-27) and alluded to His Divine nature as well as His universal rule. “One like a son of man…was given power; all the peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
  2. Incense – The gift offered by priests. In the Old Covenant kings were from the tribe of Judah and the family of David; high priests came from the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. But God’s promised Messiah would be both king and priest as was an obscure person in the Old Testament named Melchizedek. (Genesis 14:18) David prophesied about this new order of priesthood that meant there would have to be a new covenant: “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)
  3. Myrrh – The spice used for burial. Messiah would not only be the priest to offer sacrifice; He Himself would be the sacrifice. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The shepherds who were called to witness the birth were rabbinic shepherds whose job it was to watch over the lambs that would be sacrificed in the temple. On Christmas, God called them to watch over the Lamb that would replace all other sacrifices. “Jesus sacrificed for our sins once for all when He offered Himself.” (Hebrews 7:27) Let’s remember the true wonder of Christmas is the One born for us.
Posted in John, Luke, Nehemiah, Psalms

Great Joy

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy; which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

The angel made a few things clear to the shepherds on that first Christmas evening. One was that the good news he was proclaiming would bring great joy when it was properly received. Two was that the good news was for everyone who would receive it, not just for the Jews, or for a select remnant, but for “all the people.” Third, although the good news was comprehensive, it was also personal, because the Savior was born, “for you.” They weren’t going to the manger to witness something that was for someone else only, but to see the One born for them.

God doesn’t really give joy away, He only shares it. “In His Presence is fullness of joy…” (Psalm 16:11) You only get joy when you get near God because the joy you feel is His. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11) We share in His joy when we get close enough to Him to experience it. “The joy of the Lord is your strength…” (Nehemiah 8:10) Not “…joy is your strength”, but God’s joy is your strength. He doesn’t give it away, He invites us into it.

These rabbinic shepherds in Bethlehem were watching over the lambs that would be used in the temple for sacrifice. The blood of these lambs would make it possible for God to be in covenant with sinful people, but it was an imperfect covenant because the sacrifices kept having to be made year after year. The good news announced that first Christmas was that another Lamb was born, a human One, who would take away the sins of the world. Great joy comes from recognizing God loves us, Jesus came for us,  and died to bring us into the very presence of the joyful God.

Let’s believe this Christmas, and let’s get close, so that His joy overflows through us to a world that needs to see God’s smile.