Posted in 1Corinthians, 2Corinthians, Psalms

Beholding the Glory of God

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2Corinthians 3:17-18

Whatever we behold we eventually become. If you behold, or “keep before your eyes,” your worries, you will become anxious. If you keep anger before your eyes, you will become bitter. If you keep pornography before your eyes, you will become lustful. But if you and I keep the glory of the Lord before us, we will be transformed from one level of glory to the next. It sounds easy but there are a few problems.

“As in a mirror” is a problem. The mirrors back then were made of brass and the image they gave was very dim. Paul says earlier in Corinthians, “we see in a mirror dimly.” (1Corinthians 13:12) Even though we have nothing between us and God (unveiled faces), in this current time we live more by faith than sight. Yet even now a glimpse of His glory will transform us. Are we willing to behold Him even if it isn’t always powerful or instantly rewarding? Are we willing to spend time in His Word and prayer seeking to behold Him even when it seems like He’s hiding Himself? Will we prioritize church over a thousand other things we could do on the weekend even though it’s kind of boring to us? The more we behold Him, the more others will be able to behold Him through us.

The other problem is the abundance of other things to look at. Hollywood and the internet are filled with images that you can easily behold without doing any work at all; excitement and entertainment at the click of a button. We were made to behold and our hearts will always behold something. Even as a Christian, the only way you and I will behold the Lord is if we make it our priority. The man after God’s own heart said, “One thing have I desired and that I will seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4) It isn’t enough to desire, we must act on that desire by actively seeking or something else will easily creep in.

Am I saying that it’s wrong to enjoy a movie, a game, or other legitimate pleasures? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that when we make beholding the Lord our first priority, everything else takes its proper place and won’t become an idol.

Posted in Isaiah, James, Philippians, Psalms

Willing and Obedient

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13

What God has worked in us, we now need to work out in our everyday lives. By grace He is in us to create both the desire and the ability to do His will. When we cooperate with His grace by being willing and obedient, grace flows freely in and through us. Isaiah 1:19 says, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.” I don’t know about you but I want God’s best. The key is to be willing and obedient.

Sometimes we are willing, but not obedient. We love God, we worship God, we say “yes” to God when someone’s preaching, but we don’t do what He says to do. We won’t forgive, we won’t throw the porn away, we won’t cut off the destructive relationship, we won’t give money He’s asked us to give, we won’t check our speech, we won’t lay down our judgments on others, etc. Being willing but not obedient leads to self deception which is why James said, “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:22) Worship must be more than a song or a prayer to touch God’s heart; it has to include costly obedience.

Others are obedient, but not willing. This person says, “I do the right things but have no joy or love in doing them any more.” If this applies, you need to return to your first love and ask God for a new grace to make you willing. Just going through the motions leaves you and I very vulnerable to sin and the schemes of the enemy. After David sinned horribly he prayed to God, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:12) Notice he didn’t just ask for forgiveness, but prayed for a change of attitude so that it wouldn’t happen again.

Check your life right now. Are you willing, or do you spend most of your time complaining to God? Are you obedient, or has your life become one compromise after another? God wants His very best for you. If something is off ask Him now to pour out more grace, so you can make it right.

Posted in Acts, Haggai, Psalms

Embracing God’s Priorities

“Oh that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries…I would feed you with the finest of the wheat; and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Psalm 81:13-14,16

I believe God’s ways are His priorities. To walk in His ways is to change our priorities so that they line up with His. In the book of Haggai the Lord asks His people to examine the way they’re living their lives: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes. This is what the Lord Almighty says: Give careful thought to your ways.” (Haggai 1:5-7)

He tells them that He was the One controlling this to try to get their attention. They had put their houses, before His house; their plans, before His plan and were experiencing the discipline of the Lord. He was trying to get their attention, so that they would make the necessary changes to have His full blessing again.

I received a call at church from a lady who needed financial help. She described at length how the situation had occurred and why there was nowhere else to turn to for this emergency need. The church was in a position to help, so I told her what we would do and she was relieved. Before hanging up I asked her where she went to church, to which she replied, “no where.” I told her that I thought the financial gift was only a band-aid while the long term solution would require a rearranging of life so that she could respond to God, and not just to her needs. She said she agreed.

Maybe as you read this you wonder if God is trying to speak to you about your own life? Maybe you’ve been putting band-aids on your finances and relationships for so long that you’re getting weary of it? Maybe you’re tired, as Saul of Tarsus was, of “kicking against the goads?” (Acts 26:16) Maybe you’re ready for the radical solution of changing your priorities to line up with God’s?

The Jewish people were ready. They listened to Haggai and started putting God’s things first by working on the house of the Lord. After three months of this change in their lives the Lord declared: “From this day on I will bless you.” (Haggai 2:19) I think He’s waiting to bless you and me as well!

Posted in Luke, Psalms

Seeing Jesus

“Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was happening; and he was greatly perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen again. Herod said, ‘I myself had John beheaded; but who is this man about whom I hear such things?’ And he kept trying to see Him.” Luke 9:7-9

Herod Antipas was a “somebody.” After his father died, he was made a tetrarch in Israel (tetrarch means one fourth) and given the region of Galilee to rule. Why couldn’t he see Jesus who was from his own region?

In the chapter before the text above, a woman with an issue of blood saw Him. While Herod was curious, she was desperate. She had no options left because she had spent her life savings on doctors and had only become worse. She told herself that if she could get to Jesus, she would be healed. She pressed through the crowds until she found Him and when she did, was immediately healed. It’s not the curious who see Jesus apparently, it’s the desperate.

Herod Anitpas wanted to see Jesus but he was a busy man, maybe there wasn’t ever a convenient time for the two of them to meet? Yet Jairus, a ruler in the synagogue, saw Him. His only daughter was at the point of death and he knew the only One on earth who could help was Jesus. All of a sudden, this official had only one thing on his schedule: seeing Jesus. Maybe that’s why he found Him and Herod didn’t? Maybe Jesus can’t be seen unless He’s our top priority?

When Herod finally does see Jesus, he puts him on trial and asks for a miracle to be done in front of him. (Luke 23:8) Jesus came to serve mankind, not perform for us. Human pride puts God on trial and demands Him to prove Himself so we will believe, but Jesus didn’t submit to Herod’s request. In fact, He wouldn’t speak to him at all. (Luke 23:9) “The proud He knows from afar, but He is close to the humble of heart.” (Psalm 138:6) If we want to see Jesus, we must humble ourselves like children and ask Him to reveal Himself in whatever way He desires. “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to children. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.” (Luke 10:21)

Posted in 2Corinthians, John, Psalms, Romans

The Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God

“The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17

Scripture is clear that one day the kingdom of God will come visibly on earth, but for now the way it comes is to human hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you and I want to live and grow in the kingdom of God we must look not to what we can produce in ourselves, but to what God wants to do in us through His Spirit.

The kingdom of God is righteousness in the Holy Spirit. It is appropriate that this is listed first as there will be no joy or peace unless there is first righteousness. The way into the kingdom is through righteousness, not our own, but the righteousness God provides for sinful humanity by the cross of Jesus Christ. The main sin that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of is not believing in Jesus as their Savior. (John 16:9) When we come to Christ our sin becomes His, and His righteousness becomes ours. “He made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Corinthians 5:21) Once we are in Christ the Holy Spirit leads us continually away from self righteousness and into the fruits of true righteousness only He can produce. 

The kingdom of God is peace in the Holy Spirit. Jesus said “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27)  The world only gives you peace when every circumstance in your life is peaceful and under control. Jesus can give us peace through the Spirit in the midst of outward troubles and strife. It is called “the peace that passes understanding” because people that understand your situation can’t believe you have peace. True peace doesn’t come through being in control, but by trusting the One who is in control!

The kingdom of God is joy in the Holy Spirit. You can do your Christian duty and make your children do theirs on your own, but no one can truly delight in God or in their Christianity apart from the Spirit’s touch. “In Your presence is fullness of joy…” (Psalm 16:11) Happiness depends on what’s happening in your life. Joy is much deeper, and depends on your relationship with God no matter what’s happening outwardly.

Posted in Luke, Psalms

Friend of Sinners

“This man is the friend of sinners.” Luke 15:2

The speakers at a Power & Love conference a few years ago empowered us with messages of God’s love and the worthiness of Jesus, so that we could be sent out and demonstrate His power and love wherever we went. We were taught to be unafraid of people and unapologetic in our approach to them. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live it.” (Psalm 24:1) Everyone we meet was created by God, redeemed by Christ, and is borrowing air that God gives them to stay alive. We don’t need to feel like we’re trespassing when we ask them if they’d like prayer.

I approached one woman who was walking with a limp in Panera and asked her politely if I could pray for her. She was upset: “I have my own religion and I’m offended by you and think that you should ask people before praying in the future!” I didn’t feel like it was my place to point out that I had asked, so I just smiled at her and told her to have a nice day. It’s okay to experience rejection for Jesus’ sake!

The day after the conference, my wife and I were walking near our house when I spotted a woman through the pine trees who was sitting on her back porch smoking a cigarette. I raised my voice to say, “Hi, how are you?”  She replied, “I just moved here to be close to my mom because my two brothers have died in the last six months and I lost my job in Chicago.”

I led the way through the trees up onto her porch. I told her how sorry I was and that God loved her even though these bad things happened and we wanted to pray for her if that would be alright. She was more than willing. As we prayed, tears started to come as the presence of God rested on her. When the prayer time was over and we had invited her to church she was amazed. “Think about it, I just decided to come out here and you were walking past at exactly the right time.” 

Jesus is the friend of sinners. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts and not be afraid to bring His love and power to those around us.

Posted in Isaiah, Matthew, Psalms

Set on the Wall

“I have set watchmen on your walls, oh Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest until He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” Isaiah 62:6-7

Why does God set people on the wall to ask Him to do what He already said He wants to do? He wants His church to agree on earth with His purposes as free moral agents, so that we share with Him in every victory that is won. We cannot bring His kingdom without Him, and He won’t bring His kingdom without us wanting it, and asking for it.

In this heaven and hell are alike: both seek agreement on earth from human beings so they can bring their purposes to pass on the earth. “I thought God was sovereign,” you may argue. He absolutely is. The only reason it is like this is because He planned it to be this way. “Our God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him.” (Psalm 115:3) This necessary agreement by earth is what pleases Him.

If hell can get people to live in fear, anger, pride, greed, and lust then this darkness will be increased by demons who will dwell in these strongholds. The Father allows it because He has chosen to not force Himself, or His ways on us.

But listen to the promise heaven gives: “I tell you that if two of you agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in My Name, there I am.” (Matthew 18:19-20) When we agree together for the beauty and purposes of heaven to be manifested and ask the Father for this, Jesus Himself will come and establish on earth what we have agreed on.

Our text makes it clear we must persist in our asking and expect a progressive answer as we “give Him no rest” until He has done all He has promised. Some of the greatest heroes of the church are the prayer warriors. Their primary labor is not horizontal but vertical, where God has set them on the wall for this purpose. Without prayer, what we do horizontally as a church will have little lasting effect.

Posted in Isaiah, Psalms

Standing Firm in Your Faith

“If you don’t stand firm in your faith, you won’t stand at all.” Isaiah 7:9

The words of the text above came to my mind unbidden in June of 2012. Weeks earlier I had received a letter from a lawyer threatening a lawsuit against our church because of some changes we made at our school. I did everything I could to get them to drop it, including begging God to intervene on our behalf, but it was all to no avail. The lawsuit was filed anyway and fear gripped my heart.

As I considered the possible devastation a lawsuit could have on our church, the sentence above came to me. Was this a Scripture? I went to my concordance and found it. The context was a warning to King Ahaz who had two armies mounted against him which had caused his heart to be “shaken as trees of the field are shaken by the wind.” (Isaiah 7:2) The same Holy Spirit who was warning him many years ago was now warning me.

It was game time. I talked about trusting God all the time, I’m a preacher after all, but now it was time to actually believe like a Christian should. God didn’t tell me how the lawsuit would end, He just warned me that if I gave into the fear speaking to me, it would not go well.

A believer’s main job is to believe. Are you facing something right now that is filling you with fear? This is not the time to abandon your faith; it’s time to practice it. Tell God you trust Him, speak to the mountain you’re facing, and live in the freedom Christ paid for even while the circumstances are unchanged.

That’s what I did. Months later I received an email that said the lawsuit was dropped, but the greater miracle was that it wasn’t even that big of a relief. I had found rest in God and knew it would be okay, whatever happened.

Why not give God your fears today and claim Psalm 34:4 for your life, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

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 Luke, Mark, Psalms

Redemptive Abandonment

“Now as for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I will never be moved.’ O Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong. You hid Your face, I was dismayed. To You O Lord, I called… ‘Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; O Lord, be my helper.’ You have turned for me my mourning into dancing…O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 130:6-8, 10-12

Whenever God favors us we can come to the wrong conclusion that we have life, and God figured out. When things are going well, we can easily assume we are strong, immovable, and in control, but all this is a dangerous deception. Because God loves us so much, He breaks the power of presumption in our lives through something a speaker I heard recently call, “redemptive abandonment.” God hides His face during seasons of our lives, not because He doesn’t care, but because He cares so much.

Peter declares, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not… Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” (Mark 14:29; 31) Peter has been favored as the top apostle and has come to the wrong conclusion. He believes he is strong, a veritable mountain of faith, immovable from his devotion. We can hear in his words, “all may fall away, yet I will not,” disdain for others who aren’t as strong as he presumes he is. His future leadership would be very limited if he continues with the false impression that he is somehow better than those he is leading, so Jesus explains to him the reality of prophetic abandonment.

“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 returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32) Before he falls, Peter despises the weakness of those around him because he presumes he has it all together. After he falls and is picked up again by God, he will see clearly that the plan is about Divine grace, not human strength. Peter will now be able to lead weak people with gentleness and understanding as a humble servant instead of as a know it all.

Because David (the author of the passage above) and Peter experienced the reality of how weak they were apart from God (abandonment), they were in a position to experience the favor of God (redemption) without becoming proud. Mourning can become dancing when the burden of presumption is broken off our lives.