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The Prayer of an Idolater

Posted on 14 August, 2015 at 11:40 Comments comments (14)
In the beginning, all earthly things were subservient to humans.  The entire material world, all of the wonders of creation were ruled by humans.  This is how God designed it: 

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Genesis 1:28)

At first, humans ruled creation and God ruled humans.  Humanity had dominion over material things under God's authority.  God was the only one ruling inside of people and everything else was outside.  But we soon became dissatisfied and chose to take control.  We allowed rivals to come inside our hearts and compete for our loyalty.

Today these rivals to God's authority in our hearts take the form of material possessions, un-biblical worldviews, unhealthy relationships, a longing for security - anything that steals our passion to live for God.  They are rooted deep in our hearts and require consider effort to dethrone.  But God is capable of defeating these rivals to the throne in our hearts if we so desire.

The following is a prayer by A.W. Tozer asking God to dwell in his heart without rival.  Join me in asking God to dethrone our idols that we may display what a life ruled by our Heavenly Father looks like.

Father, I want to know Thee, but my cowardly heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival.

Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious.

Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there.

In Jesus' name.
Amen.


Passion Week Meditation: Why was Judas necessary?

Posted on 31 March, 2015 at 18:18 Comments comments (7)
Before the Passover, Jesus was a guest in the house of Simon the Leper who lived in Bethany.  What transpired in Simon's home is forever etched into our memories:  A woman proclaimed her love for Jesus by pouring over him the valuable contents of her alabaster jar.  But not every heart shared such love, so Judas left Simon's home with the intention of working for the enemy (Matthew 26:6-16).  Depth of love and bitterness of betrayal were together in one home but God would use the betrayer to pour His love into countless others.

The chief priests also believed they had a use for Judas - they would use him to deliver Jesus into their hands.  Hiring Judas to lead them right to Jesus sounds like a breakthrough.  At the same time, it is a curious move since Jesus was not a man in hiding.  From the moment he entered Jerusalem, he could not have been more visible - everybody knew where he was!

On Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem surrounded by crowds shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  People throughout the city were saying, "Who is this?" (Matthew 21:6-11)  On Monday Jesus entered the outer court of the temple and made his whereabouts known by throwing out the con-artists and crooks (Matthew 21:12-13).  On Tuesday he was back in the temple teaching in parables that stung the self-righteous and hard-hearted.  The chief priests were there but they did not arrest him (Matthew 21:23-22:14).

Why was Judas necessary?  What intelligence could he provide that the Jewish rulers did not already have?  Our clues reside in Simon's home and in the Passover preparations.  As the contents of the woman's alabaster jar ran out over Jesus, he said something to the scoffers: "In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for my burial."  As the disciples received instructions for the Passover, Jesus said, "My time is at hand."  Jesus was walking to the cross and the chief priests needed Judas to tell them this.  Even though Jesus was accessible all week, the rulers feared him.  Yes, they feared the people, but they feared Jesus more.  Jesus had authority to command demons, restore limbs, silence storms, cure illness, and speak truth in every word.  They could not arrest him until he decided it was time, and Judas knew it was time.

Judas was necessary.  Through Judas we marvel at the way Jesus used unspeakably great power not to save himself but to save people like you and me who were powerless in the grip of sin.  We are also amazed at Jesus' iron will that led him to the cross so that we could have the same endurance.  Finally, Judas reminds us that Jesus endured betrayal and shame for you and I so that we could endure the same for others.

"The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again" (John 10:17-18).

36,500 days and counting, every one of them, written by God: An Encouragement to the Elderly

Posted on 27 January, 2015 at 13:30 Comments comments (100)
Several days ago I experienced the improbable - I attended a 100th birthday party.  We will attend countless birthday parties in our lifetimes, but most of us will not have the privilege of attending a party in which the guest of honor has turned 100.  

An estimated 53,000 centenarians live in the United States.  With so many you would think there is a reasonable chance of being invited to the big bash, but think again.  This equates to less than two people in 10,000.  So unless your social network is well into the thousands, attending a 100th birthday party is unlikely.

Realizing the statistical improbability of ever being invited to an event like this again caused me to meditate on my unique experience.  There she was, the lady of the hour, sitting in a prominent place in the room wearing a "100th Birthday" sash and a big smile as children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren gave her big hugs and told stories of how she impacted their lives.  It was truly a happy time.  Being there would make anybody want to live to 100!

Yet, beneath the cheer of that wonderful day, a painful struggle hid from the detection of everyone except for a few close family members.  Our beloved birthday girl did not want her 100th to come.  Could it be that she had enough of life?  Had the pain of watching those close to her die taken it's toll?  Was the wear and tear on her body making everyday-life unbearable?  Does she feel useless - unable to serve, help or contribute to the lives others?

I was given the task of praying before the party really got rolling and food was served.  Knowing a little about her struggle, I wanted to share some words of encouragement from Scripture.  This is essentially what I said:

1.  Reflecting on 36,500 days of life, we can be sure that each one has been carefully, purposefully, lovingly and artfully crafted by God.  The God who gazed upon you before conception, who "knitted" you together in the womb with His hands, and declares you "fearfully and wonderfully made" is responsible for every one of your days.  Each one is "written in His book", not one is a mistake.  That you have lived to a very old age is God's desire - He was pleased to write every one of your days into existence. (Psalm 139:13-16)

2.  It is 36,500 days and counting.  There is no telling how many more God has written into existence for you, maybe hundreds, even thousands more.  Depending on the day, this could be good news or bad news for you.  Like the Apostle Paul, there may be days when your only desire is to die and immediately see Jesus.  But if God's desire for the next 1000 days is for you to live, you can be sure that he will give you the ability to serve Him faithfully and fruitfully.  Paul worded it this way: "If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me."  Your days to come are not empty spaces delaying the inevitable.  Before time, God has planned to use you, His 100 year old servant, in ways that make Himself visible to others! (Philippians 1:21-24; Ephesians 2:10)

You may not know somebody who is 100 years old, but chances are you know somebody in their 70's, 80's or 90's.  Each individual day is precious to the Lord.  Encourage them with this truth!


Christmas Year-Round

Posted on 30 December, 2014 at 18:23 Comments comments (9)
As always, the Christmas season blew a flurry of activities and busyness into our lives.  And now that Christmas has come and gone, some of us are breathing a sigh of relief while others feel a little sad to see it go.

Looking back, our church family at Calvary celebrated the true Christmas story on many occasions and in many ways.  The women of Calvary celebrated Christmas through their "Favorite Things" gift exchange.  We enjoyed Christmas dinner complete with the telling of the Christmas story from the gospels and caroling at St. Joseph's nursing home.  And then there was our study of the first two chapters of the Gospel of Matthew on Sundays.  All this and I haven't even touched on our Christmas traditions with our own families - gatherings, shopping, cookies, feasts, traveling, decorating... 

So you make the call.  Are you happy to see Christmas go or are you wishing Christmas could stay?  Maybe you are feeling a bit of both like me.  Inside of me is a restless longing to start another year and yet there is also the hope for the joy of Christmas to come with.  The feeling is a little like Charles Dickens expressed through Ebeneezer Scrooge: "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."

For Scrooge, keeping Christmas all year meant showing good will to all men, a lesson he learned from the ghosts he met on Christmas Eve.  How does a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ carry the joy of Christmas all year?  Here are some ways:

1.  Hold the miracle of the virgin birth close to your heart year-round.  The virgin birth is the central miracle of Scripture and most transforming event in history.  Jesus born of a virgin means sin can be conquered (Romans 5:17), Christs righteousness given (2 Corinthians 5:21), and God's wrath satisfied (Hebrews 2:17).  So treasure the news of a child called Immanuel who was born of a virgin and came bringing the gifts of justification, imputed righteousness and substitutionary atonement.

2.  Count on God's lavish generosity extending far past Christmas, lasting all year long.  Jesus was born to die and save his people from their sins.  God held nothing back on that first Christmas - he did not spare his own Son!  If this is how God gives, then we certainly can expect him to be generous all the time!  Paul says it perfectly: "How will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)  In Jesus we will receive everything we need to follow, trust, and be satisfied in God, 24 hours /day, 7 days/week, 365 days/year.

3.  God's indescribable gift of Christ to you is your year supply of gifts to give to others.  God's year-round generosity to His own children includes filling them with abounding grace so that they become cheerful givers.  God not only poured his grace into our hearts so that we could see and love Jesus, but he continues to supply His grace so that others can see Jesus in our acts of Christmas-like generosity.  God's indescribable gift of Christ to us results in inexpressible gifts to those we meet everyday - the only gift that gives all year (2 Corinthians 9:7-8, 15)!

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift that we must honor in our hearts all year, every year!

What are elders for?

Posted on 25 November, 2014 at 13:58 Comments comments (1)
Three Sundays ago Calvary Bible Church commissioned elders.  Including the pastor, Calvary will be led by a team of four men.  God's intent for His church to be led by a group of elders is clear:

"This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town..." (Titus 1:5).

"And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed" (Acts 14:23).

A few days after appointing elders, a member of Calvary asked a good question:  "Do we know what elders are supposed to do?"  The Bible clearly states that churches must have elders, but is the church clear on the purpose of elders?

Our sermon text that Sunday was Acts 20:17-38, and though it does not contain an exhaustive list of the duties of elder, God's divine purposes for elders are revealed:

  1. Elders are humble servants (Acts 20:19).  Elders are slaves of the Lord who are called to be the chief servants of His people.  Paul exemplified the role of elder as he "served the Lord with all humility."  Elders honor their Master by humbly slaving for their people.
  2. Elders feed the church what is necessary (Acts 20:20, 27, 31).  Paul did not "shrink" from teaching what was mandatory for spiritual growth.  The prospect of feeding the church the whole council of God causes many to shrink away in fear, but the elder must fearlessly teach the truths that are hard to swallow.  Sometimes these are most profitable.
  3. Elders are intimate with their people (Acts 20:19, 20).  Elders, at times, must feed their people "house to house" as well as in large gatherings.  There are times when close and personal interaction is necessary.  And as elders learn to live intimately with their flocks, they will shed tears with their sheep.  Elders begin to smell like their sheep as they bear their burdens.
  4. Elders are shepherds who protect their flocks (Acts 20:28-30).  God has made elders accountable for the well being of the people he purchased with his own blood.  As overseers of God's dearly loved people, elders must protect the flock making sure their sheep continue to follow the ways of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
  5. Elders pay careful attention to their own hearts, as well (Acts 20:28).  A mandatory duty of a shepherd of God's people is to regularly take inventory of one's own life and doctrine.  Elders are not perfect but they must be examples to the flock.  Therefore, elders must consistently study God's word, repent of sin, and demonstrate obedience.
  6. Elders do not expect earthly gain (Acts 20:33-35).  Paul was constrained to God's purposes for his life even if it meant death in Rome.  In the same way, elders are constrained to God's call to deny earthly gain.  The time, effort, sweat and tears spilled shepherding the church will amount to little temporal gain.  Elders serve for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Paul's meeting with the Ephesian elders ended in prayer (Acts 20:36).  They needed prayer because the weight of shepherding God's flock is too great for any man.  Please pray for your elders.  They cannot serve you without God's strength!

Free to Feel Affliction

Posted on 7 November, 2014 at 12:27 Comments comments (0)
What is it like to be a Christian?  The Apostle Paul said, "We are afflicted... perplexed... persecuted... struck down... always being given over to death... (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).  This is not what you put on a billboard to get people to join your group.  Paul's description of his life following Christ repulses many would be disciples.  In fact, several in the Corinthian church looked at Paul's life and decided that a beat up "jar of clay" like him could not possibly be an ambassador for the Resurrected Christ.  

There are those, on the other hand, who feel a rush of freedom and relief after reading Paul's words.  One member of Calvary expressed a "tremendous freedom" to feel pain while studying 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 last Sunday.  Not only is suffering a normal part of following Christ - "For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake..." - but it is also a way God glorifies the Son through us - "so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:11).

Sometimes we place the same expectations on ourselves that the Corinthians placed on Paul.  We expect to respond like "super Christians" in the face of suffering but instead we crumble like jars of clay.  When we experience difficulties the temptation is to think that faithful Christians like Paul would handle it much better.  This is not true!  Paul was distressed in every way, confused, and knocked down.  He was filled with anxiety and had many sleepless nights.  At one point God had to reassure Paul that He stood with him in the difficult mission to which he had been called: "The following night the Lord stood by him and said, 'Take courage... '" (Acts 23:11).

My point is that suffering is not supposed to be easy for us.  Suffering is normal and so is the struggle to cope with it.  This is the way God designed it!  We are like common, breakable earthenware pots for a reason.  God, in his sovereignty, has decided to make the light of Jesus' life shine through the cracks, holes and thin walls of our fragile lives.  Despair may take hold of us and physical ailments may pull us to the ground but they will never deliver a knock-out blow to our faith in Christ.  It is when we come to the brink of being crushed that the treasure which holds us together is revealed.  "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Surprised By Silence

Posted on 31 October, 2014 at 15:31 Comments comments (84)
After three years of kindred spirit friendship and walking with the Lord together, Augie told me he was done with God.  At first I was speechless.  Then I fumbled with my words in a frantic effort to get Augie to change his mind.  All I could think of was reciting lyrics from a song that helped me when I doubted that God was really there: "Seeking you as a precious jewel; Lord, to give up, I'd be a fool."  I was sure that Augie had experienced God's loving-kindness.  How could he just give up because of a season of doubt?  Surely God meant more to him than those seasonal relationships that come and go.  I'll never forget his response: "Joe, that's not good enough."

Augie's story came to mind while meditating on Saul's response to God's silence in 1 Samuel 28:6.  Saul was driven to his wit's end when the Philistines came with everything they had (I guess he did not expect such a bold attack) (1 Sam 28:5).  In a panic Saul did what I think Augie probably did (and what most of us would do for that matter), he called out to the Lord.  But, the Lord did not answer!

There are several places in Scripture where the Lord responds to cries for help with silence.  I will divide these situations up into two groups (by no means is this list exhaustive):

1.  This first group of passages describe God's silence toward those who disregard his commands and live independently of Him.  "If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (Psalm 66:18).  "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (James 4:3).  See also Ezekiel 20:3; Isaiah 59:2 and Proverbs 28:9.

2.  The second group of passages seem to depict God the Father applying loving discipline for the purpose of spiritual growth.  "Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray" (Psalm 5:1-2).  See also Psalm 6:1-3 and Hebrews 12:3-6.

According to the Bible, people should not be surprised by the Lord's silence.  But, in reality, we almost always are.  When the Lord did not answer Saul, he abandoned God for a conjurer of the dead and the things such a person could offer.  Augie did not here from the Lord so he left Him to find hope elsewhere.  Even David did not here from the Lord.  David groaned; he flooded his bed with tears and cried out to the Lord, "How long?"  And then he waited patiently for the Lord (Psalm 40:1).

Saul's reaction to turn elsewhere for what only the Lord could provide is human.  We are prone to wander when God surprises us with silence.  But no trial has seized us that is not common to all of God's people.  And just as God helped David patiently endure His sanctifying silence, so He will also help us endure! (1 Corinthians 10:13)


Following the Lord... Imperfectly

Posted on 21 October, 2014 at 17:47 Comments comments (79)
Deception, brutality, joining the ranks of the wicked - we do not associate these actions with following the Lord.  Jesus said, "By their fruit you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:15-23).  Surely this is a list of fruit hanging from a bad tree, not a tree planted by streams of living water whose delight is in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:2-3).  We would not ordinarily join such contemptible behavior with "A man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14).  But in chapter 27 of 1 Samuel, we do. (see for yourself by reading 1 Samuel 27)

In 1 Samuel 27 David could be accused of committing excessive brutality against Israel's enemies, lying to a Philistine ruler, and escaping his homeland in search of comfort.  God's people should not imitate or condone any of these activities.  But to file this chapter away as another example of how the Sovereign God uses seriously flawed individuals would be to miss a significant part of the story.  Focusing on David's imperfections could cause us to miss his incredible trust in the Lord's promises and unrelenting zeal to see God's will accomplished.  David was following the Lord... imperfectly!

Here are the clues pointing to David's imperfect pursuit of God's glory.  First, David inhabited Ziklag, a Philistine city south of Gath.  The author indicates that this is not a minor detail:  "Therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day" (1 Samuel 27:5-6).  David did not just claim a new city for God's people; he took a city that God's people failed to capture 200 years earlier.  It appears that the tribes of Judah and Simeon did not obey the Lord because the inhabitants of the plains around Ziklag had superior military equipment (see Joshua 19:1-6 and Judges 1:17, 19 and decide for yourself).  Second, David did not attack random nations but those who held pieces of The Promised Land that the tribes of Israel did not claim according to God's command (see Joshua 13:1-7).  Finally, David attacked the Amalekites, the group Saul preserved in an act of rebellion against God (see 1 Samuel 15:2-3, 18-19).

So how does David observe the Lord's commands in this interesting chapter?  David, while in exile in enemy territory, attempted to carry out the Lord's commands that his ancestors failed to keep.  Through Moses and Joshua, Israel was to take possession of the land.  If they obeyed, God promised to demonstrate his greatness through them (Deuteronomy 4:5-7).  Even before Moses, God promised Abraham that through Abraham's seed He would make a nation that would bless the nations of the world (Genesis 12:1-3).  David trusted this promise and used Ziklag as his home base to see it through.

David was a bad sinner but he was also a man after God's own heart.  He made many mistakes but his love for God's commands was unmistakable.  On Sunday after service a person compared David to the church.  He said the church seeks to trust and obey the Lord but it does not always get it right.  What a wonderful observation!  Realizing this is what helps us stick together.  Recognizing our imperfect love for the Lord allows us to give one another countless second chances when we mess up.  And in doing so we represent the character of God who gives us countless second chances at the cross!


Deja Vu

Posted on 14 October, 2014 at 15:45 Comments comments (195)
Chapters 24 and 26 of 1 Samuel have uncanny similarities.  Both narratives recount how David spared Saul's life even though the circumstances seemed to imply that God handed Saul over to David to be killed.  In both situations David chose to trust God's righteous planning instead of using lethal force on God's anointed king.

Many secular scholars have a problem with the similarities between the two narratives.  They choose to believe that the stories are fabrications of the author.  Their low view of the Bible leads to this inevitable conclusion.  On the other hand, those who believe the Bible is "God breathed" or inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21) have an opportunity to know the character of God in a deeper way.  These similar events placed so closely together have a purpose.  Perhaps their purpose is to open our eyes to the way God patiently and persistently teaches us through repetition.

Think of the times God repeats Himself in Scripture.  I have some examples but I'm sure you can think of more.

  1. Moses gave Israel the Ten Commandments two times (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-21).  The unfaithful nation needed to know that God keeps his covenant promises with those who love Him and obey His commands.
  2. Jesus repeatedly said to his disciples, "Do not fear" (Matthew 10:26, 28, 31; Luke 12:32; Revelation 2:10).  Jesus' followers must be aware of the crippling effects of fear.
  3. Three times Jesus commanded Peter, "Feed my lambs" (John 21:15-19).  God has big plans for broken servants.

When Scripture repeats, it is not a mistake.  Most likely God was teaching his people a lesson that is of equal importance for us today!


But for the grace of God...

Posted on 9 October, 2014 at 14:49 Comments comments (0)
"But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor 15:10).  Paul said this because he felt unworthy to be called an apostle.  He persecuted God's people, yet God appeared to Paul and made him the last of the apostles.  Paul, the murderer, was made an apostle not because he was qualified but because God chose to use him in this capacity.

David, centuries earlier, was humbled by God's grace just like Paul.  1 Samuel 25 reports that David had been good to Nabal's shepherds, giving them safe escort through the wilderness.  In exchange for his services, David expected Nabal to repay good for the good he had given Nabal, especially during sheep sheering time when those who had much celebrated and gave generously to those who requested help.  When Nabal unexpectedly (not unexpected from the standpoint of the reader - his name meant "fool"!) paid David for protecting his shepherds with scathing insult, David flew off the handle.  "Every man strap on his swords!... God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him."  

David was ready to slaughter.  His response is not that different from ours when we do good for others only to get insult, unkindness and ingratitude in return.  Our hearts are like David's heart:  "Surely in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him, and he has returned me evil for good."

Thank God the slaughter never took place.  Abigail, Nabal's wife, met the angry band of sword wielding men head on and pleaded with them to respond to Nabal, the fool, with wisdom and discernment.  But both David and Abigail knew better than to attribute the successful resolution of the conflict to smarts and good looks (the text does say Abigail is both beautiful and discerning).  "Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt..."  The Lord had graciously restrained from David from the sin of killing many innocent people.  "But by the grace of God I am what I am."

Paul and David had the hearts of murderers and so do we.  We are capable of the most wretched sins but God, according to his amazing grace, often restrains us.  Praise God for all of the good in your life and for all of the disaster that has been averted.  Plead with him to turn disaster, pain and sorrow into beauty.  But by the grace of God we are what we are.

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