Friday, September 28, 2018

The Lord’s Joy is Our Strength

Is it possible to be joyful when your life is turned upside down? A notable story about this was penned after a traumatic event in the life of Horatio Spafford. First, there was the death of his son at the age of two. Shortly after that, the Great Chicago Fire (1871) ruined him financially as he had significant investments in properties that were damaged in the fire. That fire led to the economic downturn of 1873, when he had planned to travel with his family to Europe. In a late change of plans, he sent his family ahead because he was delayed by problems following the fire (Spafford had been a successful lawyer in Chicago). While crossing the Atlantic, the ship his family was on sank rapidly after a collision with another vessel. All four of the Spafford’s daughters died. His wife, Anna, survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone …” Spafford hurried to meet his grieving wife and, when passing near where his daughters had died, he penned the words of the now great hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.

Spafford drew strength from the joy of knowing God was present with him and for him.

Many centuries before Spafford’s account, Jewish exiles in Babylon returned to Jerusalem in times of great struggle. Let me summarize the time for you. They managed to rebuild the walls of the city but hadn’t yet built houses to live in. As they discussed their plans for the future, they asked Ezra to read from a scroll of the Law of Moses. He did, and the people listened attentively to the “Book of the Law.”

When the priests explained what the words meant, the people began to weep, perhaps convicted by how far they had strayed from God’s word. That event prompted Nehemiah to cry out, “Don’t be dejected, disappointed, and sad. The joy of the Lord is your strength.” When they heard that, the people celebrated with joy because they heard the word of the Lord and understood it. [That’s my loose translation of Nehemiah 8.9-12]

The walls were finished, but Jerusalem still lay in ruins. Still, God’s word brought them great joy. Strengthened by it, they kept on working and building. My desire is that you do the same. Regardless of the difficulty you find yourself in, get your strength from the joy of knowing and abiding in Christ.

Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8.10

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Introverts Welcomed

My Mother was one of those people who didn’t want anyone to notice something amiss. In fact, she didn’t want anyone to notice anything at all. In a word, she was an introvert. If you knew my Mom, she wouldn’t have appeared a worshipful person, but nothing could be further from the truth. She was a whole-hearted worshipper.

I remember countless times seeing her read the Bible. I recall the countless prayers I heard her pray for our family and others. And I couldn’t begin to tell you about her times of selfless service to others. I suppose they would add up in the thousands. My Mom has passed on to glory, but if she were here, she wouldn’t want me to call attention to her or solicit any praise on her behalf. But I must say this, she lived out her faith with the personality that God gave to her, without question.

God doesn’t always choose the dynamic personality of the likes of Elijah or Paul. Sometimes, He chooses the unexpected, unassuming, quiet introvert. I think that Ruth may fall into that category. She never did anything flashy that would draw attention to herself. All we see in her is a fierce faithfulness and unrelenting loyalty. 

How interesting it is, then, that her faithfulness and loyalty provide a plot-twist only a Master Storyteller could fabricate: Ruth became the Grandmother of David [Matthew 1.5-6] and, ultimately, an ancestor of Jesus [1.6-16]. 

Whether you are Ruth-like or Elijah-like, quiet or exuberant, our confidence must always be rooted in Christ.

And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Ruth 2.11-12 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Another Word on Peace

I’ve written dozens of eDevotions on the subject of peace, and here I am again with peace on my mind. In the messed up world we live in, peace is a wonderful thing. Here’s what I want to remind you about peace today: Jesus, yes, Jesus Himself, is our peace. When you need peace, God doesn’t dispense peace like a pharmacist fills your prescription. You’ll never hear Him say, “Take two of these and call me in the morning.” Instead, He gives us Himself. He doesn’t give us something, He gives us Someone. So, I repeat, Jesus is our peace. Listen now, Jesus is God’s fulfillment for peace. 

It’s Christ’s presence that takes away fear.

It’s Christ’s sovereignty that assures and calms us in the face of doubts.

It’s Christ’s goodness that renews us when we are weighed down by despair.

It’s Christ’s watchfulness and intervention that keep us from faltering.

And it’s Christ’s inevitable victory that assures us we will not fail.

Perhaps you’re living with some level of uncertainty. You aren’t alone. In fact, I’m living with a couple of question marks too. What form is yours taking? A health crisis? A financial issue? A self-destructive family member or friend? A career change? 

Things like that may keep you awake at night; certainly they keep you on the edge of your seat. If we could only see into the future for the final outcome. Maybe then you could bear the waiting. Rather than you bearing it, why not let Jesus carry the load for you? The invitation has been given: “Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you” [1 Peter 5.7], or, “… take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of spirit and you will find rest for your souls” [Matthew 11.29].

Jesus wins in the end. Because of that, I cannot fail. Along the way I may experiences some wins and losses, but in the end, Jesus wins. And so do I!

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation …” Ephesians 2.14

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Rocks and Hard Places

Oh, that preverbal rock and hard place! You’ve been there, haven’t you? I don’t know of anyone who likes being there, and yet, it seems that God likes it when we get there. Could it be that He leads us there so that He can do His greatest work in our lives? What do you think?

God led the Children of Israel to that place. In their case, it was the shore of the Red Sea. After leaving Egypt, they started their journey to the Promised Land. Pharaoh had a different idea. He would either capture them and bring them back, or destroy them in the desert. So, he pursued them. 

Can you imagine his glee when he first got sight of their plight. The Red Sea before them. He was hot on their tail. The desert on one side of them and mountains on the other. They had no place to go — no place to run, and no place to hide. I call that, between a rock and a hard place.  

What Pharaoh didn’t know (and what we sometimes forget) is that Moses’ God was a Sea-Parting God! When Moses stretched out his rod over the Sea and the people moved forward in faith, the Sea opened up to give them safe passage to the other side. Not so for Pharaoh and his army. The rock and hard place of the Israelites became their death-knell.

If you are struggling between a rock and hard place, keep moving forward. God is still a Sea-Parting God!. Trust Him no matter what your circumstances say or how hopeless you feel. With God, all things are possible. 

And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” Exodus 14.13-14

Monday, September 24, 2018

Be Quiet & Get Close

“How does God speak to us, Pastor Rick,” I was asked recently, “Does He say, ‘Thus saith the Lord’ like Old Testament times?” That’s a great question but a little difficult to answer. God didn’t always “thunder” from heaven as He did at Sinai. Neither does He speak from heaven and send a dove as He did at His Son’s baptism. I have found, most often, that He speaks rather quietly through His Word. 

For an example of the “soft-spoken” God, I offer you Elijah who, waiting on God, heard a mild whisper [read 1 Kings 19 to get the story]. But why a whisper? I can think of a couple of reasons. To hear a whisper, you must first …

Be Quiet. By that I mean, rid yourself of the distracting noise around you and give your undivided attention to the whisperer. Do as young Samuel did. Quiet yourself before the Lord and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” [1 Samuel 3.10].

Next …

Get Close. The closer you are to the whisperer, the more likely you will hear what is being said. So, get as close as you can to the Lord. That way, you’ll hear every whisper that comes from His lips. Do as James said, “Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you” [4.8].

Be quiet. Get close. Easy to say, but not as easy to do. But, when we do, the rewards are out of this world! 

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19.11-12

Friday, September 21, 2018

The “Whack-A-Mole” Syndrome

I’m not a fan of arcade games, but I did enjoy a game or two of “Whack-A-Mole” — many years ago. Have you played it? You have a padded mallet and stand behind a board with a dozen holes or more, and when a mole puppet raises its head, you “whack” it. They pop up randomly, and faster, as you get better at the game. I have to admit it, I was not known as the “Fastest Whack in the West.”

It struck me this morning (no pun intended) that a lot of people play “Whack-A-Mole” with their family. We notice every wrong in them when it pops up and we grab our mallet, often unpadded, and start whacking away. Some of us have gotten really good at it — if you consider that a good thing!

The trouble is, after a while of whacking, the “moles” give up and stop popping up. You may hear it like this:” What’s the use of trying? I can never please them, no matter what I do.”

Let’s try something new. Put away the mallet! Be observant of the good they do and “whack” them with praise. Encouragement is a great blessing. How do we know this? Because Jesus doesn’t play “Whack-A-Mole” with us! If he whacked us for every wrong we commit, we’d be beaten to despair. The Psalmist said it well, “If You, LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You so that we can, with reverence, serve You” [130.3-4].

There is forgiveness with You…” Aren’t you glad for that!

But exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. Hebrews 3.13-15

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The “I Am” God

I was talking with a man the other day who asked me how many gods there were. While I believe there is only one, true God, I remembered a clever answer someone gave to a similar question. He said, “There are seven billion people in the world. And everyone has a personal god.” I gave him the same answer and concluded with, “There are countless gods."

The ancients worshiped Zeus, Apollo, Artemis, Diana and a host of other named gods. Today, it’s common for people to worship gods that go by different names, like: popularity, financial comfort, and political power. 

So today, I’m going to ask you, “What is the name of the God, or god, you worship?” That was Moses’ question, “What is Your name?”  — [ a loose translation of Exodus 3.13]. 

“I AM WHO I AM … the God of your ancestors — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — … that’s the name to remember for all generations” [3.14-15].

The “I AM” God! He has no limitations. He is not dependent on anything or anyone. He simply exists as the Greater and Sustainer of everything. 

Wherever “I AM” is, its a holy place. Dirt is holy if “I AM” is there. “I AM” said to Moses, “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground” [Exodus 3.5].  The Psalmist was right, “Exalt the Lord our God! Bow low before His feet, for He is holy” [Psalm 99.5].

Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. Exodus 3.5

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

God is Eternal

God is eternal. Frankly, that’s difficult to grasp. “Nothing lasts forever,” my Dad used to say. And he was right except for one thing, or I should say, Someone — God is forever!

Think about it. There is One today who saw what it was like before anything came into existence, who talked with Adam and Eve, who watched over the Children of Israel when they crossed the Red Sea, who was present at the crucifixion of Christ, who watched as Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in 1517, who witnessed the Constitutional Convention in 1787, who saw the Cubs win the World Series in 2016, and who watches over each of us this very minute.

God! God is eternal. He predates time and will exist long after time has died out; He had no beginning and will have no ending. Not only that, but He has always existed as God. That’s right, He didn’t climb His way to the top or earn His exalted position by any means. He is God — always and forever, God! 

As I have gotten older, the eternality of God has become more precious to me. He’s with me. And it comforts me to know that when my children and grandchildren and their children’s children grow old (should the Lord tarry), He will be with them too. 

It strengthens my faith to know and trust a God who is eternally God … from everlasting to everlasting!

From everlasting to everlasting, You are God. Psalm 90.2

Monday, September 17, 2018

God is Powerful

Power comes from God, plain and simple. He alone is autonomous, self-sufficient. That’s what theologians call omnipotence — all powerful.

I can’t begin to tell you the comfort that is to me because I face countless challenges that are far above my ability to overcome. I have come to realize that I cannot thrive, much less survive, without God’s great strength. And, frankly, when I’ve tried other sources of renewal, they have eventually failed. But not God’s. His strength is everlasting [Isaiah 26.4]. How great is His omnipotence!

This very source of power is given to each of us to disciple the nations. “All power is given to Me,” Jesus said, “Go, therefore and make disciples, baptize them, teach them all I have commanded you” [Matthew 28.18-20].

Don’t hesitate. Rest in the mighty strength of God. GO!

God has spoken plainly, and I have heard it many times: Power belongs to God. Psalm 62.11

Friday, September 14, 2018

God is Sovereign

“God is Sovereign” is just another way to say, “God is God.” My mentor/pastor, Dr. Richard Strauss, had this working definition of sovereignty: “God is highest and best, and does what He pleases in heaven and earth.” God is sovereign, working His will and accomplishing His purposes as He pleases. 

One great statement about the sovereignty of God came from the pen of Paul to the Corinthian Christ followers. He wrote that Christ will put “an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” [1 Corinthians 15.24-25]. Every second of time from Christ’s ascension [Acts 1.11] to His triumphant return [Revelation 19.6-7a] is in this verse. 

Christ reigns now. He rules over every sinful action, every evil purpose, every dark deed, and every wicked world leader. There is no person, no President, no dictator, no Prime Minister, no Ayatollah, no movement, no government, that can derail His perfect reign. “He must reign,” Paul said. 
And when His reign is finally consummated, it will mean the defeat of every aspect of this sinful world, not the least of which is the last enemy, death [1 Corinthians 15.26]. No part of this sin-cursed world will be left untouched. All will be made new. 

That is really good news. From start to finish, from this moment throughout all eternity, God is sovereign.

Our God is in heaven doing whatever He wants to do. Psalm 115.3 [The MESSAGE Paraphrase]

Thursday, September 13, 2018

God Knows Everything

God knows everything. That is called omniscience. By definition, nothing in the past, nothing in the present, and nothing in the future is hidden from Him. Not a single word spoken in secret, not a single private thought, not any deed accomplished in the darkness of night is unknown to Him. That can be convicting or comforting, depending on your relationship with Him. There is no hiding from an omniscient God!

Speaking about comfort, isn’t it great that our omniscient God knows what we need even before we pray [Matthew 6.8]?

He knows the strengths and weaknesses of our bodies and will never let us suffer more than we can handle [Psalm 103.14; Hebrews 13.10].

He even knows the way we take so that nothing comes into our lives except what is for our good [Job 23.10; Romans 8.28].

How cool is that!

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable. Hebrews 4.13

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

God is Faithful

Everywhere you look in Scripture, you’ll find it jam-packed with statements about the faithfulness of God. We live in a time when faithfulness is not necessarily a desired quality so, it’s reassuring to read so many passages about His faithfulness. 

I want to use as a working definition of faithful: “worthy of trust.” Have you found this true of God? Hasn’t He repeatedly proven His word to be true and trustworthy? After all, He is incapable of lying, therefore, any truth claim or promise will be kept. Just be prepared to work on His timetable and not your own.

The outlook is bright because God is faithful. Nothing can separate you from His love [see Romans 8.35-39]. He’s working on you, keeping you safe until we see Him face to face [see Philippians 1.6].

Now would be a good time to lift your voice and sing with me:

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me

Your unfailing love will last forever. Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens. Psalm 89.2

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

God is Good

God is good. Please notice that I didn’t put an adverb in front of His goodness. I didn’t say God is occasionally. good or God is partially good. No! Plain and simple, God is good. Goodness is part of God’s character (attributes) and there is not even the slightest imperfection about it.  

God’s goodness is not limited to an internal quality. It extends to all that He does. Everything He does is good. Whether it’s creating a “good” world, or working all things together for “good,” or the sanctifying work He does according to His “good” pleasure, God is good! 

Now comes the big question: What should our response be, as creatures of such a good God? 

Here’s one thing the Psalmist pointed to, “O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness” [107.8]. The Psalmist was right, our worship is a reasonable response to the goodness of God.

Furthermore, we should pray to our good God for guidance as the Psalmist did, “Thou art good, and doest good; teach me Thy statutes.” 

Say it with me, “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.” Do you really admire the goodness of God? If so, your heart’s desire will be to learn and emulate His ways in all you do.

Thou art good, and doest good; teach me Thy statutes. Psalm 119.68

Monday, September 10, 2018

Be Imitators of God

Two brothers were known as notorious sinners. They were drunkards, thieves, womanizers, and often got into fist fights. One day, one of the brothers died. The surviving brother went to the preacher and asked if he would do the funeral. The preacher agreed. Then the brother said, “At his funeral, I’d like you to say my brother was a saint.” 

“I don’t know if I can do that,” the preacher responded. 

“I’ll give you $5,000 if you say ‘My brother was a saint.”

“Done,” he said.

The preacher stood before the small crowd that gathered for the funeral and said, “The man we’re burying today was a liar, a thief, a drunkard, an adulterer, and a blasphemer. I’ve never known anyone as evil as he was. But compared to his brother, he was a saint!”

Comparing ourselves to others is tempting, and rather easy to do. If you’re a “C” student, you might say, “At least I’m not one of those “D” students.” If you tear people down with gossip you may be tempted to say, “At least I’ve never killed anybody.”

Maybe we do that because such comparisons lead us to a sense of spiritual superiority — a false superiority, but superior nonetheless. Comparing ourselves with those “less moral” than we are makes us feel good, but the bar is set pretty low and it doesn’t challenge us to grow. 

Do you really want to grow in holiness? If you answered, “Yes,” then look to God’s holiness first. You’ll find it revealed in the person of Christ. Imitate Him, not others. By doing that, you will grow in spiritual maturity. 

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children. Ephesians 5.1

Friday, September 7, 2018

That’s Not in the Bible

I’m sure you’ve heard it, and it may be that you’ve said it: “God helps those who help themselves.” Some people think that came from the Bible. Trust me, that’s not in the Bible! I’m not sure what it is, but I think that we all feel like God is more likely to help us, love us, accept us, and deliver us when we give it our “best shot”, right?

Not only is it not in the Bible, it contradicts the Bible — it’s the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches. So, we make fun of it, then turn around and live by it! Because of the fall, our human tendency is to trust primarily in ourselves and only secondarily, if at all, in the Lord. Thus we are quick to take the credit for any successes that come our way. We may give a passing “thanks” to God for His part, but the primary glory goes to us for all our hard work or genius. 

Who does God help, then? Well, God is at work in human history to accomplish His purposes. As we help in doing these things, God will help us succeed. Trust in God's calling on your life for His divine purpose and pleasure. Do the things God has called you to do. And God will help you in those works.

But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD: He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: He shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in Him. Psalm 37.39-40

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Jeremiah’s Reality Check

Have you ever heard your pastor say, “Sometimes my job is to comfort the afflicted, and sometimes to afflict the comfortable!”? They must have gotten that from the prophet Jeremiah. You talk about someone who didn’t mince words, Jeremiah is that guy! His was a distinctive voice often calling for repentance. An illustration of this is in the seventh chapter of his book. “Amend your ways and your doings,” he said in 7.3.

The “ways” of Judah had gotten so bad that God told Jeremiah not to bother praying for them because He would refuse to answer him [7.16]. What were they? Well, they broke God’s commandments, offered incense to Ba-al, got cozy with false gods, then stood in the house of the Lord and talked about how they had been delivered by God from these things. Jeremiah would have none of that. 

I’m no Jeremiah, believe me! But his reality check should be considered by all of us. Let me put it in New Testament speak: Don’t hide behind the grace of God and continue to live in secret sin. Don’t boast, I am a Christian; God loves me; I fear no evil, then, go out and do all kinds of evil! The author of Hebrews tells us why, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” [12.28-29].

Harsh words? Perhaps, but like a good medicine, they are curative. Rather than walking away from them, let them have their healing effect.

Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations?’ Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the LORD.  Jeremiah 7.9-10

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Real, Humble Humility

The top executive of a large company decided to boost the moral of his entire employee base. One part of his plan called for all top-level management to lead with humility and share the limelight. It was a good plan, but only worked when the management was actually humble. Unfortunately, he had some fakers on his management team who continued to steal the limelight from their subordinates rather frequently. One of the employees said of his manager, “He didn’t understand the humility part of being humble!”

That manager might not have understood it, but Jesus did. Though He was God, He lived in humble obedience to His Father. When He became human, He lived in complete submission for our sake. 

His entire life was an example of humility. He was born under humble circumstances to humble parents. He lived in humble submission to them. He humbly submitted to be water baptized. He humbly endured insults and ill-treatment. His ultimate act of humility was dying on a cross as a common criminal in order to save us. 

Let’s follow His example and live in humility. We can, you know. With help from God the Holy Spirit, we can live free of self-interest and be willing to serve others. 

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Philippians 2.8

Monday, September 3, 2018

Passion for God’s House

We sold our house and have moved into a small apartment awaiting our retirement in January. As I was boxing up my office, I browsed through my book, “Let’s Go to Israel: A Christian Guide to the Holy Land Sites.” As I thumbed through its pages, I ran across a graphic I made showing the family of Herod. 

It had Herod the Great, a despicable man, but a “great” builder.” He was responsible for the “slaughter of the innocents” in Bethlehem. One of his sons, Herod Antipas, was the murderer of John the Baptizer. And his grandson, Herod Agrippa I, murdered James the brother of John, the sons of Zebedee.

Herod’s greatest achievement, arguably, was the magnificent temple in Jerusalem. That was the temple of the New Testament, the one Jesus passionately interacted with on many occasions. Remember how He “cleaned house” by driving out the merchants? “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a marketplace,” He said [John 2.16].

On another occasion, He stunned the religious leaders by saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” [Jon 2.19]. That really infuriated them. “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and You can rebuild it in three days? That’s ridiculous!” [John 2.20].

They never forgot that. In fact, they threw it is His face and used it as evidence in their plot to crucify Him [see Matthew 26.61]. Since He was referring to His body, it was only right that He came back to life on the third day after His burial. 

Herod’s opulent temple was dismantled stone by stone in 70 AD by Roman soldiers. Not one stone was left standing - even to this day. And Herod? Well, he lives on, but only in infamy. 

Jesus? We still go to our heavenly Father in His name. His passion for the house of God lives on. In fact, He is the Cornerstone of an everlasting building made up of believers from all ages [1 Peter 2.4-7].

Then His disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me. John 2.17