I had an interesting God-moment two nights ago while I was disciplining my oldest son Kade for something he had done wrong. Being a father has taught me so much about the heart of God, but this night was one of the greatest insights I've had. Kade was really giving us a hard time as we were coming back from the store. We got out as a family and went to Hobby Lobby for Barie to get some things and then we were planning on taking the boys to Cold Stone creameries to get some ice cream for them to enjoy. But just as we were about to leave Hobby Lobby, Kade threw a royal fit - screaming and crying and throwing himself around because we wouldn't buy him a little tape measure thing he saw in the check-out line that he wanted.
Now, normally Kade does really well in those settings and hears us say "no" about something and he moves on quickly. But this time, he was determined to get his way. We finally got him out to the car and immediately made the decision that we could not reward this behavior with a trip for ice cream - I mean, what would that be teaching him? Throw a terrible fit and we'll take you to Cold Stone. So, we ran a few more errands we needed to run and went back home. Kade was still upset when we got home, so we quickly gave him a bath and put him to bed. While I was tucking him in (with the sniffles still going), I decided to talk to him about what had happened that night. I told him that he had missed out on real blessing that night because he had decided to not obey Mommy & Daddy at the store. In all honesty, I was really sad for him in that moment. I love Kade so deeply, and I really wanted him to be blessed for his obedience. But he missed it because he wouldn't listen to our instructions.
As the words were coming out of my mouth, I think God audibly spoke to me about how He views our disobedience the same way. He desires good for us, His children. In fact, Jesus camps out on this point in Matthew 6 when he talks about how God loves us and cares for us even more deeply than our biological parents. He goes on to say that the Father in heaven wants to give us better gifts than our earthly dads. But in the end, I think it must hurt His heart when decide to do our own thing and we miss the blessing that comes from obedience. So many passages teach that God's blessing comes with obedience, but I've never put together the fact that God must really hurt when His children receive consequences instead of blessing. When will we learn to honor God as our Father and do what He says so that He can bless us in the ways that He so desires to do? Check out these words from Hebrews 12:
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Morever, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! Our fathers disciplines us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.
Really challenged by a book I'm reading by John Piper about the life and theology of St. Augustine. Piper's main thrust is that Augustine wanted every person to find their complete satisfaction and joy in the sovereign grace of God instead of the many petty things we seek to place as primary in our lives. Augustine was in bondage to sin until the day that he found his joy and life in the gracious work of Jesus Christ in his life. Check out the following quote from the book at the end of the section on the life of Augustine:
"Are we in bondage to the pleasures of this world so that, for all our talk about the glory of God, we love television and food and sleep and sex and money and human praise just like everybody else? If so, let us repent and fix our faces like flint toward the Word of God. And let us pray: O Lord, open my eyes to see the sovereign sight that in your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasure forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Grant, O God, that we would live the legacy of Sovereign Joy."
"Christ is not only a remedy for your weariness and trouble, but He will give you an abundance of the contrary: joy and delight. They who come to Christ, do not only come to a resting place after they have been wandering in the wilderness, but they come to a banqueting house where they may rest and where they may feast. They may cease from their former troubles and toils, and the may enter upon a course of delights and spiritual joys." Jonathan Edwards
"The single greatest gift you can give someone is an introduction to the God who asked His Son to go the unthinkable distance to redeem them." Bill Hybels
As we enter into the Christmas season, we hear many exhortations centered on the life and person of Jesus. I have found my own heart growing in love for Jesus every year as I more fully grasp the implications of the gospel. The brightest example of this at work in my life is how I am growing to believe wholeheartedly that the greatest gift I could ever give someone is the message of Jesus Christ. He is not just the One who saves my soul from hell, but He is the One who redeems my life, gives me joy and peace, and leads me to fulfillment now. He makes every life better not just in 100 years, but in 1 year. I believe that every person I meet would have a better, more abundant life now if they walk with God through His Son Jesus. As Edwards says above, He is not only rest for our weary souls, but He is a feast for our hungry hearts. Jesus is who we were made to worship, and our hearts only find peace in Him.
We have begun working on preparations for an evangelism campaign at our church recently, and I have been praying and thinking about evangelism a lot lately. Barie and I really have a heart for our neighbors and our family who are living lives without the hope and joy and peace that come from knowing Christ. Sometimes, my thoughts and prayers are consumed with a passion that people around me would love the Lord Jesus and follow Him in all their ways. However, in my experience with sharing my faith with others, many people seem to feel like they have no need for Jesus. I think Luke 18:9-30 pierces to the heart of this struggle.
In Luke 18:9-17, we see the self-righteous Pharisee contrasted with the sinner who cries out to God. In our relativistic world, all of us can find someone we outrank in the good deeds department. We think that as long as we don't kill someone or do something horrific, God just has to accept us. After all, there are many people out there worse than me. We create a false standard (like the Pharisee does in this passage) and then prop ourselves up in the hope that God only compares us to someone who does more evil things than us. Jesus' point here, however, is that the Pharisee is foolish to think that he is any more holy in God's eyes than the sinner. Paul says it even clearer in Romans 3, "there is none righteous, no not one." The first road block to coming to the Savior is seeing past the lie of self-righteousness. None of us is holy compared to our holy God.
Second, in Luke 18:18-30, we meet the rich young ruler. This young man has done everything in his power to try and obey the commands of God. But He has missed the heart of God. The young ruler has placed his confidence in his own righteousness and his own wealth. The Lord gets straight to the point when he tells the disciples that it is hard for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. Why would that be? Because as rich people (which we all are who live in America - the richest 10% of the world), we very rarely have a physical need that we can't meet. The less we have to go to God to take care of our lives here on earth, the less we see a need to go to God to take care of our lives in eternity. We've got it taken care of. What a shame. The Scriptures are clear that confidence in wealth is folly, because it is fleeting. We can't take it with us, and it won't impress God.
The question for you and me is simple: have we ever realized our need for Jesus or are we simply comfortable with what our good deeds and financial supplies can provide? I believe many, many people will be in for a rude awakening when they meet the Savior face to face and realize the limits of their own righteousness and wealth. May God help us see our need for Jesus today.
Sorry for the long delay in posting devotional thoughts. I'm going to get back into the habit of posting them regularly as they help me process what God is teaching me currently in His Word.
As I've told many of you personally, God is continuing to stretch me through my time in the Psalms about where I place my confidence. I know that sometimes I am self-conscious about my age & that drives me to over-compensate in my leadership style so that I try to project an air of self-confidence that is unhealthy. I don't want people to think that I am confident in my own ability, but am confident in God's power and strength. God is continuing to show me the futility of having faith in my own creativity, intellect, speaking skills, or anything else that I falsely find confidence in. Instead, God wants me to be confident in Jesus, in His power to work the miraculous in me and through me. And I want everyone who knows me and works with me to see that I am trusting in God's power to move in my life and ministry. SO, I've been the asking the questions lately (again) about what signs need to be evident in my life to show that I'm trusting in God's power and not in myself. Here is what God has shown me recently on this ever-present issue:
1) Fear of God over fear of man. Psalm 56:3-4 expresses the writer's faith in God and his lack of fear of other men as he asks, "What can mere man do to me?" I am asking this question of myself regularly now. Do I fear God more than I fear man? Jesus basically says the same thing in a different way in Luke 12:4-5 when he says that we should fear the One who holds our eternal destination in His hands more than the one who can just take our temporary life. I think this is a constant struggle for anyone who wants to be liked by other people as all of us do. But the question is not one of popularity, it is one of confidence. Do I believe that God's power is more important in my life and ministry than man's approval?
2) Prayer over business. Psalm 57:2 explicitly shows that the psalmist believes that his cry to God will be heard by the One who "accomplishes all things for me." Most of us believe that prayer is part of the preparation for our life's work, but the biblical writers would argue that prayer is not preparation, but is the work itself. If I believe that God's power must be present in my life to move forward, I will spend time praying, not trying to produce results on my own. We live and strive in a spiritual battle, and we must recognize that our weapons are not made out of flesh and blood (2 Cor. 10:3-5). If I find myself working harder in my own strength and spending less time in prayer, that is a good sign that my confidence is not in God, but in myself.
3) Character development over ministry success. Psalm 55:22-23 shows us another huge biblical principle in the area of trust - God strengthens the righteous & destroys the unrighteous. This is a consistent theme of the Scriptures, but here it is explicitly stated in the context of trust. The psalmist finishes the psalm by saying that His trust is in the Lord. In other words, there are many who compromise their integrity in order to succeed, but this is folly because they miss the Lord's power and provision. The question for me is simple: am I sacrificing my character and integrity in order to succeed in ministry? This may sound stupid, but many, many men and women cut corners in their walk with God in order to feed their own ambitions. God is continually showing me now how foolish this really is.
In summary, may God help us to have a deep faith in Him that drives us to fear Him above men, seek Him diligently in prayer, and to make sure that our gifting doesn't out pace our character.
"So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.'" John 20:21
Most Christians know the other portions of Jesus' commission passages better than they know John 20:21. Matthew 28:18-20 is the most well known as it lays out Jesus' instructions to His followers concerning their role in expanding the Kingdom of God through making disciples of all nations. Acts 1:8 is maybe the second most quoted commission passage as Jesus lays out a game plan for how the early church was going to take the gospel from their city to the ends of the earth. But John's gospel focuses on the idea that Jesus sends us into the world in the same way that the Father has sent the Son into the world. The Greek word for sent is pempo, and it occurs 32 times in the gospel of John, more than 5 times as much as any other gospel book. It is in the gospel of John that Jesus continues to say, "I am not teaching my own words, but these are the words of Him who sent Me," or "I am not doing my own will, but the will of Him who sent Me." This is the continuous theme of the book of John - the sending of Jesus into the word. And then, as Jesus wraps up his earthly ministry, He commissions us to be sent as well. So what exactly does it mean to be sent like Jesus?
The most obvious answer to this question has to do with being a people of the cross. Jesus' came to obey the Father at whatever cost was required. This idea is central in Philippians 2:5-10 where Paul asks us to imitate the attitude of Jesus, who was willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Father's will and the Father's glory. Much has been written about being a people who follow a crucified Savior, but the major point here is that we worship and obey and imitate a Leader who was put to death for His obedience to the will of God. If we are sent like Jesus in any way, we are sent by way of the cross. Jesus told His followers that they must "pick up their cross daily and follow Me." I don't know any other way to interpret this passage then to recognize that if we are sent like Jesus was sent, our self-denial will be essential. Sacrifice will be required. As a people of the cross, we recognize that this life will bring trials and pains, and that our obedience will not remove us from sacrifice, but actually call us to it for the sake of the gospel in our neighborhood and around the world.
Beyond the cross, we must also recognize that a major piece of Jesus' "sent-ness" was His incarnation. He was sent into time and space and culture from heaven in order to reveal the Father, demonstrate grace and truth in flesh and blood, and to save humanity. We must not just be a people of the cross; we must also embrace the incarnation. If we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, then we will enter into culture. We will penetrate with the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ. Basically, we will become missional in our own workplaces and neighborhoods and communities. Just as Jesus did not stay in heaven and know us from afar but entered into our world and spoke our language and wore our clothes, so also must we enter contemporary culture in order to communicate the love of Christ in flesh and blood. We cannot simply sit on the outside and learn about our culture - we must invade it with grace and truth. Just as a missionary to China would learn how to communicate Christ in their culture, we must learn to communicate Christ in our culture. In order to become a counter-cultural force (like Jesus was), we must engage culture and not escape it. Being sent like Jesus means entering in, engaging, and invading with changed lives in order to see life change.
May God help us to own our calling of being sent into this culture with the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ.
Honesty with God is always hard for us, I guess because we think we are somehow being disrespectful to Him if we share our deepest frustrations, hurts, and concerns. I am always amused when I feel this way and close up in my prayer life because God knows all that I am feeling already. Why would I hide something from God that He already knows? I am again reminded that this relationship with my Heavenly Father is unlike any other relationship I have - He knows what I need (and how I feel) before I even speak to Him.
The writers of the Psalms surely knew how to express disappointment and frustration with God in their writings. In many of their songs to the Lord, they have written out prayers to God - earnest, heart-felt, sometimes gut-wrenching prayers that deal honestly with the reality they see in front of them. Psalm 44 is one of those psalms. After expressing his confidence in God based on the stories he has heard from his forefathers, the psalmist gives us a peak into his heart in verses 9-16. He wonders out loud why his enemies are prospering and his army is losing and his people are hurting. He struggles openly and honestly with God. He has already confessed his complete trust in the Lord (over his bow and sword - see verse 6), but now he wants to know why this trust has left him momentarily empty-handed.
In the midst of his honest prayer to the Lord, the psalmist reminds me of what God calls me to do in times like these. First, the psalmist continues to pray. The whole psalm is a testimony to the fact that this author continues to talk to the Lord in the midst of his struggles. We all need to make sure that we don't stop talking to God when our trials come - we need to pray more, not less. Second, as the psalmist writes in verses 17-18, he continues to obey God's ways and seek God with all His heart. We need to hear the correction of these verses. When times get tough, we are called to not use our circumstances as excuses to misuse God's commands or disobey His Word - we must walk in faithfulness. The challenge is to be honest with God about our feelings and still seek Him with all our heart. The Lord is worthy of our devotion and love even when we don't understand His ways (which is sure to happen). Honesty with God about our doubts is means to an end, not an end in of itself - we are hoping to continue to love and serve Him faithfully at all times.
May God help us to open up our prayer lives into new territories that we have hidden from Him so that our devotion and obedience to Him will increase.
This site hosts my weekly devotional thoughts (built around what God is currently teaching me in His Word). I hope it encourages you to get in the Word of God daily and to meet the Word Himself, Jesus Christ.