Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Life Paradox

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24 CSB)

This verse and those that follow comprise one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith: Life is discovered by giving it up. If you seek after your own life apart from God, you will lose your life. If you give up your own life to the Lord in order to follow after Him and His will rather than your own, you will find life. This is almost like saying that with slavery comes freedom. Who thinks that makes sense? But that’s what a paradox is: a truth that does not make sense logically but is nevertheless true. Paul, for example, considered himself a slave of Christ, but this same man also wrote of the great freedom that we enjoy in Christ. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” is what Paul wrote to the Galatians.

As you consider directions for today and what you hope will happen and what your goals will be, remember that the more you serve the Lord, the more life you will find life.

Guide us, Lord, into all truth, so that we may more fully understand that which is not so easy to understand, and help us make the application of Your truth day by day. Amen

Monday, September 29, 2008

All About Him

“But He turned and told Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.’” (Matthew 16:13-28 CSB)

Seemingly just moments earlier Jesus commended Peter for his “good confession.” Peter at least had enough spiritual discernment that he could receive a revelation from God that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. When Jesus began to explain the suffering, death, and resurrection that was ahead for Him, however, Peter rebuked Jesus and swore that he would never let that happen. Then came a stinging rebuke from Jesus, showing that Peter was on the way but not there yet, in terms of his understanding of Messiah.

Peter’s response shows that the focus of his thoughts was all on man, on earthly ways, on the restoration of the Davidic kingdom in Israel. His thinking was at least related to the Lord’s, but it was focused on man. Jesus pointed out that “the things of God,” that is, the purposes of God are the real priority. Everything else serves that.

Humanism exalts mankind. Nothing is higher than man in humanistic thinking, and it places mankind at the very center of the universe and causes everything to revolve around humankind. Because we are human, we all have a tendency to think that it’s all about us. The reality is far different, however. The universe is all about God. Humanity is part of His creation. That is not to minimize us, of course, because God did, after all, send His Son to suffer and die for us, and be raised from the dead, to point us in His direction, so that we might have the opportunity for eternal life. Yet, the fact remains: It is all about Him. He is central to all else.

May this day be all about Him rather than us. May it allow us the privilege of bringing honor and glory to our God.

The writer of Hebrews issued a challenge in 13:13: “Let us then go to Him outside the camp, bearing His disgrace.” As the One who sacrificed Himself for us, Jesus died outside the city walls on the cross and was resurrected as well outside the city walls. The call of God is thus to go to Him outside our comfort zone and follow Him. Not humanism, but discipleship is the call of God to us.

Lord, Help us to understand the truth that everything that exists is all about You. Amen.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Faith and Persistence

“’Yes, Lord,’ she said, ‘yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table!’ Then Jesus replied to her, ‘Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done for you as you want.’ And from that moment her daughter was cured.” (Matthew 15:27-28 CSB)

What the woman wanted was for her daughter to be cured. Her daughter was demon-possessed, tormented. So, even though she was a Canaanite woman and not one of the lost sheep of Israel Jesus was searching for, when Jesus came to Sidon she heard about it. His reputation apparently preceded Him, so she went to Him and kept crying out to Him to heal her daughter. Jesus ignored her, but she kept following and crying out. The disciples grew annoyed and asked Jesus to send her away. But she kept coming. Finally, Jesus made a metaphorical statement to her, that it was not right to take the children’s bread and give it to their dogs. Jesus was not comparing the woman to a dog. He was simply using an example to show her that His priorities were for the lost people of Israel. That is when her retort impressed Jesus with regard to her faith, with the result that He cured her daughter.

This story points out a connection between persistence and faith. We do not always connect the two. We tend to keep the concept of persistence in its box, and we keep faith in its box. We tend also to think that if our faith is strong enough, there is no need for anything else, like persistence. But what we see in this story is that Jesus was impressed with this woman’s tenacious faith. This tells us that God seems to have a great appreciation for persistent asking in faith, maybe a little like the faith we see in Jacob when, wrestling with the angel of the Lord, he refused to let go until the angel blessed him.

Persistence and faith is a combination that honors God.

Lord, May our persistent asking in faith today fully honor You. Amen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Enduring Forward

“Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” (Hebrews 12:1-4 CSB)

Say the word “endure,” and all sorts of images come up in people’s minds. Most probably have the idea of enduring pain or some ordeal until it passes. For many endurance is static, in other words, but endurance as spoken of in Hebrews primarily means enduring forward. We endure as we are moving forward and in order to move forward. Our interest is more in thriving than surviving. That is the call of the Spirit.

The writer of Hebrews shows us three pathways that can help us endure forward. The first one is the “crowd factor” pathway. In athletic events, the crowd can influence their team toward optimal performance, and we have a great crowd supporting us, called a “cloud of witnesses.” Hebrews 11 mentions even some of the names of those who are supporting us and cheering us on toward an endurance that takes us forward.

The second pathway is the “double-tracked” pathway. Imagine this as a railway – two parallel ribbons of steel. One rail calls for us to “lay aside the sin that so easily entangles us.” The other rail calls for us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” These two rails, traveled upon simultaneously, will help us to get to the destination of “enduring forward.”

The third pathway is the “north star” pathway. This is the one where we “keep our eyes on Jesus.” Like the north star, Jesus is constant. He is our Guide. He is described here first as the Source of our faith. It all derives from Him. Then He is described as the Perfecter of our faith, or the One who makes it complete.

We are called not only to endure but to endure forward.

Lord, Help us today to endure forward in ways that bring glory and honor to You. Amen.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Spiritual Perception

"On the seventh day of the fifth month, which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan, the commander of the guards, a servant of the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. He burned the Lord’s temple, the king’s palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem; he burned down all the great houses.” (2 Kings 25:8-9 CSB)

The victory of the Babylonians and destruction of Jerusalem was described in much detail in 2 Kings. There is a glaring omission in the account, however. The name of Jeremiah the prophet is nowhere mentioned. Jeremiah was a major player in those days, and yet no mention whatsoever. Why not? What would prevent this?

In Matthew 12:14 we read, “But the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.” Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. This angered the Pharisees, and they concluded that they needed to get rid of the man named Jesus.

In Hebrews 11:17-19 we see an account of the faith of Abraham, in which we are told he was willing to offer up his son, Isaac, the son of promise because he believed that God was able to raise him from the dead.

What is the common element involved in all three of these instances? Is it not spiritual perception? Jeremiah was a man of great spiritual dimension, and there should have been an account or at least a name mention in 2 Kings. He is mentioned elsewhere, but not here. It would seem to be a spiritual perception issue, perhaps a sense that the spiritual element was not all that relevant in these stories of intrigue.

The Pharisees were spiritually imperceptive in that they did not recognize Jesus and even blasphemed the Holy Spirit in saying that Jesus cast out demons by the hand of Beelzebul. Jesus later said of the, “Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” (verse 34)

Spiritual perception is given by the Holy Spirit. He not only gives it but develops it in us, maybe a little like a farmer working the land. Thinking metaphorically, the “ground” must be prepared and fertile. Faith is the earth in which the seed of spiritual perception is planted. Humility waters it. Hope is the sun that shines on it. The word of God is the roots that mine faith and bring sustenance and growth to spiritual perception.

Blessed are those who are spiritually perceptive, because they know God.

Lord, We thank You that You are the Author of any spiritual perception that is in us. All that we are and have comes from You. Help us to perceive Your guidance and leadership and Your will this day. Amen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Anointing of the Lord

“The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord, to glorify Him.” (Isaiah 61:1-5 CSB)

Jesus stunned His hometown synagogue when He read the words above to them and announced that the prophecy was now fulfilled in their hearing. His announcement was that He was the Messiah. They did not take Him seriously enough to believe Him, but they did take Him seriously enough to take Him to a cliff. Their faithless response was a portent of what was to come a few years later.

Jesus came in fulfillment of the prophecy of the “Anointed One,” which is the meaning of “Messiah.” The Father sent to Son as His chosen and anointed One to bring a message of the good news of liberation and the release from despair into festivity. He came to bring freedom from the tyranny and domination of sin, and to replace that with healing. That is what His coming is all about.

Jesus has passed on His mission to us, His disciples, so that generation by generation we might continue to proclaim the year of the Lord and help people find the freedom they are desperate for. When we think about the coming of the Lord Jesus to this earth, our very next thought should be that we are part of His on-going mission to bring people – all who will believe – to salvation, so they can know what life is all about.

Lord, We thank You for sending someone to speak Your message to us, and we thank You that You now invite us to join You in Your mission. Help us to demonstrate a full faithfulness in sharing the good news with this world. Amen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Strength Source

“He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31 CSB)

Through Isaiah the Lord gave words of comfort and hope for the coming of One who would provide us a true source of strength. Weakness, powerless, and weariness are not necessarily the afflictions of old age. Physically that may be true at least much of the time, but this prophecy has more to do with those who experience spiritual weakness, powerlessness against Satan and his cohorts, and weariness from trying to remain faithful to the Lord in the face of intense social and cultural pressures to conform. That can afflict anyone regardless of age. It can be devastating, but against this comes the word of the Lord that God provides the strength we need and will send One who will provide a way for us to soar on wings like eagles and run and not grow weary.

Jesus came to this earth, God incarnate. He came as Messiah, to bring the comfort that comes with strength. He provided this source through His cross, sealed it with His resurrection, and sealed our salvation with the sending of His Spirit, who now dwells in us enabling us to deal effectively with weakness, powerlessness, and weariness. The Spirit of God in us is now our source of true strength. Now, we can soar.

Lord, You are the Author of strength and power, and in You we find our true Source of strength. You enable us to soar spiritually and run with endurance the race that is set before us. Thank You. Amen.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Branch

“Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him – a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1-2 CSB)

We can only wonder: Did any of this go through Mary’s mind as she held her new infant in her arms? Did she realize the extent that the Spirit of the Lord would be upon Him and where this would lead? Wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and worship – all would be exemplified in this One.

Isaiah speaks of the fruit of the life of the One who could come through the line of Jesse and his son, David. This fruit would include wisdom and knowledge and all the other attributes listed above. He would further lead His people to justice and righteousness and would install a kingdom of peace where there would be no violence of any kind.

A kingdom like this with a Leader like this is an impossibility on this earth. It has never happened and will not, and for that reason the only conclusion we can reach about what Isaiah prophesies here is that he is not talking about an earthly, physical kingdom but a heavenly, spiritual one. He is talking about the salvation life that was to be offered, and that was achieved on the cross of Calvary and sealed by the resurrection of Jesus. The word “Spirit” is to key that leads us to this interpretation of Isaiah’s prophecy. All of this is of the Spirit of the Living God. That is the only way it can be eternal and effective.

What remains, then, is for us to submit our lives to that same Spirit of the Living God, so that we may be shaped more into the image of Christ, so that the fruit we see in His life may also be produced in ours.

Lord, We humble ourselves before You and ask that You fill us with Your Spirit so that the lives we live will bring the honor and glory that is due to You. Amen.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


“For You have shattered their burdensome yoke and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor, just as You did on the day of Midian.” (Isaiah 9:4 CSB)

On the “day of Midian” the Lord routed a combined army of about 200,000 soldiers without the Israelites ever having to attack or be attacked. It was purely the work of the Lord in sending the Midianites fleeing.

Isaiah says that the Messiah who was to come would shatter the burdensome yoke and the rod of the oppressor. The oppressor is the one we call the Devil. He is the one who oppresses people with their sin and guilt, the one who revels in death and destruction and hate. The Lord is the One who loves us and who wants us to be released from our fears and terrors related to sin and guilt and punishment. He is the Author of true freedom. It is not surprising that people would take these ideas to mean that the Messiah would come as a warrior to defeat the enemies of God’s people, but the true idea is that the real enemy is a spiritual one. As Paul wrote, “We do not wrestle with flesh and blood.” (Ephesians 6)

Jesus came in fulfillment of this prophecy, to destroy the works of the Devil. He came to free us from sin and its sting, which is death. He came to show us that there is a way to real life and freedom through faith in Him. He showed us what He is willing to do to help us have this freedom. And that is what His coming was all about.

Lord, We are forever grateful to You for Your act of mercy and kindness toward us. We deserved none of it, but You acted out Your grace through Jesus and His cross. The power of the resurrection now opens to door into the light, and we thank You for calling us to enter. Amen.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Who should I send? Who will go for us?’ I said, ‘Here I am. Send me.’” (Isaiah 6:8 CSB)

In that powerful vision of heaven the Lord spoke to Isaiah, and Isaiah heard the message. It was a message about missions, and the Lord gave him a mission to speak His word to the people of Israel. Isaiah had no hesitation in accepting this mission.

Some 600 years later, Another would come, sent from the Lord with a message He was to speak both verbally and graphically. He came via the virgin birth prophesied by Isaiah, grew up, and then moved into that mission when He was about 30 years old. For three years He preached and taught and healed, until that day came when He was lifted up between earth and heaven on a cross, building a bridge for us, so that we may respond to God’s grace and enter into heaven with Him.

This same One, Jesus, raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, said to us, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” Thus, the message of salvation, the message of the cross and the resurrection, the message of God’s love and grace, the message of eternal life is now the mantle that has fallen upon us. Now, the mission is ours to carry out.

Lord, We thank You that You have chosen us and have set us apart to carry on with Your mission. Thank You for Your coming and Your calling to us. May we be forever faithful to You in our stewardship of missions.