Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cry Out to the Lord

“Love the Lord, all His faithful ones. The Lord protects the loyal, but fully repays the arrogant. Be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord.” (Psalm 31:23-24)

Sometimes life events do not go so well. Consider the following list and see if you can relate: disappointments, debt, betrayals, losses, sorrows, abandonments, troubles, rejections, illnesses, sins. Chances are that at least one of these may ring a bell in your life memories.

Those who desire to walk with God faithfully may well wonder why such events come into their lives. David clearly did. In verse 22 he wrote, “In my alarm I had said, ‘I am cut off from Your sight. But You heard the sound of my pleading when I cried to You for help.’” When hurtful events come our way, they may indeed “sound the alarm” and wreak havoc on our confidence or faith.

Still, as David did, we cry out to God, and then we wait. We trust. And then, we will come to the same conclusion he did: “Love the Lord, all His faithful ones. The Lord protects the loyal, but fully repays the arrogant. Be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord.” Our cry for help brings an affirmation of faith.

Lord, How we thank You for the strength You provide through Your Spirit within us. We express our confidence in Your redemptive love and power, and we trust You for all that we need. Amen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hardening of the Heart

“Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. They were completely astounded, because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:51-52)

Jesus fed the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Immediately after, he sent the disciples to the other side of the lake. He dismissed the crowd and went up to mountain to pray. He finished praying and set out to rejoin His disciples on the other side, but they had made little progress against a stiff wind. He took a “short-cut” across the water and intended to pass by them unnoticed, but they spotted Him and thought He was a ghost. He heard their shrieks of terror, so He identified Himself, walked to the boat, and then got into the boat with them. The wind ceased immediately.

It’s interesting that in Mark’s account, which is essentially Peter’s recounting of the story of Jesus, there is no mention that Peter walked out on the water toward Jesus. Maybe that is less significant to him than his statement that none of them got it: “They had not understood about the loaves. Instead their hearts were hardened.”

What did they not understand about the loaves? Clearly, they understood that they had witnessed a miracle. They knew Jesus did the miracle. What they did not understand was that the miracle was not the point. What they did not understand was Who this One was who performed the miracle. If they had understood, they would have bowed down in worship. But they didn’t. Neither did anyone else. Their hearts were hardened in the sense that they had been raised in an environment and system that focused on the miracle rather than the miracle Maker. This “hardening” is nowhere more apparent than when Jesus chided folks for saying that if they swear by the temple they are not bound, but if they swear by the gold of the temple they are bound to keep their word. His statement then followed, “Which is greater: the gold? Or the temple that makes the gold holy?” The miracles were never an end in themselves. They were merely “signs” pointing to and screaming out “this is the One.” Their hearts were hardened by the understandings they had been raised with. Ironically, they did not understand because of their understandings.

I wonder: Are there understandings about Jesus we are brought up with which may hinder us from understanding what He wants us to understand about Him? The only way we can be sure that we “get it” is to get as deep into His word as we can, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Lord, Help us today and each day to get full and honest attention to Your word. Plunge through any “understandings” we have that are not on track with Your word, and recalibrate our understandings to what You want us to understand. Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Standing By

“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” (2 Timothy 4:17)

Paul lamented to his “son in the faith,” Timothy, that everyone had deserted him at his trial. This was probably part of a trial procedure during a second imprisonment in Rome, the one which ultimately resulted in Paul’s death by beheading. At the time of his first trial in Rome, there was not so much anti-Christian sentiment, but at the time of this second imprisonment, anti-Christian hostility was running high. Whether that was an influence or something else unstated, everyone deserted Paul; no one came to his assistance. All but One, that is.

Paul says that the Lord stood with him and strengthened him, so that he was able to sufficiently proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles during his trial.

We may not have to face a public trial for being a Christian, but believers often face life issues or relational issues that can “try the soul.” Some matters of life can lead to exasperation, frustration, and maybe even a feeling of being abandoned by everyone. In some workplaces, for example, there can be a very strong anti-Christian sentiment. In some family settings, if a believer determines to follow the Lord in a direction that causes other family members to wonder if he or she has had a mental meltdown, after they initially protest they may then reject the believer. There can at times be a big price to pay for one’s faith.

But there is some good news. Just as He did with Paul, Jesus will stand with us and strengthen us in all the life issues we must face. Just the fact that He is standing with us is itself strengthening, but beyond that through His Spirit within us He will strengthen our hearts, our minds, and our resolve, so that we may faithfully walk with Him. Trust Him to do just that for you.

Lord, We thank You that we never have to walk through any aspect of this life alone. We thank You that You stand with us, and that by Your strength we can endure. Amen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Trust Rejoice Sing

“But I have trusted in Your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance. I will sing to the Lord because He has treated me generously.” (Psalm 13:5-6)

These last two verses of Psalm 13 are strongly positive, but the psalm did not begin that way. Listen: “Lord, how long will You forget me? Forever?” (verse 1) This is David asking the question. He asked it out of great duress, when he felt his life was being dominated by his enemy. Which enemy, we do not know. This shows us that even someone whose heart is described by God Himself as “a man after My own heart” can have moments when he feels as low as the dust.

But, as we see in the last two verses, David came to his spiritual senses, and he did so (in the middle part of the psalm) by looking back over his life to see the hand of God at work. He recognized that he has trusted in the Lord in the past, and God has delivered him. Thus, he decided to rejoice in the Lord’s deliverance that was to come. Then, he decided to sing to the Lord because of how God has been at work in his life.

This sounds like a pretty good formula for dealing with those days that feel rather low: trust, rejoice, and sing. To trust, it helps to remember. To rejoice, we just decide that we are going to. To sing, we think of a song or hymn that has special meaning to us, and we then just regale as we launch into it.

When you have one of those days, give this a try. Trust. Rejoice. Sing.

Lord, We trust You with our very souls. We rejoice before You in faith. We sing praise to Your Name. “Aleleuia, alleluia…” Amen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Test of Authenticity

“And looking around at those who were sitting in a circle around Him, He said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:34-35)

What is the test of an authentic Christian? He or she has a personal relationship with the Lord through faith in Jesus. In short, they are family. And what is the test of family and thus the test of a genuine relationship? He or she does the will of God.

Many say they are committed to the will of God. Many Jewish folks, for example, will say they are committed to the will of God. There are many Muslims who would say the same.

Jesus said that the will of God is for people to believe in Him, God’s Son. The will of God is made clear in the bible. It reveals what God wants. Thus, to know and understand the will of God, we go to the word of God. Committing to and living according to what it teaches about the will of God is then what distinguishes the true family of the Lord.

Jesus illustrated this at a different time. He told a parable of two sons. One said he would do what his father asked, but didn’t. The other said he would not do what his father asked, but later felt bad about it and changed his mind. He then went and did what his father asked.

Real Christians do God’s will.

Lord, We pray that not only will Your will be done, but also that we may do Your will today and each day. Amen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Looking for the Grace

“No, my daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me.” (Ruth 1:13b)

Naomi spoke these words to Ruth and Orpah on the road to Bethlehem from Moab as she was trying to get them to return to Moab. They had decided to go with her to Bethlehem. She persuaded Orpah to return to her father’s house, but Ruth could not be persuaded.

Years earlier, Elimelech, Naomi, and their two boys, Chilion and Mahlon, went to Moab because of a famine in Israel. Elimelech died there. The boys both married, and then they died in Moab as well. From Naomi’s view, God’s had had turned against her. Later, when the town of Bethlehem greeted her at her arrival, she told them not to call her “Naomi” anymore, but to call her “Mara.” “Naomi” means “pleasant.” “Mara” means “bitter.”

The only reality Naomi could see was stark: almost everything of importance to her was gone. The loves of her life were no more. All she knew at that time was pain, sorrow, and suffering, and she attributed it all to the hand of God against her. What she was unable to see then was the grace of God in allowing these things to occur as they did.

We, however, do see the grace of God in this, because the events that occurred brought Naomi and Ruth back to Bethlehem, where Ruth later married Boaz. They had a son named Obed. Obed had a son named Jesse. Jesse had a son named David.

There are times when we may be incapable of seeing God’s grace in our pain and sorrow, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Maybe we just don’t see it yet. God eventually always brings His plans and purposes to fruition. Thus, whatever circumstances we may encounter, let’s trust that God’s grace is still at work.

Lord, We confess that we do not always see Your grace in some of the circumstances we face, but we believe that You are still very much at work achieving Your purposes. Thus we walk with You in trust, in faith. Amen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Simple Prayer

“The Lord has heard my plea for help; the Lord accepts my prayer.” (Psalm 6:9)

People sometimes remark, “I’m not sure my prayer got past the ceiling.” Those who say this seem to be trying to objectify prayer, to turn it into some kind of entity that has a life of its own. We might wonder about the thinking that wants to concretize a spiritual event like prayer. This thinking tends to see prayer as a means of getting God to do what we want Him to do. Seeing prayer as a tool like this thus sets up a system of success and failure: successful are those who get God to do what they want, and failures are those who do not.

Is a different view of prayer in order?

Prayer is not me getting God to do what I want. Prayer is simply fellowship and communion with the God who cares and who can take action when it is His will to do so. Thus, prayer is me communing with the God who loves me, like a Father does. And in this communion, I then lay my plea before Him. I this way, I can thus know that God has both heard and accepted my prayer.

God’s subsequent response to our prayers is something we must simply trust to Him. Our requests notwithstanding, God knows best what we need. Prayer is thus a trust relationship with God.

Lord, Help us to keep our prayers before You today simple. Amen.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


“At daybreak, Lord, You hear my voice; at daybreak I plead my case to You and watch expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3)

Daybreak. A precious time of the day that not many see. A time of peaceful calm. Those who do see the daybreak do so either because they want to or because they have to. Some find it to be a wonderful time of fellowship with the Lord. Some have to greet the dawn because they go to work early. Others live with such stress they cannot sleep, so they just rise at or before the daybreak to seek God for some degree of solace.

The latter is what we see in Psalm 5. To stress the importance of the heart burdens he carried, David rose to speak with the Lord about it, to lay out his cause before the Lord and then watch expectantly for the Lord’s response. His expectation was in no way a demand; just an expectation, because he knew the Lord. In the depths of his walk with God, he had come to trust and expect God to act.

The daybreak is a great time to unburden yourself to the Lord, but you don’t have to wait until then. You can bring your heart burdens to God anytime. He never sleeps.

We thank You, Lord, that You are always with us, and that we can come to You with our burdens anytime. We thank You for Your loving-kindness, and we look now to You for Your help and guidance through our day. Amen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hair Strength

“Then she let him fall asleep on her lap and called a man to shave off the seven braids on his head. In this way she made him helpless, and his strength left him… He said, ‘I will escape as I did before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” (Judges 16:19-20)

So, Samson’s strength was in his hair? Really?

Samson had to have known that this Delilah thing was going to end badly. Her previous three attempts at making him weak had to have been patently clear to him. Why he then told her the “secret” of his strength is perplexing. Nevertheless, he did.

Delilah had Samson’s hair cut off as he slept, and his strength left him. At her call, the same as before, the Philistines attacked and bound Samson. When he then tried to escape he did not know that the Lord had left him. But was it because of a haircut?

Samson was to be a “nazirite” from birth. The nazirite vow meant no alcohol, no touching of anything dead, and no cutting of the hair. Never having had a haircut, that meant some serious “dreadlocks” for Samson. He apparently braided his hair into seven braids and piled them on his head. Visualize that one.

Samson – and no doubt many others – assumed that the great strength he possessed came from never having had a haircut, that he strength came from his hair. But the Scripture says that Samson was weak because the Lord left him, and the Lord left him because Samson allowed his hair to be cut. Oh yes, but he did allow it! He knew this had to be coming. There is no other way to explain it.

Samson’s strength did not come from his hair. His hair was only a symbol of the spiritual reality he was supposed to be living. Samson’s strength came purely from the Lord. It was only when the Lord left him that he lost his strength.

Lord, Help us never to be misled into believing that any strength we have as believers comes from any source other than You. You alone are the Source of our strength. Amen.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Opportunity and Decisions

“…and told them, ‘Say this, “His disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping.”’” (Matthew 28:13)

The priests and elders gave this instruction above to the soldiers after they reported what happened at the tomb where Jesus was buried. So, what would the soldiers have reported to them? How about this: 1) there was an earthquake, 2) someone in bright shining clothing as white and bright as lightning came down from the sky and walked over to the tomb, 3) he rolled back the stone by himself and then sat on it, 4) he spoke to the women who had come and told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and 5) we were absolutely terrified.

Unwittingly, these soldiers were among the early announcers of the resurrection. This was yet another opportunity for these religious leaders to believe, but instead they concocted a story about the body of Jesus being stolen by His disciples during the night as the soldiers slept. The soldiers would all have slept through the bright light and the rolling of that heavy stone? Not likely.

The religious leaders heard the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, but they purposely rejected it. Why? Well, pride for one thing, and self-centeredness for another. They liked things as they were, with them in charge. The resurrection represented the un-doing of everything they valued most. They hardened their hearts so much that regardless of the number of opportunities, their decision was intentionally irreversible.

If you or someone you love is best by pride and self-centeredness, then please know that it is to your and their advantage to turn and run away from those places as quickly as possible. Pride and self-centeredness never lead to anything good. They certainly do not lead to faith; rather, they lead away from it.

Lord, Empower us by Your Spirit to run away and stay away from the pride and self-centeredness that can leave holes in hearts. Amen.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What Impresses God?

“He is not impressed by the strength of a horse; He does not value the power of a man. The Lord values those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His faithful love.” (Psalm 147:10-11) “Then they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting the guard.” (Matthew 27:66)

We human beings are easily impressed it seems. We’re impressed by anything that happens to be stronger than we are. The strength and speed of a race horse awes us. Large firecrackers impress us. The “shock and awe” of our American military’s firepower impresses us.

But what if you had all power? Not much would impress you, would it?

When Jesus breathed His last and was buried by Joseph and Nicodemus, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and got him to post a guard at the tomb. They remember the prediction of Jesus that He would be raised from the dead on the third day. They intended to ensure that that could not be claimed by the disciples. So the soldiers with their spears and swords were posted. Impressive. Shallow.

If God ever snickers, He would have had to snicker at that. The angels of heaven and everyone with Him would have had to join Him in a heavenly laugh. Their impressive guard would have been like an ant trying to guard its hole in the ground from an approaching elephant. Not going to happen.

God is impressed by those who have the perception to stand in awe of Him, and who then put their hope in His faithful love.

Lord, Help us not to be so easily impressed with the world’s power. Help us to come before You in awe and worship and experience what real power is all about. And Help us to impress You with our response. Amen.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Faith and Patience

“Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (Matthew 27:56)

Sometimes when we read the story of the crucifixion, we do so with a kind of distant detachment. We may feel some degree of sorrow when we read it, but we are nearly 2,000 years beyond it now. That fact cannot help but produce at least some level of distance and detachment from the event of the cross.

That being true, it is important that when we read the story again, we take some time to reflect, to think about it, to allow the Holy Spirit the opportunity to bring it to life in our minds again, as if it is the first time we’ve heard it. An illustration may help us understand this.

In verse 56, for example, we read, “Mary the mother of James and Joseph.” Let’s journey back to that scene for a moment. Who was this Mary? James and Joseph were two of the half-brothers of Jesus, so it seems this is Mary the mother of Jesus. She is gazing on her Son as this point, from a distance, but there is no detachment here. This is her Son, now hanging limp, bloody, broken, and lifeless on a Roman cross. How could this happen? The angel Gabriel had appeared to her and told her this would be the Son of the Most High God who would save His people from their sins. He was the Messiah. Gabriel had confirmed this also to Joseph, her betrothed. All experiences through the years indicated that what Gabriel said to them would indeed happen, until it seemed like her Son went off the deep end with His 12 disciples. And now – this? Nothing made sense anymore. Hope died, replaced by grief. At least, for three days it did.

Faith may have as much to do with patience as it does with believing.

Lord, Help us to understand that our understanding is limited at best. Help us to place our full trust in You and continue under the Lord as we follow Your lead. Amen.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Information and Speculation

“When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship.” (Judges 7:15)

A scarcity of information invites speculation, and speculation often leads to fear. Fear then has the potential for paralysis, or hesitation at least. In our vernacular we might describe this as “a deer in the headlights.”

Thus it was for Gideon. Review his story. When Gideon gathered an army, he had 32,000 men to go against a Midianite army of 120,000 (some say as many as 200,000). God told Gideon that his 32,000 was too many, that Israel might brag that it was their strength that brought them victory. So God instructed Gideon to tell the army that anyone fearful should go home. Only 10,000 remained, but God said that was still too many. He told Gideon to take the men to the Spring of Harod. Those who lapped water like a dog were to be dismissed, while those who used their hands to scoop water were to be retained. Only 300 remained.

Would going up against an army that covered an entire valley with just 300 soldiers make any sense to you? It didn’t to Gideon either. Thus, the scarcity of information invited speculation that led to fear and the potential for paralysis. So, God told Gideon to go to the edge of the Midianite camp and listen. He did. He heard one man tell of a dream of a barley loaf that came rolling down a hill and destroyed the Midianite tents. Another interpreted the dream: “This is none other than the sword of Gideon, and God has handed the entire Midianite camp over to him.”

That quick glimpse into what God was doing, unknown to Gideon before, brought release from the fear and replaced it with trust and worship. That was when Gideon knew that God would give the victory.

It would be nice to have those “glimpses” into what God is doing. In some ways, it could be helpful. But if you have not noticed, God does not often do that. Maybe the reason He does not is that He wants us to just proceed in faith to the fullest extent possible. Maybe He would prefer that we approach “the scarcity of information that invites speculation” with faith eyes, trusting Him with the outcomes He desires. That may be the higher road He invites us to travel.

Lord, May this day be a day of trusting You on the journey. Amen.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Love Goal

“Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)

Paul wrote to his “true child in the faith” (Timothy) after receiving word of his struggles in Ephesus. He left Timothy in Ephesus to provide guidance, instruction, and correction to those who were teaching divergent doctrines and speculate myths and endless genealogies, all of which, apparently, was part of a power struggle in the church intended to provide a basis for authority for these divergent teachers.

Looking at what Timothy was up against, Paul reminded him that the goal of his instruction to the Ephesians was to produce God’s kind of love in them. In a power struggle, love often gets sent to the corner for a “time out.” It is interesting that Paul would focus on the goal of love, in light of the message against the church at Ephesus from Jesus in Revelation some 30 years later. Jesus said to them, “You have lost the love you had at first.” (Rev. 2:4) The goal is God’s kind of love.

Reaching this goal requires three personal qualities in the one who instructs others about it: 1) a pure heart, 2) a good conscience, and 3) a sincere faith. A pure heart springs from a deeply intimate relationship and communion with our Lord. A good conscience results from a personal decision of the mind to seek and do what is good and right. It is borne of integrity. A sincere faith grows from a genuine desire to know and walk with God in a relationship of trust. That is the fertile soil that lets love put down deep roots so it can grow into genuine strength.

Today, let God’s kind of love be the goal of your influence in the lives of others.

Lord, You have loved us with a limitless love, and we ask that You enable us to communicate that same kind of love to others throughout this day. Amen.