Monday, July 18, 2011

Obstacles and Tasks

“Give your servant success today, and have compassion on him in the presence of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:11b)

These words at the conclusion of Nehemiah’s much longer prayer suggest that something in Nehemiah’s mind, something unstated, constituted success.

Here’s the situation. Nehemiah, a trusted advisor and cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, received a report from the exiles in Judah. They were suffering because the walls of Jerusalem had been broken down. They had no place of safety. Nehemiah responded by weeping, mourning, fasting, and praying for several days before lifting his prayer of confession and supplication to the Lord. At the very end of his prayer, he asked for success in the king’s presence that day. Success in what? Clearly, he had something in mind.

We do not know for certain because it is unstated, but we might safely surmise that God was calling Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem to lead the effort in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. But Nehemiah faced what everyone faces who has been given a mission: obstacles. For Nehemiah, his obstacles included his position in the king’s service, his responsibilities, the lack of authority and freedom to make the decision, and a lack of resources to complete the task. Formidable obstacles all. His only chance for success was for the Lord Himself to intervene and give success.

Anytime God gives us a task or a mission, we will experience obstacles, and only with His help will we find the resolutions and the resources. Thus, our foundational task is to first go to Him, to seek His face, and in that context then seek His hand.

Lord, We trust You to provide us with the resolutions and resources to carry out Your tasks and Your mission, and we, therefore, turn to You. Amen.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Change

“’Today salvation has come to this house,’ Jesus told him, ‘because he too is a son of Abraham.’” (Luke 19:9)

The story is about Zacchaeus, up until then a mean-spirited, conniving traitor, hated by all except other tax collectors. This is the man Jesus called down from his sycamore tree perch, so He could go to his home and eat with him. That encounter with Jesus changed Zacchaeus. He did “a 180” with his life, and Jesus pronounced him “saved” and “a son of Abraham.”

Interesting. Zacchaeus already was “a son of Abraham.” He was a blood descendant of Abraham. Not a very good one, but still a son. So, why did Jesus say, “He too is a son of Abraham”? What constitutes being a son of Abraham. Clearly, in Jesus’ thinking it was not just a matter of genetics.

A son of Abraham is anyone whose heart and whose life direction is changed by an encounter with the Lord and His truth, leading them into faith and a faith-based relationship with the Lord. This “change” is not simply a feel good thing, but is rather an action demonstrated thing. Certainly there is a feel good aspect to this change through the forgiveness of sins, but the real change is in the way we live. As Jesus said earlier to Nicodemus, it’s like being born all over again – total newness of life.

So, God’s expectation is thus that we will live out this change in ways that reflect what has happened in our hearts. For each of us, may this day be one in which the ways we live will demonstrate to others the power of God to change a life.

Lord, Truly may this day reveal to others, as part of our witness to them, the changes You have wrought in our hearts and lives. Amen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Tension of Trust

“I am afflicted and needy; hurry to help me, God. You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay.”

When we come before the Lord in a crisis beyond our control and seek His help and His resolution to the issues we are facing, whether we say it or not our feeling is: Lord, please do not delay! A crisis hurts. We are in a state of disequilibrium. The order of our lives has been torpedoed, and we have this gaping hole where we’re “taking on water.” No delays, we pray! We’re going down, God! Hurry! In our American culture, that feeling is intensified by our demand and expectation of instant gratification. So, we find ourselves in a world of hurt, and we know that only the Lord can resolve our affliction.

What puzzles us is that sometimes even when our sense of urgency feels like we’ve been plugged into an electric socket God seems to delay His response. Removed from the crisis or somehow transported out of it, our minds can reason that God’s timing is always perfect and always according to His purposes, but during a crisis we cannot escape from we want resolution from the affliction. Yet, there is this delay that we cannot understand.

The impact of this is that in a crisis that has spun out of control, until we see a resolution from God, we may just have to live with the tension of trust. That is not a state of comfort. But it is where we sometimes find ourselves. Trust is more than just a noble ideal. For some folks that’s about all it is until they find themselves in the white hot crucible of crisis, and that’s when they learn all the ins and outs of the tension of trust. Trusting God simply produces a tension that we sometimes have to live with, as we wait for God’s resolution.

Lord, We confess to You that trusting You is sometimes one of our greatest tensions in life, but we trust You anyway because we know You are trustworthy, and that You will respond to what we see as our crises as You see best for us. So we trust You, and we commit to living with the tension that goes with that. Amen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thin Prayers

“May God be praised! He has not turned away my prayer or turned His faithful love from me.” (Psalm 66:20)

Some folks feel like their prayers are a little on the thin side and just evaporate into the air like our breath on a winter’s day. They feel nothing comes of them. Maybe it isn’t just “some” folks; maybe it’s more than meets the eye.

Sometimes we pray and pray, and yet it seems that nothing is happening, as if maybe God just isn’t listening. But this verse above stands tall, like an Ebenezer stone before us to remind us that our prayers always register with God.

God always listens intently, and He does so because, like a father who loves his children, He loves us dearly and listens out of a heart of love. And yet, He also knows what is best for us, according to the direction and plan He has for us. We simply have to trust Him and His purposes for us, and keep praying.

Lord, Help us to pray and never give up. Amen.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Some Work to Do

“So Manasseh came to know that Yahweh is God.” (2 Chronicles 33:13b)

King Hezekiah was Manasseh’s father. He was one of the greatest kings of Judah, one whose heart was right with God, and he did a lot of good. He walked with God and provided a godly model for his children, and undoubtedly his children were instructed in the ways of the Lord.

Enter Manasseh. What was said about Hezekiah above could not at all be said of Manasseh. Following the death of his father, Manasseh became king at age 12. He became king just as he was entering “those years” we all know about. And it showed. He undid everything Hezekiah did and took Judah to a new low. It was worse than even when the Canaanites had been there.

Consider: Manasseh rebuilt the high places, rebuilt the altars of Baal, made Asherah poles, worshiped and served the whole heavenly host of “gods,” built altars in both courtyards of the temple, set up idols in God’s temple, practiced witchcraft, divination, sorcery, consulted mediums, and even sacrificed his sons by fire in the Valley of Hinnom.

The result: God brought the king of Assyria against Manasseh, who entered Jerusalem, bound Manasseh, put a hook in his nose, and dragged him off to Babylon where he put him in prison.

Then in verse 12 we read, “When he was in distress, he sought the favor of Yahweh his God and earnestly humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. He prayed to Him, so He heard his petition and granted his request, and brought him back to Jerusalem, to his kingdom.” Then, Manasseh had some work to do. For the rest of his days he sought to clean up the mess he had made, to right all the wrongs he had done, as much as possible.

This rather fearful story is at the same time one of hope, particularly for the parents of children who turn from the Lord and move into destructive directions. It is a reminder to us that sometimes God may take actions that rebuke and may even injure, or put people into situations that are extremely uncomfortable and even painful, with the purpose of bringing about repentance, reconciliation, and restoration. As difficult as it may be to watch, we simply have to trust God to do what is right.

Lord, We recognize that You see far more than we do, and that You have a plan for each of us. Help us to follow Your plan, and in those times when we fail or refuse to, lead us in the way that is everlasting. Amen.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Sorrow of Arrogance

“But when he became strong, he grew arrogant and it led to his own destruction.” (2 Chronicles 26:16)

King Uzziah’s reign in Jerusalem was bittersweet. On one hand he was one of the more effective kings of Judah. He ruled for 52 years beginning at age 16, and in the early half of his reign he did what was right. He sought the Lord, and the Lord gave him success. He defeated the Philistines and brought peace. Judah was marked by prosperity. He enlarged the military and grew powerful.

Uzziah’s strength became his weakness, however, when he allowed his pride to grow into arrogance as he took credit for his own success. His arrogance developed into presumption, which we then see when he entered the Lord’s temple himself to burn incense on the altar before the Lord. Only the priests were allowed to do this, and when they confronted him, he was enraged. God had the final word in the conflict. He inflicted King Uzziah with leprosy. Uzziah then had to live the remainder of his life in quarantine.

In spite of everything, God brought good from this. A young priest by the name of Isaiah was serving in the temple when it became apparent that Uzziah would not live much longer. He wrote of this in part in Isaiah 6, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and lifted up.” Isaiah went on to become a prophet. He wrote the history of Uzziah’s life and probably developed a close personal relationship with him in the process. The humility of Uzziah’s later years no doubt had a profound impact on Isaiah, as did Uzziah’s death when it came.

We learn two truths from Uzziah’s life. First, we see a warning against pride, which can lead to arrogance and presumption. Scripture counsels us to stay away from pride, because it always leads to some sort of fall.

Second, we see an admonition toward humility. Humility happens when we humble ourselves before the Lord, place ourselves in a learning mode, and walk with the Lord in dependence on Him and in the recognition of our dependence on Him. Scripture counsels us to pursue this direction.

Lord, Help us each day to turn away from pride, arrogance, and presumption and instead pursue humility, dependence on You, and walking with You. Amen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Cost of Salt

“Now, salt is good, but if salt should lose its taste, how will it be made salty? It isn’t fit for the soil or the manure pile; they throw it out. Anyone who has ears to hear should listen.” (Luke 14:34-35)

Jesus spoke the words above in the context of discipleship. He began this discussion by talking about the cost of being a disciple. Large crowds were following Him at that point, so He knew it was important that they also understand the cost. Essentially, He told them that to be His disciple, their discipleship would have to be their top life priority, even over their families, their own lives, and even over their possessions. He charged them to count the cost, and in trying to help them understand the importance He used three metaphors: a man building a house, a king going to war, and salt losing its taste.

The first two metaphors dealt with calculating the cost of following Him. The third metaphor was more of a warning about the results of not counting the cost and later deciding to give up on discipleship.

The idea of the third metaphor is that if someone decides to be His disciple (salt) and then quits being His disciple (loses its taste), he would then be worthless ultimately (of no use to the soil or even the manure pile, but just thrown away, wasted).

The meaning is pointedly clear: there is always a cost for following Jesus. We need recognize this up front, and we need to be able to commit to the cost at all costs.

Lord, Strengthen us as we follow You, that our hearts may also be true to You. Amen.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Antioch Encourager

“When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of heart.” (Acts 11:23)

Persecution erupted in Jerusalem following the martyrdom of Stephen. The earlier good will toward Christians following Pentecost evaporated, especially when Christian preaching and faith repeatedly butted heads with the Jewish religious establishment. Stephen’s preaching caused resentments to explode with fury, resulting in his death. Jerusalem became a place of danger for Christians, so with the persecution that ensued Christians scattered. Some went as far as Antioch in Syria. There they witnessed to Jesus first to Jews only but then later to Gentiles as well. An evangelism explosion in Antioch brought many Gentiles to faith in Jesus.

The Jerusalem church got wind of the Antioch phenomenon. This event represented an “out-of-the-box” kind of development. To look into it, they sent Barnabas. Good choice. Son of Encouragement. After he arrived and saw what was happening, he was ecstatic. Marvelous, this grace of God was. He encouraged these believers to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart.

A firm resolve of the heart: that is the key to faithfulness. Resolve is what a pilot has when he throttles up his engines for take-off. Firm resolve is what he has when he passes an imaginary line beyond when there is no turning back.

The heart is one way to describe the human will, and actually it can be translated at times as “will.” The will to remain true at all costs is thus how we define our calling to a life of faithfulness, a life of heart-resolve. Be encouraged this day to follow the Lord with a firm resolve of heart.

Lord, We humble ourselves before You, and we resolve in the depths of our hearts that we will follow You as You lead. Amen.