The Greatness of God

Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth ~Deuteronomy 4:10

Fear is a strange and powerful emotion. Because fear, as I consider it, is so intense, it is impossible to maintain. Perhaps I equate it too closely with terror. Real biblical fear is more like recognizing God's unmatched and unimaginable superiority. Biblical fear of God, as we see in the opening verse, is also something we learn which comforts me because I don't think I fear God enough. When our culture thinks of God, it focuses on His love and on His forgiveness which are true and beautiful attributes, but to focus on them alone leaves only a partial picture. God is raw, unmatched, holy power.

A lesser example so that we can try to wrap our puny brains around the concept is that of our sun. Our sun seems benevolent – it gives us light and color, warmth, and even life. Without its glow we would be plunged into cold blackness in just a few minutes. Conversely, anything that strays too close to it is mercilessly pulled into an inferno. Its heat is so intense that the numerical number assigned to it is meaningless in our everyday experience – it is simply beyond our comprehension yet we know that our sun, as compared to other stars is rather small, cool, and ordinary. We stretch ourselves to simply begin to understand our small, cool burning sun that God simply spoke spoke into existence along with the entire cosmos.

God's knowledge and power are just as impressive if you turn your mind from the grandiose to the miniscule. Jesus tells us that “the very hairs on your head are numbered” (Matthew 10:30) and not one sparrow “will fall to the ground apart from the Father” (Matthew 10:29), God knows every nucleic acid in your genetic code and every stray thought that you try to leave incomplete because it reveals a hard and ugly heart. God knows all of this and we can no more grasp His greatness in the minutiae of detail than in the vastness of the universe.

God deals with things smaller than we can imagine, manages with ease things greater than we can imagine and we find ourselves, each individual me, an insignificant blip on a scale that, from our view, has infinity stretching out on either side. Yet we are somehow vastly important to this unimaginable God who is so powerful and so holy. Even in the infinite vastness of His creation we are unable to fade into insignificance because He loves us in spite of who and what we are. He therefore demands nothing less of us than everything. It is here that I begin to learn how love and fear are merged in the worship of almighty God.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. ~Psalm 103:11

Fellowship and Community

For where two or three have gathered together in My Name, I am there in their midst. ~Matthew 18:20

There is much said in the pages of scripture about the fellowship and community of believers. These are concepts and constructs that are not simply helpful to us as individuals as we continue on our own journeys toward the ultimate fellowship with God in Christ, but rather these are absolutely foundational and fundamental to that journey. God has called to Himself a people, a bride in the church universal (Revelation 21:9). We as individuals are part of that bride just as our heart or lungs are part of each of us (1 Corinthians 10:17), and just as a heart or lungs cannot survive outside of the body, neither can we survive spiritually outside of the body of Christ.  

This is a very difficult concept for me personally as even the very idea of participating in social situations makes me uncomfortable. I would much rather stay cooped up inside my house, with the doors shut, safely away and protected from any potentially awkward and painful social interaction. Yet it is not my personal comfort that God calls me to pursue. We are each called to pursue Him, and a foundational part of pursuing Him means actively engaging and participating in the fellowship and community of believers.

Whereas I struggle not to fall into the pit isolation, there is an equally dangerous ditch on the other side of the road that requires caution as well. There are many who thrive on social interaction, and indeed require it to maintain their sanity, but simple social interaction and even friendship is not enough. We must be careful to remember that it is not casual or idle friendship that we are called to, but focused, purposeful, and deeply meaningful relationship built on love. The heart is not placed inside the chest to simply enjoy the company of the lungs, but rather to both provide the lungs with nourishment and to work in harmony with the lungs to nourish the rest of the body.   

While BBQs, play dates, and even men's and women's retreats are good things that build relationships, they, by themselves, are not sufficient. True fellowship requires a level of accountability (Titus 2:15). Accountability can only be granted where there is trust. Trust only comes through practiced and continuous relationship through all life's seasons and storms. It is important to remember that it is not the simple act of fellowship that we are called to engage in as if it were something we could just do to check off our list. We are commanded to love one another even as Christ loved us (John 13:34) and we are told that whatever we do, no matter how great an act it might be, if it is done without love then it is without worth (1 Corinthians13:1-3).     

Take a moment to evaluate your interactions with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Are you engaged with your community or are you disconnected? Are you loving and nourishing others or are you simply feeding yourself? Where is God calling you to focus your attention today? How and who is He calling you to love?

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. ~Acts 2:42

Without Complaining

How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me? ~ Numbers 14:27

The Israelites who were part of the exodus from Egypt murmured, grumbled, and complained – a lot.  They were leaving behind a life of bitter slavery and forced hard labor, yet during their journey many of them looked back on Egypt as better than their current circumstance. These Israelites had witnessed incredible miracles: those that allowed them to leave Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, a pillar of fire to lead them by night and a pillar of smoke by day, food miraculously appeared for them each night, and yet their hearts were not grateful. All of the signs of the presence of God did not quiet their grumbling. The Israelites were the chosen people of God not because of their strength or numbers (Deuteronomy 7:7) or because of their temperament (Deuteronomy 31:27) but because God had made a promise to their ancestor Abraham and God always keeps his promises.

Do you have kids or know kids?  Kids often make statements like "I'm thirsty" which is different, in my opinion, from the question "May I have a drink of water?" which is again different from the request "Would you please get me some water?".  The thirsty kids know what they need.  It is just harder to ask directly than to imply.  The Israelites did this also, they complained extensively about their circumstances.  At one point they were so angry at their situation that Moses said to God "These people are ready to stone me"  (Exodus 17:4). Yet nobody ever asked for what they were lacking.

As a parent I don't mind if my kids ask me for things, especially if it is something they need.  I get a little frustrated if they complain a lot about being thirsty without taking care of it themselves or asking me to help.  The Israelites took this even a step farther and complained against God.  Rather than feeling and showing gratitude for their rescue from slavery, they remembered their slavery as good times of plenty.  Rather than holding on to the hope of God's promises, they allowed themselves to become mired in the trials of their daily life.  No wonder God was angry.

I've used kids and the Israelites to illustrate the point that complaining is not an effective way to get what you want, but I'm as guilty as anyone.  Complaining comes so naturally.  There are any number of situations that are not ideal and when we dwell on what is lacking instead of what is given or what is promised, complaining is sure to follow, even if its not voiced.

When we are not deeply troubled by adversity there is no need to practice stoicism.  Our treasure is not in this world and our joy and hope for our future cannot be shaken by anything that is in this world.  Our treasure is safer than Fort Knox.  In light of this great gift, it is no wonder that God does not like us to complain.  When we trust God and our peace is sincere we shine like a lighthouse in the midst of a storm.

Do all things without complaining or disputing that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.  ~Philippians 2:14-15

Raising the Bar

O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago. ~Isaiah 25:1

One hundred years ago, during the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm Sweden, Alma Richards of the United States took home the Gold medal in the men's high jump by clearing a bar of 6 feet 4 inches. Today, the world record, set in 1993 by Javier Sotomayor of Cuba, is 8 feet 4.5 inches. In the eighty one years between 1912 and 1993 the world record for the men's high jump was broken forty seven times. Each time the record was broken, it was by a very small amount as each generation of athlete would realize what heights were possible and then would try to exceed themselves by pushing the record just a little farther.

The men competing in the 1912 Olympics were no less athletic and were no less talented than those that competed in later generations. As they pushed themselves to move the bar higher inch by inch, as they continued to refine their technique, and as they rejoiced each time that they reached their goal, they simply did not know what they were truly capable of achieving. Had you told one of those athletes in 1912 that, within a few decades, men would be jumping a full two feet higher than them, you would have probably been met with scoffing and disbelief. They would have claimed it to be impossible and would have doubted your grasp of reality.

We are called to worship and praise a God that has set some pretty high standards for us too – standards which to many people seem impossible. We are told that to hate someone is to be guilty of murder and to even look at a woman with lust is to commit adultery. Like the athletes in 1912 who didn't know what they were capable of, our society tells us that the bar of God's teaching is way too high and that to control ourselves to that extent is simply not possible.

As an atheist, one of the objections I had to Christianity was the idea of a god that demanded worship. Any god that is so conceited and insecure as to require my worship, I said, is not a god I am interested knowing. What I didn't understand at the time is why God requires our worship. It is not for His sake, but for ours. We worship God because He is the only thing that is worthy of our worship and as we take our eyes off of the things of this world (and the lowly standards they represent) and cast our gaze upon Him we begin to understand what we are really capable of and we begin to strive for a higher standard – a standard that we were created to achieve and to maintain.

Like the Olympic athletes of the past century, we cannot expect to reach our ultimate goals immediately but must instead make small and steady progress toward a goal, the ultimate 'height' of which is unknown to us. Each day we must press a little farther and take the next step forward, constantly keeping our gaze on the one who gives us strength and encourages us to press on.

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching for those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 3:13-14

Love Changes Us

They became an abomination like the thing they loved. ~Hosea 9:10

Wow! Wow, did God ask a difficult thing of Hosea. Hosea was the only known writing prophet from the northern kingdom of Israel. He was called not only to speak the prophesies of God, but to model the message of His prophesies by intentionally marrying an unfaithful woman and repeatedly forgiving her and taking her back into his home and into his heart. This was to demonstrate God's love and desire to forgive a nation that had repeatedly turned away from Him to worship false gods whose rituals involved abominable practices. These idols that the people of Israel had come to love had changed the culture and the people themselves. The Israelites had changed from God's chosen, favored people into what God Himself declared to be an abomination.

Love feels like an emotion that only flows outward, but what you love changes who you are. The easiest example of this for me involves sports because I used to love the Kansas City Chiefs. My love for this football team first required that I forgive them for sporting the same colors and mascot theme as my high school's nemesis, the Wasilla Warriors. Next it determined what I filled my Sundays with because anything that happened in the NFL was potentially relevant. I had a KC sweatshirt, and baseball cap. I still have the cups and popcorn bowl, so it influenced what I wore and owned. I also had my head filled with sports trivia: records, rosters, schedules, coaches, positions etc. and I loved to talk football. I could knowledgeably talk about any team in the league-any NFL fan can! Now the point is not to claim that enjoying sports is wrong, but to acknowledge that what you love does affect what you do, what you think about, what you wear and what you own. It affects the gifts you receive, the knowledge you accumulate, and conversations you enjoy. MOST people are not made abominable in the sight of God by loving sports! If we love something more than God, however, it becomes an idol and a stumbling block.

What happens then when our idols are abominable? The Israelites were engaging in temple prostitution, orgies, self-laceration, and child sacrifice. What if our participation requires activities that are intolerable to God? When I was just starting college at UAF, three of us shared a car ride to Fairbanks for the weekend. Two of us were going to get some things set up for school, but a young man-whom I remember nothing else about- was going to spend the weekend with a witch he had met online. Even as an atheist I knew enough to be afraid for him. At the end of the weekend, we picked him up and he was physically unharmed, but he was wide-eyed and awed. He obviously believed that he had experienced something powerful and mystical, but he refused to tell us anything that had happened. Please pray for him and kids like him, it was over 20 years ago and I don't know what happened to him, I don't even know his name, but I do know that something dark touched his life that weekend.

Whether we focus our affections on things that seem to us to be innocuous like sports or dangerous like witchcraft, we are affected in a fundamental way. Love changes us, both for good and for ill. When we seek God, when we love Him more than anything else, we are improved. Here, the object of our devotion works a change in us that makes us more like Jesus. When we reflect on that which is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8) we are changed in who we are and in how we relate to the world.

For our own good God gave us His law. Jesus Himself, when asked, identified the first and greatest commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Absolute Truth

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. ~Romans 7:1

We have a tendency and a desire to rely on our earthly abilities and our personal nature to make sense of the world around us. We are told by the world that we must follow our hearts at all times and to do what is good. Here Paul tells us in the book of Romans that we are incapable of carrying out good and Jeremiah tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). More than that, Isaiah tells us that our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). If these things are true then how are we to live and how can we possibly approach a holy God?

First, can it be true that our hearts really are deceitful, that we are incapable of doing good, and that the good things we do are nothing more than filthy rags? These ideas go against everything that secular culture preaches to us every day. The secular world says that we are all inherently good and it is only bad circumstances beyond our control that force us to behave badly. If that is true, then where do all of the bad circumstances come from I wonder? The truth is that if you search yourself honestly, you will find that you rarely succeed in living up to your own standards, let alone those of a holy and perfect God.

Secular society gets around this question simply by stating that there is no such thing as absolute truth and therefore no higher immovable morality to hold as our standard. The concepts and definitions of morality and of what is good are simply whatever we, as individuals or as a culture, define them as at any given point in time. We, as the masters of our own morality, are perfectly free to modify the definition of what is right and what is wrong based solely on what our hearts tell us at the time or what is currently popular in our culture.

If the inherent difficulties in this point of view are not readily apparent, then take a look again at the foundational principle upon which the world view is based: There is no such thing as absolute truth. Put another way, it is an absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths. While this may sound very deep in a 60’s drug-induced counter-culture sort of way, it is a self-defeating statement which means that if the statement is true then it must be false. A world view based on a self-defeating proposition is like a house built upon the sand. It may feel great to live on the beach, but as soon as a storm hits, the house will crumble around you.

The absolute truth is that we are living in open rebellion against a holy God and there is absolutely nothing within us that is capable of bridging the gap that stretches between us and Him. Only God can defeat our selfish and sinful nature in order to close that gap and bring us into close and personal fellowship with Him. Only through the work and person of Jesus Christ, who paid the ultimate cost for us, can this happen (John 14:6).

There are those that hear this message and despair thinking that if there is nothing within them that is good, then they cannot be saved. Exactly the opposite is true. We have the ultimate cause for rejoicing because God has given every single person, regardless of what they have ever done, the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. The only thing we must do is receive it and receive Him.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. ~Romans 10:9

Meant For Good

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.  ~Genesis 50:20

These words were spoken by Joseph to his brothers who first intended to kill him, but when the opportunity came, instead sold him into slavery. Joseph's father had unabashedly loved Joseph more than his 11 other sons and Joseph added fuel to their anger by tattling on his brothers (Genesis 37:2) and then telling them of dreams he'd been having in which his brothers bowed at his feet (Genesis 37:5-11). Strangely it is the dreams that really upset the brothers rather than the things that actually affected the quality of their lives. Their jealousy and anger reached such proportions that they acted upon the evil they felt and sold Joseph to passing merchants who just happened to be on their way to Egypt.
It is such a strange twist of fate when the very actions we take to avoid a situation cause it to happen. By selling Joseph into slavery, his brothers were actually setting in motion the events that would lead to the fulfillment of Joseph's dreams. These situations are easy for great and mighty God to arrange. It is an amazing comfort to know that God's abilities are without limit and that we are His children.  "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11)

This was true for Joseph and even though Jeremiah had not yet written these words, Joseph understood them instinctively and he never doubted. Even falsely accused and imprisoned, Joseph never stopped praising God.

Often while we are enduring our own trials, it is hard to hold on to our confidence that God works all things for our good. We hurt, we worry, and we doubt. Occasionally things that happen feel like a punishment.  We are not capable of seeing the whole picture and the simple task of not doubting is sometimes as much as we can manage. Leave the details that are not assigned to you and the outcome up to God. It is His anyway and who else could you possibly trust to use it for the greatest good? 
C.S. Lewis put it well when he said:
"Satan is without doubt nothing else than a hammer in the hand of a benevolent and severe God.  For all, either willingly or unwillingly, do the will of God: Judas and Satan as tools or instruments, John and Peter as sons.” (The Collected letters of C.S. Lewis, vol. 2.  Letter to Don Giovanni Calabria, 9-20-1947). 
I think of this idea often when I struggle with obeying God and must continually resolve to be a willing servant of a God that I look to and that I trust with my future – mine and everyone else's as well.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. ~Romans 8:28

Be Not Discouraged!

The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. ~Deuteronomy 31:8

Moses was 120 years old when, after spending forty years wandering in the wilderness as a punishment for their not trusting in God, the nation of Israel was about to enter  Canaan, the land promised to Abraham and to his descendants by God. Moses was not going to be leading the people into the new land, but was instead instructing them to follow Joshua. These people of Israel had never known a leader besides Moses. It was now their call and duty to follow a new leader into a dangerous and unknown land trusting only in God and to step out across the Jordan river in faith. They were afraid, but Moses reminded them that though their road ahead was difficult and may at times seem impossible, God Himself was going before them and was with them.

This was actually the second time the nation of Israel had stood next to the Jordan river about to enter the land promised to them by God. The reason that the Israelites had wandered in the desert for forty years was because the first time that they were given the opportunity to enter the promised land they refused to trust God and instead shrunk back in fear.

There are two commands that we are given in this passage. The first is to not be afraid and the second is to not be discouraged. As we walk our Christian path to the land promised to us by God there will come both challenges that frighten us as well as long periods where we fall into discouragement and doubt. There will be times that we will be called to stand up, strap on our armor, and in trust and faith, do what seems impossible, and there will be times we will be led through a long and hot desert where we are tired, fail to see the point, and just want to quit.

These commands to not fear in the face of impossible circumstances and to not be discouraged when we feel beaten and can't see the path ahead do not stand on their own. We aren't called to show courage and faithfulness through our own finite and pitiful power. These commands are prefaced with the most blessed promise and truth. The LORD Himself goes before and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Are you feeling fearful of something that God has called you to do or feeling discouraged and tired? Remember that God Himself is always with you. It is He that gives you strength if you will simply call on His name. While we are here on this earth we are and will be called to face difficulties, but the long road that we travel leads us to the promised land of God. Be of good cheer. Your God is with you.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. ~Hebrews 10:35-36 

That You May Live

Seek good and not evil, that you may live. ~Amos 5:14

The prophet Amos was a sheepherder from the land of Judah. When God called him, he went to the kingdom of Israel and prophesied repentance and warned of impending destruction during a rare time of peace and prosperity. After generations of war, death, and vassalage to foreign kings, Israel had finally regained its territory as had been prophesied by Jonah (2 Kings 14:25).  In the past, God had called to His people in Israel during times of great trials and now during a time of rest and abundance, God sought the people of Israel through the prophets Amos and Hosea. Through Amos, God declared His displeasure at the complacency of the culture which led to oppression of the poor, extravagant self indulgence of the rich, and hypocrisy of the nation in following the commandments of God. After relentless hardships, the people felt they had won this time of ease for themselves and they were not open to a reminder of God's sovereignty especially if it meant sacrificing their hard-won lavish lifestyle. The condemnation of God through the words of Amos did not feel like a call to greater good and their lives lives, finally without famine, plague, or war certainly must not have felt like an evil.

When we live for ourselves we often do receive a material reward and it does feel pretty good. I've generally not been burdened with a constant need for more and on the occasions when I've I had plenty I've felt satisfied, comfortable, and complacent. Without God in my life, I also felt that not doing evil was the same as doing good.  Without the Holy Spirit, I had no way of telling real good from evil except by secular social norms and cultural standards.

The quality of our lives notwithstanding, we all face the question of what happens when we die. The current view of atheism is that you cease to exist. The belief is that the spirit, which is more than the sum of your biology, is still constrained by biology.  As an atheist, I felt that a belief in a life after death was for cowards who are afraid to face absolute mortality. In this context “seek good and not evil that you may live” can only mean that your life won't be cut short and in that context is extremely desirable.

How rich is it to face a life in which death is only a minor interruption. As John Donne put it: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and Death shall be no more: Death, thou shalt die”

The key is straightforward - all we have to do to have this life is to “seek good and not evil” - it is so simple! Yet without the Holy Spirit we are incapable of making that distinction. Without a personal relationship with Jesus, completed in faith, we do not receive the Holy Spirit. It is still simple but suddenly full of the absolute necessity for Jesus Christ. Our salvation – our life – is through Him and the Bible is full of this simple message, even in a short statement made to a faithless nation 750 years before Jesus was born.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. ~Acts 4:12

Our Life, His Purpose

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations. ~Jeremiah 1:5

This is, at the same time, one of the most comforting and one of the most convicting verses of Scripture. It is comforting because, as the cares of the world pile up around us and as stress builds in our lives, it helps to remind us that even before we were born, God knew us and had a plan for our lives. Nothing that is going on in your life right now – none of the pain, none of the disappointment, none of the difficulty – is a surprise to God. Whether you are basking in the bright and warm sunshine on the mountaintop or trudging through the dark difficulties down in the valley, God is neither shocked nor dismayed. He is there with you using your situation, whatever it is, to advance His kingdom and bring you ever closer to Him.

This verse is convicting because it reminds us that, not only did God know us before He made us, but He also had a designated purpose for us and had planned for us the part He would have us play in advancing His kingdom. Being aware of this begs the question of whether or not we are actively seeking to fulfill God's plan or instead working toward our own purposes.

Francis Schaeffer points out in his book How Should We Then Live? that in western culture, over the past century or so, strong biblical values have been replaced with two supreme secular values: “personal peace” and “material prosperity”. These two values have taken over even in the church. Our two primary concerns when approaching any life decision tend to be the questions of: "Will this impact my feeling of personal security for me and my family?" and; "Does it allow me to increase, or at least maintain, my material holdings?"

The problem is two-fold: first, I don't find any instruction in the Bible to hold either of these as driving values in my life (in fact, I find exactly the opposite); and second, when I examine my life and when I look at the lives of those around me, I find that these two values do indeed tend to drive the majority of our decisions and radically affect the way we surrender (or resist surrendering) ourselves to God and to His purposes.

God did not call us out of the darkness and into His light in order that we might make a comfortable and safe home for ourselves here in this fallen world. Rather, he purposed for us to be a light in the darkness and to represent His kingdom as ambassadors so that His kingdom would be advanced and that His will would be done. How are you letting the concerns of your own personal peace and prosperity distract you from what God would have you focus on? Where in your life are you holding too tightly to the things of this world? God has had a plan and a purpose for your life since before you were born.  Where is your focus?

They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you, Declares the LORD ~Jeremiah 1:19

What is God's

Hazael king of Syria...set his face to go up to Jerusalem. And Jehoash king of Judah took all the sacred things that his fathers...had dedicated...and his own sacred things, and all the gold found in the treasuries of the house of the LORD and in the king's house, and sent them to Hazael king of Syria.

Hazael and the Syrian empire, situated to the north of Israel, were strong and brutal. The prophet Elisha wept when he first met Hazael, who at the time was only a servant, because he saw in advance all the atrocities that Hazael would commit against the Israelite people (2 Kings 8:11-12). Extremely warlike, Hazael repeatedly attacked the kingdom of Israel eventually taking the land God had given as an inheritance to the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and part of Manasseh east of the Jordan River (2 Kings 10:32-33). This put Hazael and his army within striking distance of the southern kingdom of Judah and its capital city Jerusalem which contained the Temple of the LORD and the palace of the king. King Jehoash had every reason to fear, except one: God had already proven His faithfulness and rescued His people from superior military forces many times. All Israel had to do was to cry out to Him and to trust Him. King Jehoash, however, instead of trusting God, took what was God's from the temple and paid it as tribute. Sacred items that were to be dedicated to the worship of God were instead defiled and used as a ransom.

How cheaply do we hold what belongs to God in our lives? Recently we had a garage sale and I encountered one of the “garage sale personalities”, the person who insults you and your merchandise as a tactic hoping to get a better deal. After selecting several (dirty!!) items, her total due was $2.25. I rounded the price down to $2 and she nodded and gave me an aggressive “Unh-huh!” She paid me with a $20 bill, took her purchases in triumph and left. All I could feel was sadness. She had sold her kindness, a fruit of the Spirit, for 25 cents and thought she had won a victory.

As we examine our lives, we must consider what has value in God's sight and look at what we hold as important with an eternal focus. The fruit of the Spirit belongs to God. It is a gift from Him to be used for His purposes. By the presence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives we will be judged. We will be examined, evaluated, and sentenced by one who knows our every thought. Recognize and hold on to what is valuable.

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good ~1 Thessalonians 5:21

The Potter's Hands

But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. ~Jeremiah 18:4

We are all broken and in desperate need of repair. The process that God uses to make us new is not to simply correct our specific problems or do a minor touch up job on the surface of our lives. God is satisfied with nothing less than complete renewal of our beings. God says “Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so you are in My hand...” (Jeremiah 18:6). This process of renewal requires that our old selves be put to death and that we be raised and remade in newness in Christ. This is difficult and often painful.

Another analogy is that of an armorer making a sword. He starts with raw metal that is unformed and riddled with impurities. He must first, with fire, smelt the metal to remove impurities. He then begins to shape the metal and fold it over and over again making it stronger.  The process is violent involving extreme heat, fierce molding, then shocking cold. It is continued until, after much labor, he has finally formed the sword into the shape that he desires. The process, however, does not end here. The maker must now take meticulous care to put a fine edge on the sword and polish it to a perfect shine. None of this happens quickly. It may take years for a dedicated master sword-maker to complete a single masterpiece.

So too are we like clay in the potter's hands or like raw metal being fashioned into a perfectly tuned instrument for God's purposes. The process of molding us into the shape that He desires is often difficult and painful, but you are never closer to your maker than you are when being shaped by His hands.

Are you going through a difficult and painful trial? Remember that, though we do not always understand His will or see His purposes in this life, God is ever present and is using every situation that we find ourselves in to mold us into the people that He has chosen to spend all eternity with. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. ~1 Peter 4:12-13 

The Beginning of Knowledge

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. ~Proverbs 1:7

This passage does not call us to be terrified of God as some despot ruler. Rather it instructs us to have a healthy fear and respect for God both as a good and strong father who will discipline His children in order to teach them wisdom and also as a supreme judge who knows our hearts and our actions and will hold us accountable for them.

As we hold God up as our ultimate standard and fearfully seek His wisdom and understanding, He responds by granting them to us in abundance. As we move away from God and seek our own counsel, not only do we individually create within ourselves an empty longing for something that cannot be filled by the things of this world, but we also corporately begin to lose the wisdom that God gives generously to those who seek and fear Him. What we call 'common sense' is actually the beginning of knowledge granted to us by God. The more a society moves away from God, the less common 'common sense' becomes.

As I look around at the modern American culture I am struck by dramatic changes that have occurred in the past several decades. The one foundational and fundamental change that has been most evident and most damaging in our society is the cultural shift from seeking wisdom in the immovable foundation of the rock of Scripture to seeking wisdom from the ever-shifting sands of our own counsel.

It is true that every generation has its crisis and that the path we walk has dangers on both sides. We also do not want to slide off the road on the other side into the ditch of strict legalism. Our journey is ultimately not about following rules but it is about seeking God and allowing Him to direct our paths.
Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life;
Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.
Make level paths for your feet and take only the ways that are firm.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left; keep your feet from evil.
                                                                        ~Proverbs 4:23-27

I didn't grow up in a church environment, yet still, this is the type of instruction I remember as a child being common in our society. It is this solid Biblical instruction and thinking that is rapidly being removed from our society and replaced with the secular ideals of material wealth and personal security above all things. Yet even though our culture is quickly and purposefully moving away from God and rejecting His counsel there is some part of each of us that longs and yearns for the fruits of that proper relationship.

Just before coming to know Christ, I had a conversation with a friend where I described the type of man, husband, and father I wanted to be. I said that I longed to be like the character Charles Ingalls, played my Michael Landon, on Little House on the Prairie. To me, his character embodied everything a good man should strive to be. My friend's response to me changed my world, opened my eyes, and started me down my own path with Christ. It was this: “That's interesting, because the words I would use to describe Charles Ingalls would be 'God fearing'”.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will direct your paths. ~Proverbs 3:5-6

Chess Anyone?

And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and shall stand forever. ~Daniel 2:44

Most of us have heard the illustration of the battle between heaven and hell, between God and Satan, described as a chess match with God playing the white and Satan playing the black - two masters locked in infinitely intricate strategy with the fate of the world and of eternity itself hanging in the balance. I like to view it as not a single game, but as a long series of games that they play with God winning a few and Satan winning a few. At least this, I believe, is pretty close to how Satan sees the conflict. He congratulates himself after every brilliant move and imagines God on the other side of the board sweating out every game as the battle of wits rages on.

The reality of the situation, however, is quite different. The chess match is not one of two equals, but one between the true master and the upstart headstrong and cocky student. It is true that the master wins some of the games and the student wins others. Every time that the student wins a game, he celebrates wildly, gloats, and taunts his master with slurs and curses. When he loses, he pouts, becomes angry, and throws temper tantrums. All the while, the master sits calmly with a slight serene and knowing smile.

After each game, win or lose, the master places the completed board behind Him, lining it up will all of the other finished games, and begins a new game. While it seems to the student that he is winning most of the games, and he is very excited about this, there is a problem. He is focused only on the number of wins versus the number of loses. The master, however, has a bigger goal in mind. He is not actually playing chess at all, but instead is creating his perfect and eternal masterpiece.

If you can imagine yourself rising above the game and looking down on the finished game boards that God has placed behind Him you would begin to see a breathtakingly beautiful picture taking shape out of the used pieces. You would begin to see that God was using every game to complete His perfect work and that He was not focusing on playing chess with Satan at all, but was instead working out His perfect plan for eternity in intricate detail. Win or lose the games, every single piece ends up exactly where God intended it to be before the game even began.

Just like in chess, there is a certain point when a player gets trapped and checkmate becomes inevitable, so too is the series nearing its completion. Jesus dealt the fatal blow with His victory on the cross. While there are still moves to be played out, the result is certain. The picture is nearly complete. The victory is won.

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. ~Matthew 28:18-20

He is Still God!

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ~Colossians 1:16-17

When you think of Jesus, what picture do you form in your head? There are many aspects of Jesus that we tend to focus on: the loving and kind friend; the savior that willingly gave His life for us; the redeemer who defeated death; the judge who will separate the sheep from the goats. All of these are true and they are good to meditate on and to understand, but there is another, sometimes overlooked aspect of our Savior and King. He is also the Creator and Sustainer of all creation.

Everything that we take for granted everyday: the mountains, the stars, the oceans, the trees, us; it all exists precisely because Jesus both originally created it and because He now actively holds it together. As we think of the vastness and complexity of the universe, it is impossible to truly grasp the enormity of that statement and we often forget or misunderstand the enormity of Jesus.

God entered His creation and became man to allow us to be in close personal relationship with Him, but He is still God. God chose to overcome the results of our sin by taking sin's punishment on Himself and allowing Himself to be beaten, tortured, and killed for our sakes, but He is still God. God calls us gently and allows us to choose the things of this world over Him, but He is still God. God allows trials and difficulty into our lives to strengthen us and though we may not feel it, He is still God.

Jesus created all things and holds all things together through the force of His will; the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and points us ever so persistently to Jesus; our Father rules over all creation and forgives us through what Jesus has accomplished. Through it all He is still God! Take some dedicated time today to contemplate Him and then, with a grateful and humble heart, worship His holy name!

For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. ~Colossians 1:19-20

On That Day

On that day the LORD will punish the host of heaven in heaven, and on the earth the kings of the earth, They will be gathered together like prisoners in a pit: they will be shut up in a prison, and after many days they will be punished. ~Isaiah 24:21-22

The word of God is, at the same time, unendingly complex and elegantly simple (for more on that see our post Elegantly and Beautifully Simple). There are some questions that will only be fully answered when we meet Jesus face to face and some truths that are undeniably crystal clear. Christ's coming to judge and to rule fits nicely into both of these categories.

A person could study the theology, doctrine, and even wild imaginings of the end times for an entire lifetime and still not have an accurate and clear understanding of what exactly will happen before it actually does. In fact, you should be wary of any teacher that claims to know for certain exactly how the events of the end times will play out. While this is an important area of study that informs our understanding of God and of His ultimate plan, it is a subject that demands humility on the part of the student and, on this topic, there is but one teacher and that is Jesus Himself.

Isaiah, who told us clearly about Jesus' first coming as savior over 700 years before it occurred, also tells us about our Lord's second coming and of eternity (Isaiah 49:1-57:21). In Matthew 24-25, Jesus Himself teaches us about His return and of the final judgment. If the topic of how the end times will occur is unendingly complex within scripture, the fact that it will occur is elegantly simple and clear beyond any doubt.

Regardless of when and where you might think the battle of Armageddon will occur, who you imagine the antichrist will be (or is), or when you estimate that the rapture will happen - the fact remains that our time here on this earth is short. Whether we are here when the Lord returns or whether he calls us home first, the fact remains that every person will one day stand before the Lord and will answer for every careless word they ever spoke (Matthew 12:36). We tend to overlook this fact as we go about our daily routines distracted by life's many pleasures and trials.

Take some time today to prayerfully reflect on your life and on that moment when you will stand before God. Take some time also to imagine a person that you know who doesn't have a personal relationship with Jesus and what that moment will be like for them.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! ~Revelation 22:20

In Quiet Confidence

In returning and rest you will be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not. ~Isaiah 30:15

My wife tells a story of being in high school and having a motivational poster with a resting lion on it that said “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength”. She was not a believer at the time and, like most of our culture today, she misunderstood the meaning of that verse. I never saw the poster myself, but it is easy to imagine and may have looked something like the picture here. A big lion laying down in quiet rest does look rather confident. The message and impression that this poster gave to my wife, and would likely give to most people today, is that we are to be quietly self-confident like a lion that knows that he has the power to overcome any threat.

Now, as a believer, my wife uses this story to illustrate that the verse does not mean that we are to be quietly self-confident. It means, in fact, exactly the opposite. The NIV translates this verse as “ quietness and trust...” and the Amplified version says “ quietness and in [trusting] confidence...”  It is not in ourselves and in our own abilities that we trust and have confidence, but in God and in His faithfulness. We have no power of our own by which we may be saved but only by returning to God and resting in Him do we find salvation. Trusting in that knowledge, we find the strength to be quietly confident through all of life's challenges because God is with us.

The poster of the lion is not entirely misleading however. It is just that most of us have the tendency to incorrectly place ourselves at the center of the story. The lion does not represent us. In the Chronicles of Narnia, an allegory of the gospel, C.S. Lewis depicts Jesus as Aslan: the lion and king of Narnia. Scripture calls Jesus the lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5; Hosea 5:14). In the poster, the lion does not represent us, it represents Jesus. We can rest in quiet confidence through all of life's trials because we are watched over by the Lion of Judah, our mighty King.

The verse ends with “and ye would not”. This is where most of us are. In the secular world we are taught that it is our own strength that we need to rely on and if that fails to look to the secular institutions of man. As Christians we want to trust in God. We claim to trust in God, but most of the time, as we look around us and see the challenges of this world, we really prefer to take the reins of our lives into our own hands.

In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23) Jesus tells a story of a man who spreads good seed and how some of it is choked by weeds. He explains that there will be a tendency for us to allow the worries of the world and the want for wealth to overcome our trust in God and to choke out the fruit of our faith. God designed us to rely fully on Him. When we go our own way, when we allow ourselves to be distracted by worldly concerns and pleasures, when we place our faith in our own meager abilities then we are allowing the thorns of this world to separate us from God.

Are you placing all of your trust and confidence in yourself and in your own abilities, or are you resting and trusting in Jesus, our mighty King?

Indeed, we felt within ourselves that we had received the [very] sentence of death, but that was to keep us from trusting in and depending on ourselves instead of on God Who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:9)

Up the Mountain

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart ~Galatians 6:9

As God calls us out of our comfort zone and into His service we will have many occasions and opportunities to pull back from His instruction and fall into the areas where we feel most secure. We desire comfort and security, but it is in discomfort and through struggling through the unknown that we come to learn how to rely on God and to come to understand what it means to truly trust in Him. It is through these periods that we can begin to experience God's grace and His faithfulness.

We cannot come into this type of intimate relationship from the quiet and safe comforts of the sheltered bubbles that we tend to build around ourselves. While we may learn much about God by studying Him safely from afar, we won't get to actually know Him personally until we step out by faith and in trust and go wherever He may lead us however uncomfortable and difficult the path might seem.

Our journey to God should be a never ending quest to climb higher and higher up the sometimes rocky and treacherous mountain path that God has placed before us. Occasionally on this journey we will find that God has provided for us a nice flat place with soft green grass to rest and a tree for shelter and for food.  When we find this comfort we should stop, rest, and enjoy the wonderful view for a short time, and then continue on.  What we should never do is to stake out the ground and make our home there.

The journey that God sets before us is difficult and it is easy to grow weary, especially if we attempt to rely on our own strength. Always remember that you are alive and breathing today because God still has use and a plan for you on this earth. Our journey does not end, our growth does not stop, our true security and safety does not begin until the day God calls us home or the day that Jesus returns.  Until that day we are to run the race set before us with endurance (Hebrews 12:1).

As you examine your walk with God, do you find that you have been camping at the comfortable rest stop on the mountain for too long? Are you learning about God instead of allowing Him to personally show you who He is and bring you into real relationship? Are you still seeking the face of Jesus and stepping out in faith to follow Him wherever He may lead you, even if that means going into places you wouldn't, by yourself, choose to go?

Each of us must ask ourselves these questions. The longer we have been on the path the more we need to examine our walk to ensure that we haven't grown weary and rested in one place too long. What is God calling you to do today to take the next step up the mountain in your never-ending journey toward Him?

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised. ~Hebrews 10:36

Fruit of the Spirit

The fruit of the the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. ~Galatians 5:22

As we walk along the path of our journey with Christ, we inevitably come to a point in the road where we stop and begin to examine ourselves to determine if we are bearing any fruit.  We also do this with our Christian brothers and sisters as we attempt to hold each other accountable in our journey together. This is a good and necessary time of introspection, important because we are told that we will know each other by our fruit (Matthew 7:16) and that any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down (Matthew 7:19). So as we engage in evaluating ourselves, exactly what sort of fruit should we be looking for?

Most of us tend to think of the fruit of the good Christian life in terms of actions or works such as helping those in need, volunteering at the church or hospital, visiting those in prison, giving money to good causes, praying consistently, and the like.  These are all good things and are representative of the types of activities that we would expect someone filled with the Spirit to be drawn to and to engage in, but they themselves are not the fruit.

Read Galatians 5:22 again.  The fruit of the Spirit is not a list of actions or activities but a list of attributes. As we draw ever closer to God in our journey through life, His Spirit works within us to change us and to bring us closer to His image.  We begin to see the fruit of love and of joy and of peace bud in our hearts and as these attributes become the natural and dominate characteristics that begin to define us, then the old ways of bitterness, envy, strife, and lust fall away. These attributes take hold of us and become our core character. Once this happens we cannot help but to do good works. Doing good works becomes our very nature and not a force of will.

Jesus tells us that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34) and the writer of Hebrews says that the Word of God judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).  It is our heart that God ultimately judges and, thankfully, it is our heart that His Holy Spirit transforms as we submit ourselves fully to Him.

We must often engage in periods of introspection and ask God to point out the areas in our lives that He would have us surrender to Him for divine maintenance and retrofitting. Make sure as you examine your own fruit, that you look most closely at the attributes of your heart and where you find characteristics inconsistent with the promised fruit of the Spirit give these to God and allow Him to continue to change you into the person that He intends you to become.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. ~Galatians 5:25

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