Wednesday, August 23, 2017

a way above death


There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.
Proverbs 14:12

What chilling words! Grim news awaits the end of all world-gained wisdom. Human religions, culturally driven philosophies, and social platforms all may seem to have some element of benefit to them. But they all have the same bitterly realized termination point... a literal fatal flaw: death. No philosophy ends that real truth. No social program will wipe out the effects of mortality. No science or medicine ends the eventual descent into the grave that awaits each human being. The day of our birth and the day of our death are both human experiences over which we have no control.

The point of this proverb is to sober us to see the benefit of following God's wisdom. It is the only "way" that leads to life with Him. We are already warned that wicked living yields destruction, while those who seek God's righteousness ultimately flourish (Proverbs 14:11). We are then warned after considering the end of human efforts that the laughter and joys of human experience are tempered by heartache and grief (Proverbs 14:13). We have to look for a life wisdom, a controlling philosophy, that exists above the mortal plane of human experience. Wise people seek God's truth for perspective on life. It gets us above the canyon lands of the grave. And God freely and abundantly supplies a truly right way that leads beyond death.

"The unfolding of God's Word gives light" (Psalm 119:130). We are promised that the Bible will give understanding to the simple. And when it comes to truth that guides us, that shows us how we must really live, that helps us handle the heartaches and the grief of our own mortality, we must look to the Bible where God has revealed Himself and His ways to us. God's Word is the "way" that doesn't just "seem right"... it IS right. The Word of God speaks clearly. God gives His wisdom in scripture that we can read and understand and follow. I will follow it for life, letting God lead me forever into life.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

everyone on board


We will not neglect the house of our God.
Nehemiah 10:39

These nine words solemnize a reaffirmation of the covenant, focusing on the worship of God in His temple at Jerusalem. The leaders of the returned exiles who had worked so hard under Ezra to build another temple, and who had endured opposition and enormous commitment under Nehemiah to restore the walls of Jerusalem, now turn to the final step of commitment by restoring all the temple worship necessities. They commit to giving themselves first to the Lord, and giving to God what God had given to them in order to support the priests, Levites, and others working in worship in the temple complex.

Their covenant at this time is a reminder for us to consider making commitments to guard against the inevitable drift in dedication that our souls can experience. When the work is hard and still undone, it is easy to stay committed. After all, the task is unfinished and the need to stay at it with dedication is clearly visible and apparent to everyone involved. It is after completion, once the newness of a thing wears off, that we are in danger of severe vision drift. And this led the Jews to recommit the priests, Levites, and temple leaders to God's Law first (Nehemiah 10:28-31).

This commitment then meant that the rest of the Jews who had returned to Judah would also obligate themselves to support the worship of God in Jerusalem. The rest of this covenant reaffirmation then expresses their willingness to give tithes, offerings, food, oil, wood, and all other necessities for the maintenance of the worship needs of the temple (Nehemiah 10:32-39). They will give out of worship and to the worship of the Lord.

Everybody made a commitment... the leaders to lead the worship by God's Law and the people to worship and support this in keeping with God's Law. And it was this "all in" total effort that led to this bold declaration: "We will not neglect the house of our God." Great ministry and great worship involves everyone so that God gains glory from all His creation. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

passionate, persistent prayer


I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Luke 18:8

Jesus told a story about a very persistent widow who kept bringing her pleas for justice to a self-centered judge. Although the judge had no truly righteous character, yet he worked to resolve justice for the widow just to rid himself of the constant pleas she made before him. His motives were still self-centered, but the outcome was justice, more because of the widow's persistence than for any other reason.

The point of the parable is that persistence in our requests before God is important. It is a type of faith. Jesus goes on to say that if such persistence gains justice in a corrupt system, how much more should we believe and be convinced in confidence that a perfectly holy God will rightly grant our requests when we ask of Him by faith? God will "give justice to his elect who cry to him day and night." God will not "delay long over them." God loves His people and those whose faith leads them to passionate, persistent prayer will find His answers more than available. He will abundantly answer.

There is however a haunting commentary from Jesus that echoes in my heart two thousand years distant from His original words. "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" And that questions presses in on me uncomfortably. In a daring age of human technology connecting us instantaneously to a vast reservoir of human sourced information, we may be tempted to take our problems first to Google, or to simply press a button and ask Siri. But Christians trust Jesus. He has our eternal souls in His care... it makes sense that faith leads us to ask of Him for justice and grace in our daily lives as well. But will He find that faith in us?

Friday, August 18, 2017

discipleship: culture & pictures


Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.
2 Timothy 2:3-4

The reality of Christian maturity is that it does not come easily. It is hard. Paul uses the metaphors of single-minded solders, rule-committed athletes, and hard-working farmers to make this point. All three word pictures emphasize the discipline involved in being disciples who make disciples. Followers of Jesus don't just happen. They aren't just magically made.

If we look in the context, we see that a culture of discipleship first is in place. The disciple-maker is strengthened by the grace of Christ for the ministry of being used by Jesus to make other disciples of Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1). The disciple-maker also stands in a stream of historic, orthodox faith that must be sourced in scripture and is flowing forward from its source, going all the way back to the apostles. Each generation of disciples must faithfully pass on that which has been taught them from other faithful people (2 Timothy 2:2). And those people who are entrusted with the gospel and who are making disciples must continue this. This is not easy work. It constantly must take place in cultures all around the globe. The church and any gathering of Christians is a discipleship factory that never shuts down.

And so I prepare myself, reminded to be single-minded in my focus like a fighting soldier. I am committed to compete with the freeing strength and skill-building disciplines of God's Word, like a winning athlete. I am willing to patiently work hard growing disciples like a laboring farmer. God help me to make disciples who make disciples for Jesus.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

be kind people


A man who is kind benefits himself,
but a cruel man hurts himself.
Proverbs 11:17

The contemporary way of understanding the principle that is behind this proverb might be found in the phrase "what goes around, comes around." Life is remarkably reciprocal. Given enough time, good deeds become their own reward and deliberate hurts against others return to hurt the perpetrator.

This proverb centers its attention on how we treat others. It promotes kindness to other people as a great personal character trait. Kindness is a social virtue that builds good relationships and benefits everyone, including the person who is kind. Kindness is thus its own reward. That does not mean that every act of kindness will immediately be met with thankfulness and altruism, but it does mean kindness is emotionally and personally satisfying. It is wise then to be kind to other people.

The opposite of kindness in this short saying is cruelty. The word means to be abusive or even terrible with people. This is a person whose actions use and hurt people deliberately. And ultimately these actions hurt the cruel person. He may immediately get what he wants by force or through mean control, but there will be no social grace flowing back to him. And so a cruel person must keep resorting to these tactics. A wake of mistrust and distant relationships builds around the cruel person as others attempt to protect themselves. The cruelest people often end up alone, in bitter anger, sadly dysfunctional.

I want to be a kind man with a generous soul, ready to invest well in others because God loves them. God forgives repentant sinners in the ultimate act of kindness, offering lavish grace to them that He alone provides since they can do nothing for themselves. That's my model of kindness. God did this for me, a ruthless sinner who was headed toward cruelty. And if God did this for me, then through His love, I should be kind to others.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

remember the Lord & fight for family


And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
Nehemiah 4:14

This speech encouraging men to keep building the wall in Jerusalem is how Nehemiah handled opposition. He confronted it with wise action, trust in God, and personal motivation to do what is right.

Nehemiah devised wise actions. With each group of wall-builders he stationed armed soldiers. These citizen warriors then worked as teams day and night to complete the wall so that the enemies of the Jews could gain no advantage. Each group had a ram's horn ready to sound an alarm if under attack so that the entire force could quickly muster for defensive fighting. Nehemiah had a strategy in place to keep the work going despite the opposition and to protect even a worst case scenario from becoming a disaster. It required more from the men so he knew motivation and faith had to be part of his communication, engaging their heads, hearts, and hands.

Faith was vital to what the leader communicated. The whole project to rebuild Jerusalem's walls was initiated by a call of God upon Nehemiah. And God had done so much with the wall-builders already. He would lead them to complete the tasks. God is great and awesome. He does not change, even if life gets harder or opposition emerges. Remembering God's grace and provision strengthens hearts and hands to continue serving Him at what He asks.

The motivation Nehemiah appealed to was family. The wall ultimately protected each man's own home. They would stand side by side to build as brothers in order to protect sons, daughters, and wives. Faith, family, and fortitude would help them to fight for what was right and finish what God had called them to start.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

faithful in that which is another's


If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?
Luke 16:11-12

With these words, Jesus puts into perspective all the stuff of life and all the pursuits of wealth. An eternal perspective must drive the way we utilize our earthly resources. Money is a measure of the human heart. What I will quickly spend money or resources upon is the quickest measure of what my heart truly treasures. Stewarding my life will show the world my values. 

Before my finger points at some unscrupulous CEO who plunders a dying company before exiting with a golden parachute leaving employees jobless, I better look at my own heart. By global standards, I am incredibly wealthy. In fact, any American making more than 30K a year is in the top 1.25% of the richest people worldwide. That's right... from a global persepective I'm filthy, stinking rich. Don't believe me? Go to www.globalrichlist.com and key in your income and let the facts speak for themselves. The question becomes: What do I do with my wealth?

Jesus' point is that in order to be entrusted with advancing His kingdom (true riches), I must be first faithful in what I have in my life (unrighteous wealth). Even that is on loan to me from God since I will die one day. I'm pretty sure nobody gets to take their checkbook or investment portfolio to the judgment to pay any debts or fines to the Almighty! But by being faithful with what I do have now, I can store up heavenly treasure by investing in eternity.

O Lord,
I want to be faithful with what I have been given in life. And so I trust You as I seek to share the gospel (true wealth) and Your provision (worldly wealth) in this world.
Amen

Monday, August 14, 2017

keep the commandment unstained


I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
1 Timothy 6:13-14

Timothy was charged by Paul to stay faithful to the Word of God, to proclaim the gospel clearly, to watch his doctrine closely until Jesus returns. This is the charge every Christian, but especially every Christian leader must also take to be their own. We live in times where it is easy to stain the truth.

Holding to a gospel that is free from reproach means that I must take God's Word seriously. It is my life. And through scripture God sheds light on my days and gives life to me in ways that I cannot take for granted. I must let His Word saturate my thinking, change my actions, and mold my character until the day I leave this world.

As Jesus stood before Pilate, the earthly ruler who had the power to execute Him based on the charges brought against Him by His enemies, Jesus did not deny the one true statement, but clearly affirmed that He was the King of the Jews. He made the good confession at great cost. And so confessing the truth about Jesus may cost us in some similar way. But the truth cannot be reproached. Even at our own hurt.

Lord Jesus,
Help me to keep the Word of God unstained... to always believe You and never let my sin cloud the truth. May the gospel mark my life always, even at cost, until I am forever with You.
Amen

Thursday, August 10, 2017

four rewards of God's wisdom


I walk in the way of righteousness,
in the paths of justice,
granting an inheritance to those who love me,
and filling their treasuries.
Proverbs 8:20-21

God's wisdom is richly rewarding and in this section of Proverbs, wisdom is personified, offering four rewards to those who seek God's wisdom. The first reward is direction in the path of righteousness. Wisdom from God will always bless a follower with direction in doing what pleases the Lord. Wisdom brings righteousness.

Wisdom also brings along with righteous living, an understanding to navigate life with true justice. It helps bring righteousness to bear where justice is needed, helping us make right choices for all people. Wisdom brings justice.

Wisdom also brings a future of blessing to all who will follow. God promises generational impact to those who will accept and apply His wisdom. This extends beyond the life of a wise person. Wisdom grants an inheritance.

And finally, to those who love wisdom, a measure of success awaits them as God's truth becomes their finest asset in life. The value of wisdom brings strength, hope, success, and a kind of prospering from God's truth that is a unique blessing to those who will wisely follow the Lord. Wisdom is an abundant treasure.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

leading by accepting guilt


O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.
Ezra 9:6

Ezra prays this prayer of repentance on behalf of the people he is leading. He was not personally guilty of the sins he was confessing in that he did not intermarry with gentiles in violation of the covenant. Yet as a leader, he assumes responsibility for the wrong within the remnant in Jerusalem. He feels the guilt for those he leads, and so he prays this prayer of confession and repentance.

Good leaders acknowledge where things aren't going well. Great leaders will confess the wrong they find within their organization, taking full responsibility for it and leading in the hard work of necessary change. This is exactly what made Ezra a great leader. He humbly repented before God for the wrongs in Jerusalem among the returned remnant. He leads the people in repentance and change before God. He accepts the shame of the sin and leads the people to change, turning from sin and back to God.

Lord,
I see in Ezra one of the hardest parts of leadership. And I humbly ask that You help me to lead in this way... quick to confess sin, to repent of it and to return to Your grace, truth, and love.
Amen

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

worth the self-denial


Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:27

Self-death and self-denial are the necessary attitudes for following Jesus. You cannot do what you want exclusively or attempt to be your own person as a disciple of Jesus. You identify with your Savior first. Jesus calls us to die to our self-driven agenda. We follow Him carrying a cross in order to crucify our own selfish wants, needs, and ideas. Discipleship is costly. Following Jesus is highly satisfying and rewarding, but it is not easy. The best things will cost time, effort, and sacrifice.

The same is true at a much small level for many things in life. This is a mundane comparison, but it provides perspective for me. My favorite recreation hands down has to be high mountain flyfishing. As a resident Kansan, though, I don't get to do it much, and when I do it is a great effort really. But I will sacrifice to do it. I travel to mountains and hike to back country streams or lakes. This costs me time and money. I'm physically challenged when I do so. But the experience is absolutely breathtaking in every sense of the word. It is worth it to me every time.

If we make such sacrifices for earthly experiences, wouldn't it make sense for the best eternal experiences to require sacrifice and commitment from us? How much more rewarding it will be to sacrifice by cross-carrying so that I will always be with Jesus! He's just ahead of us and wants us to follow. But will we pick up the cross, knowing the cost, yet thrilled for the experience to be had?

Monday, August 7, 2017

to the King


To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 1:17

Paul breathed this prayer of praise after sharing the way in which God took him from being a blasphemer of the gospel, saved him, and turned him into a proclaimer of the new, glorious gospel. It is personal praise in response to God's personal work in his life. It is the heartfelt gushing forth of worship from one redeemed. It puts all the glory back where it belongs... with Jesus Who saved Paul.

Jesus is the eternal King. He has always been with the Father. Through Him God created all things. Jesus will always be with the Father and with us, bearing the scars of His love for us and death for us, showing His obedience to the Father in them, yet always living now for us. Jesus is the immortal God Whose resurrection brings eternal life to all who believe.

Jesus is the invisible God, unseen by us in the present, but known in history as real. He changed human history forever as the one and only God come in human flesh to save us. And Jesus is crowned now with honor and glory at the Father's right hand. Forever and ever we will praise Jesus. It never gets old or routine. When I think of Him in this way, praise pours forth as well.

Friday, August 4, 2017

how we walk


Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.
Proverbs 4:26-27

All throughout scripture walking is a metaphor for life. How we walk, where we walk, and why we walk are subthemes of that metaphor. This is the image being explained in this proverb. We are called to walk in a way that pleases the Lord and protects us from evil. There are three ways we walk explained here.

We are deliberate in our steps. This is a deliberate action. We make choices with each step we take. That is why we must ponder our choices. Which path is the right path? We must examine it in the light of scripture and follow the clear work of the Holy Spirit. It must align with the Bible and the gospel to be the right way to go. The Word of God with the Spirit of God will show us the right way. But sometimes we must stop and think and pray for our next steps.

We are dedicated to our steps. We must be determined to staying on the path once we are there. God keeps leading our steps. We continue to make choices to not leave the path and ignore byways or shortcuts. We do not turn any direction unless it aligns with what God shows or calls us to do.

There is no deviation in our steps. We also are aware of the awful consequences of deviation from this path. There is evil off the path of life. Sin can hurt us, mislead us, or destroy us. Our enemy wants us to take what looks like a broad and smoother way. But with this warning, we walk, pondering our path always in the light of God's Word.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

God sees and works. We obey.


But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it.
Ezra 5:5

God watches over human circumstances so that His glory might be known among us. He moved by His prophets Haggai and Zechariah to motivate the Jews to resume the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem. An official government edict from Babylon had halted the project for a period of several years. But God does not need governments in order for His work to proceed. His Word moved His people to obey. 

In a stunning reversal of policy, as the Jews continued to bravely defy the order to cease work, the wheels of bureaucracy turned in their favor. Local officials petitioned the new administration under Darius and in the end the government in Babylon lent its full support to the completion of the temple. God used a pagan king to affirm the work of re-establishing worship in Jerusalem.

The eye of God is always on His people. And His hand is always supplying. The only part of the equation that changes is our allegiance and obedience. Will we obey His Word? When we do, God never ceases to supply our need and surprise us with His power.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

unless you repent


"No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Luke 13:5

These are the words of Jesus in response to two human tragedies. The first incident was a political evil in which Pilate brutally executed Galilean Jews who had been traveling to the temple to offer sacrifices. The second tragedy was a natural disaster in Jerusalem when a building collapse killed eighteen unsuspecting people.

Jesus' point is that none of those tragedies occurred as an act of God's judgment on "worse sinners". Rather, these things occurred in a sin-cursed environment. No one knows when they will die, yet death is inevitable, and the worst tragedy is to die without repentance of sin. Death's inevitability and its surrounding sorrow should move us to be people who repent of sin.

Oh Lord,
The end of sin is death. But You give eternal life. And in Your grace is a peace that comes in my repentance. And so I want always to have Your gospel to lead me on to repentance. The ongoing response to my sin is a regular, continuous process of repentance so that you can make of this broken life something whole and useful for Your glory.
Amen