Thursday, December 28, 2006

What Sports Does God Love to Watch?

"He does not delight in the strength of the horse; He takes no pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy.
" --
Psalm 147:10-11 (NKJV)

What sports does God watch for enjoyment?

Transposing this passage to our modern cultural context, it might read something like, “God does not enjoy watching Nascar racing. Nor does he get a kick out of the Super Bowl. The Lord loves to watch those who know Him and who draw their strength from Him to do exploits.”

Yes, God seems to be a sports fan after all. When we are weak enough to let Him be strong and thus achieve impossible goals, He has a front-row seat and His cheers make all the effort worthwhile.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Mustard" to Action

"The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith!' He replied, 'If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea," and it will obey you.'" -- Luke 17:5-6 (NIV)

The Mustard Seed. Jesus used it as an object lesson at least three times in recorded Scripture. The first is a parable, telling of the man who took that tiny seed and planted it in his field, so it grew and became a sturdy tree.

Twice He spoke of it clearly to His disciples as an analogy to faith. In the above passage, as they were requesting more faith, Jesus responded that their mustard seed faith, if put to use, could uproot a mulberry tree. On another occasion, when they were unable to cast out a demon, Jesus scolded them for lacking faith because, as He said, if they used their mustard seed of faith, they could move an entire mountain.

Jesus has woven this common thread about the mustard seed into a tapestry of truth. As the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 2, God has dealt to each of us a measure of faith, and the implication is that, although we may not all have the same amount, we definitely have some.

But, the hinge point of the matter is what we do with that faith. “Show me your faith by your works, else it is dead faith,” James declares. Back to the mustard seed, we see the farmer in the parable take his seed and plant it so it grows. We see Jesus encouraging the disciples not to bemoan the smallness of their faith, but to put it to use felling the forests of doubt. And later, he reproves them for still not learning to put their faith to use moving the mountains of the enemy.

Why do God’s people shrink from adversity and box at shadows when, by now, we should be putting to flight the armies of the alien? God has an investment in his children, and He expects a handsome return. As with all things in His universe that speak of potential, He begins with a seed. A mustard seed. If we will but plant that seed–set its potential in action, no matter how initially small–then it will grow in strength and be well rewarded.

Search the Scriptures, and find this principle restated in a dozen ways.

Proverbs 4:18

"The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day." Start down the path, one step at a time.

Matthew 25:23

"His lord said to him, Well, good and faithful bondman, thou wast faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things." Plant the mustard seed, He will see to the tree.

Matthew 24:46-47

"Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods." Act now, for He is watching and wanting to reward our faith.

Revelation 3:8

"I know your deeds…I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name." When the going gets tough, Jesus notices our steadfastness.

It is often said that heroism is not the absence of fear, but the courage to act in spite of that fear. Hebrews chapter 11, Faith’s Hall of Fame, speaks of God’s heroes down through the ages, while chapter 12 tells us that these same heroes are a living “cloud of witnesses” watching to see what we will do, how we will serve the purposes of God in our generation!

These were men and women of like passion as ourselves; that is, they ate their soup one spoonful at a time just as we do. They had the same mustard seed of faith that we do; in fact most of them were handicapped in that they did not have the Holy Spirit anointing that’s available to us.

So what was different about these heroes? What made them achieve where others failed? Hebrews 11 tells us that their “weakness was turned to strength” when they acted. As each hero of faith is introduced, we see a mere human being. Then we see what a great journey of faith that human being realized by taking one step at a time—starting with the first step.

There is a first step ahead of us today.

What is it?

Shall we dare to take it?

Friday, December 1, 2006

Belshazzar's Ways

"But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways." -- Daniel 5:23

As the curtain opens on Daniel 5, we find a merry royal party in progress. But soon a mysterious hand appears and engraves four words on the wall, striking terror into the heart of the emperor-king and all his nobles. End of party. In fact, it was the end of the empire as they knew it, and of the king's life as well.

What was the divine indictment against Belshazzar, ruler of the known world? He had not humbled himself as his father had, and had not honored the God "Who held his life and all his ways."

Good story, but what does it have to do with us modern-day Christians serving God in a Western world, in the twenty-first century? Possibly everything!

Belshazzar's epitaph rings through time, and calls us to awake from our complacent, business-as-usual lives, to the alarm of God's message: "Honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways."

While enjoying our comfortable (if utterly useless) modern lifestyles, we often console--and even convince--ourselves that we are worth a lot to the Master, for we would surely lay down our lives for Him if that should ever be necessary.

Yes, God does hold our lives in His hands. We belong to Him, so it is only natural that he might demand of us the ultimate sacrifice someday, if that should be in the interest of His kingdom. 

But what about our ways?

Ways?? What mystery does the Scripture bespeak? In addition to owning our lives, God is also Lord of our ways! We may not face death today at the hand of wild beasts, or roasted at the stake, but we do face more subtle decisions that are equally weighty. Spending Saturday mowing a lawn for the neighbor who just got out of the hospital. Working that extra half hour to make up for the long lunchtime that just happened. Keeping silent when falsely accused by a "friend".

If Jesus is Lord, then He must be Lord, not only of the last breath we take, but of every day, every hour, every decision we make moment by moment--in thought, word, and deed. Honor the God who holds in His hand your life and all your ways.

In Baroness Orczy's masterpiece The Scarlet Pimpernel, there is one scene where Sir Andrew is telling Lady Marguerite, "There are nineteen of us ready to lay down our lives for the Scarlet Pimpernel if he is in danger!" Her reply is, "There is no need for lives just now, my friend...", as she goes on to describe more practical actions that these devoted men can take to assist with the matter at hand.

At the Last Supper, Peter made a similar proclamation: "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!" But Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me."

Prison and death? Very romantic, yes. Maybe someday.

How about acknowledging Jesus in everyday situations?

"Who, Him? I don't know Him. I'm not one of those weird religious types."

And in our day...

How about that extra little tax deduction that you're pretty sure Uncle Sam wouldn't approve of? "Come on! I'll never get audited, so what does it really matter?"

How about that banner ad that just appeared on the screen? "Switch pages? Now, wait a minute! She does have clothes on...well, not much...but at least she has her minimal underwear on!"

And...umm...was it really her underwear you were checking out??...Yeah, right! Now, what would Jesus do?

"But you...did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways."

Why does God not move in twenty-first-century America as he did in ages past? Why do we not experience the showers of blessing that were evident during the great awakenings? Perhaps we are too busy enjoying wallowing in the everyday muck and reek of this world, craving the slops that the other pigs are eating.

"NO NEED FOR LIVES JUST NOW", Jesus is saying, "give Me your WAYS!"

In the words of Australian songwriter Reuben Morgan...
Lord, I give You my heart
I give You my soul
I live for You alone
Every breath that I take
Every moment I'm awake

Lord, have Your way in me!

Here is the key to true revival. What divine power the Church would brandish against the enemy if only Jesus were Lord of our ways!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Is God's Word Ambiguous?

These posts will have to be more sporadic because, although I used to enter posts before work in the morning, the company has now blocked access to this site.

Amazingly, I wrote the previous post (Feb. 10) not thinking that it applied to me at the time! We can be so blind sometimes. Between then and now, I experienced everything referred to in that post as never before, and--thank God--with the appopriate result of running back to His arms. I think I'll stay here a while!

But as for the title of this one...Is God's Word Ambiguous? One would expect that this is a rhetorical question, with the obvious answer of "No!"

Not so fast! I say. God can do or be whatever He chooses, and He always does it with a divine and righeous purpose. Check out the following Scripture passage:
Psalm 11
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.
1 In the LORD I put my trust;
How can you say to my soul,
“Flee as a bird to your mountain”?
2 For look! The wicked bend their bow,
They make ready their arrow on the string,
That they may shoot secretly at the upright in heart.
3 If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous do?
4 The LORD is in His holy temple,
The LORD’s throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold,
His eyelids test the sons of men.
5 The LORD tests the righteous,
But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.
6 Upon the wicked He will rain coals;
Fire and brimstone and a burning wind
Shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the LORD is righteous,
He loves righteousness;
His countenance beholds the upright.[a]
1. Psalm 11:7 Or The upright beholds His countenance

Check out that footnote! The final thought in Psalm 11 has a double meaning.
The translators had to choose one for publication, but it can be read either way in the original Hebrew:
כִּֽי־צַדִּ֣יק יְ֭הוָה צְדָקֹ֣ות אָהֵ֑ב יָ֝שָׁ֗ר יֶחֱז֥וּ פָנֵֽימֹו׃
Or, even in Spanish, where the subject and object can likewise be ambiguous, since it lacks the grammatical niceties of English, Russian, and other languages where the ambiguity does not translate:
...el hombre recto verá su rostro.

So, does the passage mean that the upright beholds His countenance, or does it mean that His countenance beholds the upright?? Did the God who authored this Scripture get an "F" in Hebrew Grammar 101 class? Why does His choice of words leave us wondering what He really meant?

We know, of course, that God never makes a mistake, so the only conclusion is that this was 100% intentional. We can read the end of Psalm 11 as:
7 For the LORD is righteous,
He loves righteousness;
His countenance beholds the upright [who, in turn, may behold His countenance].

Hallelujah! A divine play on words! He is saying that (a) He is righteous, (b) He loves righteousness, and (c) when his children choose to be righteous like Him, they can look upon His glory while He, the proud Father, is beholding them.

God can use even ambiguity to make a powerful point, if we will stop and listen.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Are We Men or Mules? [original post]

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you.

9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you. -- Psalm 32:8-9

What a picture our Loving Father paints. He has invested His own Holy Spirit to live in us, to be our built-in Counselor, Comforter, and source of all wisdom. Yet, too often, we do not take the time required to quiet our spirits and commune with the Holy Spirit each day. We do not put on the blood covering and enter beyond the veil into the Holiest place in our temple: within our spirit, where He abides.

Instead, we sally forth into the day half cocked, not spiritually dressed in His armor or prepared for what awaits us, not awaiting first His words of direction and wisdom for the day. We move so fast that we don't even notice the next cliff over which we are about to careen, the next enemy ambush into which we are about to blunder. At day's end, we lie crumpled, nursing our wounds and wondering what went wrong--and why God did not prevent what just happened.

The Spirit speaks to us so tenderly in this Psalm. "I will instruct you...counsel you." He is saying, "Why will you not listen, when I have so much to tell you, which would spare you so much grief?"

When we don't listen, it is as if we are horses or mules without understanding. In fact, we are without excuse, because we do have God-given understanding, but we wilfully ignore what He's saying by not making time to listen. That is when He must arrest us using the bridle and bit--through the hard knocks of life's circumstances. The painful zap of the cattle prod applied to our posterior parts reminds us that we are--once again--running ahead of God.

Let us return to Him now. Notice that the Spirit does not say, in verse 9, that He uses the bridle and bit to lead us--as we might expect. That is not His way. Rather, He uses these things to steer us back to Him!

Next time we feel the sting of the whip, the jolt of the prod, the cut of the bit, let us stop and think: Where did I get ahead of God? How can I hightail it back to Him, and redeem this wasted day, this year, this lifetime?

Thank you, Father, for your patience. Let us find your loving arms and be led by Your voice again, beside the still waters.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

The End of the Book

6 Many are asking, "Who can show us anything good?"
Lord, let us see your face smiling on us with favor.
7 You have filled my heart with great joy.
It is greater than the joy of people who have lots of grain and fresh wine.
8 I will lie down and sleep in peace.
Lord, you alone keep me safe. -- Psalm 4:6-8 (NIRV)

We live in a very negative world. People tune into the news daily, hungry to know what is wrong in their world--and they are seldom disappointed. Although there is plenty of encouraging news to be had every day, it's just "not newsworthy." Our culture is like the stock market, a self-fulfilling prophecy; as "consumer confidence" drops, so does the stock market; as the stock market drops, so does "consumer confidence." Dow Jones is a fool's prophet; but many in our culture still swear by him. And, if our hearts rise and fall by economic indicators, then who rules our hearts--who is our god--but the Dollar?

Our culture soaks up negativity like a sponge, until we are too saturated to pick up on what is positive. As the Psalmist puts it, "Many are asking, 'Who can show us anything good?'" We are jaded, going through life in silent despair.

But, what about the people of God? As in every dimension of our lives, we often absorb the culture that washes over us, rather than impacting that culture with God's truth. We are so saturated with the spirit of negativity that it cripples our effectiveness as ambassadors of the God of Life.

Let us quiet our hearts, let us pull down the shades on the windows of our spirit and shut out the lethal rays of negativity a while, as we spend time alone with God at the opening of the day. Suddenly, His face takes shape in our vision, and we can see Him smiling on us with favor. Imagine that! God Himself is smiling on us; there is nothing negative about Him! We begin to realize that we just lay down and slept in peace, and we awoke alive and healthy. No enemy bombs rained on our home overnight, no sudden ruptured aneurysm, stroke, or heart failure snatched us away from our loved ones unexpectedly. The Lord alone kept us safe.

Let our hearts be filled with great joy, greater than the joy of people who have lots of grain and fresh wine. This the key that shuts off the destructive engine of negativity: spending time in God's presence, meditating on all that is right in this world He created. Wherever His Kingdom is embraced, He is at work, and we can see Him smiling there.

We Christians have read the end of the Book, and there is nothing depressing about it. Let us be encouraged and go forth to a new day full of hope, as the Psalmist says, with God's smile giving us strength to overcome every challenge. This is true joy, greater than the joy of people who have lots of grain and fresh wine, i.e., greater than the rich and famous can ever hope to find in their empty existence.

Oh Lord, You're beautiful, Your face is all I see, For when Your eyes are on this
child, Your grace abounds to me. -
- Keith Green (Click here for full lyrics.)

Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face, and the things of
earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
--Helen H. Lemmel (1922) (Click here for full lyrics.)