Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Glad to See You! (Praying with Confience in God part 2)

View From Grand MesaMy mother died from cancer eighteen years ago at the age of 51. I remember the last time I was with her alive. It was Mother’s Day 1992. We had driven from Kansas City back home to Pueblo, Colorado to see her and my dad. She was very sick; yellow from the jaundice because her liver and kidneys were shutting down; almost too weak to get out of bed. We sat with her, read scripture together, sang hymns, and read her Mother’s Day cards to her. She was suffering and on pain medication. But on that day she was vibrant. She was positive. She smiled and radiated the love of God to all of us in the room with her.
Thinking about her and Psalm 119:74 has me asking myself: Are other believers encouraged when they see me? Do I have a positive, vibrant testimony? Do I have the type of smile and countenance that reflects patient confidence in the Lord?
Psalm 119:73-80 reflects that kind of patient confidence in God in spite of afflictions. Yesterday I told the first reason to have confidence in God and His word:  1. My Creator a Plan for My Life (Psalm 119:73).
The second reason we can pray with confidence is:
2. My God Can Still Work Through Me (74).
74  Those who fear You will be glad when they see me, Because I have hoped in Your word.
The writer of Psalm 119 is not free from affliction, but he responds to struggles in life in such a way that the Lord is glorified, others are benefited, and he himself sees it turn out for good in his life.
A beautiful example of this truth is in Paul in Philippians 1:12-14, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
That is one of God’s purposes in comforting us through our affliction, that we could then be used by Him to comfort others. Look at the truth found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”
Part of that comfort that Paul received was the encouragement of a man named Titus, “Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,” (2 Cor. 7:6). It is good for our eyes to see someone whose life testifies that the Lord is true. The sight of a faithful person gladdens the God-fearing. Hopeful men bring gladness with them.
Are you spreading gladness where ever you go?

Monday, December 6, 2010

How Do You Pray with Confidence?

RiverboatLong ago two boys on the bank of the Mississippi River watched a mighty paddle wheeler majestically move down the river. As it drew near, one boy laid down his fishing pole and began to wave frantically and yell. The other lad laughed at the effort of his friend to get the attention of the paddle wheeler, but suddenly the giant vessel began to slow down and then turned toward the bank.

In amazement, the second boy wondered aloud how his friend could possibly flag down a massive paddle wheeler. The excited boy simply told his bewildered friend: "My father is the pilot."

As children of God we, too, can have confidence that our Father will respond to our petitions. Psalm 119:73-80 is a prayer of confidence in a good God in whom we can trust. Verses 73-75 focus on the character and works of God. They form the basis for the psalmist’s confidence for making his petitions in verses 76-80. He prays trusting in God and in God’s word. So in this section of Psalm 119 we see three reasons for confidence in God and His Word and five requests based on that confidence in God and His Word.
Reasons for Confidence in God and His Word.
1. My Creator a Plan for My Life (73).
73 Your hands have made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.
The word “hand” is the key word of this whole stanza.  In fact, each verse of the stanza begins with the Hebrew letter yod.  It corresponds to our letters “y” and “j”, but yad is also the Hebrew word for “hand.” 
Your hands have made me and fashioned me.”  Those are very personal words that are rich, not only with the creative power of God, but also in expressing God’s involvement in creating each one of us individually. 
We don’t usually think of mass-producing things with our hands.  That’s what machines are for.  Hands mould pottery.  Hands craft wood.  Hands knit and stitch and embroider.  Hands create things that involve our personal attention.  God doesn’t have literal hands—God is spirit—but God has lovingly crafted each of us the same way the potter’s hands mould a pot, the carpenter’s hands shape a block of wood, or the seamstress’ hands stitch together a lovely garment.  God is involved, He cares, He loves his handiwork.  He doesn’t just make it—any machine can do that.  No, he fashions it.  That’s an expression of intent and thoughtfulness. 
Personalize this psalm by praying, “Lord, I know you will never forget me since I am the work of your hands. I am the vessel you made—and made with purpose.  Fill me up and use me.  Teach me, give me understanding so that I may learn to obey your commandments.”
Listen, if we can be sure of God’s continued interest in us simply because of our physical creation, how much more can we be sure of his interest in us now that He has caused us to be born again by His Spirit through faith in His Son?  He sent His only Son—the ultimate price—to die that God might create us anew. 
Doesn’t that assure you that God cares about you?  If you are in Christ, you have been washed by the blood of Jesus and renewed by His indwelling Spirit.  Pray that He will continue to work in you each day, giving you understanding and giving you strength to follow God’s way.
In my next post I will tell two more reasons for confidence in prayer.
What gives you confidence to petition God in prayer?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Praying to the Good God in the Bad Times, Part 2

Balance RockI don’t know what you are facing today—maybe the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of health yourself or from someone you love. Afflictions and trials hit all of us. No one is immune from trouble, it is part of life on this sinful world. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." For the child of God, afflictions can bring us closer to God. This often happens as we pray, as we talk with God during our trials. But how do we pray?
In my last post I saw from Psalm 119:65-67 two ways to pray to the good God in the bad times:
1. Lord, You are so good, though I’m so undeserving (v. 65).
2. Lord, give me wisdom to apply Your Word in this situation (v. 66-67)
Here are two more:
3. Lord, teach me in this trial how to glorify You (v. 68-69)
68  You are good, and do good; Teach me Your statutes.
69  The proud have forged a lie against me, But I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart.
Verse 68 says God is good and does good. His actions flow out of His attributes. This is a glory-driven, Godward, God-centered prayer. The focus of my prayer in my difficulty should not be first on me, and it must not be first on what others did to me (v. 69), the focus must be first on God’s goodness and God’s glory, that God would teach me (v. 68b) and help me to obey His principles (v. 69b).
God’s goodness is His very glorious nature; compassionate, loving, gracious. The very goodness of God and His dealings is seen in the very beginning of the Bible: As God creates the world and all its creatures, He repeatedly pronounces it good, and finally very good. It is God’s very nature to be good and do good, and it should be the very nature of someone saved by His good grace to pray thankfully, “Lord, teach me in this trial how to glorify You.”
David says in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
We cannot always know why God gives certain afflictions, nor do we have to know before we can know Him to be good. But one thing we can know is that ultimately one purpose in my affliction is that God would be glorified, that His goodness should be magnified for all to see.
4. Lord, help me to delight in You and Your Word no matter what (v. 70-72)
70  Their heart is as fat as grease, But I delight in Your law.
Do I find delight in God and His word or the world and its fat? Fat may taste good, but it’s bad for our health. Spiritual fat is a flabby fatty layer of spiritual cellulite due to spiritual inactivity and lack of exercise of the heart towards God. Often, prosperous sinners, because they live in luxury where every desire is gratified, have lost all feeling for God. Whatever God needs to do to wean us off loving this world is good. So affliction in this case is a blessing:
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.
Martin Luther confessed, “I never knew the meaning of God’s word, until I came into affliction. I have always found it one of the best schoolmasters.” Affliction is not good in itself and does not usually seem good to us when we are enduring it, but it has a good purpose when God sends it, as he frequently does in the case of his cherished children.
Some of God’s purposes in afflictions:
To show Himself good through His dealings (v. 65).
To give us discernment and knowledge (v. 66).
To restore us from straying (v. 67).
To teach us how good God is (68)
To bring about wholehearted obedience in us (v. 69).
To cause delight in God and His Word (v. 70).
To cause us to learn His Word and ways (v. 71).
To make us see the priceless nature of God’s Word (v. 72).
Verse 72 says, “The law of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of coins of gold and silver.” This verse reminds me of one of my favorite hymns and the story behind it. In 1933 our nation was trying to recover from the Great Depression. Business curves were still heading downward and there was rumor of a salary cut at the New York insurance office where a twenty-two-year-old man was employed as a clerk. With his deep melodious voice, he was offered a radio contract with NBC and immediately saw opportunities for fame and possible riches in his regular appearance on the radio program.
He had been pondering the matter for several days when he sat down to the piano early one Sunday morning to rehearse a hymn he was to sing in church that morning. As he played and sang his eyes fell on a piece of paper. It was a poem by Mrs. Rhea Miller that had been placed there by his mom. As his eyes raced over the words, the lines struck his heart. His fingers unconsciously left the tune he was rehearsing and began to set this poem to music in a melody which is today known to millions. George Beverly Shea, instead of singing on the radio, devoted his life to Christian ministry travelling with Billy Graham. Maybe you’ve heard the song that was on the piano that day:
 I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand.
Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway,
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

Has this Psalm given you something to pray in your affliction?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Praying to the Good God in the Bad Times

Landscape ArchAfflictions come in all shapes and sizes. An affliction can be as small as an aggravating head cold or as large as a major illness, the loss of a job, public persecution, or rumors spread by your enemies. Or an affliction could be the sort of cosmic suffering Job experienced. Some affliction is self-induced, sometimes others bring affliction to us, sometimes affliction is just the result of living in this fallen world. One writer said that we don’t need to seek affliction because sooner or later, it will seek us. I’m sure that’s true. David writes in Psalm 34:19, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.”
Suffering, bad times, afflictions, and trials drive a true believer to his or her knees more than most other times. But when we face these tough times, how should we then pray? Psalm 119:65-72 reminds us that God is good even when times are bad.
The word “affliction” appears two times in this passage (v. 67, 71) but it’s not the theme of this section. The real focus is on the goodness of the Lord. The word “good” actually appears three times more than the word for “affliction,” a total of six times in eight verses. So both exegetically and experientially, both statistically and practically, affliction is over-powered by the Lord’s goodness.
This passage shows me at least 4 ways to pray to a good God in the bad times:
1. Lord, You are so good, though I’m so undeserving (v. 65).
65  You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.
It is always a great place to begin in prayer when we begin with the person and character of God. Notice this God-centered first line – the focus of this undeserving servant is clearly on the Lord: 4 references in 1 verse: 65 You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.
Here he begins by acknowledging what we do not always see when in difficulty, how good God is and has been to us. God has treated us so well even though we are so undeserving. We can become so focused on how we think things should be different in our life that we lose the focus of God’s goodness and we lose the perspective of who God is and who we are, undeserving servants.
God has been good to us, not because we deserve it but because He acts “according to His word.” We need to quit looking down at the dirt around us and look up and see the glorious goodness of God.
2. Lord, give me wisdom to apply Your Word in this situation (v. 66-67)
66  Teach me good judgment and knowledge, For I believe Your commandments.
67  Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
This part reminded me of James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” In that first chapter of his letter James wrote about facing various trials with joy. James says we can have joy in trials because through them God is working to bring us to maturity in Christ. So James says to pray for wisdom.
How do you pray when you are facing trials? Our typical prayer request is for God to remove the trial, but James says we should pray for wisdom to apply God’s Word in the trial. God is teaching us.
Affliction may not be our preferred method for God to teach us, but it is often the one we need. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said God whispers in our prosperity but shouts to us in out pain. Pain is often God’s megaphone to get our attention. He recognizes the fact that affliction taught him to keep God’s word. Before he was afflicted he went astray (v. 67).
How many of you have experienced that God uses affliction as an alarm clock to wake you up to your sinful condition when you stray?
In my next post I will give two more ways to pray in trials.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What will it take for us to work together as Christians?

Battle of QuebecWhen the British and French were fighting in Canada in Octorber of 1690, Sir William Phips of Massachusetts, commander of the British fleet, was to anchor outside Quebec. He was to wait for the British land forces to arrive, and then support them when they attacked the city. Contrary to the plan Phipps’ navy arrived early. As Phips waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked out, but when the land forces arrived and the signal was given to attack, the fleet was of no help. They had used up most of the ammunition shooting at the "saints." (Daily Bread, October 6).
Are we ever guilty of “shooting the saints?” Do become critical when another Christian church or group outside of ours expresses the truth we are teaching about Jesus in a different fashion, with a different style of music, or form of worship, or style of preaching or teaching, or a different emphasis in the community?
In my last two posts I looked at Luke 9:49-50 to see what it teaches us about people who serve Jesus who are not a part of my group. The passage reads:
49  Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us."
50  But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side."
So what is the point of Jesus’ lesson here? Jesus has a variety of servants. Those who are living and working in the name of Christ (by His authority) are not to be forbidden, even if they are unknown to us.
The twelve were not the only faithful disciples of Jesus! In addition to the apostles, many who heard Him were receptive, noble listeners.  "The multitudes pressed about Him to hear the word of God," and in the response of some to Him, Jesus "saw their faith," (Luke 5:1,20). "And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John," (Luke 7:29). The notion that the apostles were the only faithful disciples is not only assumption; it is error. Those "with'' Him were not the only faithful disciples. This unidentified man, based on every indication we have, was a faithful disciple of Christ, though he was not in the company of the apostles.
It’s so easy for us to criticize or minimize other Christians because they are “not one of us.” We can be guilty of the same spiritual bigotry that infected John.
When we look at v. 50 and its parallels, it brings up an interesting dilemma. Compare the following verses:
    *    “For who is not against us, is for us (Mk 9:40 NASB)
    *    "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you." (Lk 9:50 NASB)
    *    "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” (Lk 11:23a)
    *    "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” (Mt 12:30a)
Which is it? Are they for us or against us? These statements of Jesus almost seem to contradict one another don’t they? I believe the resolution is to notice that the first two are concerned with "us," or “you,” while the second two are concerned with "me," in other words, Jesus himself. The conclusion I draw is this: Being with or against Jesus is not always the same as being with or against us. Just because another Christian is different from me does not mean that they do not belong to Jesus.
The key to this lesson is that John pointed out this stranger was casting out demons in the name of Jesus.
I realize some people and groups use the name of Jesus in a way that is not legitimate. Not everyone who claims the name of Jesus really honors who Jesus is. What a group believes about Jesus is absolutely essential for us to cooperate and fellowship with them, that’s what it means to honor the name of Jesus. I’m not advocating some kind of universalism that says any religion is okay. There is only one way to God and that is through Jesus—and Jesus alone. Jesus is not just one of the ways to God. He is not even the best way to God: He is the only way!
But within those parameters we need to be inclusive. We need to realize those who don’t do it the way we do it are our friends, if they honor the same Jesus we honor. In fact they are more than our friends—they are our brothers and sisters!
Did you know in heaven, God is not going to corral us into different areas? St. Peter is not going to have a loudspeaker saying, “Okay, let’s have all the Catholics over here, Baptists in this area, Methodists over here, Church of God folks in this corral, Church of Christ folks, to that side … ”
Did you notice how these this lesson is connected to Jesus’ lesson about greatness and welcoming the child in His name (Luke 9:46-48)? When you become like a humble little child, you will be less exclusive of others. Long before blacks and whites started getting together in the South as friends, little black kids and little white kids played together without any qualms. It was only as they grew up they learned blacks and whites didn’t socialize. I think they had it right as children, don’t you?
Think about the attitudes of little children. They get out on the playground and have such fun with each other. They don’t ask each other which country club their parents belong to. They don’t inquire about where their parents graduated from college, or where they work, or how much money they have. They don’t ask what denomination they are. They just play together. That’s the kind of childlike spirit Jesus was talking about.
What will it take for us to work together as Christians?

Monday, November 15, 2010

How do I tell if someone is truly acting Jesus name?

Jesus' NameIn my last post I looked at Luke 9:49-50 to see what it teaches us about people who serve Jesus who are not a part of my group. The passage reads:
49  Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us."
50  But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side."
From this I concluded that Jesus has a variety of servants and many of them do not belong to my group. In the scripture story John’s complaint against this unknown exorcist is that "he does not follow with us." They knew the man was acting in Jesus' name. In fact John says to Jesus, “we saw someone casting out demons in Your name.” The problem was that he didn't belong to their group. He’s not in the “in-crowd” so he is an “outsider,” not one of the gang. We don’t know him, he isn’t one of us.
So the work of God gets shut down. Jesus, who has been breaking boundaries all over the place so that people could be free, now confronts His closest disciples who are, instead of following Jesus’ example and breaking down boundaries, are actually putting up new boundaries; finding new ways to keep people out, and restrict the Kingdom of God.
Now we do need to be careful in this area because not everyone who uses the name of Jesus has Jesus’ authority or His Spirit. There are a lot of things that have been done in Jesus’ name that He has nothing to do with. Think about the abuses of Jim Jones, David Koresh...and many others who have used the name of Jesus to lead people astray.
Also think of some of the actions of churches and church people. Not all church splits, policies, attitudes, or spirits glorify God. In these cases Jesus’ name is used, but He is not authorizing or empowering what they are doing.
Take for instance the interesting account of the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19. They were going around trying to invoke the name of Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." (Acts 19:13 NIV). One day these guys tried this, And the evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’” (Acts 19:15 NKJV). And Luke tells us the result of that encounter was, “Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” (Acts 19:16).
Another reason to be careful about how we apply these words of Jesus is that in our day many have made an idol out of tolerance. If we as Christians or as a church dare to confront false teaching or immorality in our midst we can be accused of being “intolerant.”
Here's the kind of argument you might hear: "The Lord said: 'Do not forbid him.' therefore, even though someone may not be with us; even if they happen to be teaching some things that are wrong; even though they approve of immoral practices, so long as they are not against us, and so long as they ascribe the name of Christ to their work, we should not forbid or criticize them.” This is the "practical lesson" some have derived from this text.
But John didn't say this man was guilty of some wrong. He didn't say the unidentified man was teaching false doctrine. The only thing John said was, "he does not follow with us!"
And consider what Jesus says about the man. Jesus said of this man, he is "not against us." In Mark's account, Jesus said of this man, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me," (Mark 9:39). It is clear, this man was not a false teacher! Had this he been a false teacher, what do you think Jesus would have said about him? Likely, as Jesus did with the scribes and Pharisees, He probably would have called him a "ravenous wolf," and compared him to a bad tree that bears bad fruit; a tree worthy of being "cut down and thrown into the fire," (see Matt. 7:15-20).
So, whatever this passage means, we can be certain it doesn't mean we must refrain from exposing false teachers and immoral practices. The text affords no ground for that whatever. Gospel preachers are to charge false teachers ''that they teach no other doctrine," (1 Tim. 1:3). Our duty is to "rebuke" and "exhort," (2 Tim. 4:2). Jesus never endorsed tolerance of anything morally or doctrinally wrong.
In my next post I will discuss more how to tell if someone is truly acting in Jesus’ name.
What other dangers do you see from people who claim to be doing things in Jesus’ name?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How do I interact with followers of Jesus who are not like me?

churchHow do I interact with followers of Jesus who are not like me? What if they being to a different group? What if their worship style is different than ours? What if they spread the gospel using a different method than my church? What if they have a different emphasis in the community?
Here is a truth I learned from Luke 9:49-50: Jesus has many servants and most do not look like me.
49  Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us."
50  But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side."
What is Jesus teaching us here? The context is always important. What had been going on before John made this statement? Did he just make this remark "out of the blue?" No. John's statement is connected to what had been just going on. John and the other disciples had been fussing among themselves about who was the greatest (see: Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37). John says this in answer to what Jesus had just said in verse 48: "Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great."
Don’t you see two great ironies in this statement of John? First, Jesus had just told His disciples about receiving, or welcoming, the child in His name and that by welcoming someone in Jesus’ name they would be welcoming Jesus and His Father. Now the disciples are doing the opposite of that. Instead of receiving and welcoming, they are forbidding and excluding.
Another irony is that this unnamed man is casting out demons in Jesus' name -- something that earlier in this chapter, the disciples were unable to do. This man was not part of their group, but he was out there doing ministry, casting out demons, apparently successfully. So John tells Jesus, “we forbade him because he does not follow with us.”
One day a lady criticized D. L. Moody for his methods of evangelism in attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody's reply was "I agree with you. I don't like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?" The lady replied, "I don't do it." Moody retorted, "Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."
John probably expected Jesus to commend him for his action, but instead, Jesus uses it to teach a lesson. Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” It’s like Jesus is saying, “I like the way he’s doing it better than how you’re not doing it.”
Jesus has a variety of servants and most do not serve in the same way as me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What To Do When You Can’t Sleep

What to Do When You Can't SleepI don’t sleep as soundly or as long as I used to. I am not really sure why. Maybe it’s just another one of those annoying things that happen as we grow older—like the hair that grows everywhere except the top of my head; or the furrows in my forehead that appear to have been pulled by a deep eight-bottom plow; or my inability to tolerate loud music anymore.
So when I wake up now—at midnight, at two, at four—and toss and turn for a while before finally drifting back to sleep, what do I do in those times? Here I learn another lesson from Psalm 119.
God is My Greatest Joy (Psalm 119:62-64)
62  At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You, Because of Your righteous judgments.
63  I am a companion of all who fear You, And of those who keep Your precepts.
64  The earth, O LORD, is full of Your mercy; Teach me Your statutes.
When something is greatly on my mind, I sometimes think of it when I wake up in the middle of the night. This week I have a funeral to preach on Saturday. Last night I found myself thinking about the man who had passed, his family, and what words I should bring to them.
Where does your mind go when you awake at night? For the writer of this psalm, his mind was so greatly fixed on God and His word, his heart was so full with gratefulness and thankfulness, that he just naturally prays and praises God in such times. He says, “I will rise.” Apparently he even makes plans to get up to praise at midnight!
Wow! Talk about a grateful heart! He rose up at midnight to talk to his merciful Father in Heaven—to tell the Lord how much he loved Him; how much he appreciated Him; how grateful he was for God’s love and for His leading his life. He talked over his day with the Lord, talked with Him about his burdens and friends.
As he reviews the previous day and the circumstances of his life, he sees God active there. Everywhere he looks he sees the signs of God’s commitment in mercy. “The earth, O LORD, is full of Your mercy.” He was seeing that which only redeemed eyes could see. Proofs of God’s goodness are everywhere. They are great to think about, and thank God for in those still, dark hours in the middle of the night.
Thou art my portion, Lord; Thy words I ever heed;
With all my heart, Thy grace I seek, Thy promises I plead.
I thought upon my ways, Thy testimonies learned;
With earnest haste, and waiting not,
To Thy commands I turned.
While snares beset my path, Thy law I keep in view;
At midnight I will give Thee praise For all Thy judgments true.
All those who fear Thy Name Shall my companions be;
Thy mercy fills the earth, O Lord; Thy statutes teach Thou me.
How do you spend those sleepless nights?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Say Okay and Do It Right Away

Cadets MarchingSay okay and do it right away.” I have heard my wife say that little rhyme to our kids many times over the years. I was reminded of it again as I studied Psalm 119 this week.
Psalm 119:57-64 is really a prayer to the all sufficient God. God is sufficient as my portion—He is what I really need and want. In these next verses I see God is sufficient as my Lord and Master.
(Psalm 119:59-61)
59  I thought about my ways, And turned my feet to Your testimonies.
60  I made haste, and did not delay To keep Your commandments.
61  The cords of the wicked have bound me, But I have not forgotten Your law.
2. God Is My Master.
Obedience is the expression of our love for God. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments,” (John 14:15). Loving obedience was the condition for God’s blessing for the nation of Israel. If the people kept God’s covenant with them God would bless them and their land. If they turned from Him to idols He would chasten them in the land. John Philips points out Four Aspects of Obedience in Ps 119:59 (John Philips, Exploring Psalms, 2:315-16):
·        Deliberation: “I considered . . .” — Stop and think.
·        Destination: “I considered my ways” — Where am I headed?
·        Determination: “And turned my feet . . .” — Deciding to obey God.
·        Discrimination: “And turned my feet to Your testimonies.” — I am going to follow God’s ways rather than mine or another person’s.
I am learning more and more what it means to say that God is my Lord and Master. In ancient days, no servant could say, “No,” or postpone doing the master’s will, or say, “I forgot.” The psalmist is not complacent in his walk; he hastens to God’s Word. He knows there is danger in delay. There almost seems to be the mindset of a soldier here:
v. 59a “I considered” – i.e., ATTENTION. STOP!
v. 59b “and turned my feet” - ABOUT FACE!
v. 60 “I hastened and did not delay” – FORWARD MARCH, DOUBLE TIME!
When Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, it was “drop everything and follow me now. Leave your boats and nets – today you become fishers of men.” And immediately they responded to the Lord’s call. I am learning not to hesitate or equivocate when God calls. I am not to pause to look back on my old life with longing like Lot’s wife.
Delayed obedience is a form of disobedience. Telling God I will obey Him tomorrow often means I am disobeying Him today. “Today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart,” (Heb. 3:15).
How about you? Are you quick to respond to the Lord and His word?

Friday, November 5, 2010

What Is Your Portion?

Promised Land"Jesus … He is all we need and all we want. We are shipwrecked on God and stranded on omnipotence!" — Vance Havner
Psalm 119:57-64 is really a prayer to the all sufficient God. The writer of Psalm 119 has already said that he loves God’s Word, longs for the Word, aches for a deeper desire, and he desperately prays for more eye-opening, treasure-discovering, soul-satisfying delight in the Word of God, and ultimately in the God of the Word.
What has the psalmist experienced from God and His word that has satisfied him completely? He has experienced that:
1. God Is Our Portion (Psalm 119:57-58).
In verse 57, when he writes “The LORD is my portion,” he not only means he is content with what God has provided, he says it is in God Himself that he finds all contentment and satisfaction.
The word, “portion” is an important word. Originally, portion referred to that part of the Promised Land that was given to each Israelite tribe. This portion was their inheritance. It was passed from generation to generation. The inherited land actually belonged to the Lord (Lev. 25:23) and He cared for it (Deut. 11:8-17).
The priests and Levites were given no inheritance or portion of the land. There was a good reason for that. See if you can spot the reason why the tribe of Levi had no portion or inheritance of land:
Deut. 10:8,9 – “At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to Him and to bless in His name, to this day. Therefore Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God promised him.)”
I’m sure you caught it. Instead of land, the Lord himself was to be their portion and their inheritance. Portion refers to something that someone lays claim to. The Psalmist is thrilled to call the Lord his own. Think of it! To be able to lay claim to the Creator of the universe as my own, that is something! This meant that the Levites (priests) were to look directly to God for present sustenance and future security. Having the Lord as my portion is not only greater than the best this life can offer, it is far greater. It is not only of superior value, but of surpassing value, matchless worth. To possess a relationship with God is truly to have everything.
As believers in Jesus Christ today we have a rich spiritual inheritance because we are in the Lord. If we have Jesus, we have everything. See if these scriptures don’t just WOW you:
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,    (Eph 1:11 NKJV)
…giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.    (Col 1:12 NKJV)
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.    (Col 3:23,24 NKJV)
And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.    (Heb 9:15 NKJV)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,    (1 Pet 1:3,4 NKJV)
Wow! All our portion, our inheritance is wrapped-up in Jesus Christ. He is our portion; He is our life (Col. 3:4); He is our all-in-all (Col. 3:11). Because we are in Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).
Those who believe the truth of verse 57 will pray like verse 58. “I entreated Your favor with my whole heart; Be merciful to me according to Your word.”
Though God is All-sufficient, I am not. “Our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5). So I pray wholeheartedly for God’s favor, not half-heartedly with one hand behind my back clutching my sin. The prayer “be gracious to me” is the prayer of an empty-handed spiritually-bankrupt, sinner. It’s the prayer of the repentant tax collector Jesus spoke of who would not even lift up his head but in lowliness simply beat his chest while pleading for God’s favor and graciousness, praying very much like this verse: “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
Say it with me, “My God is all-sufficient. I am not. He is my portion. I need nothing else.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

All I Need Is ____________

allineedisyouPsalm 119
57  You are my portion, O LORD; I have said that I would keep Your words.
58  I entreated Your favor with my whole heart; Be merciful to me according to Your word.
59  I thought about my ways, And turned my feet to Your testimonies.
60  I made haste, and did not delay To keep Your commandments.
61  The cords of the wicked have bound me, But I have not forgotten Your law.
62  At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You, Because of Your righteous judgments.
63  I am a companion of all who fear You, And of those who keep Your precepts.
64  The earth, O LORD, is full of Your mercy; Teach me Your statutes.
This section of Psalm 119 got me to thinking about what I really need in life and what I really want. It caused me ask myself questions like:
-          From where am I seeking my satisfaction?
-          Am I a content person, satisfied with the portion in life God has given me?
-          Would those around me describe me as a content person, a thankful and joyful man?
The first verse of this passage really sets the tone of the whole with the opening line: “The LORD is my portion,” or some translations make it a direct address: “You are my portion, O LORD.” The TEV paraphrase says “You are all I want O LORD.”
The statement of this psalm is that God is all I need. When “the LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). I will need nothing outside of God and His provision. My God supplies all my needs. God is all-sufficient and all-satisfying. John Piper puts it this way, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
What has the psalmist experienced from God and His word that has satisfied him completely and has shown him that God is all-sufficient? As I studied this section of Psalm 119 I see that he has experienced these truths:
1. God Is My Portion (Psalm 119:57-58).
2. God is My Master (Psalm 119:59-61).
3. God is My Greatest Joy (Psalm 119:62-64).
In the next three posts I will expand on those thoughts. Would you consider asking yourself those same questions I am asking myself this week?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Been Hugged?

Jesus HugsWe proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3.
Don Graham writes about a young woman named Linda who was traveling alone up the rutted and rugged highway from Alberta to the Yukon in the fall of the year. Linda didn't know you don't travel to Whitehorse alone in a rundown Honda Civic, so she set off where only four-wheel drives normally venture. The first evening she found a room in the mountains near a summit and asked for a 5 A.M. wakeup call so she could get an early start.
She awoke to early morning fog shrouding the mountaintops. She went to breakfast where two truckers invited her to join them. Since the place was so 12pt, she felt obliged. "Where are you headed?" one of the truckers asked.
"In that little Civic? No way! This pass is too dangerous in weather like this."
"Well, I'm determined to try," was Linda's gutsy response.
"Then I guess we're just going to have to hug you," the trucker suggested.
Linda drew back. "There's no way I'm going to let you touch me!"
"Not like THAT!" the truckers chuckled. "We'll put one truck in front of you and one in the rear. In that way, we'll get you through the mountains." All that foggy morning Linda followed the two red dots in front of her and had the reassurance of a big escort behind as they made their way safely through the mountains.
HugsThere are a lot of people that need to be "hugged" in that way. Caught in the fog on the dangerous passage through life, we all need others to give us a hug from time to time. Fellowship is experiencing that hug from God and from His family.
When is the last time someone “hugged” you?
When is the last time you “hugged” someone?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


FellowshipWhen’s the last time you invited someone to come home with you for dinner after a Sunday worship service? I remember my first Sunday in Lompoc, California in 1984. I was a new second lieutenant in the USAF reporting at Vandenberg AFB on Monday.  I looked in the yellow pages (yes this was before the internet!) for a place to worship, and was able to find it just a couple blocks off the main street. I first went to the bible study (Sunday School back then). Everyone there made me feel welcome and accepted. A couple of them invited me to sit with them at the worship service. After worship a family invited me to come home with them for lunch. For a young single guy this was an offer I could not refuse. It felt so good to have fellowship with new friends in a strange place.
Fellowship is a great word. It means to share something in common. "Fellowship" or koinonia means "partnership" and even more literally "sharing." Fellowship is not just a potluck dinner or a cup of coffee and sweet roll before worship. Fellowship is the giving and receiving of our lives with one another.
At our church we have an understanding of fellowship. There is a wonderful spirit of love and cooperation in our church. We serve one another. We meet each other’s needs. We pray for each other and encourage each other. We also offer an invitation for others to come and be a part of our family. Fellowship is sharing a common life together, and that common life is Jesus.
Picture with me the grizzled old apostle John. Nearly ninety years old, his eyes are weak. His hands ache from arthritis. Yet his spirit burns brighter than ever. His heart is full of the love of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit comes upon him and he sits down with pen and ink at a crude desk and begins to write a message, a letter. We know this letter in the Bible as 1 John. John’s letter is an invitation: an invitation to fellowship.
John invites us to fellowship, to share a common life. He invites us in v.3 to "have fellowship with us and truly our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ." Fellowship is two ways: VERTICAL fellowship with God and HORIZONTAL fellowship with His people.
John says that he wants to have fellowship with his readers because "truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this about our fellowship, “Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ.”
The only true fellowship is what we share in Jesus Christ. A. W. Tozer in THE PURSUIT OF GOD put it this way, "One hundred worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become "unity-conscious" and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship." -
John recorded Jesus’ great high priestly prayer in his gospel, chapter 17. In it Jesus prays, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (Jn.17:20-21). When we have "oneness" with the Lord, we will have "oneness" with each other.
How is your fellowship with God and with His children?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Six Ways the Bible Comforts Us in Affliction

Following JesusPsalm 119:49-56
Request from the Afflicted: Remember (Psalm 119:49-50) Remember the word to Your servant, Upon which You have caused me to hope.” When we pray, especially when we are afflicted, it is always good to pray for God to remember (or to act upon) His promises in His word. When Nehemiah prayed he said, "Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses,” (Neh. 1:8).  When Peter and John had just been released from jail and they gathered the church to pray for boldness, he began his prayer by reminding God of His promises and His power (Acts 4:24-29). And several times in the Psalms David prays that God would remember His covenant and His promises.
When we take God’s promises and pray them back to Him, we make them our own.  So our hope, our faith, and our prayer is not grounded in anything but on God’s promise. So he says, “Upon which You have caused me to hope.” Our hope is only in the Lord and His promises to us. God has a perfect memory – He will not forget His promises. God does not raise false hopes and expectations that He will not fulfill. That’s a great prayer. Remember.
This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life,” (v. 50). Not only does he have hope, but God’s life-giving reviving word has comforted him through his affliction. It’s God, and His word alone that give true comfort, lasting comfort, grief-conquering comfort, peace-surpassing-understanding kind of comfort.
How God’s Word Brings Comfort in Affliction: (Psalm 119:51-56).
1. It Keeps Us From Being Distracted (119:51) “The proud have me in great derision, Yet I do not turn aside from Your law.” The psalmist found himself being ridiculed for his faith. When people treat you that way, and mock your trust in God it may be easy to get distracted, to focus on the mockers or on how they make you feel. Here is where God’s word brings comfort in affliction. It keeps us on track. He says, “Yet I do not turn aside from Your law.” Unrestrained opposition is met by unwavering loyalty. The next time you find yourself troubled by what others say about you, reach out and pick up your Bible. Say to yourself, “Listen my soul and hear what God has to say about this.” Begin to read God’s word and take it to heart. And God will surely give you a promise from His word that will keep you from being distracted by what others say about you.
2. It Reminds Us of The Big Picture (119:52). I remembered Your judgments of old, O LORD, And have comforted myself.”  God remembers (v. 49), but we must remember as well. He remembers His word, and so must we. Isn’t that one reason that God gives us His word in the Bible? To remind us of who He is and how He has worked down through history? God’s words and ways are unchanging. He remains the same in His dealings with men. Remembering the ways that God has worked in history gives us comfort in affliction. It’s not a coincidence that this verse is sandwiched between 2 verses describing the actions and attitudes of the arrogant and wicked. The psalmist comforts himself when he remembers God’s judgments and dealings with sin and sinners in the past. God will deal with the wicked.
3. It Sensitizes Us to Evil (119:53). Indignation has taken hold of me Because of the wicked, who forsake Your law.” Literally he says “raging heat grasps me.” He is indignant at the evil in the world. As our culture goes deeper in its abandonment of God’s Word, there should be times we feel this way–like Jesus when He cleared the temple. Rather than being desensitized (which happens the more you watch wickedness as entertainment) - we should be appalled at the bold sins not only of the pagans, but of even professing believers. The world shouldn’t mould us to its shape, we should be revolted and fearful of its sinful shaping influence of our hearts. God’s word makes us sensitive to the evil in us and around us.
4. It Keeps Us Singing Along the Journey (119:54). Your statutes have been my songs In the house of my pilgrimage.” A pilgrimage is a journey from one place to another. Earlier in the psalm he said in verse 19, “I am a stranger on the earth.” Believers are traveling through a world that is out of tune with God’s truth. Jesus said to His disciples “You are not of this world.” Affliction is not unique to Christians – what is unique to Christians is the joyful hope within us. What sets us apart is that we can say to anyone at any time the reason for the hope that is within us (v. 49). If a coworker or friend or someone asks us how we can hold up in our difficulty, our answer should be the answer of this passage (v. 50): This is my comfort in my difficulty, God’s Word gives me life.And it gives us the ability to sing and give thanks and declare our witness for Christ in any affliction and difficulty.
5. It Reminds Us of God’s Name (119:55). I remember Your name in the night, O LORD, And I keep Your law.” Even in dark times, in the night we can remember the Name of the Lord. His name communicates His being, His character, His power, and His presence. Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe.”
6. It Becomes Ours As We Obey It (119:56). This has become mine, Because I kept Your precepts.” The word “this” probably refers to the practices of this whole section (i.e., “this comfort, remembrance, your laws” etc.). What’s clear is the blessings spoken of in our passage have direct relationship with obeying, following the Word. When obedience becomes second nature, that is the assurance of our new nature!
That’s the transforming power of the Word of God that Psalm 119 celebrates. In any affliction or difficulty, even persecution or prison or the point of a gun, believers can obey God’s word and give thanks and sing.
Are you singing through your affliction?