Life does have its ups, downs, and turns, doesn’t it? Rick and I have once again seen that happen as our life has taken a sudden turn to the ultra-busy. We are in the midst of lots of doctor visits to address some serious health issues that Rick has been going through, so I feel the need to take a blog break for a few weeks. As I’m sure you all know, trekking to this doctor and that specialist—not to mention the inevitable lab work—takes a lot of time, and it is often hard to decompress afterward. I am finding that I need more rest and nap time, which helps me recoup the necessary energy to really be there for Rick.
I’m not sure when I’ll be back to my blog because that depends on so many things right now, but I will be back!
There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all stories are telling one Big Story. It is the Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture. – Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible
The Bible is not a book about God; it is God speaking to us. – David Jackman
1. Open the Bible. D.L. Moody prayed for faith and waited anxiously to receive it. He thought it may come one day and hit him like lightning. “But faith did not seem to come, “he said. “One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans, ‘Now faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.’ I had closed my Bible, and prayed for faith. I now opened my Bible and began to study, and faith has been growing ever since.”
God spoke the world into existence and He uses words still to engage human hearts. Today, God speaks. I used to pray, “God make Your Word come alive in me!” Instead, God awoke my dead heart to His living breath. The problem is not with the Bible or our study techniques. The problem is with our dead hearts. The Bible is already alive.
Will you pray that God will show you the power of his living Word? Will you commit to simply open the Word of God daily?
2. Pray. King David pleaded with God in prayer to help him love God’s precepts. His humble request reflects his dependency on God’s work in his heart towards the Bible. No Christian comes to faith on their own. Nor do they grow in Christ’s likeness by their own efforts. Why, then, would we expect to study and love the Bible in our own power? We need God’s work in our hearts to do just that. David prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Commenting on this, John Piper adds, “If God does not ‘give,’ we do not find.”
So, will you ask God to help you see inside his Word? Will you ask Him to give you the desire to study the Bible and the love to tether your heart to His words.
3. Read the Bible. An esteemed theologian was asked by one of his students how he finds what he finds in the biblical text. His answer: “Well, first I read it. And then I read it again. And then I read it again…”
Jesus seemed always to classify people in two categories. He taught that there are two roads of life—the broad road and the narrow road. He said there are two destinies in life. He did not give a third alternative. He did not give any middle road. He said it’s either one or the other.
He said: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
You cannot be neutral about eternal life, but a lot of people try to be. They try to ride the middle road—but there is no middle road. Jesus said it’s one or the other. He said if you’re not on the narrow road that leads to eternal life, then you must be on the broad road that leads to destruction. Every person is on one or the other.
Which road are you on? The broad road or the narrow road? One leads to destruction and hell; the other leads to a full life here and now and eventually life to come in Heaven. Which is it? It’s one or the other.
And I want to tell you, if I did not know which road I was on, I would make sure, no matter what it cost.
Notice that the broad road is a wide road. In other words, you can enter the wide gate and carry with you all your sins. You can carry your selfishness, your prejudice, your hate, your lust, your intolerance, your bigotry. There are no restrictions, no inhibitions, no rules.
The extremes of humanity are on this broad road. There are the immoral, the dictators, the murderers. But there are also some moral people and even church people on this road. The Bible says, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me’” (Matthew 7:22-23). They were on the broad road all along.
….. And all those people who tried to keep one foot in the world and one foot in Heaven, those who tried to ride both roads—all of those people are on the broad road, in the sight of Christ.
This broad road is also a crowded road. Jesus said there are many who go in by it. I think one of the greatest sins is conformity. We always hear, “Everybody else is doing it.” No other reason except everybody else is doing it. Conformity. Nobody has the moral courage anymore to stand alone.
If everybody in your room at school cheats, dare to stand alone and get a C if necessary. If everybody in your office lies, and if all the other salesmen tell lies in order to sell a product, or they cheat on their income tax, or they pad their expense account, dare to stand alone. If all the other employers are getting by paying as little as they can pay to their workers, dare to stand alone and be above board with those who work for you. If everybody in your community has racial prejudice, dare to stand alone and look through the eyes of Christ.
God doesn’t judge us by what others are doing. If you give your life to Jesus Christ, you may be the only one in your fraternity, in your sorority; you may be the only one in your place of business; you may be the only one in your room at school trying to live for Jesus Christ. But if you will take your stand for Christ, God will honor you and bless you, and He will open doors for you that you never dreamed.
This broad road—not only is it crowded and wide, but it’s deceptive. The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25).
Captain Jack Sparrow is not only a surprisingly clever pirate; he’s also a surprising judge of character. He tells young William Turner that he’s on his way to being a pirate because he, among other things, is “completely obsessed with treasure.” Will balks at this, only to have Jack wisely respond, “Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.”
The truth is we’re all completely obsessed with treasure. We’re actually wired that way. God designed us to be active worshipers, and treasure is simply shorthand for the object of our worship. Since our hearts are always actively worshiping something, they’re not neutral; nor do they accidentally stumble into worship. They choose it. And, as Captain Jack points out, treasure is far more than just material wealth. For this reason, the Sage of Proverbs warns, “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it springs the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23) Likewise, Jesus warns that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). The question I want you to think about today is, Where is your treasure? To answer, carefully ponder three questions and invite the Holy Spirit to examine your heart.
1. What makes you happy?
Think about the times when you are the happiest. Or, perhaps, what you look forward to the most. When are you the most content and peaceful? What automatically brings a smile to your face? What events or occasions are non-negotiable in your life? What is your favorite part of your day? Don’t feel guilty if every single answer wasn’t Jesus. James tells us that “Every good and perfect gift comes from above.” God, the Giver of the gifts you enjoy, gives them to us for our delight. However, because our hearts have been perverted by sin, we often take the good gifts from our loving Father and make them objects of our worship rather than reasons to worship the Giver. To assess whether these good gifts have become your treasure, we’re going to need a couple more questions.
“Then the King will say…
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father;
take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you
since the creation of the world.’”
During a recent TV documentary, historians speculated about Adolph Hitler’s family history. Even today investigators are at a loss to identify Hitler’s relatives because he ordered all of his family records destroyed, including birth certificates, photos, and personal letters. He so obsessively pursued creating the perfect society that under his tutelage genealogists eliminated the records of his biological family and recreated new documents, permitting the dictator to manipulate people into and out of his family tree.
“You can choose your friends, but not your family” is a recognizable quip that applies to most of the human race. An exception to the rule was most recently illustrated when Adolph Hitler appropriated the ability to redesign his own family. His lineage has been so entirely revised that researchers are trying to piece it together now, more than seventy-five years after the dictator’s death. The German Chancellor of the Third Reich had three step-nephews who currently live in total seclusion in the USA, refusing to cooperate with investigators probing for the truth regarding their family history.
With the small amount of progress gained in retrieving Hitler’s original family tree, a psychiatrist has determined that there was a genetic predisposition to mental disorders within his family. As a child, young Adolph was subjected to his father’s abuse. Disillusioned as an adult, Hitler could not tolerate imperfection, especially within his own family. To avoid humiliation, he merely interchanged his family members with those people he perceived to be of superior quality.
The one, perfect God opens His arms wide and accepts all who request salvation, a birthright into His holy family. Imagine being a member of the family of God! It is blessed reality, a truth taught by Jesus when He walked this earth. God’s family is a composite of all human life beginning with Adam and Eve and descending through the ages. “Then the King will say … ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34).
Because God is sovereign, He could be highly selective of those who will live with Him in heaven for eternity. He could choose among candidates who are physically superior or attractive. However, God reminds us in His Word that exterior appearances are deceptive; He is not impressed with man’s emphasis of achievement or beauty. God looks deep within a person’s heart. Since that is the case, one might further assume God prefers those who possess the most innocent or altruistic thoughts. That is the reasoning man tends to use. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Mankind has always been separated from God because any sin, pondered or committed, is offensive to Him. Our Father is holy and sinless. He sacrificed His only pure Son to redeem a sinful people who are separated from Him by a deep chasm of impurity. We cannot reach God without the bridge of His Son’s shed blood to redeem and unite us. “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?” (James 2:5).
Since Jesus has redeemed us by willingly sacrificing His sinless, pure life, God has promised we will inherit eternal life; co-heirs in eternity with His own Son, Jesus. If you were notified that you had inherited a mansion where you could live in untold riches for an eternity, wouldn’t you hasten to accept the gift? That is exactly what God is offering each one of us. He refuses no one who genuinely believes and in humility accepts Him as Lord and Savior. Though God is reproached by sin, He is willing to forgive the most heinous acts of indecency. “‘I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more’” (Isaiah 43:25).
God is merciful, desiring that no one perish. The eternal King lavishes us with His love and welcomes us into heaven as His children. It is unnecessary to bribe or manipulate, but only believe. We are promised an eternity in paradise where the only illumination is supplied by the absolute glory of our holy, heavenly Father.
Perfection on earth is impossible. Adolph Hitler’s delusions caused world-wide suffering. Millions of people were annihilated in one man’s quest to create an ideal family and a perfect society. The one perfect Son of God substituted His flawless life to save a world of lost sinners. Even those who endeavor to manipulate their family tree on earth must succumb to the Lord’s rules to access heaven. There perfection shall reign eternal!
The psalms represent a priceless treasure trove of resources for relating to God in all circumstances. They instruct us in how to live, and they teach us great truths about God the great King, his sovereign rule over all things, and his plan for reconciling the world to himself through his Son Jesus, the Christ. With all their beauty and spiritually uplifting messages, here are 8 key takeaways from the Psalms.
1. The book of Psalms engages almost all of the great themes of the Bible.
Beginning with Psalms 1 – 2, the Psalter lays out the theme of — • The righteous versus the wicked and the importance of relying on God and his Word. • God’s sovereignty and rule over all people and nations. • The interplay between divine and human kingship. • God as a place of refuge for all.
2. As human words to and about God, the Psalms instruct us in myriad ways about how to worship God.
They teach us how to sing, dance, rejoice, give thanks, confess sin, grieve, express anger, make requests of God, proclaim God’s name far and wide, and more.
3. The Psalms teach us that God has sovereign rule as the great King over all things.
God rules over creation itself and over all nations and people groups — down to each individual person. As the sovereign King, God asserts his control over the most powerful forces in nature. He proclaims his authority over all the false gods of the nations, gods that were such a temptation for his own people time and time again.
4. The Psalms celebrate that God is a good God.
God is holy, loving, merciful, protective of his people, faithful, a keeper of promises, a giver of good gifts. He protects the vulnerable in society — the widow, the fatherless, the outsider, and the poor — and expects his representatives on earth to carry out this mission.
5. The Psalms praise God for being a just God.
The Lord vindicates his people, punishes evil, and cares for the marginalized. He opposes the wicked, whether individuals (e.g.,Psalms 1:4 – 6) or nations (e.g.,Psalm 2), and will mete out justice for their wickedness.
As long as we have unsolved problems,
unfilled desires, and a mustard seed of faith,
we have all we need for a vibrant prayer life. —John Ortberg
Mustard seed faith is sometimes a difficult concept but one that is very important to understand. The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds found in the Middle East, but that smallest of seeds grows into one of the largest plants. Jesus therefore used this illustration several times to show us that even the tiniest grain of truefaithcan do very great things.
14 When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus,
falling on his knees before Him and saying,
15 “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill;
for he often falls into the fire and often into the water.
16 I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.”
17 And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation,
how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?
Bring him here to Me.”
18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him,
and the boy was cured at once.
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said,
“Why could we not drive it out?”
20 And He said to them,
“Because of the littleness of your faith;
for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move;
and nothing will be impossible to you.”
—Matthew 17:14-20, NASB—
We see here the central need of faith, without which nothing can happen. When Jesus spoke about removing mountains he was using a phrase which the Jews knew well. A great teacher, who could really expound and interpret scripture and who could explain and resolve difficulties, was regularly known as an uprooter, or even a pulverizer, of mountains. To tear up, to uproot, to pulverize mountains were all regular phrases for removing difficulties. Jesus never meant this to be taken physically and literally. After all, the ordinary man seldom finds any necessity to remove a physical mountain. What he meant was: “If you have faith enough, all difficulties can be solved, and even the hardest task can be accomplished.” Faith in God is the instrument which enables men to remove the hills of difficulty which block their path. —William Barclay
Beloved, I think we can all agree that COVID-19 is affecting us a great deal in so many ways. We have been feeling as if things are totally out of control. Life as we knew it will never be the same. Our emotions may be wavering while we seek to hold onto our faith during these difficult times.
Having and holding onto true faith is difficult in hard circumstances, but it is possible. In our own physical strength we cannot move mountains. We can’t make something from nothing. We cannot by ourselves change someone’s heart and mind about something. We cannot pretend that the Coronavirus never happened or doesn’t exist. All of these things and more are under God’s care and control.
What we can do is rely on the fact that God knows what is best for us and rest assured that His ways and means are perfect. And if we believe—have true faith—in that fact, we will be able to pray with a faith that will steadily grow.
Just like that tiny mustard seed.
We may then understand that what we regard as unanswered prayers are actually part of God’s grand design to mold us into becoming who He wants us to be. And we will become content, completely and absolutely trusting that His ways are best.
Our pastor had recently died during open-heart surgery. Everyone in our congregation was grieving. I knew I must explain his death to our five-year old, but I was unsure whether he could understand. As it turned out, I need not have worried. He comprehended more completely than I ever imagined.
Our son’s reaction was initially one of stillness and contemplation. Then, suddenly, as a warm glow spread across his face, he smiled and responded, “Oh, Mommy, wouldn’t you like to go there—to heaven with pastor, to see Jesus?” I embraced him with a bear hug, as we talked more extensively about heaven, where our pastor now lives with Jesus—a home of beauty, where happiness abounds.
Jesus loves the children. Is it any wonder? Deep within the heart of a child, He identifies pure motives and innocence. He gave us instructions to receive the kingdom of heaven like a little child. That means we cautious adults are to exercise the same tenacious faith, intense beliefs, and confident trust that children employ. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:14-16).
Just what happens between early childhood years and adulthood to cultivate skepticism, agnosticism, or atheism? As we mature, we acquire more common sense and discernment. We learn to question everything, sometimes the very foundations of our faith. Did we experience mistrust from a dishonest person? Perhaps a major player in our lives deceived us. Intimidation may have convinced us that we will never measure up. Trauma possibly caused perpetual fear or terror. Life’s experiences gradually manipulate our attitudes and belief systems.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). The responsibility for parents to teach their children about God and His saving grace is just as important, or even greater, than all their other preparations for life. Children who believe in their Savior and heavenly Father, will possess a foundation of faith that can be built upon as the child matures. Then, when faced with decisions and turmoil of adult living, reliance will be based on God and His promises. Jesus loves the children and He expects us to teach them to love Him, too.
The enemy giant “looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him” (1 Samuel 17:42). Goliath had an over-inflated view of himself as he scoffed and cursed at David for attempting to fight him, calling him a dog. Undoubtedly, the giant was looking for a bigger challenge for a sparring partner. Goliath had been shouting defiance for forty days, but no one else had come forward to accept the challenge. “Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified” (1 Samuel 17:11). When David declared he would fight the Philistine giant, King Saul warned, “‘you are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy and he has been a fighting man since his youth” (1 Samuel 17:33). David was deluged with criticism rather than confidence from men lacking their own personal courage.
David never doubted, nor did his faith waver, as he announced he would slay the giant (1 Samuel 17:47). During his early shepherding years, David killed a bear and a lion with his bare hands, giving credit to his Lord for the victories. God continued to empower David, tutoring the next king in His sovereign classroom, preparing him to one day succeed Saul. David grew up to be an effective, efficient, empathetic king, named “a man after God’s own heart.”
The difference between the boy David and all of the seasoned fighting men in the Israeli army, was that David took his Lord into battle with Him. God enables His children with strength and power regardless of age or ability. We are admonished to encourage those people God has assigned with kingdom work.
Believers are assured: “the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15). God provides the victory, just as He promised “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are so young, but set an example for the believers in speech and in conduct, in love, in faith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Those who are young are admonished to “watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (v. 4:16). Have we lost our sense of wonder, our compelling spiritual innocence? Children know whom to trust. Their tell-it-like-it-is descriptions defy adult explanations.
As we keep our ears attuned to children, there are many things we learn from them: a simplistic approach to life, unbridled enthusiasm, and unashamed love. Catch their excitement and pure faith. Look for opportunities to participate in the spiritual education of a child. You will be pleasantly surprised to learn that there is no fear or hesitation in their love of Jesus.
If Christ appeared physically in the presence of children today, they would run with eagerness into His arms, recognizing His love and splendor. Would we unabashedly follow their example? The question is ponderable, for Jesus provides a specific warning pertaining to our verbal and physical reactions to Him. “‘If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and holy angels’” (Luke 9:26, The Msg.).
Jesus is an undeniable fact of life, whose paths we must follow for success and joy. Children integrate spiritual lessons quickly and thoroughly. It is no wonder most adults would prefer to return to the innocence of their youth, a lifestyle abounding with trust and joy. We need never abandon Jesus’ gifts as we age, for He has promised abundant lives, lavished with grace and mercy for all who trust and follow Him. Let us re-evaluate our faith, prioritizing childlike singlemindedness, unreservedly accepting and following our Savior.
In 1993, my wife and I were involved in an historic train wreck. The crash of the Sunset Limited into an inlet from Mobile Bay killed more passengers than any Amtrak accident in history. We survived that eerie accident but not without ongoing trauma. The wreck left my wife with an ongoing anxiety about being able to sleep on a train at night. The wreck left me with a back injury that took fifteen years of treatment and therapy to overcome. Nevertheless, with these scars from the trauma we both learned a profound lesson about the providence of God. Clearly, God’s providence in this case for us was one of benign benevolence. It also illustrated to us an unforgettable sense of the tender mercies of God. In as much as we are convinced that God’s providence is an expression of His absolute sovereignty over all things, I would think that a logical conclusion from such a conviction would be the end of all anxiety.
However, that is not always the case. Of course, our Lord Himself gave the instruction to be anxious for nothing to His disciples and, by extension, to the church. His awareness of human frailties expressed in our fears was manifested by His most common greeting to His friends: “Fear not.” Still, we are creatures who, in spite of our faith, are given to anxiety and at times even to melancholy.
As a young student and young Christian, I struggled with melancholy and sought the counsel of one of my mentors. As I related my struggles, he said, “You are experiencing the heavy hand of the Lord on your shoulder right now.” I had never considered God’s hand being one that gave downward pressure on my shoulder or that would cause me to struggle in this way. I was driven to prayer that the Lord would remove His heavy hand from my shoulder. In time, He did that and delivered me from melancholy and a large degree of anxiety.
On another occasion I was in a discussion with a friend, and I related to him some of the fears that were plaguing me. He said, “I thought you believed in the sovereignty of God.” “I do,” I said, “and that’s my problem.” He was puzzled by the answer, and I explained that I know enough about what the Bible teaches of God’s providence and of His sovereignty to know that sometimes God’s sovereign providence involves suffering and affliction for His people. That we are in the care of a sovereign God whose providence is benevolent does not exclude the possibility that He may send us into periods of trials and tribulations that can be excruciatingly painful. Though I trust God’s Word that in the midst of such experiences He will give to me the comfort of His presence and the certainty of my final deliverance into glory, in the meantime I know that the way of affliction and pain may be difficult to bear.