The Best Life Possible…

Two primary thoughts struck me this morning as I read Matthew 11.  The first is that even the greatest person to be born of a woman can be perplexed and have doubts about God’s plan.  John the Baptist, the first prophet to Israel in 400 years, and who came on the scene with the power of Elijah found himself in prison wondering, “where did I misunderstand God’s plan?” 

In the midst of John’s uncertainty, Jesus mildly rebukes him and yet gives him great praise for his role in preparing the world for the coming King and His Kingdom. John had proclaimed a message of judgment and yet Jesus reminded him that the Kingdom was more than that.  How easy it is to think we know what God is doing and yet God’s plan is often different than ours.  God is in control even when my circumstances do not fit my understanding of His plan!

The second thing that stood out to me this morning is that I live a very privileged life. In fact, it is the best time to live since the Fall because I am living in the dawning of the Kingdom!  The Kingdom is not yet fully realized, but in its present form, the best life possible is the one that is yoked to Jesus in discipleship.  Jesus said,

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)

An alternate translation is “my yoke is pleasant and my burden is easy to carry.”  A yoke was used in the culture to bind two oxen together as they plowed a field.

Why is being yoked to Jesus the best life possible? Because of the character of Jesus.  I am not yoked to a tyrant or an unreasonable uncaring authority, but one whose character is marked by gentle humility.  In fact, Jesus over time is carefully making me like Him as I am yoked to Him in discipleship.

Father, plowing a field and pulling a load is hard work! Nowhere did You promise soft ground for tilling or level paths for bearing my load. What You did promise is a relationship with You as I till and as I pull. The demands are great.  In fact, You expect my very best, but my relationship with You in life makes the path pleasant and my burden easy to carry.  Help me to learn from You and remain faithful.  Thank you for wanting to disciple me!

Following Jesus with you!

The Verdict Is In!

I am fascinated by the apostle Paul.  In his own description of himself, he states that he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, zealous, a persecutor of the church and much more (Phil. 3:5ff).  Then in Acts 9 he encounters Christ and his life is forever changed as he became a follower of Jesus.

As an Apostle spreading the Gospel, he encountered great hardship. He summarizes his challenging life when he says,

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (1 Cor. 11:23-28)

How did Paul press on through extreme physical suffering and even accusations from those within the church (1 Cor. 4)?

I think one of the truths that allowed Paul to maintain his joy, perseverance, and passion is found in Rom. 8:1 which says:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

What is so striking about that verse?  The word “now.”  Paul realized that the verdict is in on his life even before his life is finished!  When he embraced Jesus Christ as his Savior and God, his sin was forgiven, and he began life as a child of God.  He understood the Gospel freed him from trying to earn his position before God and he wanted the world to know that!

In our culture, our court system weighs the evidence of a person’s actions and then makes a verdict of guilt or innocence.  But, as a Christian, the verdict is in now prior to the weight of all evidence of my life!  As a Christian, I can know now that my sins have been forgiven, even the ones I have not yet committed because I have already been declared righteous in the court of God because of my faith in Christ.

This truth is summarized in Rom. 5:1-2 which says,

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith (past tense), we have peace with God (present tense) through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Paul got it!  Through Christ, he was declared righteous (“justified”), had peace with God and stood in a grace relationship with God!  As a result, Paul lived out of his certain position.  His security was found in the promises of God’s Word and his actions were based upon the truth of God’s Word.

Father help me to grasp the amazing truth that the verdict on my life is already in!  You have already determined my standing because of my choice to trust in Jesus as my Savior.  When I make mistakes and doubt myself today, I need not live in fear of your rejection because your grace through Christ has already set me in a permanent loving relationship with you.  You are now my Father and nothing I can do will change that.  Help these truths motivate me to faithfulness and obedience and give me your peace in the midst of a fallen world.

Following Jesus with you!

 

 

Perspective

Have you noticed in life that how we view circumstances impacts our attitude?  When life is good, it is often easy to follow God.  But, how do I respond when I find myself questioning the fairness of God because of my circumstances?

This is an age-old dilemma.  In fact, it is the problem addressed by Asaph in Psalm 73 almost 3,000 years ago. In this passage, Asaph comes to realize he is deeply troubled by his perception of what he feels is God’s lack of fairness due to the prosperity of the wicked.  He realizes that this tension in him has allowed him to become bitter toward God.  Notice how he summarizes this in Ps. 73:21-22,

“When my soul was embittered . . . I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.”

Asaph describes himself as a person lacking sense as though he were a mere animal in his understandings of God’s ways!  His perspective had made him angry and his life reflected it.  Have you ever felt that way?  I know that I have.

What do we do when we struggle with our perception of the fairness of God?  Asaph gives us insight today for this problem in verses 16-17. It is there that he was able to discern the truth and regain his perspective.  Notice what he said,

“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.”

Asaph had a change of heart when he went into the Temple.  It was there that he talked with God, meditated and wrestled with his concerns.  He does not answer why the wicked prosper, but he does realize their certain end.  As he ponders this further, he mentions three things for followers of God to remember in life regardless of circumstances to keep life in perspective.  In fact, these three things are critical for living life with a God-centered perspective no matter how hard or seemingly unfair our circumstances might be.  As I live life, I must remember three truths:

  1. “You hold me by the hand” (vs 23). He realizes that in the midst of the challenges of life, God is intimately aware and involved with him. Truth number one is that we will have challenging times, but we will never fall because God is holding our hand!
  2. “You guide me” (vs 24). God is the one who is our Shepherd and cares for us enough to guide us in life through His Word.  The second truth is that I need to remember is that God is guiding me no matter how I “feel” about my circumstances when I live by His Word.
  3. “You will receive me to glory” (vs 24). Asaph remembers his certain destiny!  Truth number three is that upon death, God will receive me into his presence. This realization gives meaning, purpose, and hope in life.

As Asaph regained his perspective in view of God’s truth, it caused him to say:

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:25-26

Asaph’s perspective and attitude are once again in line with the truth.  His circumstances did not change, but his perspective did and that changed his attitude. His renewed view on life caused him to recommit himself to God as the number one allegiance of his heart.

Father, thank you for giving us your Word which is the truth and I can find my footing in life by standing upon it.  There are times in life where things do not seem fair, but I can bank on the truth that in the midst of these times: 1) You are with me holding my hand so that I will not fall.  2) You will constantly guide me in life as I live by your Word.  3) I have a great future and hope because You will receive me into your presence at death.  Father help me to “see life” as You do so that my perspective is in line with the truth.  Thank you for loving me so!

 

 

“Do What Is Right!”

King David made a simple statement 3,000 years ago that was easy to understand and apply, but today has become uncertain and controversial.

Psalm 37:3 says,

“Trust in the Lord and do what is right!

As I was reflecting on this passage this morning a number of things stood out to me.  The first is that reliance on, or faith in, God should result in me doing what is right.  My faith needs an appropriate expression.  In this case, David is describing God’s Word as THE truth that I need to embrace and live out. My will and my feelings are to yield to the will of God as laid out in His Word to us…the Bible.

Second, did you notice that to “do what is right” implies that there is a standard of right and wrong that we are to conform to?  Our culture today tells us that we do not need to live up to some imposed external standard of right or wrong because we each have to determine what is right and wrong for us individually.

Timothy Keller profoundly summarizes our Post-Christian culture when he said,

“Throughout history, all cultures believed the truth was something outside (the person). Truth, ‘capital T,’ was something out there (outside the individual). And in here (in us), we had feelings . . . When you found out what the truth was, you brought your feelings in line with it . . . We are the first culture in the history of the world in which we are being told . . . you find the truth inside; you go inside (yourself) to find the truth. And then you come out and you tell everybody you have to accommodate me because I found the truth. This is who I am. This is what’s right or wrong for me. There’s never been a culture in history like that. It’s the complete reverse of all other cultures.”

Today we are being led astray by the false narrative that truth is something I determine for myself. As Christians, we believe truth is something God has given us and we need to understand it and conform to it, no matter how I feel about it.

Father, thank you for caring enough about me that you not only provided your Son to be my Savior, but you also gave me THE TRUTH to live by as one of your children. Help me to better understand your Word and give me the courage to unashamedly live by it.

“Choose Trust”

This morning is was impressed with something David said in Psalm 31:14-15.  This passage says, But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand…”

The words “but I” are in a place of strong contrast in the Hebrew.  David is making a statement about something.  What he is about to say is in strong contrast to what he had just said in the previous verses.  What did he say earlier?

The context shows that his life is seemingly out of control and there are some who are even plotting to kill him!  He is the anointed king.  How can this be happening?  I have had bad days but never have experienced someone trying to assassinate me.

How would you have responded to that situation?  Would you doubt God’s promises? Would you panic and worry?  I am sure I would have done all of those things.  I am sure David was not passive in the situation, but he mentioned where his heart was in the midst of these extreme circumstances when he said: “But I, trust in you O Lord.” In spite of his circumstances, he chose to trust.

It seems that as David thought about his situation he was able to rest in the truth that God cared for him and would protect him.  Instead of reacting as those around him in panic, he realized that he needed to trust God because he knew God’s promises to him were true and that God had shown him multiple times that He loved him.

Why could David trust God?  He knew God was in control.  He said, “my times are in your hand.”  What does that mean? Gerald Wilson states,

“The use of ‘time/times’ in this sense is more than a remark on the passage of time. Underlying the psalmist’s surrender is an understanding of life as made up of a series of decisive moments in which a person can take either appropriate or inappropriate direction, depending on how he or she responds to the circumstances.”

So what is the appropriate action for you and me as we understand our times are in His hand?  When David faced difficult circumstances in life, he chose to trust God.  In the same way, I need to trust God and live life with a yielded heart to His leadership in my life.  Why? My times are in His hand.  I need to be active in my obedience, but I also need to rest in the knowledge that my very life with all of its details are under His control.  In addition, I need to resist the temptation of trying to help God by “fixing things” I don’t agree with in His leadership of my life.

Father, thank you for loving me so much that you care about me and all the details in my life.  I can trust you like David did.  When life seems hard or out of control, help me to trust you and say, “You are my God.  My times are in your hand.”  Help me live a yielded life so that you can change me and accomplish through me everything you desire.  I want to be a moldable vessel for you use.  Help me to chose to trust you in spite of my circumstances.

With My Whole Heart

Have you ever had a morning that starts out bad?  The more you dwell on something troubling you, the more irritated you become?  Then, before you realize it, you are angry, frustrated or discouraged?

I had one of those mornings recently, and then I read the first two verses of Psalm 9.  This passage changed my perspective and my heart.  Here are some of the observations that changed my feelings from angst to joy:

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.  I will be glad and exult in you…” (Ps. 9:1-2)

1.  Notice in the first line, David says he will give thanks to God with a WHOLE heart.  In other words, he chose to praise God with a complete and undivided heart.  He decided to give thanks without any part of his inner soul holding back from such thanksgiving.  There have been times when I can partially praise God, but I am also holding back part of me that is upset about something.  I have to let that go. I have to give thanks to God entirely and without reservation.

2.  How did David move to a whole heart of thanksgiving?  This is line two. He recounted all of God’s WONDERFUL deeds.  This word “wonderful” is interesting because it is describing miraculous works that often are contrary to nature and this word is only used of God, never a man (Ps. 72:18).  David paused to think back and recall each of the miraculous works of God in his life.  He meditated on God’s faithfulness to him.  He thought deeply about the things in his life that only God could have done.  Such meditation can change your feelings of anxiety to joy.

3.  This process of recalling God’s miraculous work in his life personally, allowed him to say the third line.  “I will be GLAD and EXULT IN YOU.”  The word for “glad” is describing the expression of joy while the word “exult” is describing the feelings of joy.  David learned that joy comes from finding it in our relationship with God.  The realization of His unique and miraculous work in each of our lives should want us to express our joy and allow us to experience joy because of our relationship with the God who loves us.

Father, what a great way to start the day.  You have helped me to change my heart this morning.  I have moved from frustration to joy because I have chosen to praise you with a whole heart as I reflect on your miraculous deeds in my life!  This realization has caused me great joy in my relationship with you and makes me want to express it with a whole heart.  May that be true of me today and all days!

But Not Jesus

At this time of year, I have always enjoyed refreshing my memory of the birth story of Jesus.  One passage that started me thinking today about the humility of Jesus is Matt. 2:1-6 which says,

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

  “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

After reading this, I was struck by what Benjamin Forman noted about this passage,

“The Messiah was not born in the ancient capital of the kingdom of Judah, the native residence of 19 Judahite kings, and the center of Israel’s religious worship. Instead, he was born in a small village five miles to the south.”

The choice of Jesus to be born in Bethlehem instead of Jerusalem is evidence that his whole life displayed humility instead of pride.

Seven observations about the life of our humble King:

Observation 1 – the location of the birth of our King was unassuming.  It indeed was predicted in the Old Testament (Mic. 5:2), but it was not the location for the birth of royalty from a human perspective.  If we were Jesus, we would have probably selected Jerusalem as our place of birth since all the famous kings ruled from there– but not Jesus.

Observation 2 – He was born to a poor family (Lk. 2:24). His family could not afford a lamb for their offering and gave a pair of turtledoves or pigeons indicating their lack of wealth.  We not only would have selected Jerusalem as our place of birth but yes, we would have chosen a family of great wealth– but not Jesus.

Observation 3 – He was born in a place where animals lodged (Lk. 2:7)!  This certainly does not seem fitting for a king! We would have selected plush accommodations appropriate for royalty– but, not Jesus.

Observation 4 – Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a place not known for anything good coming from it (Jn. 1:46).  Where would we have picked to grow up? Certainly somewhere known for its elites– but not Jesus.

Observation 5 – How should a king interact with others?  We assume that such a person of royalty should be treated in a special way– but not Jesus.  He came to serve, not to be served (Mt. 20:28).

Observation 6 – We assume a great king should have a view of himself that displays his position but, not Jesus.  He was not full of pride but humble (Zech. 9:9; Phil. 2:4-8).

Observation 7 – A king often rules with power at the expense of others — but not Jesus.  He suffered for you and me so that we might be saved (Is. 53).

In summary, our King is humble.  He thinks and acts so differently than the way we do!  What an amazing King!  He truly is worthy of our praise and worship!

Father, thank you for who you are.  You are humble and not caught up with what so often captures our thoughts, desires, and attention.  Help me to live with your perspective on life and live humbly as modeled by Jesus.  Thank you for sending your Son to live and die for me.

“O LORD, our Lord”

Psalm 8 is an amazing Psalm.  Notice what David says in verse one,

“O LORD, our Lordhow majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”

As we briefly look at this verse, the first thing to notice is the use of the words “LORD” and “Lord.”  These are two different words in Hebrew.  The first, in all caps, is the word YHWH.  It is the word that reveals that God is a personal Being.  In fact, it is the word God chose to reveal Himself to Moses in the burning bush and is translated Yahweh or Jehovah.

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Ex. 3:14-15)

The significance of this name YHWH is explained by Nelson Bible Dictionary, “’I am’ expresses the fact that He is the infinite and original personal God who is behind everything and to whom everything must finally be traced.'”  The “I AM” God is Yahweh!

David is praising God for being a personal God with whom he can have a relationship.  God is not some energy or mystical force.  His very name shows that He is a Person we can know.

The second name for God, “Lord” is the name “Adonai.”  It stresses that this personal God who is eternal, is also in sovereign control of all things.

In a sense then, David begins this Psalm by recalling that God is the eternal, personal God with whom he had a relationship and who was in control of all things. This is a great way to regain your perspective as you talk to God!

He concludes the verse by stating that God’s handiwork is shown in the heavens.  God is personal, sovereign and “majestic.”  This means that He inspires “awe or reverence in the beholder; (this reverence) can be related to size, strength, power, or authority” (Logos).  We should be in awe of God because the heavens declare his power, wisdom and greatness.

Father, this Psalm crafted by David, beautifully describes who you are.  I am so thankful that you are a personal God!  We can have a relationship with you!  Amazing!  In addition, you are the Sovereign One. You are in control of all things and your greatness is displayed in the heavens for all to see.  Creation declares your glory and perfection. My response to your demonstration of power should be awe.  Help me to live in constant awe of you and not take the demonstration of your power for granted.

Testing Can Make Me Better

Have you ever felt the heat of trial?  I am sure you have.  For me, it can show up in the pressure of an anxious heart when things are not going as I expected.  I tend to respond to trial by wrestling with them internally. I think about them, get frustrated with them and try to force them to fit my will.  Instead, I need to remember that God can use them to reveal my imperfections.  When I see my lack of faith, lack of trust or worry, I need to confess that to God so He can remove it from me and make me better.  That is why Proverbs 17:3 hit me today. It says,

“Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the LORD tests the heart.”

As intense heat is used to surface imperfection in metal so that it can be removed, so too the heart.  Trials are not there to make us miserable but to show us what is within us.  When imperfections are brought to the surface, God can remove then as I confess my sin to Him. Tests have a purpose–to make me better!

Notice what the NET Bible says about this verse,

“When the LORD ‘tests’ human hearts, the test, whatever form it takes, is designed to improve the value of the one being tested.”  

As a result, testing can improve us, purify us and mature us if we respond correctly.  Tremper Longman notes,

“Since the crucible does not only expose but also gets rid of dross, the implication may be that he not only evaluates hearts in this way but also helps people get rid of their sin.”

Father, thank you for the reminder the trials and difficulties can be welcomed since they surface my imperfections and because you can remove them from me as I ask you to do so.  Instead of fighting them and complaining, I must remember that you use them to show me where I still do not trust you and try to handle things myself. Instead, I should discuss my anxious heart with you.  I need to believe in you and your promises instead of trying to fix everything myself.  Use the trials in my life to purify me. Through them, make me more like Jesus and more usable for your Kingdom.

Friend? Are you sure?

As I was reading in Matthew 26, I was struck by the word Jesus chose to describe Judas when he betrayed him. It is a familiar story. Judas had agreed to give the authorities Jesus in exchange for money. When Judas and the mob approached Jesus, Jesus said,

Friend, do what you came to do.” (Mt 26:50)

Are you not puzzled that Jesus would use the word “friend” to describe Judas? How could He use such a word?

Unfortunately, in English, we only have one word to describe associates. The Greek is more specific. Jesus uses the word philos to represent his real friends. Notice the following example:

“You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (Jn 15:14-15)

Jesus did not use the word philos, “true friend” when he talked with Judas. He used another word, hetairos. What is the difference between these two words?

“The study of the word hetaíros causes us to conclude that it could not be used as synonym with phílos, a true friend who seeks the other’s good. Hetaíros is one who only projects his own interest. The inference, therefore, is that hetaíros means a selfish acquaintance, one who seeks his own interests above the interests of others. (Zodhiates)

So what does this word choice mean in the confrontation of Jesus and Judas? Zodhiates continues his insight by saying, “the Lord called him hetaíre, indicating that while Judas was giving Him a kiss pretending that he was a friend, all he was interested in was the thirty pieces of silver. Therefore, the meaning of the word is a person who attaches himself to another for what he can get out of him, a leech or a phony friend as we would say in our culture today, a selfish comrade.”

Isn’t the Bible amazing?! The word choice of Jesus to reveal the real intent of Judas would be condemning for him to hear. Jesus understood his motive for following Him. Yet, for our benefit, He allowed it to happen.

Father, may I be a true friend of yours. One who seeks to do your will for your benefit and not selfishly try to use my relationship with you for my selfish interests. Help me to live in constant fellowship with you.