Set Not Your Heart On. . .

As I was reading in Psalm 62, verse 10 stood out to me.  It says, “if riches increase, set not your heart on them” (ESV).  The NLT translates it this way, “if your wealth increases, don’t make it the center of your life.”

When I read that I asked myself if my heart had drifted to things so that they have become too important to me? The more I thought about this, the more I realized that the older I get, the more I view creature comforts as necessities.  I certainly appreciate all the Lord has given us, but I want to make sure those things have not become an inappropriate focus of my heart.

Jesus discusses this concept in Luke 12:15 when he was talking to a man who had lost perspective about the value of money. He had allowed riches to become the center of his life. To that person, he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own” (NLT).

It appears that this man had allowed the strong desire to acquire more and more stuff, to become the priority of his life.  Jesus shows him why this is wrong when he said, Life is not measured by how much you own.”  To better understand the meaning of that statement, it is helpful to notice that Jesus uses a special word for “life.” It is the Greek word zoe (ζωή).  Jesus uses this word in the Gospel of John to describe the eternal relationship with God that is possible for those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and God (Jn 17:3; 20:30-31).

So, what is the point Jesus is making to this man? Possessions have no impact on my relationship with God and, therefore, should not be the focus of my heart. Lenski clarifies this well when he says,

“One striking reason for the futility of all covetousness is the simple fact that a man’s ζωή (“life,” relationship with God) . . . is not drawn from his earthly possessions. He will not have a bit more of actual life when he has much or a bit less of that life when he has little.[1]

My relationship with God is not based upon “stuff.”  Yet, how easy it is to focus on the temporal because we cannot see the spiritual.  Jesus is showing us that we must be careful not to pursue riches since they cannot add value to our relationship with him.

Father, thank you for this reminder that I must guard against allowing my heart to be drawn away toward things that promise a fulfillment they can’t provide.  You and you alone need to be the primary focus and allegiance of my heart.  Thank you for the abundance of riches you have given me, may they not become too important to me.  Help me to keep my heart focused on you and what truly makes my relationship with you flourish.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

 

 

[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 685.

Awaiting My Invitation

After a very traumatic weekend with the death and resurrection of Jesus, Luke 24:13-25 tells us about two disciples of Jesus who started to head home from Jerusalem to Emmaus which was a seven-mile journey. As they walked, they were having a debate about the events they had experienced.

At that moment, Jesus approached them and began walking with them to their village.  He asked what they were discussing and that led to what I am sure was a profound discussion!

As unfathomable as the details are related to who Jesus is and what his death and resurrection accomplished, I was intrigued by a secondary issue in verses 28-29 which says,

“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them.”

It appears that the two disciples had reached the turnoff for their home and Jesus acted as though he would go on alone without them.  Why would Jesus do that? Why would he give the impression that he was going to continue on his journey?

Jesus was giving them the chance to express their desire to want to know him better rather than assume that was true or force them to spend time with him.  As a result, these disciples responded to his action by taking the initiative to continue their discussion by inviting him to their home. 

What does this tell us about Jesus?

Jesus does not force himself upon any of us.  He has made a relationship possible for all of us but he awaits our invitation to pursue and develop that relationship.  He wants a relationship with those who want one with him.

Klaus Issler describes this concept when he says,

Perhaps God could have designed humans so that our hardware and software programming would cause us to love him, so that we would automatically love God whether we wanted to or not. Yet what permeates a friendship relationship is a voluntary and mutual decision for each other. God could have a made a toy factory in which all believers mechanically proclaimed prerecorded praises. Pull the string and we chirp in unison, “I love you, God,” “I thank you, God.” But a genuine relationship must be entered into freely and not under coercion of will.[1]

Father, you want to have a relationship with me and have provided for that possibility at great personal cost. Thank you for helping me see that you are always waiting for my invitation to develop my relationship with you. I do want to know you better and ask that you would help me do that.  Let me not take you for granted and enable me to make you a priority in my life.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

 

[1] Klaus Issler. Wasting Time with God: A Christian Spirituality of Friendship with God (Kindle Locations 1432-1435). Kindle Edition.

 

“Friend” Are You Sure?

In preparation for Good Friday, 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.[1]

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.”[2]

Isn’t the Bible amazing?! Jesus’ word choice reveals the true intent of Judas,  I can only imagine that such a term used to describe Judas would be condemning for him to hear. Jesus understood his motive for following Him. Judas only followed Jesus for personal gain.  He had not embraced Jesus as Savior and God. Even so, and for our benefit, Jesus allowed this betrayal 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 own interests. Help me to live in constant fellowship with you.

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

[1] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[2] Ibid.

Decisive Moments

As we all know, we are living in a time where there is a great amount of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety.  Much of this is because we have never experienced the current circumstances in which we find ourselves.  Where can we go for hope and guidance?  Fortunately, the Bible is a timeless book that God has given us and covers enough history that it has very practical things to say for a time such as this.

This morning I was impressed with the way David responded to great difficulty in his life.  In fact, he says in Ps 31: 9,

“I am in distress!” (NET)

Many of us today are echoing the words of David.  In his situation, he had people seeking to kill him.  He was in danger and he felt it.  His situation impacted all of him.  His emotions were aroused, and he was alarmed because of the danger surrounding him and he was not afraid to tell God about it.  The question for us today is how do we respond under the pressures of life as it is impacting our emotions?  We should not ignore how we feel, instead, we need to follow David’s example and talk to God about it.

After expressing himself to God, in Ps 31:14-15 David shows us how he chose to respond to his circumstances.  He says,

But I trust in you, O Lord! I declare, ‘You are my God!’ You determine my destiny! Rescue me from the power of my enemies and those who chase me.” (NET)

The grammar in that passage is very emphatic.  To help clarify the meaning here, this passage could be understood to say,

Contrary to what one might expect under the circumstances, I do not despair, but I surrender in trust to the hand of God” . . . naming Yahweh as the only source of hope.”[1]

Even though his circumstances were screaming for him to panic, David chose not to despair and instead, he chose to trust God with his life regardless of the outcome. Like David, we must choose surrender and trust rather than despair.

Gerald Wilson makes a great observation about this passage when he says,

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. One response is to seek to control and manipulate the situation to one’s advantage. That is clearly what the psalmist’s opponents are doing. The other way is to surrender one’s personal will to the power and authority of God…”[2]

Like David, you and I are at a DECISIVE MOMENT in time. Will we stress and try to control, or will we simply surrender our will to God’s and trust him?  Together, let’s choose to yield to his leadership and trust him.

Father, my tendency is to try to make things happen when circumstances are not going as I expect.  I know that I must do my part, but when that is done, I need to surrender and trust in you as my God like David.  Into your hand do I commit my life.  Help me to live as someone who is trusting you with my life especially now.

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

[1] Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms, vol. 1, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 532.

[2] IBID, 532.

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting!

My wife would tell you that “waiting” is not something I enjoy!  Whether it be standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for a table at a restaurant or waiting to hear my number called at our local DMV!  I get impatient and it impacts my attitude.

That is why Ps. 27 hit me today. David said in verse 14,

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

All of us have had times in our lives where we want to do something and for whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem to happen as fast as we would like.  If you are like me, I have a tendency to want to take control and make things happen.  Personally, I want this coronavirus problem fixed today so that we can get back to our normal lives!  I want to go, but it seems that God is not in a rush.

I appreciated the wisdom of Gerald Wilson who said,

“One of the most difficult aspects of faithful Christian living for me has been waiting for God. Too often I am impatient and want God to act now, on my schedule. Most often that is not how it happens. Waiting takes strength and demonstrates trust, courage, and endurance[1]

Why does God want us to wait for him and his perfect timing in our lives?  This is a great question and again, Wilson has helpful insight when he says,

Waiting on God is hard work. Yet, it is one way—perhaps the only way—of demonstrating God’s strength manifest in our weakness. Whenever we rush frantically about trying to “do it” on our own, we in effect become “functional atheists,” denying by our actions that God is active in our lives. Often to admit that we are powerless is the first step toward acknowledging God’s strength unleashed in our lives.”[2]

Waiting helps me realize that I am not in control, but God is.  Instead of trying to make things happen, sometimes God works our circumstances to help us refocus our dependence back upon him.  Often times, instead of trying to force things to happen, I need to get on my knees and pray to God for his help.

Does “waiting” mean that I passively just sit there?  The NIV Study Bible clarifies the meaning of this verse when it says,

“To wait for the Lord is to look to him with dependence and trust, not passivity; this is what enables one to be strong and courageous.”[3]

As you and I wait for God to meet our needs, address the coronavirus pandemic and fix our economy, and whatever else is troubling us, we should be people who express hope and courage with the confident expectation of God’s provision.

As Tom Constable apply summarizes, believers of all people,

“Can remain positive and confident about our spiritual safety as we find our delight in the Lord. When fear raises its head, the way to defeat it is to return to trust in Yahweh.”[4]

Father, thank you that while I need to be active and expectant in my hope in you and your provision, I should not be frantic, or worried as though you were not actively involved in my life.  You are my refuge.  You are my rock.  As you say in Ps 23, you vigorously pursue me with your goodness and mercy.   Father, continue to give our country’s leadership wisdom and bless their efforts to control this virus and restore our economy.  Thank you for being actively involved in my life even when I cannot see it because of my circumstances.

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

[1] Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms, vol. 1, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 490.

[2] Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms, vol. 1, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 491.

[3] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 971.

[4] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ps 27:13.

My Shepherd and Lavish Host

Today I was impressed with something that is said in one of the most familiar Psalms in the Bible, Psalm 23.  It seems that there are two primary descriptions of God in this passage. The first is that he is our Shepherd.  As our Shepherd, he leads, guides, protects and provides for his sheep. These truths should be a great encouragement to us today.

But, the second description is what hit me today because of the challenges we are all experiencing with the Coronavirus.  It is in verses 5-6 which says,

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

In the verses above, God is now pictured not as a Shepherd but as the Lavish Host of a grand meal and you and I are his guests.  This meal takes place “in the presence of my enemies.” Did you see that?

Tom Constable notes,

“In this verse David described God as a host rather than as a shepherd. As a gracious host God provides hospitality for His people. He supplies us with what we need and desire lavishly, and He does so not by removing us from the presence of our spiritual enemies but in their presence.”[1]

Although David probably had human enemies in mind in verse five, this passage is clearly also telling us that God will provide for us in all difficult times because of what he said in verse four which says,

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

David said he fears “no evil.”  This is a general reference to all harm.  As we go through this challenging time, we must remember that God does not promise to prevent challenges in our livesInstead, he promises to walk through these times with us.  As a result, we must endure as we faithfully walk with him and trust him.

One other thing stood out to me in these verses. The realization of God’s lavish provision in the midst of his enemies caused David to say something significant,

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

What does David mean by “follow”? I think Constable again points out something very important about David’s statement. He said,

“‘To follow’ here does not mean to ‘bring up the rear’ but ‘to pursue vigorously.’”[2]

Isn’t it encouraging and comforting to know that God vigorously is pursuing you and me to lavishly meet our needs in the midst of trouble?  May you and I continue to trust him to care for us and thank him for his abundance.

Father, thank you for helping me see something new in this very familiar Psalm.  Thank you for the truth that you are with us in times of trouble and you lavishly meet our needs as we walk with you. In fact, you will vigorously continue to do that!  Help me to walk by faith in your promises and display Christ’s character in the midst of all challenges. May you protect our country, our leadership and your Church at this time.

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ps 23:5.

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ps 23:6.

Soaring or Weary Flapping?

Have you found life to be hard at times?  How do we thrive in times of difficulty?  Today I was impressed with the description of the flight of an eagle,

“From his experience of living near an eagle’s hollow, Terry Fulham explains plains how eagles mount up. As a child of nine or ten he would visit the hollow for hours and sit and watch eagles circling and soaring overhead. On one occasion, he remembered observing an eagle standing at the edge of its nest, high up on the crags of a cliff. It just stood there, wings spread out wide open. And it stood and stood. Terry became impatient and started to throw rocks at the eagle to make it fly (of course, the nest was much higher than his stone’s reach). All of a sudden, the eagle slowly Iifted off the nest and began soaring-without any movement of its wings. It had waited for the wind to carry it aloft. We learn that apart from the wind there is no soaring, only weary flapping. We were made for soaring with the Spirit, to soar above the heights as well as through storms.[1]

How does this apply to you and me?  Notice what it says in Is. 40:31,

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

God, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, has given us the capacity as believers to soar above the circumstances of life.  God has not promised to keep us from problems or trials, but he has given us the ability to rise above them as we walk in humble dependence upon him each step of the way.

As Issler further notes,

“By combining two biblical word pictures, the Spirit as wind and the believer as a soaring eagle . . .  a dynamic image takes shape, depicting how supernatural assistance helps believers rise above human limitations. Eagles were made for soaring, having long wingspans with powerful pinions. They soar great distances for hours at a time when the wind carries them”.

You and I are made to soar through the enabling of the Spirit rather than our weary flapping of self-effort!

Father, thank you for the reminder and the truth that you are with us every minute of the day.  We can soar, even in the midst of trial and trouble as you enable us.  Help me to remember my ability to live in a manner that pleases you only comes from your enabling.  Help me to soar today!

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

[1] Klaus Issler. Wasting Time with God: A Christian Spirituality of Friendship with God (Kindle Location 1846). Kindle Edition.

 

Primary Allegiance

I remember as a young boy reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in class.  “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…” I was declaring my commitment to the flag and our country as a high priority in my life.  As I read about Esau today, I could not help but think of his lack of allegiance to what really mattered.  This passage says,

“Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright now.’ Esau said, ’I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me now.’ So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Gen. 25:31-34)

I am sure you remember the story, where Esau’s temporal hunger was more important to him than his birthright.  Esau was not only willing to give up his special inheritance, but he also was giving up the leadership of the family.  The text says he “despised” his birthright.  Moses, in writing this is making sure we do not miss what Esau did.  It is a moral judgment of his action.

The word “despise” is emphasizing that Esau regarded his birthright to have little value. “For Esau, the birthright is a worthless object.”[1]

As Tom Constable notes,

Esau cared only for physical and material things whereas Jacob valued the spiritual. Esau gave priority to the immediate satisfaction of his sensual desires, but Jacob was willing to wait for something better that God had promised in the future.”[2]

I think the reason this hit me this morning is that I can treat the privileges of being a child of God in that same way that Esau treated his birthright without realizing it!  The amazing blessing I have as a son of the King, with a desirable future and destiny can be lost in the pursuit of temporary busyness and personal fulfillment. I certainly have responsibilities now, but I must not let them challenge God as the number one allegiance of my heart.

How are you doing with keeping Jesus the number one allegiance of your heart?

Father, thank you for letting me see how Esau lost his perspective and craved temporal fulfillment more than the promised future you had given him as a descendent of the Promise.  Father, life is busy, it has pressures and demands that can challenge making you the priority of my life.  Forgive me when that happens and help me to be aware of this before I lose you as the number one allegiance of my heart.

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

[1] William David Reyburn and Euan McG. Fry, A Handbook on Genesis, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1998), 588.

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ge 25:31.

Do You Need a Hug?

With 2020 upon us, I can’t help but start to think about a new year.  For me 2019 was a good year, but how can I ensure that 2020 will be a great year?

The passage that resonated with me this morning is in Ps. 91:14-15 which says,

Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.”

The writer of the Psalm is speaking for God at this point in the passage.  God is saying, “because he holds fast to me in love…”  What does that mean?  One possible understanding is “because to me he is attracted.”[1]  In contrast to other deities, this person was attracted to God alone and living for him.  Another way to understand this passage is “because he clings to me in love, even ‘hugs’ me.[2]

What a picture of intimacy with God!  This person is described as running to dad and hugging him in the midst of danger.  He is living life close to his Father.  The result of this choice to “hug” God alone, is that God will protect him.

The second thing that stood out to me and compliments the first observation is the statement, “because he knows my name.”  Knowing God’s name is the same as “knowing him.”  It is describing a person who has an intimate relationship with God and has chosen to live the path of life that he knows would please God.  It is the person who is walking in humble obedience to God’s direction.

The fruit of such a lifestyle will be that God will answer his prayer, protect him and rescue him.

So as you and I begin a New Year what do we need to make sure we do?  The central theme is summarized well by Donald Williams and Lloyd Ogilvie when they say,

If we long for and desire greatly to be intimate with God, He promises to be intimate with us.”[3]

Father, thank you for this description of intimacy that is available to those who choose to hug and cling to you through faith and obedience.  Help me in this New Year to make this description a reality of my daily living. May I stay close to you in 2020!

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

[1] John Goldingay, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Psalms 90–150, ed. Tremper Longman III, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 48.

[2] George Angus Fulton Knight, Psalms, vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible Series (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 96.

[3] Donald Williams and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Psalms 73–150, vol. 14, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989), 162.

Soul Gladness

Have you experienced in life moments of great joy in your relationship with God and then at other times, moments where you feel indifferent or your heart can even be cool toward God?

I certainly have felt all those things and that is why I was struck today by Psalm 86:4 which says,

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.”

Even king David had times where he needed God to ignite his soul with joy.  David prays and asks God to “gladden his soul.”  The word “gladden” is fascinating.  It “describes a state and agitation of rejoicing.”[1]

What an interesting way to describe the meaning!  David is lifting up his soul to God and asking him to agitate it so that he is in a continual state of rejoicing!  This internal happiness comes from lifting his soul (his inner self) to God to perform his work.

The NLT translates this verse,

Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you.”

Why did David think God could agitate his soul to a state of continual rejoicing?  Verse five explains this further when it says,

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.”

The word “for” in verse five is introducing why David thinks God can give him soul gladness.  It is because God is good, forgiving and abounding in his steadfast covenant love toward him that he can experience such joy. As David remembers, prays and dwells on God’s goodness and love, his soul is “stirred up” or “agitated” to a state of happiness.  As David thinks about truth it influences his soul.

Father, what a great reminder of my need for you and your constant work in my life!  I lift up my soul to you and ask you to gladden me to a state of happiness because of who you are and all you have done for me.  Thank you for your forgiveness and constant dependable love. May my soul respond appropriately by being in a state of joy as I think of these truths.

 

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

 

[1] Warren Baker and Eugene E. Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2003), 1160.