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.

 

Are You Ready?

With our celebration of the birth of our Savior on December 25th, I am reminded this Christmas Eve of the story of the visit of the Magi.  Notice how Matthew describes the details,

“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.’ ” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matt. 2:1-11)

This amazing story describes those who are called “Magi” coming to worship Jesus.  Who were these men?  The word “Magi” is probably referring to those who served a king(s) rather than those who were kings.  Michael Wilkins notes,

“Magi were probably more along the lines of religious advisers to their court.”[1]

These Magi traveled for months to cover approximately 900 miles to be able to worship this baby that was born a King!  They find Jesus in a house, and at this point, Jesus is described by the word “child,” which indicates he was no longer a baby but an infant or toddler.  This implies that he was at least months old at the time of their visit.  This possibility is also supported by the fact that Herod wanted to kill all children under the age of two.

These Magi were also Gentiles not Jews.  Why would God announce to Gentile Magi about the birth of Jesus?  One reason is that God, in the very beginning is announcing the birth of his Son to the world. The significance is that salvation is open to not just the Jews but to the whole world!

When the Magi arrive in Bethlehem they worship Jesus and give him gifts.  What was going on in their culture to cause these Magi to want to make this long journey to worship a Jewish baby born a King?  Wilkins states,

“The people of Israel had long waited for the rightful heir to the throne, but God announces his arrival first through these Gentile Magi. An expectation had circulated in the world of the first century that a ruler would arise from Judea. Suetonius writes, ‘Throughout the whole of the East there had spread an old and persistent belief: destiny had decreed that at that time men coming forth from Judea would seize power [and rule the world].’. . This belief had penetrated beyond the borders of Israel, so that others were looking for a ruler(s) to arise from the land of Judea.”[2]

The Magi then, come to Bethlehem to worship the one they had heard would rule the world.  They most likely thought he was just a human king, but they worshipped God’s provision of this world leader and through that worshipped God.  In contrast to the worship of the Magi, the Jewish leaders did nothing but try to help Herod execute him.  God’s very own people, those who had the greatest opportunity to know him and worship him, have rejected his Son.

As we prepare for this great celebration of the birth of our Messiah, may we respond with hearts of worship like the Magi.  May we take time to honor Jesus as our Lord and Savior!

Are you ready to worship our King?

Merry Christmas!

 

 

[1] Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004), 94.

[2] IBID, 106.

Why Singing at Christ’s Birth?

Today I was reading about the angels singing at the birth of Jesus.  In Luke 2:13-14 it says,

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Why were the angels singing?  As I studied this I learned some interesting things about the culture at that time that may help to explain the significance of this worship. First, the birth of a baby boy in a Jewish home was recognized as a very special blessing from God.  Howard Vos notes,

In a society that had no social security benefits the sons carried on the family line and name, cared for and occupied the family inheritance, and provided for their parents in old age.[1]

Having a son to ensure the continuation of the family name and knowing this son would also one day provide for his aging parents was a reason for abundant celebration.  In fact, this special event was marked by great joy. William Barclay makes a very helpful observation about that culture when he notes,

When the time of the birth was near at hand, friends and local musicians gathered near the house. When the birth was announced and it was a boy, the musicians broke into music and song, and there was universal congratulation and rejoicing . . . Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem and therefore that ceremony could not be carried out. [2]

Therefore, secondly, the birth of a son was marked by local musicians gathering at the home and singing in celebration!  Could it be that since mankind could not provide the appropriate praise to God at the birth of Jesus, that God made sure his Son was properly announced with singing not of mere men, but the very angels of heaven?

The birth of Jesus has a far greater benefit than mere temporal provision.  Jesus brings eternal life to those who embrace him as their Savior and God.  There has never been a birth worthy of more celebration!

Father, thank you for sending your Son!  You are worthy of praise for his birth which has changed my life and the course of history!  Help me to live out my faith and life in a manner that is in harmony with Christ’s teaching and mission.

Following Jesus with you,

 

[1] Howard Frederic Vos, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Manners & Customs: How the People of the Bible Really Lived (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 450.

[2] William Barclay, ed., The Gospel of Luke, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 23.

Simplicity and Humility

When we read Luke 2:1-7, it is easy to gloss over some of the depth of this story because we are so familiar with it.  Have you paused to consider what really happened here?

God had predicted something over 700 years earlier in Micah 5:2. In that passage it says,

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

Since God’s Word is trustworthy and true, God orchestrated kings and all the details necessary to make sure his Son was born in Bethlehem! How easy it is for me to forget that I have a heavenly Father who is intimately aware of the details of my life and fully capable of accomplishing his plan regardless of what my circumstances might imply.

The other big thought that hit me today was the simplicity and humility surrounding the birth of Jesus. Luke 2:7 says,

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.

After making an 80-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Jesus is born in a humble setting, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger (a place where animals fed).

William Barclay gives clarity as to what “swaddling clothes” were when he notes,

Swaddling clothes consisted of a square of cloth with a long bandage-like strip coming diagonally off from one corner. The child was first wrapped in the square of cloth and then the long strip was wound round and round about him.[1]

Did you notice that the God who orchestrated the events to make sure Jesus was born in Bethlehem did not ensure that his Son was welcomed with plush accommodations befitting his position?  What does this tell us about God?

I think Darrell Bock has great insight when he says,

Importance is not a matter of one’s environment or the supposed status that things bring. Rather, importance is a function of one’s role in God’s work. Jesus is important not because of the setting of his birth, but because of who he is before God[2]

Father, position, power, prestige, etc. are not important to you.  That is so contrary to our culture and approach to life.  What is important is who I am before you because of what Jesus has done for me as my Savior!  I am your son! Help me to remember the wise words of Bock when he said, “Those ‘on whom God’s favor rests’ include those whose claim to fame may be nothing more than that they wake up each day and pursue a living in service to God.”[3]  Help me to live simply and humbly as Jesus has modeled for me.

Following Jesus with you,

 

[1] William Barclay, ed., The Gospel of Luke, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 21.

[2] Darrell L. Bock, Luke, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 86.

[3] IBID, 87.

Always Teachable

The amazing story of the birth of John the Baptist began with an angel of the Lord who appeared to Zechariah, his father, as he served in the temple.  He was so terrified at the appearance that the first thing the angel said was “do not be afraid.”  After learning that God would answer his lifelong prayer for a son, Zechariah, a devout priest for life, chose to doubt God rather than believe!  God enabling his wife Elizabeth to bear a son past the age of childbearing did not fit Zechariah’s view of God.

Can you imagine if you were Zechariah?  You have been a passionate, committed priest serving God for a lifetime.  You are old and now an angel appears and shakes up your view of God and his plan for your life! How would you respond?

It appears that Zechariah, over time, fell into complacency.  As a believer, I must remember it is never too late to learn and grow.  Darrell Bock summarizes this thought well when he says,

The lesson that pious Zechariah learns is important, especially to those who have a rich spiritual heritage. He is a man of lifelong faith who still needed to grow. It is all too easy to view one’s spiritual life as something that can be mastered rather than something to be maintained[1]

Bock goes on to say,

Often we are tempted, on the basis of past experience, to put our spiritual well-being on cruise control and rest on the laurels of a tradition of activity.[2]

These observations make me want to ask myself, “am I teachable”?  Have I put my spiritual pursuit of God on cruise control without realizes it?  Am I open to God shaking up my world by allowing him to accomplish his will in my life in a way I had not anticipated?

Father, thank you for the captivating story of the birth of John the Baptist who was born at just the right time and in the exact way you wanted it to happen.  His dad, Zechariah did not understand how you could accomplish the great miracle of John’s birth.  I cannot fully understand you or your ways either. Help me to not become complacent by thinking I have you “figured out.” Instead, help me to be like Zechariah, who as a result of your work in his life responded in faith and with words of praise when he said,

“’He asked for a writing tablet and he wrote, ‘his name is John.’ And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.” (Luke 1:63-64)

May we be teachable and passionate about following God his way. May we be blessed to always be surprised by God and how he works in our lives.

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

 

[1] Darrell L. Bock, Luke, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 79.

[2] IBID, p. 79

The Drama of Disappointment

As I begin to prepare my heart for the birth of our Savior, I was struck by the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and their drama of disappointment as it is found in Luke 1.

“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John . . . After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Did you see the drama of disappointment in the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth?  They were childless.  This was especially difficult in Jewish culture. Notice what Barclay observes about this,

The Jewish Rabbis said that seven people were excommunicated from God and the list began, ‘A Jew who has no wife, or a Jew who has a wife and who has no child.’ Childlessness was a valid ground for divorce.[1]

You can see that being childless would have been a great burden and constant source of pain to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their culture.  Their childlessness was not a consequence of sin.  In fact, the text says that they were “righteous and blameless” in God’s eyes. Even so, Zechariah and Elizabeth lived with the constant heartache of not realizing their dreams and yet they were faithful and walked blamelessly in obedience to God.

Did you also notice they are described as “advanced in years”?  This means they were beyond the age in which a person could naturally conceive and have children and, therefore, had been dealing with this pain for years.

In spite of his age, Zechariah is told by the angel that “your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.”  To appreciate the scene we need to understand what had taken place for Zechariah to even be in the temple serving that day.

Zechariah “was a member of one of twenty-four divisions in the first-century priesthood…, one of approximately 18,000 priests. More specifically, he was a member of the eighth order, Abijah (1 Chron. 24:10). A priest only officiated at the sacrifice once in his life, having been selected by lot.[2]

Zechariah had been chosen by lot out of 18,000 priests for a once in a lifetime opportunity to serve in the temple.  This would be the greatest day of his life as a priest! As great as this honor was, he still ended up talking to God in the temple about the personal pain and disappointment that he and Elizabeth shared.

What can we learn from this?

First, we serve a God of the miraculous!  Nothing is too difficult for him, even when there is no human hope for a solution.

Second, God is active in his creation and it is never too late from him to intervene!  He is at work today even when I do not see it.

Third, disappointment can be part of a faithful believer’s life for years and it can be deep!  This does not mean we have done something wrong, but the pain and disappointment can be a normal Christian experience that we may never fully understand.

Fourth, we must be faithful in the disappointment and be honest with God as we endure.  Like Zechariah, we must express ourselves to God and not hide the disappointment we feel as long as it is a burden.

Fifth, as Zechariah heard from God in the temple, I need to intentionally make the effort to hear from God in his Word.  I have to make time for prayer and the study of his Word.

Father, thank you for this amazing story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Thank you for being involved in your creation and for providing John who paved the way for Jesus.  Thank you for giving us your Son and our Savior!  Thank you for understanding my heartaches and caring about them.  May you help me to be faithful as I serve you even when there are times of disappointment in that service.  May your will be done in and through me for your glory.

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

[1] William Barclay, ed., The Gospel of Luke, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 10.

[2] Darrell L. Bock, Luke, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 48.

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!