May 1, 2013
“I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, you mountains…” (Isaiah 44: 22, 23)
When one of the greatest men of God who ever lived committed the sins of adultery and murder, filled with remorse and contrition (which means exceedingly sorry for sin), he prayed a great model prayer for forgiveness. If you have sinned and you don’t know how to confess your sin read Psalm 51. Make it your own prayer and you will do a great job of confessing your sin.
In the original Hebrew David actually asked God to un-sin his sin. Any devout believer who has really sinned will resonate with this prayer petition of David. The spirit of the prayer petition is: “Oh God! If You could only make it as if it had never happened!”
That introduces us to one of the most beautiful words in the Bible: “justified.” This word means “just as if I’d never sinned” and it means “to be declared righteous.” David uses this word in his prayer of repentance.
Sunday school children are taught a song that summarizes these Scripture verses: “God has blotted them out, I’m happy as I can be. God has blotted them out, I’ll turn to Isaiah and see. Chapter forty-four, twenty-two and three. He’s blotted them out and I can just shout! For that means me!”
They may be merely singing words when they’re children but when they grow up and become people who sin they may shout with tears when they read these verses and remember that song.
When you sin can you shout, “That means me?”
April 27, 2013
“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (1Timothy 4:16)
Although it sounds contrary to what we have been taught as believers the Apostle Paul wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy, that there are times when he should join the Me First Club. When you find something great in the Scriptures how many times is your first thought the person who simply must hear this truth?
In this prescription for spiritual growth Paul writes that Timothy should place the Scripture down on his life, and then hold his life up to the Scripture. Paul promises Timothy that if he will continuously do this as a spiritual discipline, he will experience salvation himself first and then lead others to salvation.
There are at least three times when committed disciples should put themselves in first place; when we are judging, when there is sin to confess, and when it comes to our own needs. Many disciples have become casualties in the spiritual warfare because they neglected these priorities.
There is a sense in which if we do not save ourselves we cannot save anybody else. When the oxygen masks appear on a commercial air flight, mothers with babies are instructed to place the mask on themselves first and then on their baby.
If you are a spiritual leader don’t apply Scripture to others that you have not first applied to yourself. Think of the priorities being taught here as concentric circles. You are the innermost circle. The other circles represent those with whom you share God’s Word after you have joined the Me First Club.
Save yourself and then watch God work as He saves others.
March 29, 2013
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19 NKJV)
A mother of small twin daughters realized her bone marrow transplants were not going to work. In beautiful handwriting she wrote out The Living Bible Paraphrase of three chapters written by Paul about resurrection. When she gave them to me she asked me to explain them at her memorial service simply so her daughters would understand them.
The first was the great resurrection chapter of the Bible, the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. The other two were the fourth and fifth chapters of Second Corinthians. I call these last two chapters: “Applied Resurrection.”
The first application of the resurrection of Christ is that just as Jesus was buried and raised from the dead, we are buried in the hope of our own resurrection. If that is not going to happen we should be pitied because we suffered for Christ in this life.
If you want to have a personal Easter I challenge you to read these three chapters slowly and devotionally in a good translation or paraphrase you can understand like The Living Bible Paraphrase or The Message.
C.S. Lewis told us the clergy are people who have been set aside to remind us that we are creatures who are going to live forever. They are also to teach us that life is a school in which we are to learn eternal values.
Applied Resurrection teaches us that though our outward man is perishing, it is possible for our inward man to be renewed every day while we’re learning to appreciate the difference between the visible and the invisible, the temporal and eternal values.
May your Easter be a time of reflection on eternal resurrection values.
February 23, 2013
“Let the one who is wise consider these things and see in them the loving kindness of the Lord.” (Psalm 107:43).
Psalm 107 is a great hymn of redemption. In each of the five stanzas this inspired hymn writer profiles a different dimension of redemption the people of God experience. Each description ends with the hymn writer exhorting the redeemed of the Lord to thank the Lord for His goodness to them and His wonderful works in their lives. He demands that if they are redeemed, the people of the Lord should step up and say so!
An extraordinary ministry to high school young people brings their year to a conclusion with a wonderful week of camp meetings in the summer. They bring that week to a verdict with what they call a “say so” meeting when they encourage young people who have come to faith to step up and say so!
In each of the five stanzas in Psalm 107 the hymn writer profiles how the Lord has redeemed His people from their chaos, their chains, their foolish choices, their crises, and their complacency. Then he writes a profound summary of the various vehicles God uses to make these things happen:
He turns rivers into deserts and deserts into flowing springs. They have very fruitful harvests. Then He diminishes them and they are brought low. At that point He blesses them. Their numbers greatly increase and God does not let their herds diminish.
He writes that spiritually wise people will observe these events and see in them what the love of God sometimes looks like.
When these “ups and downs” happen to you, are you spiritually wise enough to see in them what the love of God can sometimes look like for you?
February 19, 2013
“… but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better…” (Luke 10: 42)
Every time we meet Mary, the sister of Martha, she is at the feet of Jesus. The verse above describes her at the feet of Jesus hearing His Word. Martha is frustrated because Mary is attending the Bible study while she herself is doing all the serving. Jesus sides with Mary because she has chosen the number one priority that day.
In the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John the brother of these two sisters has died. When the Lord arrives too late to save their brother both these sisters greet Him with the same words: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” However, when Mary spoke those words we read that she prostrated herself at his feet showing that she accepted His will.
In the next chapter of the Gospel of John a banquet is described at which their resurrected brother is the guest of honor. Mary was there worshiping Jesus at His feet. She anointed His feet with perfume that was worth a year’s wages. What would it mean if you worshiped Jesus with your annual income?
This Mary is a great example for all of us as she is at His feet hearing His Word, accepting His will, and worshiping Him. If we will not merely read our Bible but hear His personal word to us at His feet when we do, we will find His will for our lives. If we continue to follow Mary’s example we will be at His feet accepting His will.
And those who follow the example of Mary will find themselves worshiping Him forever with costly worship at His feet.
February 15, 2013
“Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6)
The ancient inspired hymn writer is describing a father who is sowing seeds his family desperately needs because they are hungry. As a provider he knows that if he does not plant these seeds, there will be no food for them and they will starve to death. He therefore sows these precious seeds with tears streaming down his face.
The Holy Spirit leads the author to a beautiful application after he paints this solemn picture for us: sometimes when we are suffering to the point of tears, those tears are precious seeds our heavenly Father is sowing in the soil of our suffering. When that is the case, we will doubtless come again rejoicing and bringing the fruitful results of our suffering with us.
This is a truth that is often shared in the Bible. Sometimes suffering is not the setback it appears to be. It is rather the cutback of our heavenly Father who is like a divine Vineyard keeper. He cuts us back to increase the quality and the quantity of the fruit our life is yielding for Him.
I sometimes think God is more real and works more effectively in the lives of people while they are in the waiting rooms outside the operating theaters of our hospitals than He does in the sanctuaries of our churches. God does not waste our sorrows and we should not waste them either.
Listen to the wisdom of the hymn writer when he tells us our tears are precious seeds that will ultimately rejoice our hearts.
February 12, 2013
“‘So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’” (Luke 10:36)
I heard a businessman say, “There are two things to be gained in every business deal: money and experience. When you do business always get the money and give that other person the experience!”
According to the way the parable of Jesus ended with the verse above, when a devout disciple of Jesus is involved in a business deal, should they always get the money and give the other person the experience?
Jesus taught this parable in response to the question: “Who is my neighbor?” In His answer Jesus presented three philosophies of neighbor. “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours will be mine just as soon as I can take it.” That was the philosophy of the thieves in this story. “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” was the philosophy of the religious people Jesus profiled here. Jesus’ philosophy of neighbor, however, was showcased by the Samaritan in this way: “What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is yours any time you need it.”
How should that philosophy of neighbor impact the way we do a business deal as committed followers of Jesus Christ? The way we answer that question should make us think about our entire philosophy of life and not just our philosophy about how we do business.
What is your vision statement and what are your mission objectives in life? Is your vision statement to get rich and are your mission objectives all the ways you can think making money?
What is your philosophy of neighbor? Is your own personal vision statement in alignment with the philosophy of neighbor Jesus taught us?
February 8, 2013
“For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” (1 John 3: 20)
The apostle of love gives spiritual people a beautiful definition of depression. In the Bible the heart is related to our emotions and feelings. When we feel condemned John tells us some very good news: God is greater than our feelings. Our faith is not based on something as fickle as how we feel. He goes on in this passage to tell us that our faith is based on the fact that we keep our Lord’s commandment that we should love one another.
Throughout the history of the Church of Jesus Christ devout people have struggled with bouts of depression. Some extraordinary spiritual leaders have battled depression. This battle frequently takes place in isolation because it is thought to be inconsistent with faith. People of faith are ashamed of their depression.
While medical professionals are often pharmacologists who medicate depression rather than determine its cause, the Apostle John gives some devotional and practical counsel to a depressed believer. As a busy pastor when I had feelings that condemned me I went on a people binge. I often found that when I became a conduit of the love of Christ for others I affirmed this wise counsel of John.
The Holy Spirit lives in believing people. Although your depression wants you to isolate yourself, when you love other believers the Spirit passes back and forth between you with a healing effect on both of you. That’s why James prescribed that we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed (James 5:16).
John is prescribing something very similar when he tells us to treat our depression with loving one another.
February 5, 2013
“If the whole body were an eye where would the sense of hearing be?” (1Corinthians 12:17)
The story is told of a doctor who came out of the delivery room and told an expectant father, “I have some grave news for you my son. Your wife has given birth to a 7-pound eyeball. And that’s not all. It’s blind!” If you came home one night in the dark and found a 185 pound eyeball in the corner of your front porch, would that give you a rush of anxiety?
In this verse from the writings of the Apostle Paul he is using an illustration as grotesque as the illustrations I have just used. He does this in his inspired letter to the Corinthians because he wants to make a point: his point is the beauty of diversity.
One of the fingerprints of the Church of Jesus Christ is that in the Church we celebrate diversity. Diversity in the body of Christ is to be celebrated rather than resolved. If two of us are exactly alike one of us is unnecessary. Some of the members of the First Church of Corinth were telling others they were not authentically spiritual unless they had the same spiritual gifts that they had.
The remedy of Paul for that kind of thinking was the hideous metaphor of a body being just one member and not a body with the beauty of many diverse parts. Other members of the body of Christ have what you do not have and you have what they do not have. That means you need them and they need you.
The body of Christ is a team sport. Are you willing to be a team player?
Step up and play your part.