Category: The Christian Life

Does God Do Amazing Things Today?

 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

Joshua and the battle of Jericho is a famous Bible story, where finally Jericho’s “walls came tumblin’ down”. Today’s verse is just before that battle. It raises two questions: What does it mean to consecrate ourselves? And what amazing things should we expect from God today?

The word “consecrate” means to be set apart, dedicated to God. Joshua’s fighters were not to charge into battle spiritually unprepared. Before they entered battle, they were told to consecrate themselves to God as per their Law.

We are called to be consecrated too.  Since we do not live under the Old Testament regulations, we need to ask ourselves: What does consecration mean in the 21st century? Does it mean that we should totally separate ourselves from our society–perhaps by going to live in an underground Christian bunker in Montana or a Christian commune in the wilderness of Vermont?

No, consecration for us means something else.   It does mean to be set apart, but, surprisingly, the setting apart can somehow occur even living in the middle of our crazed 21st century culture. Somehow, we are living in this 21st century world but we’re not of it.

Once we determine to be set apart for God where we are living, just what are the amazing things God will do among us?  In the case of Joshua and Jericho, God acted in a spectacular and miraculous way — but let me suggest that amazing things happen when God works in us in an ordinary way. It’s everyday daily living — going to work, running errands, studying, playing — but filled with a special empowerment from our King Jesus to live for his purposes and to grow to be more like him.

Now, what happens when this kind of consecrated living starts to spread throughout the church? As we each grow in consecration— we become part of a wider move of God — which leads to revival. Here is J.I. Packer’s definition of revival:

“God’s quickening visitation of his people, touching their hearts and deepening his work of grace in their lives.”

And Matthew Henry tells us,
“When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is to set them a praying.”

As we hunger to see God’s grace expand and spread, let’s join in with Henry’s suggestion and pray “Lord have mercy, grant us revival.”

God is Love…. Is God only Love?

In love a throne will be established;
    in faithfulness a man will sit on it—
    one from the house of David—
one who in judging seeks justice
    and speeds the cause of righteousness (Isaiah 16:5)

Today’s Old Testament passage is a prophetic preview by Isaiah of what Jesus is really like.   First and foremost, and very thankfully for us, his throne is established in love. That is huge, because of how we often mess up—-it’s Christ’s love that overlooks our many foul-ups. I’m thankful for that – I know how often I mess up.

But Jesus is not only love. Because, at the same time, Jesus is also righteous and just—qualities that are almost as important as God’s love. As I encounter the enthroned Jesus, he wants me to be not only loving but empowered to live a righteous and just life. If God were only love, we could do what was right in our own eyes and God would say “No problem …. whatever”.

Scripture says that God does not overlook what is unjust and unrighteous. But, really, aren’t we the same?  When we see something that is not just, don’t we want it set right?  Even a child knows when to say, “No fair!”

A bamboozling big bank bigshot is too big to jail, but a dishonest underling is sent to prison for a long time. A whistleblower gets fired for exposing how their company is ripping off people. What injustices! If God were only love, these types of rip-offs would never be set right.

But we have a God who does want to set things right! And as we follow the Lord, then in our own areas of influence, we keep pursuing righteousness and justice empowered by love. Living that way, we can overcome evil significantly, but not yet totally.

Scripture teaches that the day will come when God will say “No more.” A world where righteousness and justice fully prevail will arrive.  Imagine that day — no more rip-offs, no more deception, no more favoritism. God will get rid of the garbage.  We look in hope to that promised day when all evil will be wiped out forever.

 

 
 
 

 

 

Jumping Through the Window

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A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.  Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.  Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:1-5)

When I was a student at Rutgers, Muhammad Ali once came to give a talk in Records Hall. The Hall quickly filled; then the entrances were guarded, and no one more could enter. However, one enterprising young man slithered through an open side window, jumped in and landed on the floor. Unfortunately for him, he was grabbed by a dean, who asked him, “Is that how you usually enter a building?” and promptly escorted him back outside….

Now, the usual moral of this kind of story would be something like “If someone was that excited about just seeing Ali, you should be at least that excited about Jesus!” But I think that kind of exhortation is counter-productive. It might pump someone up for a little while, filling them with an excitement for “All that I will do for Jesus” — but that would peter out and would not lead to lasting change.

Let’s consider what Jesus says in today’s passage. See what he compliments the men for: not for what these guys did, but for their faith. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus did not say, “Since you guys worked so hard—sure I’ll heal the guy! You guys earned it! You have my approval—big time!”  No, it was their faith that led the friends to do the hard work of lowering the guy down.

We do know that Faith without works is dead (James 2:17)
But don’t forget:  the works themselves earn you squat.

So, today, we do not  think that our being pumped up and doing extra stuff will get us extra points from Jesus. Instead, we ask God to give us greater faith. Then, our good deeds will be based on our trust in a Savior who already fully accepts us.

Easter : Times of Refreshing

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Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.
(Isaiah 40:17)

If you take today’s opening verse in isolation it sure sounds like God is just mad and hates us. Often in Scripture, before people can hear the good news, they need a warning about the bad news.

So, this is not going to be a downer blog post.  There will be good news today:  despite God’s rant in this verse, God still loves us and calls out a redeemed people!

Today’s verse, while not a permanent condemnation by God, is a caution against pride. What if a nation or an individual think that they are self-sufficient, superior, and have succeeded at doing life their own way? They need a healthy dose of divine pessimism about what happens when you try to stand on your own. So, today’s divine correction brings us to the good news:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.  (Acts 3:19-20)

Repentance brings us out from under God’s stern warning, and into something delightful. What a picture the word “refreshing” gives of the Christian life. How different from the erroneous idea that being a Christian is a grim, ascetic grind. Indeed, Jesus said I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10b)

As we look forward to Easter, if you do not know him yet, turn to Jesus the Messiah, who loves you and is for you! And if you do know him, may your own joy in him keep increasing and abounding.

Be a Blessing

blessed2

Now the Lord said to Abram…. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing….and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3

This week’s picture is the Facebook icon of “feeling blessed”.…but what does “blessing” mean…really?

One dictionary definition of blessing is “anything promoting or contributing to happiness, well-being, or prosperity.” As Christians, we might change that to say that blessing is “anything that Christ provides promoting or contributing to happiness, well-being, or prosperity.”

In today’s passage, we see that blessing goes in two directions. One is receiving a blessing. And the other is being a blessing. So, what you see in the Facebook icon is fine, but it’s only half the picture.

Some of you may remember the radio talks of Robert Cook, former head of King’s College. Each day he would conclude with “Walk with the King today and be a blessing!”

What? Me? How can I possibly be a blessing? The first part of Cook’s declaration gives the answer.  It springs from how we walk with King Jesus.

Look at what Paul says:  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).

In this verse we see how Jesus personifies blessing…he is the blessing, but if we are walking with him, and he is living in us, then so are we a blessing! We get to bring down some of that “heavenly” stuff and live it out and pass it on to people here on earth. My favorite is quiet behind the scenes stuff—kindnesses that might not get you written up as “Christian of the Year” but that really are loving deeds done in the name of Jesus.

So, as Jesus-in-me happens, not only will I “feel blessed”, but I will, empowered by the Spirit, truly walk with the King and be a blessing.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller

Today’s post is a review and recommendation for Tim Keller’s book on prayer.  

  • Keller is excellent at using the examples of what praying people have said over the centuries about prayer instead of looking for the latest and greatest fads. He gives special attention to Augustine, Calvin and Luther.

  • Keller begins by quoting Peter to show something amazing that we can ALL experience in prayer.

In 1 Peter 1:8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

Peter assumed that an experience of sometimes overwhelming joy in prayer was normal for all of us, not just for “spiritual giants”.

  • Some of you may “specialize” in Bible knowledge. Others may “specialize” in “experiencing Jesus”. But look at what Keller says:

We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together.

  • Keller describes changes in his personal prayer life that happened after a bout with thyroid cancer. Here and elsewhere in the book Keller describes how important endurance is: it always leads to delightful prayer even if not as quickly as we would like!

  • The importance of the Bible in prayer:

“If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak. This does not mean, of course, that we must literally read the Bible before each individual prayer.”

  • Varied Prayer as Response to God’s Glory

“We must not decide how to pray based on what types of prayer are the most effective for producing the experiences and feelings we want. We pray in response to God himself. God’s Word to us contains this range of discourse—and only if we respond to his Word will our own prayer life be as rich and varied.”

  • Do we only pray to get stuff?

“We may believe in God, but our deepest hopes and happiness reside in things as in how successful we are or in our social relationships. We know God is there, but we tend to see him as a means through which we get things to make us happy. For most of us, he has not become our happiness. We therefore pray to procure things, not to know him better.”

What can marvelously change: Learning to enjoy spending sustained time adoring and praising God.

  • What Christ has done — and how it changes our heart

John Calvin argues that you may know a lot about God, but you don’t truly know God until the knowledge of what he has done for you in Jesus Christ has changed the fundamental structure of your heart. “You don’t have true saving knowledge of God until you long to know and serve him.”

  • Here’s what I need—but you know best

“Only through prayer can we leave all our needs and desires in God’s hands. That transaction brings a comfort and rest that nothing else can bring. We can pray confidently because he won’t give us everything we want.”

  • What is true repentance?

“In moralistic religion our only hope is to live a life good enough to require God to bless us. We will also take as little blame as possible, reciting all the mitigating circumstances to ourselves and others. When we do try to repent in this legalistic frame of mind—since we can never be sure if we have been abject enough to merit God’s favor—we can never experience the release and relief of resting in Jesus’ forgiveness.”

  • Strenuous Petition

One way petitionary prayer can actually do us harm is if we see it as a means to say to God, “My will be done.” We are prone to indulge our appetites, telling God in no uncertain terms how he should run the universe. Such prayer neither pleases God nor helps us grow in grace.

When we petition God, “we should lay before God, as part of our prayer, the reasons why we think that what we ask for is the best thing.”

“Rather than simply running down a quick list of things we want, we should reflect on what we want in light of all we know from the Scripture about the things that delight and grieve God, in light of what we know about how his salvation works and what he wants for the world.”

  • God’s Timing

“It usually requires years of experience in petitionary prayer to get the perspective necessary to see some of the reasons for God’s timing. In some cases we realize that we needed to change before we were able to receive the request rightly or without harming ourselves. In other cases it becomes clear that the waiting brought us the thing we wanted and also developed in us a far more patient, calm, and strong temperament.”

 Two Related Resources

“Especially for beginners, it can be very helpful to use this older volume by Matthew Henry. He digs out of the Scripture hundreds of actual prayers and then organizes and classifies them under subheadings of the larger headings of praise, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession, and conclusion. If you feel your own times of free-form prayer have stalled, Henry’s book affords an almost endless amount of grist for the mill.”

This book is readily available for free on the internet

Matthew Henry, A Method for Prayer, with Scripture Expressions, Proper to Be Used Under Each Head 

Below is a free book on Amazon. It includes some printed prayers from centuries ago that are surprisingly relevant today. For example, there is a prayer for the King which is helpful in praying for the President today!

http://www.amazon.com/Book-Common-Prayer-Scottish-Liturgy-ebook/dp/B004TQGJQA

God Is Our Refuge

God is your refuge

You may have learned the definition of metaphor as a direct comparison without using like or as, and seen examples of it in novels and poems. You may be surprised that someone could write a whole book about metaphors (or read one!) But yes, I read Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

Parts of the book went to one of two extremes: either very obvious or very technical.  But, while not a Christian book, the book made one amazing claim that relates to our own Christian lives: we each have our own personal metaphors that can impact how we live!

Yes, our personal metaphors are story lines that we believe about our lives, and whether we realize it or not, we are living out these stories. Some of these stories can be quite worthwhile and biblical; and others quite destructive, unbiblical, and horrible.

Do you ever complain about your job?

My attitude when working on my last job was “Oh, I’m a Christian; I don’t complain.” I started my last year at the job with a very nice metaphor: My job is an endurance race that I will finish well……But without realizing it, I exchanged that good metaphor for a crummy one —

Yes, after I retired, the Lord used the metaphor book to show the metaphor that was really in my heart that last year: “My job is a prison”.  If I had seen that real attitude earlier and repented of it, then I would have had more joy in my last year at work!

Scripture provides great antidotes for crummy metaphors. Here’s an example of how that works. The crummy metaphor is: “My life is a wilderness.”

Remember, the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness—until Moses finally led them to the promised land. Similarly, our own life without Jesus is a wilderness.  But Jesus, the greater Moses, leads us out of the wilderness ….

And when he leads us out of the wilderness, that leads straight to today’s metaphor from Psalm 46:1:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
When we leave our wilderness, God is the place of refuge in today’s picture.

Here’s another example:  If you think “I am a victim”, then Jesus says you can replace that with “I am a light”.

I could go on, but can you think of a destructive metaphor you have that can be traded in for a worthwhile and helpful one? To choose to walk in this new metaphor would influence how you live.

And note well: It’s the power of the Spirit that allows us to live our new metaphor, giving it far more impact than a mere self-help slogan.