Some people call it “down time.” Others think of it as “recharging.” Even Jesus needed this. During His ministry, Jesus immersed himself in helping and serving others. It wasn’t long before the word got out, and Jesus found himself surrounded by people…with their constant flow of needs. “Yet, the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:15-16). Here we see Jesus living by the priorities of the Spirit. From His life and example, we learn that quality time with the Father is essential for quality time with people. During my years of ministry, I notice how easy it is to feel tired and depleted by life’s many demands. When I start to feel overwhelmed, it’s like an alarm clock goes off in my heart…calling me to spend time alone with God. To be honest, most of my prayer times with the Lord are not “shock and awe.” I don’t hear voices or receive emotional lightning bolts. However, I do receive strength and peace. Just putting myself in the presence of Jesus feeds my soul and encourages my heart. I think of Jesus’ conversation with his friends Mary and Martha. They had invited Jesus to their house for dinner. Instead of running around in a frenzy, Mary chose to sit and listen to Jesus. Martha, on the other hand, “was distracted by all the preparations” (Luke 10:40). Finally, Martha boils over in frustration to Jesus and explodes, “Tell her to help me!” Does Jesus give in to her stress? He lovingly replies, “Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (vv. 41-42). We need to understand there is a time to work and a time to “unplug” and just be with Jesus. Without time at His feet, even good ministry seems like a burden and work becomes a source of irritation. So, what are you doing to create your “alone time” with Jesus? His power is more than enough to sustain us, but we need to create a pathway into His presence. He will meet you. His presence is all you need!
I remember it like yesterday. I was in eighth grade, sitting in my math class of about 30 students. In our school there were four math classes (A, B, C, and D), with A having the highest math students and D the lowest. (I was in class B.) One Monday, an administrator walked in and announced the names of two students being “demoted” to class C. My name was called. The two of us stood up and were ushered down the hall into the room with the C group. Ouch! That was quite humbling! Looking back, I know the reason for the demotion…I didn’t pay attention! A couple of my friends and I whispered a lot while the teacher had his back to us as he wrote on the chalkboard. On top of that, I allowed myself to daydream and missed several homework assignments. I think the way the school handled my “math demise” left a lot to be desired, but, ultimately, I had no one to blame but myself. This week I thought about Psalm 81. Here we find God’s offer of amazing grace and bountiful provision. He proclaims His willingness to give of himself and teach all that is needed for life and godliness. The Lord reminded His people of His steadfast love and how, in mercy, He had delivered them from the slavery of Egypt. He said, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But my people would not listen to me…. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies…” (Psalm 81:10-14a). The Lord promises hope and a future for His people, if only we would listen. From reading the Bible, I believe the worst sins are not what first come to mind. It seems the “gateway” sin leading to all the others is the everyday ignoring of God. We choose not to listen to Him and fill our schedules and minds with distractions. I am challenging myself to think about the Lord more and pay attention to Him every hour in my daily life. With all the cares of life, it takes a conscious effort on my part to pay attention to God. Even though I can’t do eighth grade math over again, I don’t have to fail in my walk with God. Hear again the heart cry of God as He pleads with us, “If my people would but listen to me!” May our desires and choices in life proceed from our rapt attention to our Lord and God! He will not steer us wrong.
Language can be funny, can’t it? We talk about the sunrise and the sunset when, in reality, it’s not the sun that rises or sets but the earth that rotates on its axis, exposing different regions to the sun. Actually, with respect to our solar system, the sun neither rises nor sets, but remains fixed in place. As Christians, we do something similar with language. You’ve probably heard a testimony from someone who was in a crisis situation when “God showed up.” But the truth of the matter is that God didn’t just somehow show up. We know that God is infinite; He is present everywhere at all times. We may say that God showed up, but, actually, He was there all along, and we finally turned our attention to Him. It might seem odd that people who believe in God would turn their attention away from God when they’re in trouble. Most of the time, it’s because we’re trying to figure out how to solve our problems on our own. In our culture, we’ve gotten used to turning to a bank or a doctor or a life-coach when we need help and turning to God for help only when a situation degenerates into a crisis. When we finally look to Him, we proudly announce that God showed up just when we were at our lowest! To be clear, there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of the resources that are available to us when we need help. My point is simply that we will save ourselves a lot of worry and grief if we turn to God before things get out of hand. When I was young, I gave my father a plaque for Father’s Day that read, “When all else fails, try a prayer.” He accepted it graciously but was quick to point out that the best way to approach life is to seek God before all else fails. Where do you turn when you need help? Remember the promise in Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength; an ever-present help in trouble.” He’s always right here with us!
You know what it feels like. You need help from someone, and he agrees to be there for you. He shows up late, acts tired and bored, and slips away as soon as possible. Even though his body showed up, his heart wasn’t there. Sometimes I wonder how God feels about our service to Him. Do we bring Him joy or is He grieved by our half-heartedness? This morning while reading Exodus, this verse jumped out at me, “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God” (Exodus 23:19). Most Israelites of that day understood the importance of cultivating the soil in order to grow crops. They were dependent on God’s blessing (rain, sunshine, good soil) combined with their hard work. As an act of worship, the people enjoyed the privilege of giving back to God what He had given them. The one stipulation…God wanted the best! Imagine an Israelite man going to the temple and giving the priest an “offering” from his field of rotten fruit and mildewed crops. Would this be accepted? In Genesis 4 we read of Cain who, “brought some of the fruits of the soil as offering to the Lord” (v. 3). While God “looked with favor” on Cain’s brother (Abel), the Bible says, “on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” (v. 5). Many have speculated that God favored Abel’s offering because it involved animals. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the blood of Jesus for our sins. However, the Bible also speaks about offerings of fruit from the ground as something God accepts as well. I believe Cain’s offering was unacceptable because of Cain’s heart. Could it be that Cain gave God the leftovers—the rotten fruit? What does this have to do with me, you may ask? The Lord is the One who gives us everything we have. He also gives us the opportunity to “give back” to Him from His blessings. Do we give God the best of what we have or just the leftovers? For example, we are given the amazing opportunity to pray. Do we pray when our hearts and minds are fresh or do we repeatedly give God a few hurried and tired moments before we collapse at the end of our day? When we are asked to serve by helping someone or assisting in ministry, do we show up late and “sleepwalk” our way through…leaving as soon as we can? When we have opportunity to sing and praise God in worship, do we daydream about other things or consistently show up late? Let’s give God our best! He is worthy of our greatest offerings of time, talent, and treasure. He wants our hearts in our sacrifice and service! May He look with favor on our sacrifice! And, always remember that Jesus was God’s best, given for us!
We all wear glasses. These are the “lens” through which we see life. From this vision (or lack of) we then explain the circumstances which swirl around us. In times of great trials, it’s easy to allow our lens to become the darkest of sunglasses. We tell ourselves things like, “God has something against me. God doesn’t see what I am going through. God doesn’t care.” So, how we see life is how we explain it to ourselves and others. Consider Joseph. As a 17-year-old he was sold as a slave…by his own brothers! He was uprooted from his family and homeland, forced into slavery and imprisonment for 13 years…as a forgotten nobody. But, God was with Joseph! When the time was right, God exalted him to second in command to Pharaoh! As I read this amazing story, I wonder how Joseph looked through his “glasses” at his 13 years as a slave. Was he bitter? Did he try to block this out and never think about it. Did he comfort himself with visions of “getting even”? The answer came when his brothers arrived in Egypt to buy food. After some episodes of interesting drama, Joseph revealed himself to his shocked brothers—the very ones who sold him into slavery. If this story was produced by Hollywood, the ending would show Joseph killing most of his brothers and sending the others into the deepest dungeon to rot in slow deaths. Is this what happened? To be sure, his brothers were scared to death of Joseph’s revenge. But, to their amazement, Joseph said to them, “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5, 8). Wow! Joseph chose to be blind to revenge. He refused to put on the dark shades. Instead he saw his life and everything that happened to him through the lens of faith in God. What does this say to us? Instead of complaining and looking at life in the worst possible way, can we ask God for grace to see through faith? Can we believe that the future will reveal that God is working behind the scenes even in the drama and “unfair” crises of life…in order to bring about ultimate good? The same Spirit in Joseph can be in us. May the Lord grant us eyes to see beyond the pain of the moment and to believe He is working all things together for good!
When we look at others, what do we admire? A quick survey of the American entertainment industry reveals our values. We admire people with beauty, money, success and power. We are impressed with people with strength and athletic abilities, and we are willing to pay big money to see them perform. But, the great question of life is, “What does God admire?” You don’t have to read too far in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, to discover the answer. God admires, honors, and blesses…FAITH! Consider Abraham. When called to move to another country, “By faith Abraham…obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). He was willing to live like a refugee in a tent, even though God said he would one day inherit the land. Hebrews 11:9 says, “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country…for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” He was promised a son, but there was no child for 25 years! However, God had plans for Abraham and Sarah because they exercised faith. “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise” (Hebrews 11:11). So, life comes down to this…. Will we spend our short time on earth wearing ourselves out running after what others admire? Or will we give ourselves to grow into people of faith? Faith is not some kind of gimmick where we twist our minds to embrace fantasy. Faith is laying hold of God’s reality, believing that what we cannot see is just as real as what we can see. Peter, the apostle of Jesus, exhorted us: “Make every effort to add to your faith” (2 Peter 1:5). Faith is God’s gift to us, and what we do with faith is our gift back to Him. Grow your faith by hearing and reading the Bible. “Faith comes from hearing the message…” (Romans 10:17). Grow your faith by developing a prayer life and establishing priorities. Grow your faith by submitting your life and future into His hands. The world and everything that impresses others will all pass away. The righteousness God gives through faith lasts forever. “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Trust Him!
There’s one story told by Jesus that I think about more than any other. It’s called “The Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus begins by telling the disciples about a man (estate owner) who called three of his servants together before traveling on a long journey. To each servant he gave a sum of money (called “talents”) and then went his way. After a long time, he returned and settled accounts with the three servants. Two of them were wise because they had invested the funds. The increase pleased the master and he commended them both saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21, 23). However, the one servant did nothing with what he was given. In the end, his “reward” was shame and ruin. This story sobers me as I put myself in the parable and ask, “Which servant will I become?” As a follower of Jesus Christ in 2020, I present two earnest prayer requests…both for myself and for the church. First, I pray, “Lord, help us to be faithful!” I want to demonstrate faithfulness by seeking the Lord every day through prayer and the reading of the Word. I want to be a faithful husband to my wife Terry. I want to be a faithful example to the body of Christ of what it means to love the Lord. Also, I pray for the people of Highway and Resurrection Life to be faithful to follow the Lord, to love one another, and to gather together for worship and the Word. My second prayer request for myself and for the church is: “Lord, help us to be fruitful!” The Word teaches us that our fruitfulness comes from the Lord (Hosea 14:8). Jesus told His disciples, “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16). The Lord expects us to invest what He has given. As Christians, we are called to act on our faith, not just think about it. Jesus did not say, “well thought” or “well considered” but “well done.” In 2020 may the Lord be pleased with the fruit of our lives, growing from the soil of faithfulness!
How was your year? Most of us have some fond memories from 2019—and some that we’d be happy to forget. Good or bad, the past is past, and it makes no sense for us to dwell on it. I’ve often said that our Christian walk is not about the past but about the present and the future—a sentiment that Paul expresses in Philippians 3:13-14: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” But, the longer I’ve walked with Christ, the more I’ve come to realize that forgetting the past isn’t always easy—nor is it always desirable. As painful as it is for me to remember some of my past errors, the memory of them helps me to keep on guard against falling into the same kind of traps in the future. And, in many cases, those memories motivate me to try harder in difficult times, so that I can make it through victoriously. This, too, is something Paul talks about, saying, in 1 Corinthians 15:9,10, “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” We must strive to keep a balanced attitude about the past. We have to let go of any feelings of guilt and unworthiness over our past mistakes, but we must not forget past mistakes entirely. Instead, we need to take warning and motivation from them. Mike Tomlin, coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said of his team, “Our windshield is bigger than our rear-view mirror.” His point was that our focus and motivation must remain on what’s ahead of us, but, at the same time, we must keep a cautious eye on what’s behind, in order to navigate safely. Happy New Year!
Jesus didn’t come so we could have a Christmas holiday. Jesus came to win a victory for us, and all His energy was aimed like a laser on achieving this “mission.” This acute awareness of His mission influenced how He spent His time—His every action and decision. In the Gospels we repeatedly see the Lord’s life motto: “I must do the will of him who sent me.” Jesus was born to give His life as a ransom for us…the innocent for the guilty, and we are so grateful He stayed the course! Now, as followers of Christ, our lives parallel the life of Jesus. We also are given a mission—God’s will to accomplish. For the believer, life is not just a random stroll until we get old and die. This morning I was reminded of the importance of life as a mission from Psalm 90:12. Moses, the writer of the Psalm, prayed to the Lord, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” So, in this verse we see Moses as a student, asking God to teach him. We don’t naturally see life as a mission. It’s so easy to live for our own pleasures and agenda rather than for God’s will. But, if we humbly seek the Lord as a student who needs help, we discover God is the best counselor and tutor. And notice, Moses doesn’t pray about finding wisdom in the years of his life; he asks for help in the every day. Since “our days our numbered” we do best to “number our days.” Jesus reminds us that we do not have an inexhaustible supply of days on this earth. God’s Word speaks to me to value each day as a special gift; and with this gift I have the opportunity to “gain a heart of wisdom.” I am not born with wisdom, but I can gain it through my relationship with the One “who has become for us wisdom from God” (I Corinthians 1:30)—the Lord Jesus Christ. So, let Christmas remind you of your mission…to bring glory to God by becoming like Jesus! Then, when you reach the last number of your days, you will look forward, with great joy, to meeting the One who saved you and taught you how to live.
God never asked us to try to figure Him out. If you convince yourself that you will never trust God until you understand Him, you never will know Him. God and His ways are “past finding out” in the sense that you won’t be able to say, “I always know exactly how God is working in my life.” So much of God’s leading in our lives requires each of us to confess, “I don’t understand these circumstances, but, God, I trust You.” In the Christmas story we are introduced to Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist (the forerunner of Jesus). As a priest, Zechariah was chosen by lot to serve in the temple of the Lord during a special time of prayer. While in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and proclaimed that he and his wife would have a son (Zechariah and Elizabeth were barren for many years). All this was too much for Zechariah to process. Rather than just trusting God, he fell back on his logic and asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18). He couldn’t figure it out in his mind, so he allowed his doubts to overshadow his faith. As I read this story, I am grateful for the grace of God to overcome our doubts. Zechariah was disciplined because he did not believe Gabriel’s words. However, his doubt did not end the story. Elizabeth did conceive and give birth to John. Zechariah, who was mute for a season, was enabled to regain his speech right after the baby came. In spite of the lapse of faith on Zechariah’s part, God came through! Zechariah experienced the “joy and delight” of God’s gift of baby John (see Luke 1:14). What I receive from this account in Zechariah’s life is that God is greater than our ability to understand Him. We can learn to trust Him more than our own logic and thoughts. There will be times in life when our walk with God seems “illogical” …when our ability to discern His will is shrouded in fog. However, by God’s grace, we can still trust Him. And even if we falter, He is still able to bring about His will in our lives!