Suppose you have a child and you love her dearly. You have invested in her and spent time praying for, giving to, and loving her with all your heart…all because you want the best for her. And, let’s also suppose she turns away from you. She not only doesn’t want anything to do with you, but also slanders you about not being a good parent. If you can relate to this, you can begin to feel the “angst” God feels about His children who ignore Him. I am reading through the Book of Isaiah in my devotions. Page after page I see the passion of God’s love for the Israelites and their blatant turning away. As I consider the people of our country, I feel like I’m at the ocean watching the horizon and seeing a huge “rogue” wave approaching. Hardly anyone notices…it’s all just fun and games and soaking in the blessings. But, the wave is building. Listen to the message of Isaiah as he prepares us to meet God. “The Lord will rise up…to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task. Now stop mocking, or your chains will become heavier; the Lord, the Lord Almighty, has told me of the destruction decreed against the whole land” (28:21-22). First, God is just, and He will judge sin. While it may seem that people get away with a lot of evil, God takes into account every deed. God doesn’t enjoy judging, but He is the God of truth and justice and must judge sin. Jesus’ death on the cross shows us what God thinks of sin, and the only payment to wash away sin (atonement). Second, Isaiah reveals that God provides mercy and is able to keep His own during the most trying times. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (26:3). We don’t need to wring our hands or stress out over increasing evil. Our greatest need is to keep close to Jesus which leads to our greatest blessing…His perfect peace. Be blessed!
It’s easy to get distracted. Recently, I was in a room filled with people talking. There was music playing in the background and children were running around. An individual stopped me and started talking about something important. As he spoke, I found myself wanting to listen, but I was distracted by the “room noise.” At one point, I watched his lips moving, but I could not hear a word he was saying. I needed to change something. This past Monday morning, I found a quiet place and started to pray. It seemed like a flood of thoughts came rushing into my head…all this “room noise” in my head of things I felt I needed to do that day and the cares of life. I asked the Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to help me focus on Him. Only after several minutes was I able to start praying with faith and clarity. The Psalmist knew the importance of prayer and our need of staying centered on the Lord Himself. In Psalm 123:2 we read, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, and as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.” A good servant knows the importance of closeness and attention to detail. Life is full of competing voices and many distractions. In order for me to hear my friend over the noise, I had to alter a few things. First, I had to step closer to him and put my ear nearer to his mouth. At the same time I continued to watch his lips and listen intently to what he was saying. This definitely helped our communication. In hindsight, the best course of action would have been to step into another room, close the door, and listen to every word clearly. The Lord Jesus deserves our undivided attention. As we tune in and listen, life takes on the sense of a mission and not just a “merry-go-round.” Following Jesus is our call…let’s not get distracted.
Most of the Book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon. However, God also chose a few others to bring us truth through this amazing book. A man named Agur wrote Proverbs 30, and in verses 7-9 he prayed an interesting prayer: “Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” So, Agur is probably an older man at this time (he mentions these requests “before I die”). He has reflected on life and his relationship with God. First, he prays that he might not become a liar or get caught up in lies (“Keep falsehood and lies far from me”). Agur, in wisdom, knows that a good life is one of truth. Lies only bring confusion in our relationship with God and enflame strife between people. Next, Agur prays over his daily needs. He prays not to be rich and not to be poor. He simply asks God for his daily bread. The Bible teaches that both riches and poverty carry deceitful temptations. The rich person is tempted to “disown” God, saying things like, “Who is the Lord?” This attitude is all too common in America as many who “have it made” totally ignore God. An attitude of ingratitude never leads to anything good, and Agur asked to be spared this. He also prays about poverty, asking God to allow him to live above this. Poverty tempts people to break the law and dishonor God. From these verses, I receive the truth that God wants me to trust Him and be content with whatever comes my way. I don’t need to seek wealth or choose poverty as somehow “being more spiritual.” Our Lord graciously gives us everything we need. Let us give Him thanks!
There’s a lie going around, and I’d like to put a stop to it. People have been saying, “I don’t need anybody in my life to be a Christian. I don’t need the church. I don’t need to be part of a small group. I don’t need close brothers and sisters to share my life with. I’m fine just the way I am.” A person who is a Christian is under the authority of the Word, right? Each of us will one day be judged by the Word of God. The Bible clearly teaches a “one another” Christianity. Jesus died and rose from the dead—not just for your individual salvation, but so that you could be a part of His body—the Church. If you are truly born again, you have been born into a family (Ephesians 3:15). The success and blessing of the Early Church was due to the Christians living out their lives as a loving community under the Lordship of Christ. The Spirit was poured out as “they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). The Lord added to their number daily because, as part of their life, “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46). The phrase “one another” is found over 76 times in the New Testament. In the Book of Ephesians, for example, we read: “bearing with one another in love” (4:2), “we are all members of one another in love” (4:25), “be kind and compassionate to one another” (4:32), and “submit to one another” (5:21). My favorite “one another” verse is “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). How can we possibly fulfill the law of Christ if we don’t even make an effort to be with each other? The reason for fellowship and togetherness is to learn how to love others and share the special gifts and ministry abilities God has given to each of us. “But, Pastor,” you may say, “you don’t understand. I’ve been hurt by other Christians.” Who hasn’t? What if the Apostle Paul had withdrawn into himself when he was hurt by the Corinthian believers? The beauty of being a Christian is being able to forgive and love others through Jesus—regardless of what they have done. We have a great responsibility…to love God and to love each other. If you don’t get involved in the lives of your spiritual family, you will never be able to fulfill God’s will for your life. Don’t wait for others to come to you. Go to them!
I couldn’t help overhearing a couple of young ladies walking ahead of me on the sidewalk. The one turned to the other and said, “I used to never hear anybody’s opinion except my own. But now I’m learning to listen to advice…and it’s helping.” As I heard this statement coming from this young woman, I wanted to jump into the conversation and congratulate her for her growth and progress (but I decided just to let them talk). As I look back, I can think of many times in my life when I could have avoided bad decisions had I intentionally sought out advice. The Bible (specifically the Book of Proverbs) is filled with challenges for us to humble ourselves and receive instruction. “Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (16:20). “He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray” (10:17). “He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded” (13:13). Life confronts us with many complex situations which require us to make hard choices. The path of wisdom from Proverbs teaches us to seek the Lord and His Word and to surround ourselves with people of godly wisdom. As we do this, our choices are more likely to be profitable and fruitful. A wise teacher from my Bible college days encouraged us not to be afraid to ask questions. After all, how else would we learn what we don’t know? Seeking advice and knowledge beats fear and ignorance! One last proverb: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (15:22). Who speaks into your life?
Every day the news brings us the latest international news. Often we read of great boasts and even threats from rulers and dictators who hate America. These nations (and probably others we don’t know about) are taking steps toward acquiring nuclear weapons. What is the future of our world? Where is God is all this chaos? He is right where He has always been…in charge. Lately, I have been reading the psalms and have noticed the many places God speaks of the nations. We must understand that even though God focuses a lot of attention on the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, He is not just the ruler of Israel but of the world. “The Lord is King forever and ever; the nations will perish from his land” (Psalm 10:16). “For dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28). Because of the increase of wickedness in the last days, the nations of the world will continue to go through great turmoil (described in the Bible as like the raging of the sea). In the end, however, God will have His way. In fact, even though wrath is coming on the nations that do evil and forget God, the future is one of hope. “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him” (Psalm 22:27). As an individual, I have come to the conclusion that I can’t control or change the power of nations, but this doesn’t mean I should give in to worry and despair. There are some things I can do. I can and must pray for our nation and the leaders and people of the world. I can tell others (from all the nations who live right here in Philadelphia) of the love of God and salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. In summarizing our hope, here is the message we need to hold onto as we have just celebrated our nation’s Day of Independence: “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne” (Psalm 47:8). Not to worry…the Lord is in control!
As a kid, sometimes my mouth would “shoot first, and look later.” After many self-inflicted wounds, I can still hear the voices of my parents saying, “Wise up!” Did you know that the Book of Proverbs in the Bible was written by a parent to his children? Solomon, the king, wanted to give his children everything he could to see them “wise up” and live productive, God-honoring lives. Of course, Solomon’s wisdom extends way beyond his own children…blessing every generation and countless numbers of God’s children wherever the Bible is read and spoken! Here are (in my opinion) the most well-known verses in Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (3:5-6). These verses contain the ultimate “wise up” challenge! We don’t like to admit it, but our own ways of thinking are often messed up and lead to terrible choices. When we are challenged to humble ourselves before God, our natural inclination is to crawl back to our “self-understanding” cave…and brag about the wisdom of our own opinions. May we hear God’s call to come out of the cave! Receiving wisdom from God begins by admitting how foolish we are. Such humility is why many people never submit to God. It takes a lot of courage to admit “I am wrong and God is right.” But, by taking the plunge away from our limited understanding into the vast resources of God, we begin life’s great adventure of living under His blessing. Through admitting our need of God’s wisdom, we begin to understand true purpose and enjoy living in right relationship with Him. King Solomon continued his insights on wisdom (as seen in the next verse): “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7). As the best parent ever, God offers us His way to find wisdom. Will we follow His way…or stay in our own way?
“I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life—when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing…” (Psalm 101:1-3a). We notice in these verses that the Psalmist connects the joy of singing to the Lord with the quality of how we live. What caught my attention is the word “careful.” He made a commitment to be “careful to lead a blameless life.” If he means sinless perfection here, we are all in trouble! “Blameless,” in Scripture, means walking with God in truth and integrity…hiding nothing from Him and harboring no hidden practices of sin. Sad to say, the average Christian today is not careful concerning their walk with God. We settle for “mixture.” We want God and His blessings, but we also indulge our carnal nature. I find it interesting (and challenging) that the Psalmist emphasizes the importance of living a life of integrity first in the home. Then he gives the example of setting “no vile thing” before his eyes. This was written hundreds of years before the television and internet! It’s as if this admonition is a prophetic challenge to our generation—to those who are so careless about what they put before their eyes. So, we have to ask ourselves the question: Do I want God’s joy and peace in my life, or do I just want to sit and entertain myself with evil images and thoughts? Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating getting rid of TVs and the internet. However, I challenge you as I challenge myself: Decide what is really important in life and go after it! Be careful in your choice of entertainment! Enjoy the presence and peace of Jesus!
Sometimes it’s tough to decide. What do I get for my father for Father’s Day…a card, a gift certificate, or maybe a tie? God’s Word gives us insight into what fathers really want (and not just for one day). The last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, spoke on God’s behalf to the people of Israel, saying, “‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 1:6a). The Lord “called out” His people for ignoring and disrespecting Him, the Father of their hearts and nation. Let’s connect this to our human fathers. From this passage we see that God created men with a deep longing for respect. However, there’s a tendency to appoint ourselves judges when it comes to giving respect—especially to our fathers. We write the sins and flaws of our fathers in bold letters on the tablet of our heart, resulting in a bitter and resentful attitude. Rather than giving respect, we withhold it as a way of “getting back.” We can and must overcome our resentment and disrespect, not by convincing ourselves of the “perfection” of our father, but by desiring to obey and honor our heavenly Father. The Lord calls us to a “higher” response through the power and love of Jesus. A great example of this demonstration of love and respect is David. King Saul, David’s father-in-law, degenerated into a terrible king and father. Yet, David continued to respect Saul all his life. He refused to speak evil of his father-in-law or get revenge. David knew that he needed to respect Saul’s God-given position as a father and king—even if he did not respect Saul’s actions. God calls us to maturity in Christ. No one grew up with a perfect father. Through Jesus, let’s show grace and forgiveness…just as the Lord has shown to us. Honor your father!
Is that all it is? In America, we honor the past with special memorials. For example, on July 4th we commemorate Independence Day, the birth of our nation. Remembering and commemorating historical events such as this are important for our sense of heritage. However, when it comes to the things of God, there has to be more than looking at the past. Today is the Day of Pentecost—the day when God the Father and Jesus the Son fulfilled the promise of Scripture and sent the promised Holy Spirit! Is the coming of the Spirit simply for our reflection? The Bible teaches us to live in the power of the Spirit. In fact, we are hopeless and helpless to overcome sin without God’s Spirit. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:16-17). The presence of the Spirit empowers us to live now…not just to remember then and there. The battle for the supremacy of the heart rages in every soul, and only through the Spirit can we overcome our sin nature and please God. Not only does the Spirit enable us to win our inner battles, but the Spirit is the One who empowers us to share Jesus with others. Before the Day of Pentecost Jesus promised, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8a). Here we see the direct connection between the work of the Spirit and witness to the world. Pray each day for opportunities to share Jesus and believe that He empowers you. In summary, the Spirit of God given on the Day of Pentecost is not for us to “commemorate;” it is for us to experience. Life was meant to be lived in the Spirit!