“And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will’” (Acts 13:22). While reading the Scriptures this morning, this passage seemed to jump off the page at me. First, let me set the background. The Apostle Paul is speaking in a Jewish synagogue in a place called Antioch. He is on his first mission trip and begins his message by rehearsing a little of their common history. As a good preacher, he is leading them to Jesus the Messiah by connecting with them to what they have in common. David takes center stage. Paul holds David’s life up before his hearers and reminds the Israelites of their amazing heritage. David is described in immortal words as, “a man after my (God’s) heart.” Notice here that Paul goes further to quote the Scripture by adding, “…who will do all my will.” Here’s what I get from this. To be a person who knows God involves the full surrender of what we call the “will.” Think of your will as the “control center” of your existence. It’s where you process your thoughts and make your decisions. As you remember from the Bible, King Saul ruled Israel before David. Although possessing a knowledge of God and having some degree of outward respect for Him, Saul clung to his own will. This ultimately destroyed him. To surrender our will to God means that we seek Him and invite Him to take control over our whole being…including all our thoughts and choices. The “heart after God” doesn’t separate big choices and small choices, as if to say, “God, you get to have my big choices, but I still want to run my own life my own way.” This doesn’t work. There can never be two masters of one life. If Jesus is Lord and is dwelling in us, His Spirit helps us to pray, “Not my will, but yours be done.” My prayer for all of us is, “Lord Jesus, You have lived and died for us and have given us the gift of eternal life. In light of this supreme gift, may we have the courage and faith to give You the small gift of our will. Help us always to say yes to You and Your will—whatever that may require and wherever that may take us.”
I can recall a time many years ago when I was a young boy growing up in New York City. On Saturdays my friends and I would travel from one city park to another—practically from sunup to sundown—playing basketball on the scorching hot blacktops of the playgrounds. We knew we’d be tired and beat down by the sun at days end, but the happiness and pleasure we received from playing ball made it all worthwhile. However, there was another key factor we had to consider each time we went out to play. In the inner city, most of the parks either had no water fountains or fountains with water that was unsuitable for consumption. We would be so thirsty when we were finished playing…so thirsty that we would run home, even in our fatigued state, just to get a sip of ice-cold water. But, like clockwork, each week the same routine was established because of our urgent desire to enjoy the pleasure of playing ball and our same desire to find the only thing that could quench our thirst…water. Can you honestly say today that you thirst for God in such an extreme manner? The psalmist writes, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you” (Psalm 63:1-3). The same drive that impels us to seek a drink of water, secure that dream job, or wholeheartedly court that significant other should be there on a consistent basis in our pursuit of God. Just as my friends and I were aware that our ballplaying would give rise to a thirst for water, we as followers of Christ should pursue the Lord with expectancy that He will quench our thirst as only God can! Most importantly, we need to ask ourselves if the thirst is there. This should not be difficult to answer. If we are honest with ourselves, much as our bodies evoke a tangible thirst for water, our spirit and mind produce a thirst for God. However, unlike those park fountains that provided unsuitable or no water at all, God will always give us an unceasing flow of the Spirit—available to all who earnestly desire Him. Thirsty, anyone?
Imagine the crowds Jesus could have had during His ministry if He had promoted and advertised His miracles. Let’s say one of His disciples passed out flyers that read, “Come to the meeting tomorrow, and you will see Jesus walk on water, move a building, and pick up a mountain!” Let’s understand that Jesus did His miracles to help people and to reveal His power as the Son of God. They were never to “show off.” He knew that if people followed Him only for entertainment or for personal gain, they would quickly fall away. In John 6 we read of Jesus feeding 5,000 interested followers. From five small loaves and two fish, Jesus multiplied the food to meet all the needs…with plenty left over! Immediately following this, the crowds followed Him to the other side of the lake. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (John 6:26). Considering life today, we see that times have changed, but the human heart remains the same. How many people want to follow Jesus only for what He can do for them? How many people only want to hear about His blessings—but never His commands. Jesus refused to fall into the trap of being the chief benevolence provider. Yes, He is willing to bless and to provide, but He did not come to give us an easy carefree life. He came to save us and give us His Spirit so that we might follow Him. After Jesus’ hard sayings about the need to “feed” on Him rather than pursue material things, many in the crowd left Him. Their thinking was, Jesus is supposed to make me happy, and, if he doesn’t, I’m out of here. At the end of this encounter, only the most dedicated believers stayed with Jesus. Peter, speaking for the rest of them, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). Motivation is critical. Will we still love the Lord when the blessings are not visible? Will we still follow when others go their own way? Jesus is Lord…and He is worthy of our total allegiance. Are you totally in—no matter what happens?
Sometime last year I started a new morning habit. Around 7:15 every day, I cut up pieces of bread and scatter them on the sidewalk for the birds. Because of my consistency, a group of “feathered friends” await me…poised and ready to swoop down on their daily breakfast. Now, even though I like to help birds in this way, I am under no illusion that they could not survive without me. While reading Luke this week, I was reminded of Jesus’ teaching concerning the ravens. He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (Luke 12:22-26). Birds teach us about God! If we could get inside a bird’s brain, we would discover a few things. First, they don’t awake in the morning plagued with anxiety. They are not thinking, What if God does not provide today and I starve? In fact, most mornings I hear the birds singing! It’s as if they are simply praising God for giving them another day…knowing that all they need will be provided. Birds also teach us the uselessness of worry. Instead of worrying, birds instinctively trust God and put action to their desires. They believe their food will be provided, and they go after it! God is faithful. He takes care of them. Jesus challenges all of us to learn from the birds. We don’t have to lose our peace and use up our limited energy imagining all the “worst case scenarios.” We can exercise faith, believing that God values us more than the birds! Life’s challenges present us with much that is beyond our control. Let’s push back against worry and praise the Lord for His faithful, daily provision. God will take care of you!
This past week in my devotions I read through the Book of Daniel. This short book of 12 chapters is full of prophecy, visions, prayer, and amazing stories! While reading, I was inspired not only by the book itself but also by the man Daniel. As a young man he was captured by the Chaldeans (when they invaded Judah) and was brought to Babylon. Instead of fading into isolation and obscurity, Daniel continued to live for God and make the best of a difficult situation. Those around Daniel noticed his godly character. He, along with other promising Jewish candidates, were chosen for the “leadership fast track” in the king’s service. The Babylonians could not understand why Daniel was so trustworthy and wise. On different occasions, they explained Daniel in their own way as one “who has the spirit of the holy gods in him” (Daniel 5:9). Of course, they were simply trying to describe the beautiful presence of God’s Holy Spirit in Daniel. As followers of Jesus, we know Daniel’s true success did not come by self-help or pride in his own abilities. Over and over, we read of Daniel’s humility as he deflected honor and praise to the only One worthy…the Lord God Almighty! Even the angelic beings recognized Daniel and called him “highly esteemed” (10:11). Also, while reading this book, you discover a roller coaster of events. Sometimes Daniel is elevated to great heights of leadership and other times he is despised and persecuted (remember the lion’s den!). Through it all, Daniel remains steadfast and faithful. A few verses from chapter six summarize for me Daniel’s amazing character: “Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom…. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt not negligent” (Daniel 6:3-4b). Daniel is described as “exceptional!” May we realize the truth that Daniel stood out because he consistently yielded himself totally to the Lord. Rather than living a life of carnality and compromise (“when in Babylon do as the Babylonians”), Daniel continued to walk with God. I hope you read the Book of Daniel! Yes, the prophesies and stories are outstanding, but let Daniel himself inspire you. Keep living for Jesus…and be exceptional!
I’m reading through the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel is in the land of Babylon and prophesying about what will happen to the remnant still left in the land of Israel. It’s not a positive outlook. The people in Israel are determined to continue in their sins, totally disregarding God. I came across some verses that stopped me in my tracks. I thought to myself, These are among the scariest verses in the Bible. Here is what Ezekiel wrote: “Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.’ If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done” (Ezekiel 33:12-13). So, God is speaking to the Israelites of impending judgment due to prolonged and present wickedness. Some were trusting in their own previous righteousness. Maybe they had served God for many years and done many good deeds. However, the warning is clear. Just because you have served God in the past gives you no assurance if you abandon the Lord and give yourself to doing evil. For me personally, this gives me a healthy sense of the fear of God. Even though I have served the Lord since I was a teenager, I cannot trust in my past ministry or good deeds as a “license” to do my own thing. In other words, the challenge here is to live for the Lord in the present and to end well. I suppose some would say this kind of thinking leads to a lack of assurance of salvation. However, I absolutely believe in the assurance of salvation rooted in our trust in the Lord Jesus. But, to abandon this trust and to place our trust in ourselves and our “righteousness” puts us in a dangerous place. Let’s take God at His Word and continue to persevere in our faith in Christ…demonstrating this faith through trust and obedience!
“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11). September has the feel of a “new year”—not just a new month. As the summer days fade, a new season of refreshing takes its place. I think it’s fitting for us to reflect on Labor Day as the official beginning of this new time and to consider the role of work in our lives. People I talk to often express extreme views about their work. They usually tell me they really like their work or…they hate it and can’t wait to leave. Have you noticed that, if you don’t like something, it’s hard to hide your feelings day by day? Those who work with a negative attitude influence others. What’s in the heart eventually comes out. Before you know it, a “toxic” work environment grows and stifles creativity and productivity. Now, let’s think about this in relation to serving the Lord. Are there times when serving the Lord sputters into mere “robotic activity.” We know the drill…just do enough to get by in our relationship with God. Sometimes our attitude sinks into I don’t like this, but I’m still on the job. Through my studies and preaching on “Summer Psalms,” my attitude has been challenged by David’s attitude toward serving the Lord. Over and over, he speaks about the joy of living in the presence of God. He rejoices in the great blessings and benefits of sins forgiven and a clear conscience. For David, following the Lord was not a “obligation grudgingly performed” but a delight to his soul. If your relationship with the Lord has slipped into more of a duty than delight, I encourage you to follow the footsteps of David. He focused on the Lord himself and worshiped in His presence. David took time to wait on the Lord, allowing Him to stir the embers of his heart until the flames grew hot. Let’s remember that living for Jesus is not a difficulty to endure but, rather, the greatest delight we can ever know! Allow the Lord to renew your joy in Him! David declared, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Enjoy the Lord!
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). We just came through a truly amazing Sunday with our guests from Chicago Tabernacle. I was especially blessed and moved while listening to the message Sunday morning. When I listen to a sermon, I try to stay “open” for a special word from the Lord for my own heart. The word that came to me was, “Don’t doubt God’s faithfulness.” The Scripture above from Lamentations proclaims God’s faithfulness and steadfast love (written by Jeremiah) in the backdrop of sorrows and tragedies which had befallen Israel. God warned them over and over, but they ignored Him and instead chose to do evil—which led to great suffering. But God is reminding His people that He hasn’t given up on them! There is a future for the people of God—even if the present may look bleak. Pastor Al brought out a story from his own family that I will never forget…and which I have already shared with others. He mentioned how one of his children, many years ago, was wandering away from God. This caused great pain to both parents (Pastor Al and Chrissy). Chrissy especially was distraught about this and sought God diligently. In the midst of her prayers, God spoke a word to her heart! She took this word and immediately shared it with her husband. God said to her, “If you worry, then I’m not faithful.” Wow, this is powerful! God wasn’t saying to her that He quit being faithful. He was challenging her to keep trusting His faithfulness in spite of what she did not see. God does not fail! However, if we choose to embrace worry, in essence we are saying, “God, You’re not who You say You are. You’re not faithful!” I received this word and thought about the challenges I face in life. I am just like you; I am tempted to doubt and complain when things don’t go as I expect. But then I look back and recount God’s consistent faithfulness. Then I ask myself, “Why should I choose worry when I can give myself to the Lord and receive His strength to trust. I can believe Him in the present because He has always been faithful in the past. By His grace, let’s declare, “Great is thy faithfulness!”
“To hear or not to hear.” This, to me, is the message of Jeremiah to the nation of Israel. The leaders and people had abandoned the Lord and His word and expected the same prosperity and blessing to which they were accustomed. However, judgment came as the Babylonians swept down from the north and destroyed the cities and scattered the people. Even after all this, amazingly, the people interpreted these judgments only through the filter of their own imaginations. Instead of acknowledging the Lord and humbling themselves, they dug deeper into idolatry. Here’s their response to Jeremiah: “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord! We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine” (Jeremiah 44:16-18). So, the people left God completely out of their circumstances! They interpreted their extreme trials as coming from displeasing “the Queen of Heaven.” By not listening to the Word of the Lord, they totally missed His will for them. As I read this from Jeremiah, I wondered about the many ways our country turns a deaf ear to and misinterprets His voice speaking to us. We feel the discipline of COVID…. We experience the trials of hurricanes, fires, and floods, and we suffer massive social problems. Yet, we so easily blame other countries, climate change, politics, or racism for all our issues. Don’t get me wrong…. I am all for making steps to improve our world. But lets’ get it straight. We need to repent and get right with God. Nothing else we do will ultimately succeed if we ignore Him. If this Pastor’s Pen received a wide reading audience, I’m sure most Americans would mock and call my thoughts “simplistic generalities of a Bible-thumping fanatic.” It really doesn’t matter if people listen to me. My prayer is for the people of our nation to turn and hear the Word of the Lord. When we hear right, we rightly interpret the signs of the times!
The popular idiom, “Home is where the heart is,” was coined by Roman philosopher Gaius Plinius Secundus. One need not stretch his or her imagination in an effort to conclude the gist or meaning of this phrase; it’s pretty straightforward. The people and or environment you long to surround yourself with most are usually located at the place you reside—your home. Therefore, it would be safe to say that your heart cherishes and values all which comprises the home (family, etc.) so much so that, no matter where travels may take you, a yearning to be back home is always prevalent. Our God, who is infinite and omnipresent, does not require a space or structure to call home. However, the Lord Jesus desires and yearns to reside within our hearts. The Psalmist proclaims “Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells” (Psalm 26:8). In this verse David is referring to the Tabernacle—where the Ark of the Covenant was located. But, as we have come to learn and understand, the Spirit of the Lord not only dwells within structures, He also seeks to make our hearts His home. This is the reason why directly after we confess our sins and repent, we invite the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts and minds so that we may be transformed from a temple (vessel) void of God to one in which He now resides. Have you made your heart available as a place the Lord can call home? When we take inventory of ourselves, will we find hearts filled with contempt, bitterness, despair, and hate? Or will we find “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”? (Galatians 5:22-23). So, if home is where the heart is, then our hearts should be where the Lord’s home is. Having our hearts as a dwelling place for God’s Spirit and Word facilitates the mighty and miraculous work the Holy Spirit conducts in our lives. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). I’m sure most of us, more than likely, would not want to go somewhere to which we were not invited. In this sense the Lord feels the same. As He desires to make our hearts His home, we must invite Him in with wide open, welcoming arms! Let us remind ourselves every day to ask God to make our hearts His home.