“Trust in the Lord and do good; Live in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3, NASB). A quote that has stuck with me through the years goes like this: “Many people have everything to live with and nothing to live for.” In our everyday conversations, I wonder why we have such a hard time talking about things that really matter. When was the last time someone opened up and started talking to you about what life means to them? The Bible presents us with something to live for. As I read God’s Word, I repeatedly come across verses which serve as sweeping panoramas. Right in front of my eyes I view the meaning of life in simple phrases like, “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Imagine if every person around you adopted this as their life verse! This profound verse challenges us to blend trust and action. I never want to move away from faith in the Lord. It seems that no matter how long I have walked with God, my faith is never perfect. I always go through times of testing. I think testing is God’s way of keeping us “in shape” spiritually. As a good “coach” the Lord doesn’t let us just sit around and get lazy. James explains to us, “…the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:3). So, everything about this life happens to grow our faith. Connected to this life philosophy of trust is doing good. True faith demonstrates itself in love and good deeds. When I happen to hear the words of the songs people listen to, I hear the cry of people looking for others to love them. As believers in Jesus, we already know we are greatly loved. So, instead of walking around in life “looking for love” we are “looking to love.” Because Jesus loves people, we love with His love. Our “doing good” servant attitude endeavors to help everyone we meet get closer to God and find their purpose and potential in Him! Psalm 37:3 ends with the beautiful words, “…cultivate faithfulness.” Another translation says, “…feed on God’s faithfulness.” A person who trusts God and does what is right enjoys the strength and joy that comes from the Lord himself. Jesus is not just our “philosophy” of life, but the Lord of life itself! You have something…or someone to live for!
Thoughts are important. Like seeds that fall into the earth, our thoughts produce attitudes which can grow into actions. As you know, multitudes of ideas and words flow in and out of our minds all day long. We decide which words to keep and which ones to kick out. In the Book of Deuteronomy, the Lord is about to bring His children, the Israelites, into the Promised Land. He wants them to have the right thoughts about this, so He gives them two warnings. The first has to do with how we think about the blessing of money and prosperity. As they enter the Promised Land, they will inherit houses, lands, and benefits they never knew during the previous years of desert wanderings. The Lord warned them, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18a). God is challenging them to think biblically (correctly) about their blessings. These verses speak to my heart, reminding me that even my ability to work and to provide for my family comes from the Lord’s hand. He is the source! The second warning from the Lord has to do with how we think about ourselves in light of victories we experience. The Lord warned, “…do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness’” (Deuteronomy 9:4b). We may not say such proud things (about how “good” we are) outwardly to others, but, if we’re honest, we sometimes let these thoughts lodge in our hearts. The truth is that God doesn’t bless us with victory because of how great or good we are. From Deuteronomy we discover that God blessed the Israelites in part because the inhabitants of the land were being disciplined for their wickedness. Israel was in line to receive the spoils. Thanksgiving is a great reminder for us to humble ourselves. Let us acknowledge we serve a good and kind God who gives us what we don’t deserve and does not give us what we really deserve! So, inside your heart…what are you talking about?
As I sit at the table, I am thinking and praying about what to say at an upcoming funeral. My mind drifts to the idea of “ownership.” Throughout my ministry I have observed thousands of people during times of grief and loss. Why is it that some can sail through times of loss (of even a close relative) and others seem to self-destruct into anger and bitterness? Our response to life hinges on faith in God and perspective concerning ownership. Let’s begin by asking the big questions. Who really owns it all? Did I create my body? Did I choose my relatives? Will I be taking what “I own” with me after I die? If I really don’t own anything, why should I become bitter if something is taken away? So, does not really owning anything now or the prospect of leaving this earth someday with nothing bring despair? Just the opposite. If I don’t own anything, then everything I am allowed to have or experience is an act of grace from God. What I “have” becomes a reason for overflowing thanksgiving! God has given me a biological family and a church family. That’s grace. God has given me people to love and serve. That’s grace. God has given me food and shelter. That’s grace. God has given me strength and a work to do. That’s grace. On and on flows the grace from our God who never stops giving. Rather than looking at people as “mine” or things I use as something I deserve, I can choose to live in gratitude and worship to our Lord for His endless kindness and goodness. No wonder that when we get to heaven, we will join the elders before the throne and proclaim, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 5:11). Truly, it all belongs to Him! It was never “mine” or about me. Thank You, Jesus…it’s all Yours!
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Experience is not enough. As we make choices about our future, it’s nice to have “hindsight” and years of experience. However, there’s a subtle danger. We can trust in our experience more than trusting in the Lord. For example, let’s say you are wrestling with the options of a new job. If you have worked for many years and gone through job transitions before, you have the benefit of experience. You have acquired insights about the various paths available to you. However, the particular choice at the present time requires more than the past. We need the present guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit. What may “seem good” may not “be good” for us. God’s Word is clear: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). God’s will for us may lead us into areas that we can’t “figure out” from past experience. Having served as a pastor for over 40 years, I continually find myself in circumstances where I cry out to Him saying, “Lord, I need your wisdom for right now…this time.” Without a healthy sense of dependence on the Lord, we start to think, I can figure this thing out on my own. Think of Solomon. The Bible refers to him as the wisest man on earth. Yet, with all his wisdom and experience, he chose to compromise with idolatry and money. In the end, he suffered from unwanted drama and difficulty…from unwise choices! If this could happen to Solomon, who wrote many chapters of the Bible, we all better take heed. Asking for wisdom is not simply a polite way of letting God know about our choices. Seeking His wisdom is expressing childlike dependence on Him in the present moment. While we appreciate what God teaches us through the experiences of life, our ultimate faith and trust is in the Lord himself. As the songwriter expressed, “I need Thee every hour.” May the God who “gives generously to all” grant you wisdom and discernment for the paths you must choose.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 ESV). A while ago I met a young man on the streets. I had known him for several years, and he shared with me about his daughter (he had a child with his girlfriend as a teen). As he spoke of his visitation hours, my heart went out to his daughter. I couldn’t help thinking, Why don’t people slow down in relationships and consider getting married? Don’t people believe in marriage anymore? Then I thought about what it takes for a successful, long-term marriage (or friendship for that matter). I believe the answer to this is found in the Scriptures. The Bible teaches us about our destructive sinful, selfish nature. We also receive God’s answer in how to overcome our natural inclinations through faith in Christ…in His death and resurrection. Trusting in the presence of “Christ in us” enables us to “crucify” the old nature that fights so hard to have its own way. As you know, two selfish, immature people have close to a zero chance of experiencing closeness and unity. The old selfish nature wearies itself (and distances itself from others) by the constant mantra of “my rights, my respect, and my feelings.” Lasting and satisfying relationships require mature love. God is love, and His love empowers us to banish selfishness to the rear of the bus. As Christians who possess the attitudes of Jesus, we find joy in serving others and seeing them succeed. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, reminded them of the power which love creates in order to bring unity and joy in their midst. They had issues of selfish pride which threatened to divide the church. He said, “[love] does not insist on its own way.” Could it be that the main reason we break relationships with others is because we are filled with ourselves and think only of our benefit? I’m glad Jesus wasn’t thinking about His own rights and benefits when He was crucified. The nails did not keep Jesus on the cross. His love for us kept Him there! May the Lord help us to learn how to love with His sacrificial love.
I admit it…. I like a good war movie. A while ago I watched a movie based on a real-life event. The plot unfolded around a group of courageous soldiers who persevered against evil and oppression in the face of overwhelming odds. There’s something inspiring about a story that starts with struggle and defeat but ends with the triumph of good over evil. I don’t like wars, but sometimes they are necessary to avoid enslavement by evil regimes and maniacal “misleaders.” We all face a very real battle every day. There are forces in our fleshly sinful nature that would enslave us to passions and practices which are opposite the nature of God. The Apostle Paul, in the Book of Romans (especially chapters 6-8), clearly addresses this battle of the heart. He speaks of the agony of the struggle by proclaiming, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (7:24). Paul was brutally honest with himself. He recognized the tendency to turn from God and live only for his own evil desires. But Paul does not give up hope or give up the fight. He answers his own question, “Who will rescue me…?”, by declaring, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:25). We must understand the mission of Jesus. He did not come just to give us good advice or merely to provide an example for how to live. He came that we might experience His death and resurrection! “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:10-11). So, the fight we fight each day with our sinful nature is won through the power of Jesus in us. Our part is to yield each day to the resurrected Christ! He gives us the power to choose the things of the Spirit over the fleshly nature. We “feed our faith” and become strong in the Lord by praying, walking with God, thinking on His Word, and fellowshipping with one another. Our sinful nature, a formidable opponent, has already been defeated by Jesus. Let’s experience this victory by remaining in Him!
The Book of Acts challenges me to the core! This morning I pushed the pause button in chapter 23. Here we see the Apostle Paul in Jerusalem toward the end of his ministry. Warnings were sounded from other believers about the persecution and difficulties that awaited him, but Paul is unshaken. He knows God wants him to press ahead—no matter what. Suddenly Paul gets arrested (for no reason) and is forced to answer to the Jewish leaders (the Sanhedrin). Allowed to speak, he answers, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6b). The Sanhedrin is split down the middle between the liberals (Sadducees) and conservatives (Pharisees). The Pharisees are willing to release Paul, but the Sadducees want to kill him. Those responsible for guarding Paul whisk him out of harm’s way. They were afraid he would be torn to pieces (verse 10)! Talk about drama! Serving the Lord as a pastor for most of my life, I have discovered something about the will of God. As Christians, we are sometimes called on by the Lord Jesus to place ourselves in the bull’s eye of drama. Think about Paul. He could have easily avoided the missionary life and settled down to some cushy position. He could have kept quiet about his faith—avoiding all controversy. I wonder how many believers settle for “secret service Christianity”? Had Paul opted for an easy, boring life, we would not be reading about him right now. The Kingdom of God is too important to play it safe and avoid drama. The will of God is at stake! After Paul is removed from the Sanhedrin, he still finds himself under arrest…and alone with his thoughts. But he is not alone! The Lord shows up in Paul’s drama and says to him, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11b). Jesus knows what we go through for His name and meets us at our place of need. Read the Gospels. Jesus understands drama! So, if you listen carefully in the middle of the storm, hear Him say to you, “TAKE COURAGE!” The same Lord who kept Paul to the very end is the same God who will carry you through your drama. Don’t give in or give up. Jesus is Lord!
“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?