“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus did not just teach about prayer…He prayed! I talked to a young man once about praying. He told me, “I tried it once and it doesn’t work.” It seemed his idea of prayer was putting money in a broken vending machine and waiting for candy that didn’t drop. Unfortunately, manmade religions reinforce the idea that prayer is simply a way of trying to get something from God. “If you just try hard enough, God might reward you.” Jesus taught us that prayer is living in relationship with God. If we have given our hearts to Jesus our Lord, we have the great honor of living in fellowship with Him all our days. But there’s a catch. It won’t be easy. The world around us is a hostile environment when it comes to prayer and knowing God. A case in point: our government even outlaws prayer in schools. This “anti-attitude” toward prayer requires us to walk against the winds of culture. But it’s worth it! From studying the life of Jesus, you discover prayer was both His habit and lifestyle. As children of God, we need to persevere when it comes to developing the habit of prayer. If we’re not careful, we can easily allow our schedule to fill up to the place where prayer seems irrelevant…becoming only a last-minute gasp to God when we’re in trouble. My encouragement to you today is to give yourself a chance to know God through a consistent, habitual prayer life. Set aside a time of the day when you’re not tired from the daily demands (morning works well for most people). Start with something realistic. Maybe you sit in God’s presence alone for an uninterrupted 10 to 15 minutes. You can grow from there, but you need to at least get started. Guard your time with God! Push yourself to do this even when your emotions don’t cooperate. If you stay with this, a beautiful godly habit develops where prayer becomes natural and personal. Remember, the greatest thing about prayer is getting to know and become like Jesus! Give yourself a chance.
So, I’m reading the amazing Book of Job again. As you remember, after Job’s grievous calamities, three of his friends came to offer him comfort. In chapters 3 through 31 we read the back-and-forth dialogue between Job and these friends. They all show astounding wisdom and make great claims about God, life and the human condition. All of what is recorded in Job is Scripture and inspired by God. The words were faithfully and truthfully written and copied. As I read Job, however, I am a little “guarded” in my heart. Even though we have the words of Job and his friends divinely preserved, this doesn’t mean their perception and insights were right. Take Eliphaz for example. Here is what he said to Job: “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it” (Job 4:7-8). As I read this, I thought to myself, This is true as a general observation. Eliphaz reminds Job (and us) of the truth of the innocent not perishing as those who do evil, and those who do evil reaping trouble. However, what happens in life does not always fit neatly into this observation. Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense in the moment. A quick look at history, as well as considering the suffering of persecuted Christians in the world right now, shows us that God’s people sometimes pay a great price for their faith. And it seems that those who do evil sometimes prosper greatly in their endeavors. Eliphaz was right in his general observation but wrong in his application of this to Job. When he said, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it” (verse 8), he misapplies this truth to Job. In other words, he assumed that Job was evil because of his trials and tests. Let’s take this to heart and be careful. God’s Word is true, but let’s rely on the Holy Spirit and God’s wisdom to apply His truth to particular situations. Sometimes, it’s better to pray for someone and use our words sparingly than to pretend we know everything that is going on. Don’t be one of those who is right…but wrong.
I just finished reading the Book of 2 Chronicles which shows us the ending of the era of the kings of Israel. The books of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible reveal the highlights (and many “lowlights”) of the reigns of the kings of the Hebrew people in Judah and Israel. The northern kingdom, Israel, was taken into captivity by the Assyrians. God allowed this because the Israelites abandoned the Lord and His Word. Instead of learning from this, the southern kingdom, Judah, fell into the same pit. As I was reading about the various kings leading Judah (before they fell to the Babylonians), I felt like I was watching a “ping pong” match. Judah bounced from a bad king to a good king…and back to a bad king. The majority of the people expressed no moral backbone and caved in to however the king lived. Manasseh is a case in point. His father, Hezekiah, served the Lord for most of his reign. Manasseh came to the throne at the tender age of 12 and reigned 55 years. The Bible says, “Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel. The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon” (2 Chronicles 33:9-11). What a sad commentary! God’s people did more evil than the ungodly nations before them! What is true of a nation, is also true of individuals. My “take aways” from reading about the kings of Israel and Judah are these: (1) Keep a tender heart and be willing to listen to the Lord; (2) We spare ourselves so much pain and sorrow if we live God’s way and reject evil and sin; (3) Leaders are imperfect. We need to pray for them, but we cannot let them replace the Lord; (4) We all reap what we sow. I am glad the Lord gave us the stories about the kings. They are both an inspiration and a warning to me as I continue my journey. By the grace of God, I set my heart on the one called “the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!” How about you?
Resurrection Sunday has come and gone…or has it? Our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus is not some kind of “conclusion” to the life of Christ. For the disciples who followed Jesus, the Resurrection was just the beginning of their new life. Jesus clearly instructed them to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit and to live as witnesses to the truth that “He is Lord.” So, what does this mean for us? As Christians, we find our identity in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our life “parallels” the life of Christ. Just as He lived by the power of the Spirit, so, we are to depend on the Holy Spirit. Just as He endured sufferings by God’s power, so, we persevere. Just as He was received into glory, so, one day we will enter His glorious kingdom…never to depart. The Apostle Paul described this identification with Christ in the Book of Philippians: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (3:10-12). For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus was not a past event. He yearned to know Christ today in the “power” of His resurrection. Easter Sunday, then, is a celebration of the life we have in Christ. This life continues each day because we live “in Christ.” There will be days when life seems hard, and we must struggle through. Paul describes these times as “the fellowship of his sufferings” which are also part of living resurrected lives in a sinful, fallen world. Take heart. The resurrection of Jesus assures us that all power and authority are in Jesus (Matthew 28:18). We walk each day in His resurrection power…until we take our last step into His everlasting kingdom! Because He lives, we shall live also!
It wasn’t easy for the disciples to consider Jesus leaving them. After spending so much time with Jesus, the disciples just didn’t want to hear about Him leaving and going to the Father. This message went in one ear and out the other. However, the plan of God was not for Jesus to stay on earth forever in His human body. After completing His mission on earth, He needed to go to the Father in order to send the Holy Spirit. The “hard thing” Jesus did resulted in the blessing of God’s presence being available for all believers! Here is how Jesus described this blessing (which followed hard choices): “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:25-27). Also, it wasn’t easy for Jesus to die on the cross. His death was the hardest thing He would ever face. Even the thought of crucifixion engulfed the strongest of men with crippling fear. On top of this, Jesus faced the challenge of becoming sin for us and being temporarily “alienated” from the Father’s presence. The only way He accomplished this was because of His great love for us! He knew the benefits and blessing that would flow out of His willingness to do the “hard thing.” As believers in Jesus, we follow Christ in every way. His life shows us that death must come before resurrection. Many will not submit to Jesus because it is a “hard thing” to die to control and “lordship” of one’s life. Sadly, these same people will never know the joy and fellowship of the resurrected Christ. Even after we have received Christ into our lives, the Lord tests us, seeing if we are willing to take up our cross and do the “hard thing”…whatever that might be. May we receive the grace of Jesus to do what is right—even though it is sometimes very difficult. This is the way of the cross…followed by the Resurrection!
It was just before Jesus was arrested and crucified. While Jesus and the disciples were at their last meal together, Jesus stunned everyone in the room by wrapping a towel around himself, pouring water into a bowl, and bending down and washing the feet of each disciple! Why would He do this? Why at this time? As I have thought over events in my life as a pastor, I have come to a conclusion about my relationship with the Lord. He doesn’t owe me an explanation. When He does something in my life, He doesn’t hold a news briefing with a time for Q and A. While washing the disciples’ feet (a task ordinarily done by a slave), Jesus did tell them one thing: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). In our faith walk with Jesus, we don’t have to anguish over trying to figure out everything. Our “task” is to take the risk and let Jesus do His will in our life…whether we have a clue or not as to what He is doing. In His comments to the disciples, Jesus creates a contrast between now and later. We won’t always get it now. We often scratch our heads as we face unexpected surprises and challenges to our faith. The now becomes the arena where we must exercise what we say we believe. As we walk with Jesus, we can trust Him in the moment because we recall all the times in the past when He has proven himself faithful. This is the “hindsight” that sees from the vantage point of later. We must believe that what we cannot see or understand in the now will make sense in the later (even if the later means heaven). As we anticipate the joy of Resurrection Day, we look to Jesus and realize that He had to pass through the now of present pain and great chaos in order to experience the later joy of eternal victory! So, let’s remember that in this world sometimes we will sigh, “I don’t get it!” But our greatest need is not “getting it” as much as trusting our way through it. Just trust Jesus right now. You will understand later.
The name Rehoboam may not mean anything to you, but you need to read this. Rehoboam was the fourth king of Israel, who started his rule at the age of 41. His father Solomon and grandfather David left him fabulously wealthy and powerful. The people, however, were not pleased with the high taxes that had been imposed by Solomon and sent a delegation to King Rehoboam to ask for some relief. Their request was quite simple: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you” (1 Kings 12:4). Rehoboam told the people he would consider their request and give an answer after three days. Now ancient history reveals that most kings surrounded themselves with advisors, and he was no exception. The king went first to the elders and asked for their advice. They told him, “If you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants” (1 Kings 12:7). Tragically, Rehoboam rejected this advice and sought out the advice of the friends with which he had grown up. Their advice to the king to proclaim to the people was, “My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:11). For Rehoboam, it was all about power and domination. So, he spewed out his arrogance to them. The next thing you know, the kingdom separated, and Rehoboam lost more than half the people of Israel! Because of the king’s blunder, the years ahead were filled with strife and wars between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. I wonder how many times Rehoboam must have reminisced, If only I had humbled myself and served the people instead of trying to show off my power. There are many lessons from this event, but let me leave you with one. Make sure you seek out the right people for advice. Don’t surround yourself with pals who tell you just what you want to hear…appealing to your pride and vanity. But what will you do in the end? Seek the advice of God’s Word and godly people. A final hint: godly advisors may be older and more experienced at life than you are! May God bless you with godly wisdom and good decisions.
These days, when I walk outside and see people in their various masks, 2 Corinthians 3:18 often comes to mind: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate [or reflect] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” How I long for the days when we will be able to walk in public with unveiled faces again! Paul, though, is making a reference to an amazing story recorded in the Old Testament. When Moses came down from his meeting with God on Mount Sinai, he wasn’t aware that his face was radiant from being in God’s presence. In fact, his face was so bright that the people were afraid to come near him. Moses adopted the custom of putting a veil over his face when he was around people, only taking it off when he was alone in the Lord’s presence (Exodus 34:29-35). Did you know that, when you spend time with God, you begin to radiate with His glory? Like Moses, we might not always be aware of it, but, to the people around us, it should be obvious. The more time we spend with God, the more His nature flows in us, through us and out from us. (Paul describes God’s nature as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.) In a dark world, where selfishness, turmoil and pessimism are the norm, people are awed by the glorious light of peace, hope and sacrificial love. Unfortunately, many Christians, like Moses, cover up God’s glory when they venture out into the world. Perhaps they don’t want to offend or they’re afraid that they can’t answer every argument. So, they remain silent in discussions about morality or the truth of the gospel. In the presence of those who are desperately stumbling around in darkness, they hide their light under a bushel. “Let your light shine before others,” Jesus commands, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We are called to reflect God’s glory in the world, and so bring glory back to Him. Oh, that we might walk around in this needy world with unveiled faces!
Jesus said, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Social distance? Yes, I get it. It’s not good to be crowded together, draping over each other like curtains. The challenge we face as Christians is how to obey Jesus’ command to love…while at the same time keeping our distance. Thankfully, little by little, the restrictions are easing up. With the increase in vaccinations and the decrease in COVID cases, we “see the light” of social gatherings gradually coming back to some sense of “normal.” I am so thankful for the gift of technology which has allowed so many to watch online. As a pastor, my concern going forward is for those who will choose to stay “virtual” indefinitely. This is not a judgment for those who choose to continue to stay online until they feel ready. However, along with viewing, there needs to be creative steps to stay connected to real people. The question becomes, “How will I continue to love others as Jesus commanded me?” We must do all that we can in the circumstances we find ourselves. We cannot allow a virus to diminish our capacity for love and compassion or slacken our obedience to share His light through good deeds. I believe in the Church of Jesus Christ! In talking to other pastors, we share the same concern. How can we help those who have left the church…who seem to have fallen into the cracks of isolation? First, we need to be examples of Jesus’ love. As I look back over my life, I am filled with gratitude to be a part of the body of Jesus—expressed through a local congregation. Staying relationally connected is sometimes difficult and can even be “painful.” However, the pain of real relationships far outweighs the pain of loneliness. God created us to learn to love each other. And God created the Church so that we could find our purpose and place in His body…loving and serving one another. As each of us obeys Jesus, His Church becomes strong and “built up” in love. What an honor to be a part of His overcoming and eternal Church—expressed through the local church. As for me and my house, we choose to love Jesus through loving His people. The Church of Jesus Christ is the only true hope for our world.
“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6). These words (repeated in Judges 21:25) sum up the Book of Judges. As I am reading this in my devotions, I am amazed at how the nation of Israel, back then, reflects the dire spiritual and moral condition of our country right now. The time of the judges begins after the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Moses, Joshua, and the elders after Joshua had all passed away. The majority of the people did not know God’s Word, and most of those who did turned away from God’s teaching and commands. So, if God and His Word are rejected, does this result in a country or people becoming better? Read the Book of Judges for yourself and find out! People have told me that religion is not good for America. To a certain extent, I agree that “religion” imposed on people is not good. However, when a nation rejects Christ and chooses a “godless” path, the door to chaos opens wide. When the leaders and parents of children provide no moral compass for our children, is it any wonder that they make self-destructive choices? Can we see a connection between the increase in violent crime and the absence of the presence of Christ in people’s hearts? Do we really buy into the idea that “sexual freedom” is something good? Why do we ignore all the heartache and pain that come into broken families due to unfaithfulness? Individual morality with no accountability only feeds the power of the sinful nature. Any passion for God gets replaced with soul-crushing addictions. Fear grows as we find ourselves surrounded by more and more people who have no fear of God and simply do what is right in their own eyes. Take another look at the Book of Judges. The message is loud and clear. When we try to replace God as the King of our life, we can expect nothing but bitter consequences. My prayer for our country is that we would repent and turn to God. As Christians, we must pray and live godly lives…showing others what it’s like to follow Jesus, love others, and share hope. There is yet hope for change, but it has to start with us.