January 22, 2013

2Corinthians 4:17 "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."

We all face times of trouble. Life seems to be full of valleys and mountains. I always try to remember that sometimes mountaintop experiences can be more dangerous spiritually than valleys, because in the valley we cling to God, but on the mountaintop sometimes we can forget Him or take Him for granted. Paul calls the troubles the Corinthians are facing "light and momentary" because when compared to eternal life, these trials are a mere trifling. Paul was giving them an eternal perspective. As we grow in our walk with Christ, we also grow in our eternal perspective, as our hunger for seeing Jesus face-to-face begins to outweigh our everyday difficulties.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus", the song goes, "look full in His wonderful face... and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace." As we are conformed day by day a little more into the image of Christ and we are closer bound to Him, we gain His perspective. We begin to see people as Jesus sees them; we start to view our circumstances the way Jesus sees it; we perceive even our troubles the way Jesus views them: as challenges to make us stronger and more faithful disciples.

2 Cor 4:17 is a wonderful comfort and promise. Paul is reminding us that when we suffer, especially for the sake of Christ, we can look forward to an eternal reward and recognition that makes whatever we are going through forgettable and paltry. Amen.

January 29, 2013

"Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him." (Psalm 37:7)
"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
(Psalm 46:10)
"Be still before the LORD, all mankind, for He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling."
(Zechariah 2:13)

We are assaulted by so many messages each day, and we are all in such a big hurry to finish all of our tasks as we run to and fro. This busy life can create such worry and anxiety. "Be still and know that I am God." This verse is the opposite of worry and anxiety. Anxiety says: "I am worried because I consider myself god." That is to say... "I consider myself god over my circumstances, and what a pitiful deity I am, for I can control virtually nothing." But when we still ourselves and quiet our hearts and minds for a moment, shutting out everything else, all my effort, all my attempts to control, and in this quiet moment we focus on KNOWing that God is Master over my life and circumstances, three things follow:
1 Then I place my trust in Him and depend on Him entirely;
2 Then I have the attitude that I will follow Him wherever He might take me, even the valley of the shadow of death, but still I will follow, for His rod and staff comfort me;
3 Then I find my joy not in my situation or circumstances but in my relationship with Him as I walk close by His side.
Our Master made sure to spend quiet time in the presence of His Father, because He knew the value of intimate quality-time with God, where He was still and knew that His Father was God. The Gospels record how Jesus often went to solitary places to pray, to commune with the One who sent Him (Luke 5:16). Brothers and sisters who long for the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, try setting aside just 5 minutes the next few days to do nothing but be still before the LORD and knowing that He is God... God over your life, over your situation, over your worries, over your family, over your work or school, over everything. May God use that time to give you His peace, which transcends all understanding (Phil 4:7).

February 5, 2013

Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
(Philippians 4:4)
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
(Psalm 118:27)

The joy of the Lord is my strength. Joy and strength… those are two words that we don’t often put together. So many things in life can sap our strength, where we feel overwhelmed by the situations we find ourselves in. When we ultimately try to find strength in ourselves, maybe that can support us for a while, but eventually we will come to that place where we just can’t do it anymore. Nehemiah encouraged the people with these words: The Joy of the LORD is your strength. He meant, your joy found in knowing the LORD is your strength. He was reminding them that their focus needed to be on their God and His mercy. Whenever we try to place our joy in somewhere other than the Creator who has designed us for Himself, we will end up dissatisfied and empty. Why were Nehemiah’s people grieving? They had just listened to Ezra the priest read the Law. It was the first time many of them had heard it. They had just realized with horror how they had been living in their own strength, by their own rules, in the presence of their holy God. Their first reaction was to fast and humble themselves, but Nehemiah tells them to eat well, because the LORD will lift them up and He will be their strength; therefore they should be joyful.

Philippians 4:4 is the only time in all of Paul’s writings that he repeats himself. He must have thought it was a really important statement worth repeating. Is it some deep mystery? Is it some great theological truth? It is joy. He doesn’t say find joy in whatever makes you happy; rather he says, rejoice in Jesus! How many of us are living in our own strength? How many of us find things to be depressed about and complain about when Jesus has died for us and brought us from death to life, darkness to light? Are we still living as though we were still dead and not alive in Christ? Paul doesn’t say, rejoice in knowing Jesus sometimes, on Sundays… he says always. It is as if he says: grow in joy… discipline yourself daily to be focussed on the joy of the Lord. My beloved brothers and sisters, grow in the joy of the Lord, for it is indeed your strength. Read Psalm 118 every day this week, and watch your love for the Lord and joy in Him grow. Read this Psalm especially if you are feeling down, worried, or overwhelmed. May God bless you with His peace.

February 12, 2013

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. "You of little faith," He said, "why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." (Matthew 14:28-33)
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:2)

From the 90s, two lines from two songs from two different Christian bands stick out in my mind. Audio Adrenaline sang, "If I keep my eyes on Jesus, I can walk on water", while Church of Rhythm admitted: "Maybe I'm a doubting Thomas; maybe I've a skeptic's heart... if I can't believe that everything can be "Jesus-talked" away." It is true that often we utter cliched Christian platitudes that don't seem to help much to people who are deeply hurting, especially when the platitude is all that is offered... but at the same time there is deep existential truth to be found in fixing our eyes on Jesus. If God has designed us to be in relationship with Him and we will have no fulfilling or lasting joy apart from union with Him, and if the only way to be in fellowship with Him is Jesus... then Jesus is profoundly the be-all-end-all. If we dismiss the idea of knowing Jesus as a platitude, we miss out on the experience of His saving and healing touch, and the joy that He pursued in going to the cross. But if instead we allow that idea to become the all-consuming passion of our lives, then come hell or high-water, nothing will be able to shake us. Jesus rebukes Peter for his lack of faith, but Peter did have the faith to call out to the Lord when he was sinking. Peter did have the faith to recognize that Jesus was the One to call out to, and that Jesus was able to rescue him. But that's not why Jesus was rebuking him. He was rebuking Peter for having to call out in the first place, for thinking that the wind and the waves were greater than Jesus' ability to keep him safe. It's the same reason Jesus rebuked all of the disciples when He calmed the storm (at least they had the faith to go wake Him up and the trust that He could do something about it!)... because if Christ, the Lord of Creation, is in the boat, it doesn't matter if there's a hurricane outside, you are SAFE.

I suspect that most of us are too content with Peter's level of faith, the kind of faith that acknowledges Jesus' power and calls out to Him in times of trouble, when Christ is rebuking us and calling us to pursue the kind of faith that fixes its eyes only on Jesus, so that nothing else really matters, the kind of faith that says 'if Christ is in my boat, I can smile at the storm'. Are you facing storms right now? Do you feel the wind and the waves are bigger than Jesus' ability to save you? Call out to Him. He will immediately stretch out His hand, but you might also receive a call to deeper faith at the same time... maybe a loud rebuke or a gentle whisper: Have you taken your eyes off of Me? Put them back where they belong, and watch the wind and waves cease to matter as you put your hand in Mine. The Beautiful One is returning, beloved. Get ready regardless of whether it is tomorrow or a thousand years more.

February 20, 2013

Jonah 2:1-10
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said: "In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, 'I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.' The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. "When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD." And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Jonah couldn't have sunk any lower. Talk about down in the dumps! Not only was he a disobedient servant of God who ran away from his calling, but he had basically rejected the existence of the God he had once served by attempting to flee beyond His reach. Chapter one of the book of Jonah could be titled "The Descent of Jonah", because Jonah is continually going "down". He went down to the seaport of Joppa; he went down into the ship; when the storm came, he went down into the hold to sleep. The sailors throw him overboard, and he goes down into the sea; and finally, Jonah goes down into the belly of the great fish. Even though Jonah acknowledges God as the Creator of the universe, he stills tries to run from His presence through suicide (remember that Jonah expected to die when he was thrown overboard). God shows him that he cannot get away, even in death.

The entire book of Jonah is about God's sovereign control... over Gentile nations, over nature, over Jonah's life. Have you ever been spitting mad where you actually saw red? Jonah was that furious with God when He did not bring destruction upon Nineveh. In 4:1 the Hebrew says literally: "And it was evil to Jonah a very great evil, and he was burning angry." But through the vine and the worm, God shows Jonah that it is only God who has the right to do with His creatures and creation as He sees fit. Jonah was happy when God provided the vine to shade his head but upset when God took it away. Jonah was treating God as a Santa Claus or genie... where God only existed to bring Jonah happiness. Sometimes we can be like Jonah... we have experienced so much of the mercy and blessing of God that when hardship comes or God says "No" to us or He calls us to do something difficult, we can't handle it and we stamp our little foot like a spoiled child. In that case, we need to check our priorities. Who is the absolute most important Being in my life, God or Me? Am I demanding that God get with the program, my program, or am I willing to humble myself, broken and submissive, to the Emperor of the Universe? When Jonah was in the belly of the great fish, down in the depths of the utter depths, he prayed this wonderful prayer, recognizing that God, his God, had brought his life UP from the pit, because salvation comes from the Lord.

February 28, 2013

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Eph 4:15)
For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. –Jesus
(Matthew 12:34b)
The New Testament has so much to say about the tongue. James compares it to a wildfire that can burn a person’s life down and to a wild beast that no one can tame; Jesus says the tongue reveals the fullness of the heart; Paul warns believers to put away all manner of bad speech. What is most interesting is how in the Scriptures speech is tied to a person’s life. Nowadays we tend to think in terms of small, maybe bad, habits that we explain away as personality quirks. But in Eph 4:15 Paul connects speaking the truth in love with maturity in “all things”. As the Holy Spirit renovates our hearts, this ought to affect the way we speak to others, and as our hearts and tongues are transformed, we experience growth in every area of our lives toward conformation to the image of Christ. In reality, our speech patterns and habits are the outward revelation of what is going on in the heart. Paul says in Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world (including speech habits), but instead be metamorphosized by the renewing of your mind (heart).” Transformation of the mind/heart means putting off the old person that was conforming to the world and putting on the new person who desires the holiness and righteousness of God (Eph 4:22-24//Col ).

I enjoy how Paul says “speaking the truth in love”. So often when we speak the truth, we forget that “in love” part. Without love, truth can become a holy weapon that we wield with sinful intent. Some of us even hide rude and offensive behavior behind our brutal honesty, saying “Well hey, I’m just speaking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth… and I don’t care who I hurt.” But Paul says that it is speaking truth in love that leads to growth in Christ. Speaking the truth in love leads us not only to consider the truth of ‘what’ we are saying but the love of ‘how’ we are saying it. How is the truth of what I am saying affecting the other person? Am I speaking to edify those around me and to demonstrate the love of Christ? We must always remember that our words affect those around us. Put others first with your words this week, and if you speak the truth, remember to do it in love first and foremost... otherwise, keep silent.

March 5, 2013

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: 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… … For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Philippians 3:12-14, 18)
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
(Hebrews 12:1b)

We all have things to forget from our past, whether that is many years ago or just yesterday. Sometimes things from our past haunt us that God is calling us to forget. In Revelation 12:10, the satan is called "the accuser of the brothers (and sisters), the one who accuses them in the presence of our God day and night." The word satan is not a name but a title, and it has the same meaning as the word 'devil'... both mean "accuser/prosecutor". It was the accuser's role to remind God of all the sin and guilt of humans. In the victory of Christ at the cross, the accuser was thrown down, where now he whispers accusations in the ears of the saints: "how can you call yourself a Christian? i know what you did; i know your failures; your guilt stinks; your sin is too great for God's mercy; you don't deserve to be called His child; how can you be called holy when your past is so darkly stained?" When we wallow in our shame, we are listening to the accuser instead of running immediately to the Arms of Mercy.

The apostle Paul had many terrible things to forget. He called himself once "a blasphemer, and a persecutor and a violent man... the worst of sinners" (1Timothy 1:13,15), because he nearly destroyed the Church of God (Galatians 1:13). He writes with tears in his eyes about the enemies of the cross of Christ because he remembers how he used to be one. But even such a past, he says that he is forgetting what is behind so that he can strain forward toward the prize of Christ. He is fixing his eyes on Jesus alone, the origin and goal of his faith, to let everything else fade away, so that he can run well the race God has called him to run. Sometimes it is healthy and necessary to go back into our past to deal with some of the spiritual and emotional issues that continue to affect us in the present. But at the same time, we must be able to give all of these things over to God and forget them... otherwise our past can prevent us from running our race well (Hebrews 12:1).

Psalm 103:12 says "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." This was truly accomplished at the cross. For when Christ cried out "It is finished!" He did so not only corporately but also individually... Your sin is finished, child of God. Your past is gone; you are a new creation in Christ Jesus, wearing His righteousness. Imagine how annoying it would be if someone owed you a billion dollars and you graciously forgave that debt, but then they kept nitpicking about a few dollars here and there that they feel they still owe you. They are missing the point, aren't they? They should move on in thanksgiving and gratitude, confident in your friendship. We owed God a lot more than that, but by the blood of Jesus He declared the debt Paid In Full, and He calls us to forget what is behind and press on to what is ahead.

March 14, 2013

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1John 3:16)
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.
(1John 4:7-12)

The Beatles sang “all you need is love da da da-da-da”. They were right that love is all we need, but they didn’t mean the kind of love that John was talking about. The Beatles were talking about human love, one to another. That sort of love is rather pathetic, temporary, transitory, fallible, changeable, darkened, and tainted with sin. In contrast, John in his old age is passing on to his spiritual children the secret of what is most important in life and the essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He says, “My beloved children, all you need is God’s Love. That’s all you need.” God’s Love is powerful, eternal, consistent, infallible, unchanging, brilliant, and holy. And God calls us to experience and to share His Love with others… not a worldly love, but His very own Love. The fullest expression of God’s Love was the sending of His own Son into our world to walk a mile in our shoes, to experience what we experience, to suffer hunger and sickness and cold, just as we do. But Christ went even further… He went to a cross that He didn’t deserve to shed blood He shouldn’t have had to spill in order to pay for sins He didn’t commit. He did this all for Love. Jesus was only one who ever earned God’s true and deep Love. Therefore, for us to partake in this Love we must be united with Jesus; otherwise we cannot dwell in the Love of God. But God expects us not to hoard this Love but rather to express it to those around us. This is why John writes, “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” This true Love is true Life. Without this Love in our lives, we only possess darkness and death.
My beloved brothers and sisters… all you need is Love. Live it; share it.

March 26, 2013

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1Cor 1:22-23)
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
(1Cor 2:2)
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
(Gal 6:14)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I was sick all last week with a bad cold, worse than normal. For a couple of days it laid me flat out. As I lay there longing for restoration of good health, it struck me once again how fragile our health is and how fragile life is. One day you’re fit as a fiddle without a care in the world, the next you’re bedridden and miserable; one day you are full of life and vigour, the next you’re gone, passed into eternity, leaving behind nothing but a memory. I know a pastor who has a jar of marbles, one marble for every week he has left in his life. There are still a lot of marbles left in the jar, but as he takes one out every week and can visually watch his life slowly depleting marble by marble, he is reminded that he has to give it his all. The world says, “Live life to its fullest! Carpe Diem!” But we as Christians know that this is not the true and happy life… we are called to Serve God to the fullest! And Love Him to the fullest! This is where true and lasting joy resides.
The most profound truth in all the universe is the juxtaposition of these two little words:
“Messiah crucified.”
For the Messiah encapsulates all of God’s strength and might and power and righteousness and salvation. God could no sooner allow His Messiah, His Anointed One, to fall or fail than to chop off His right arm. On the other side, the cross represents the ugliest, most horrible punishment for crimes imaginable… it is utter weakness, utter shame, utter failure, utter darkness and sinfulness. In the cross of Calvary, where the unblemished and innocent Lamb of God was stripped naked and completely humiliated before the entire universe, it was God Himself who hung there dying while we all laughed in glee. On that terrible Friday, utter Power met utter failure; utter Glory met utter shame; utter Perfection met utter depravity; utter Goodness met utter evil; Jesus met me. He cried out my name from the cross, said “It is finished”, bowed His head, and slipped into hell… all for me. He took my burden, my guilt, my shame, my transgressions, my condemnation, my death-sentence all upon His own head and He became the substitutionary sacrifice, taking all of the wrath that I had earned and directing it toward Himself. How horrible, how disgusting, how awful… but Sunday’s coming. How terrible, how despairing, how unjust… but Sunday’s coming. How scandalous, how ugly, how unfair… but Sunday’s coming. How can we not serve and love such a Redeemer as this to the fullest? May God bless you by His unfathomable Grace this holy week, believers in Christ Jesus.

August 8, 2013

Psalm 70 - For the director of music. Of David. A petition.
Hasten, O God, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me. May those who seek my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace. May those who say to me, "Aha! Aha!" turn back because of their shame. But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, "Let God be exalted!" Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my Help and my Deliverer; O LORD, do not delay.

This beautiful little Psalm sums up our experience sometimes when we feel alone and overwhelmed, but it models what our response to hardship and opposition ought to be. We don't know what situation caused David to appeal to the LORD like this, but there were several circumstances throughout his life and reign where this psalm could fit.
Two things strike me about this psalm, first, that David knows that God is able and ready to deliver him from his trouble. He addresses God as his help and his deliverer, based on his experience of God's salvation in the past. He doesn't accuse God of allowing this situation to come upon him in the first place... he simply lets loose a desperate "Help Me!" prayer, knowing that God is there for him.

The second thing that strikes me is that in spite of this desperate situation, David finds time and breath for worship. Regardless of what is happening all around him, David can acknowledge God to be the source of joy and gladness, the One who saves, the exalted One. So often in the midst of our difficulties we lose our joy and gladness as we turn our eyes away from God and focus on the hardships at hand. Or, we predicate our joy on God's action... if you do this for me, O God, then I will trust in You and find joy in You. King David models the pious and humble heart, the heart that says: regardless of my situation still I will trust in You, still will I find my joy in You alone.

August 20, 2013

There are 2 books in the Bible that never mention the name of God. Can you name them? The Book of Esther... though God's hand is certainly felt throughout the story, working behind the scenes; and Song of Songs (aka Song of Solomon).
Have you ever wondered how on earth Song of Songs made it into the canon of Scripture? Why should it be included while other Jewish literature is excluded? What is its spiritual meaning? On the face of it, Song of Songs is an erotic love-poem between King Solomon (1:1 & 3:6-11) and a shepherdess. In the middle ages, Jewish men training to become rabbis could not read this book until they turned 30 years old. So how come this is part of the Bible?

Well, it is agreed by everyone that there must be some allegorical meaning underlying the poem... that the King represents God and the girl is Israel, or this is Christ and the Church, or this is God and the Soul, or all of the above. It is indeed true that in the prophetic books, God is presented as a husband to Israel, and Christ in Eph 5 has presented His bride the Church to Himself without spot or blemish. However, in the prophetical books, Israel is usually presented as an unfaithful wife, so it doesn't quite fit the context for Song of Songs. What then does fit in the context of Wisdom Literature?

Well, it is actually a better fit to see the man in Song of Songs as the wise man (which is why King Solomon is used) and the desirable woman as the Wisdom of God personified. In Hebrew the word for wisdom, hakhmah , is feminine, and so throughout the book of Proverbs, Wisdom is personified as the woman that should be rightly pursued by a young man who wants to live righteously and wisely. Prov 4:7 is especially apt: "Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding". What is Wisdom/understanding? Why, it is none other than the discernment that comes from knowing God in that deep and intimate way. Therefore, in my interpretation of Song of Songs, the root message is this: Pursue God and His Wisdom (deep and profound relational knowledge of Him) with such passion and wild abandon as a young man attempting to woo his beloved. All of us men, young and old, know/remember how stupid we can get over a wonderful girl, how focused we are, where nothing else matters except the beloved. By including this book in the Scriptural Canon, the Holy Spirit was giving us a clear mandate: to pursue Me with careless focus and passion.

The New Testament concurs. The Apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Ephesians and all the other churches that letter was meant to reach, out of all the things he could possibly wish for them in prayer, prays for them thus: "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better." In the Greek Paul uses the word epignosis , not mere gnosis (knowledge), but the deep and intimate knowledge that comes through bonded relationship. It is Paul's prayer that we would lose ourselves in the epignosis of God.

It is my prayer for all of us that we would know God better... deeper... more passionately... more intimately, that we would grow tired of what is merely satisfactory and pursue true and authentic Life in Christ, that we would all develop that hunger and thirst for knowing God that sighs after His Wisdom and longs for time spent with Him.