Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Promised Curse

“It shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee” (Deuteronomy 28:15).

This grim verse of doom comes on the heels of an amazing tally of God’s supply—promised provisions for His people (14 verses to be exact). Do you need a secure hold through life, protection from your enemy, victory in your battle, food on your table, love within your family?—“hearken diligently to the voice of the Lord” and you are freely given each and every one! But this Almighty Blessing Giver brings a grave warning to all who refuse to walk in His ways. He calls them curses.

Not long ago I heard a Preacher say, “God will never do anything in your life without telling you about it first.” He is an honest God. Blessing or curse—whatever it is we are experiencing at this moment—we had it in writing first. The absolute wonder of this truth is this: we have the ability to choose what we want to receive.

That reality is sobering. The fact that we can curse ourselves (by how we choose to behave) must be pondered in a serious light. We must seek to obey our God in every area of our life: our speech, our morals, our worship, our work, our community, our entertainment, our money, our authorities, etc. He has something to say regarding each one. Therefore, we have a responsibility to know just exactly what it is He has to say.

After spending quality time recounting all that God had done to bless their forefathers, Joshua puts out a plea to those of the household of Jacob—basically he says, “Now its your turn! Today, YOU must decide to personally serve the Lord in sincerity and truth—YOU must choose this for yourself” (Joshua 24:14). Joshua then stands up and forcefully states his own allegiance to God. “As for me and my house,” he declares boldly, “We will serve the Lord” (Joshua 25: 15). That command, issued to the Israelites before receiving their promised inheritance, is ringing in our ears yet still: “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” We must heed it! This is significant to securing a blessing instead of a curse. There is a decision to be made—and it is to be made daily. What will we choose today?

Will we choose to trust in man? Will we use our own reasoning abilities to get us out of tough situations? Will we find security in our own strength—whatever strength we can muster? Will we forget God in our time of distress and turn to others for counsel? Thus saith the Lord in Jeremiah 17:5: “Cursed be the man!”

Will we choose to keep what God calls His? Will we refuse the Lord our tithes and offerings? Neglecting to cheerfully give back a small part of all that He has given to us, will we choose to hoard those resources instead? God declares forthrightly that He departs from those who depart from His ordinances—“For I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6). If we do not bring our tithes into His storehouse He will close up the windows of heaven—His physical blessings toward us will dry up! If you rob me, He says plainly, “Ye are cursed with a curse” (Malachi 3:9).

Will we choose to neglect those in great need? Will we ignore the fact that many are in want—pretending they do not exist? Are we comfortable to stay within our houses of warmth oblivious to those left out in the cold? Will we turn around, turn the channel, or turn the page when confronted with those in poverty? Will we judge their plight in condescending tones? The Bible calls it “hiding our eyes.” Whether this is done in pride or ignorance the result is the same—“ye shall have many a curse” (Proverbs 28:27).

Will we choose to take the law into our own hands—a traffic law, a tax law, a property law—and decide what is best? God calls it removing landmarks! And He does not like it. Will we choose to allow injustice to bind the innocent? Will we treat the stranger, the fatherless and the widow with indifference—putting the letter of the law above the spirit of the law? Will we use our power to abuse those who have no protection? “Cursed be he!” (Deuteronomy 27:17-19).

Will we choose to preach, teach, share, or counsel others while neglecting our own personal sin? Will we judge harshly those in immorality while dabbling in it ourselves? Will we choose to lie and cover up our wrong behavior in order to appear godly? Will we minister to others in order to receive praise? Will we choose our own glory instead of Christ’s? “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully” (Jeremiah 48:10).

Will we choose to dishonor our parents? Will we turn aside from their teaching and engage in sinful lifestyles, openly mock their standards, or just neglect our duty to love and respect them? Will we choose to ignore their physical needs—and justify the sin of not taking care of them? Will we choose to harbor bitterness against them? Will we choose to place our own knowledge and desires above their advice and refuse to seek it out? “Cursed be he that setteth to light by his father or his mother” (Deuteronomy 27:16).

The Hebrew word that our Lord God uses throughout the Old Testament for curse is translated to mean execrate in the English language—“to declare to be evil or detestable; to denounce; to detest violently; to put under a curse.” God chose to use very strong speech when setting forth His decrees. He will honor His word. If you obey them, He will bless you abundantly. But, if you disobey them, He will determinedly set Himself against you—against your family, your crops, your wealth, your health, your defense, etc.! We cannot separate our Lord from His commandments—they are one and the same. God is the “I Am”—His name, His character, His ordinances, His promises… “I Am!” Do we believe Him? He loves His Law! Therefore, we are also called to love His Law.

God declares that disobedience is detestable—whether we feel it to be detestable or not! So many of our sins are easily justified as “meaningless”…but they will bring a curse, nonetheless! David prays, “Search me and know me—create in me a clean heart—keep me from presumptuous sins—make the thoughts of my heart acceptable in Your sight!” David understood the importance of not cursing himself—Psalm 119 is a powerful testimony to that fact! I pray that I will treasure the precepts God has set out in His Word and, therefore, choose to receive the promised blessing—not the promised curse.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Attitude of Hospitality—part two

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Meeting the need of another

Obviously, hospitality is more than just being able to see the need of another; it is reaching out to meet that need! Meeting a need requires a deliberate act—opening up your home, cooking a meal, delivering a meal, making a phone call, putting your own schedule on hold to play a vital role in someone else’s, writing a letter, giving financially, speaking words of encouragement and counsel, listening, listening, listening, being sensitive to the struggle of another, spending quality time in prayer that God would comfort and provide, praying out loud for those in need, etc... But the ability to preform that act, whatever it may be, is often rooted in your own experience. The more you acquire in the “need department” the more resources you will be given to meet the needs of others, that is, if you have responded correctly (as did Job) to God’s sovereignty.

Webster’s defined the word attitude as a “mental position, a feeling, or an emotion toward a fact or state.” The only way we gain valuable treasure, a reservoir that we will draw from in order to minister to those in need, is by receiving our own trials with the correct mental position. When God began to reveal this truth to me, it changed my perspective drastically—even though it did not decrease the pain. God was teaching me the absolute precious value of experiencing a need! Agony, disappointment, heartache, sorrow, discouragement, etc… these emotions still overwhelm me at the point of need—they still well up inside my soul without warning when I am reminded of my want or when pain has been inflicted—but now they do not control my response.

As I cry out to Jesus and seek His comfort, in the midst of my pain, I become increasingly aware of His presence. Despite my "not again, Lord!" thoughts and the tempation to think that He must not care, I choose to look up though my tears. And there I see Jesus holding my situation (that ugly, hurtful, lonely situation) in His nail scarred hands—He has those precious hands stretched out in front of me and He is asking if I would accept this difficult reality as a gift—He wonders if I would be willing to embrace it as I would one of His blessings. In that intimate moment, my mind expands to the realness that what I choose will effect another—the truth that God is entrusting a priceless resource to my possession—a possession I will be able to invest in someone else's life. Even when my strength fails (for it does!), my desire is to reach out and do that one thing that is pleasing to the Savior.

I still often wrestle with the fact that in doing so I am not only saying “Yes, Lord”, but I am willingly agreeing to His timing and to His decision as to the amount of pain I will be receiving. I spend a lot of time praying that Jesus would give me the strength to continue holding it. It is a complete surrender—a death I feel to the uttermost. But what follows is a stillness that covers every ounce of the pain and an awareness that God only asks from me that which He intends to use. He tells me that I am of greater value to His Kingdom when I am content.

Are you experiencing loneliness in your life, disappointment in your marriage, or accusation from a friend? What is your mental position regarding that thing? I’m not suggesting you justify the sin committed by another or ignore the pain that is real—but how about leaving that which is out of your control with the Lord, and instead, consider your attitude in light of His sovereignty. When we focus on those things we cannot change we will quickly become self-centered, and that, we have learned, is a sure way to quit "doing good." A wonderful picture of this principle in play is found in Luke 22. Jesus is arrested—talk about being sinned against, feeling deserted, and stepping into a situation that seems completely out of your control. In the fear and choas of guards and soldiers and swords and fire coming to take his master, Jesus' dear friend and loyal disciple reaches for his sword in order to defend the Savior—slashing through the ear of one of the High Priests servants. Jesus, despite His own agony, stooped down and touched the place that had been wounded, bringing complete healing to the young man's ear. Jesus "went about doing good" even in the midst of a horrible trial. That is because Jesus had the correct mental position (He had settled it earlier in the garden) regarding what was happening.

You must believe that nothing enters your life without our Savior’s stamp of approval. Are you resisting what God is obviously allowing by thinking you don't deserve it? Has it made you angry? Are you sulking? Are you harboring bitterness—updating that record of wrongs daily in your mental journal?

Or...are you surrendering your attitude toward this trial and taking the time to seek Christ through it?

Dear believer, God has a plan for your pain—He wants to use your sorrow to awaken your heart to His love, and He wants to use your affliction to make you aware of someone else’s pain. Allow Him that precious privilege. Respond correctly to His chastisement—whatever that may be.

Be assured that God has a purpose. He wants to teach you how to adorn the attitude of hospitality in a practical way—He wants you to wear that attitude, as did His Son. He allows the need in order that you might experience what it is like to have Christ meet that need. Tell the Lord that you desire to glean from what He allows in order to minister God's blessings to others.

Your awareness of another’s loneliness is heightened when you are alone yourself. Your sensitivity to those who suffer is learned while enduring your own pain. You would not know the depth of another’s need without being in want yourself. View your trial as a precious jewel—a valuable experience—that will teach you how to serve others as your Savior chose to serve you. Thank the Lord for it—for you will only excel in this “good work” if you accept what the Lord is allowing you to experience. It is okay to ask the Lord to take it away—it should increase your prayer life—but wait quietly for the Lord to remove it. You will find that your acceptance will make you a better friend and will grant you freedom within your relationships (even those hard relationships).

When you are determined to turn your eyes from yourself and accept hard things in your life, you will beautifully demonstrate the quality of hospitality. It is gained through humility!

In desiring to be hospitable learn how to be nothing. It is only in emptying yourself (of yourself) that Christ can fill you completely with His love, compassion, time, and energy! Hospitality is the attitude that allows you the wisdom to see a need. Hospitality then becomes the act of meeting that need!

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Attitude of Hospitality—part one

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

In the book of Matthew, Jesus instructs us to “let our light so shine before men” that others may see our righteous deeds and, therefore, praise our Father! In 1 Timothy, Paul instructs men who desire the office of Elder to show love toward the believers—especially strangers and foreigners—and he exhorts women to actually array themselves (as one would fine jewelry), with the ornaments of good works. God is making His desire quite clear—we are to emulate His character continually. “Jesus…went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) and so must we! Following this example of Christ seems to define a godly woman as well as a faithful worker!

Hospitality is a practical way for us to apply this command! To “go about doing good” is to keep our eyes wide open to those who have needs…and to keep our arms wide open to those who need care. Hospitality is ministering to the physical, the emotional, or the spiritual needs of others!

Seeing and Meeting

The first thought that pops into our heads when considering hospitality might be fixing one of our favorite meals and then inviting a friend over for dinner—the fun is abounding and the fellowship, oh, so sweet! There is something very fulfilling when we receive another in this way. It just feels good to know we have blessed someone else! Although this picture is not completely missing the point, it is definitely not conclusive! There is so much more to consider. Yes, we are to show hospitality to close friends, fellow believers, and traveling missionaries—we are to open our homes, invite to our tables, or supply specific needs. But it behooves us to look deeper into the heart and soul of this word, for we are not only asked to “do” good works but to “adorn” ourselves with them! The first requires an action…the second, an attitude!

Gaining an appropriate attitude is a duty we must never neglect when considering the ministry God has called us to! A ministry, coupled with the wrong attitude, can be very damaging. Paul states, very clearly in scripture, that not just the act but the “attitude of hospitality” is crucial to both the role of a man and of a woman in the church! Men should never lead without it! And women should never worship without it!

Attitude /n 2 a: a mental position with regard to a fact or state b: a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state 3: a position assumed for a specific purpose

Obviously, according to Webster’s definition, an attitude is setting you up to respond either correctly or incorrectly to certain people or situations! The proper attitude makes all the difference in the world. The attitude that is rooted in pride will cause you to sin—you will neglect, or unintentionally miss, valuable lessons that teach you how to meet another’s need. In contrast, an attitude taken straight from the mold of humility will produce good works in accordance to hospitality.

If hospitality is both seeing and meeting immediate needs, how does our attitude effect the way we carry it out?

Seeing the Need of Another

We must be selfless! This is the first role our attitude must play in the act of hospitality. If we are self-consumed then we will be blinded to the real needs of those around us! If seeing is required for Biblical hospitality, then it is vital to remove distractions! I'm not sure about you, but in my life, “I” am my biggest distraction!

Many years ago, God started asking me to surrender my own perspective on life and allow Him to reign in my heart and mind completely. God began taking the “me” out of everything and replacing it with “Him.” He must matter most—whether I was considering my own needs or those of another. I wasn’t always the most cooperative daughter. I still squirm at times! But I have come to learn that surrender of what is lovely produces the most beautiful reward.

Wanting to be like Christ is far from being like Christ. Being like Christ involves a lot of work—and it needs continual evaluation from someone outside of yourself. As soon as you feel you have taken a step in the right direction, you are met with a wall of your own failures (or of somebody elses)! The attitude your flesh wears wants discouragement to set in. Oh, how our flesh longs to feel sorry for itself and to think the “task” completely impossible. But our Lord, if we listen closely, is cheering us on. He is reminding us that we do not make progress in our own strength—ever. And He knows what it is like to serve those who are oblivious to our sacrifice. When we are tempted to look to ourselves, feel sorry for ourselves, pity ourselves, coddle ourselves (you get the point!), we must ask God for the ability to crucify “ourselves.”

The hymn writer, Frances Havergal, not only learned the secret behind such death—she took the time to pen its process! Verse by verse, Frances surrendered each and every part of who she was. The first stanza starts: “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to Thee; take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.” She identified those things (and those body parts) that we often attach to our will—our hands, our feet, our desires, our loves—and she deliberately gave them to Christ, for His use alone. Open up a hymnal, and in your quiet time with Jesus sing and pray each line to the Lord with a willingness to be used of Him. Spend quality time surrendering the attitude of your heart! When that happens, you will not only see better, you will be given new eyes—eyes that can keenly observe someone else’s need!

Before such surrender our vision was dim and the quality of our sight depended on how we felt at the time! Not now! Now we are able to see those around us through the eyes of our Savior. And because of that, we exercise the act of hospitality more completely. We cannot meet needs unless we see them first. And we cannot see needs, unless we are looking outside of ourselves!

There will be times when we are overcome with our own trials—when our own desires are being unmet and we feel unable to meet another’s. It is hard to “go about doing good” to those around us (especially those closest to us) when we are painfully aware of our own want. But it is possible! Amy Carmichael wisely writes that the very moment we are “conscious of the shadow of self crossing our threshold, we must shut the door and keep that door shut!” It is when we neglect this forceful action that we become consumed with the lie that says: I cannot meet another’s need when I am needy myself. This thought is justified with a hundred different reasons as to why, and, just like that, we become selfish—often oblivious to the fact!

The problem is not that we desire comfort, but that we use our pain as an excuse to neglect “good works.” If we focus on what we deserve (and are not receiving) more than how we can be useful to others, we will leave off applying the principles observed in Philippians 2. And we will quit being hospitable.

When you have needs, look to Christ, not to your selfish heart. Your heart will teach you to place your expectations on others—not on the Lord (and He wants them!)—and it will feed you the bread of discontentment! Jesus excels in the area of hospitality. Let Him do what He does best—let Him serve you. Jesus took the character quality of hospitality to an amazing level by giving up His very life for yours. “Let this mind [this attitude] be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus will meet your needs and, in doing so, will free your heart so that it can perceive the needs of others!

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

To be continued...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Accepted In the Beloved

“God is no respector of persons: but in every nation, he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted...through [Jesus'] name, whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:35, 43).

I heard the story of Jesus for the first time when I was a small child. My parents were diligent to instruct me in the ways of God through all my growing up years. I chose to believe with my mind those things I heard, and prayed as a little girl, trusting Jesus to “save me from my sin.” I learned Bible Verses, went to church, and participated in church activities…but I continued to have a sense of need and fear regarding my salvation. It extremely bothered me. Although I had “outwardly accepted” the free gift I was told about, I had not allowed Jesus access into my life to change me—and I struggled with many sins. I wanted to keep my sin hidden. I was afraid to be seen as I really was—afraid I would not truly be accepted. I feared that rejection immensely. I believed the good news, that Jesus died and rose again—I never doubted the truth that Jesus was God—but I had never experienced its power.

As a teenager, I gave way to bad peer pressure, involving myself in wrong activities and lies. I saw God as a punisher, not a rescuer, and my guilt was a burden I could not get rid of. Instead of turning from sin when convicted of it, I would “confess” it to God and seek to do penance—something to make me acceptable (feel acceptable) in His sight once more. I would “ask Jesus into my heart” again; I would make promises, never intending to keep them; I would deny myself the one thing that got me into trouble…for a while. But time only proved I was controlled by sin, not by the Spirit. I did not feel loved by God. I did not feel my behavior would allow such love. I had never fully accepted His payment for my sin debt, because I had not fully understood the gospel. I wanted to be rid of my sin problem but my spirit was full of pride.

I had never laid myself bare before the Lord—I wanted to appear clean without having to come to grips with the reality of my sin. I will never forget the day God began to reveal this truth to me. I had recently been wounded. God, in His great wisdom, had brought me to a place of despair and the feeling of human rejection was overwhelming. He used that trial in my life to soften my heart toward His compassionate care. As I opened up the comfort of His Word, I was overwhelmed by the desire to be “accepted in the Beloved” like never before. This thought consumed me. I wanted to KNOW that I was His completely—I believed that that alone would secure my satisfaction.

He tenderly revealed to me that His acceptance of me was based upon His goodness, not upon my performance; therefore, it was possible. There was such freedom in that truth—God knew me utterly and accepted me entirely?—it was hard to wrap my mind around it. But as I allowed God to look upon the ugliness of my sin I was able to trust, for the first time, His complete ability to forgive and cleanse me. I could do nothing to earn salvation and my attempts were repulsive to the Savior. I was overwhelmed with His great love for me and I desired to please Him above all else. I opened myself up to His Word—I had never read the Bible for personal instruction in the past—and He began to change me. I began to hate my sin (not just hate the consequences of that sin) and pray for true deliverance from those things that bound me.

God answered those prayers.

I continue to gain the victory and enjoy my relationship with Jesus—it grows sweeter day by day. "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine" (Song of Solomon 6:3). He gives life. And He is faithful to every promise.

"God is no respector of persons: but in every nation, he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted...through [Jesus'] name, whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:35, 43).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Move Me With Compassion Lord

“Pray for all people…this is good and pleases God our Savior, for He wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1,3-4 NLT).

Prayer is of utmost importance to God—He asks “who will stand in the gap?” and desires that my response be “I will, Lord!” All through scripture God has delighted to work through the prayers of man. He wants to use man as an intricate part of His miracles (i.e. Moses lifting his staff at the shore of the Red Sea). It is His design. I desire to be a part of that plan.

I am learning that taking the time to pray makes the passion in my heart more than just an emotion. Anyone can be stirred and overwhelmed by the need to pray…but it requires self-discipline and quiet time alone to take that need to the Throne of Grace. Emotion must be grounded in activity or it is worthless to the Kingdom of God.

I have been learning the importance of being deliberate about my prayer times:
Setting a specific time designated for prayer (walking in the morning). Making lists (people’s names, countries names, tribes, churches). Writing out “God’s Own Heart” in order to structure my prayers (Scripture).

I have been challenged greatly by Jesus’ plea in Matthew 9:36-38. If I desire to be like Christ I must gaze on those around me through His eyes. Jesus looked upon the multitudes (city dwellers, religious people, those ridden with disease) with the tenderness of a Savior.

“Jesus was moved with compassion…” Jesus allowed His emotions to “get involved!” Although it doesn’t stop there—it must start there. I must allow the Spirit opportunity to “move” me with compassion as well. Although there are times when our sympathy for another comes quite naturally, for the most part, we will remain oblivious to many needs around us unless we deliberately ask God to give us this discernment.

“…because they fainted…” Jesus took time to be attentive to the real needs and the problems behind those needs. Real need: they were scattered. Problem behind that need: they had no shepherd.

Those that appear angry, confused, rude, or depressed…have a reason to be angry, confused, rude, or depressed—they are scattered. They have no sense of direction. Their behavior will most likely offend us. They usually are not asking for deliverance and will probably despise your attempts of showing care! It is easy to be irritated with the store clerk who treats you like a criminal for choosing his checkout line. It takes time however, to see past your frustration regarding the incident, and with compassion, ask God to save him from his wandering.

“Other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd” (John 10:16).

It is the reality of their true condition that will give you the desire to introduce them to their Shepherd. If that does not move you, spend time praying that it will!

“…the harvest is plentiful…” Jesus always recognized the spiritual need alongside the physical want. He immediately identified them as “God’s Harvest”—individuals God desired to bring to saving faith. If God desired that, so would His Son! If His Son desires that, so should I! It is important to always link the physical to the spiritual—for sin is man’s greatest problem. There may be a place for anger management seminars, support groups that meet every Tuesday, and medicine for depression but these helps must never replace Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, and Psalm 11:6. Unless there is freedom from sin, man will remain condemned.

“Pray therefore…” Jesus used His compassion, and sensitivity to their needs, as motivation to pray for their salvation. He pleaded with His Father to send laborers to work the fields. It is so important to plead God’s Mercy on those that are lost. Our greatest desire should be their rescue.

First, look out at the multitudes (in Wal-Mart, the place you buy groceries, etc.). Second, remember what you see. Third, write down names of those you meet, or just descriptions if you were never introduced (i.e. the hateful mother with two small children I passed at the mall last Thursday, etc.). And fourth, pray that they will be found!

“Pray for all people…this is good and pleases God our Savior, for He wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1,3-4 NLT).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Heart Of Our Father

“We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found” (Luke 15:23-24 NLT).

It has been very good to observe the character (or lack thereof!), and the tendencies of “the lost” in the parable of the Prodigal son. Jesus told this story to the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law who were complaining about His association with tax collectors and sinners—“such despicable people—even eating with them!” (Luke 15:2 NLT). It is easy to sense their utter disgust at those our Savior chose to befriend. Therefore, He creatively puts together three illustrations, one right after the other—in order to stop their foolish mouths—this story being the last. His point was simple: Men who are lost, need to be found.

Jesus’ mission was to do just that. The Pharisees were as guilty as those they shunned…but they had deceived themselves with religious garb and self-righteous talk. Jesus knew their hearts and turned away from their pride—they did not see themselves as “lost” and therefore they could not “be found.”

The parable of the lost son is very powerful—it describes in detail the state of man’s lost condition and the faithful love of his Redeemer. Humility played a key part in this son’s turn around. Jesus wanted to teach the Pharisees what God holds in great value, and it was not “their righteousness.” Their religious show was a reproach to the Almighty. God treasures the heart of a repentant sinner—even a sinner that bears the stench and grime of his ungodly actions.

Scripture tells us that the tax collectors and the notorious sinners came to Jesus in order to hear Him teach—this indicates that they were aware of their need. Jesus spends time with those who desire truth—His heart is open to them.

“A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting till you die” (Luke 15:11-12 NLT).

When the Prodigal son demanded his “rightful” possessions he showed love only for himself. Self is the lost man’s entire concern. He may appear benevolent at times, but his heart only beats for his own needs—if meeting the needs of others brings satisfaction, then that is what he will do—but when push comes to shove, he is always thought of first. He is greedy. He is impatient. He lives for the present, the now, and gives no thought whatsoever, to the promised what will come (the promised reward or judgment).

“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and took a trip to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money on wild living” (Luke 15:13 NLT).

The Prodigal son was wasteful—he lived as if he had no concerns. Any respect he gained came only through superficial means. No matter how successful he appeared, this son was living a lie. A lost man will bring himself to ruin oftentimes thinking himself very wise. He is truly blinded to his damned condition. Riotous living will eventually take its toll. The man who is lost will begin to experience great need—but will have no spiritual understanding as to reagarding its source. In the parable, the son ran out of money. Those who live only for themselves will end up loosing everything as well—their resources, their spouse, their children, their friends, their dignity. Here is where the importance of humility comes into play. Man’s pride will always try to fix the situation his sin has created without the help of God. The Prodigal son settled for the husks that he fed to the pigs—unbelieving man will always settle for those things of no true value. He will seek worldly advice (wicked counselors, false religions, magazines, TV, friends) and be content with temporary satisfaction (drugs, religious taboos, divorce, debt, bankruptcy). He will never know true freedom from want apart from humility.

Verse 17 tells us that this desperate man finally came to his senses. How does a man, so far wasted, come to understand where his true help lies?

“I will go home to my father and say, Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son” (Luke 15: 18-19 NLT).

The behavior of the “the repentant” in this story is so vital. He had a dose of reality and chose to allow his mind to compare his state to those of his father’s household staff. He had to make a deliberate choice. This required “death to self”. To consider who he was, a son, and yet see himself as worse than a hired servant, was important to his recovery. For the first time he saw his real need, and identified himself as a sinner. He didn’t just say, “Oops, I made a mistake”—but placed himself as the lowest of the low, with no hope of restoration. He is determined to stand before his father in complete vulnerability—he wants nothing more than to be forgiven. He does not go home to claim his right as a son—he goes home to serve. This is the true state of a repentant heart.

The son’s determination becomes action. He makes the journey. The road to his father’s home was long and probably full of people telling him the trip would be worthless—but this man was already convinced he was lost, and nothing would stand in his way of making peace with his authority.

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20-21 NLT).

Observing the love and commitment of “the father’s heart” toward restoration is beautiful. The fact that he saw his son a great way off, indicates that He is expecting him—that he has been looking for him. I am challenged by His optimism and eagerness. The father runs toward his son—as soon as He sees him (far, far away). He desires for the boy’s struggle to end. He doesn’t resent his child, making him walk the entire distance. He loves his child, and therefore wants to relieve him as quickly as possible.

This father’s tenderness is incredible. Not one question as to “and exactly what have you done with all my money?”—but kisses him—kisses the face that has become dirty and sun burnt. Touches the one who has despised him utterly—despised his love, his protection, and his honor. Embraces the one who has chosen to embrace everything contrary to his upbringing. His compassion is full.

It seems that the father completely knows his child’s heart—before the son utters one word of his confession, the father has fully forgiven him. He never once brings up the past and demonstrates his pardon by lavishing his son with the very best. He dresses his son in fine robes and chooses to place a ring upon his hand—a symbol that will always identify acceptance and the entitlement to his father’s name.

I desire to have the same compassion for those who are lost. I desire to watch and wait for those I am praying into the Kingdom—expectantly. I desire to have the same tender response to those who seek redemption.

Killing the fatted calf and throwing a party is the best conclusion to this tale! This daddy's joy is completely overflowing—a wonderful glimpse into our own Father's Heart!

“We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found” (Luke 15:23-24 NLT).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Don't Deserve This

“God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” James 4:6

God’s Word is very direct and it is always truthful—it is a powerful discerner of both the thoughts and intents of the heart! This must be fully understood and believed, or it will not change us, as it is promised to do. We may read it, study it, hear sermons preached about it, take notes on what we hear—we may even teach its truth ourselves—but it will have no effect upon us, unless we believe it to be true.

When reading verses like this in James, we may breeze past them with a sigh of relief, praising God for His acceptance of us and therefore the promised abundant grace at our disposal at all times. But could our gratefulness be insincere? Could our sigh of relief actually be an avoidance of introspection from the Almighty? What is pride…what does it mean to be humble?

The English word humble comes from the Latin word humus, which means earth. Webster’s defines humility as not being arrogant or assertive, reflecting a spirit of discretion and submission. The Greek word that James used in chapter four, indicates that of disposition—taking on the manner of lowliness, whether choosing that position or being forcefully placed in that position—regarding a certain circumstance. God gives grace, James declares, to those who purposefully dwell in a state of surrender, regardless of what is happening around them—regardless of what is happening to them. This is where it begins to break down. This is where I personally can begin to “cover up” my pride and deceive even myself that it does not exist in my own heart.

Pride is a hindrance to our inheritance. Can you reflect inner peace at the same time you are being falsely accused? Can you sing for joy despite the pain being inflicted? Have you ever known contentment within a situation you pray will change? Have you been given Christ-like love for those who irritate you? Do you own the ability to endure whatever may come? We are promised these realities through the Spirit—but we will never experience a single one without the willingness to “turn the other cheek to those who strike [us]” (Lamentations 3:30 NLT). Jeremiah preaches in Lamentations, chapter three, that it is good “to submit to the yoke” and that there is blessed hope only to those who “lie face down in the dust” (vs. 26-30 NLT). We are not given the choice to suffer insult or not—but we are always given the ability to choose humility in the midst of it!

If pride is the hindrance to gaining these precious possessions, then I believe that our attitude is the manifestation of that pride. The definition of a DRA (my mom’s creation—translated, dirty rotten attitude) can be summed up in 4 little words: “I don’t deserve this!”

Attitude is a response—a bad attitude is a bad response! I don’t wake up deciding to be grumpy, unforgiving, or just plain mean, just for the fun of it. No—it is because someone rubbed me the wrong way, it is because I was treated unfairly, it is because God continues to allow prayers to remain unanswered, and I, arrogantly choose to respond incorrectly. I take these situations, situations beyond my control, and I decide the best way to deal with them (which is, whatever makes me feel better, of course). It brings some sort of relief to strike out at that which causes pain. Although this is sin, it is easily justified—I am experiencing pain, or rejection, or frustration at the hand of another—and my flesh convinces me that I can take care of the problem as I see fit!

Are you guilty of choosing attitudes according to how they make you feel? Are you willing to humble yourself in only certain situations—willing to forgive certain people and not others? We must be very careful of this—the promise of God’s grace comes after the declaration of his judgment! He tells us that He will resist those who choose to resist Him. When we resist what He is allowing, as if we deserve better, we are resisting Him. Again, this is strong language and not something we would easily admit to. We don’t have to—God defines what it means to resist Him, for us—and therefore we are without excuse! “The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy” (James 3:5).

What makes you sinless?—committing one error in comparison to your neighbor who has committed a hundred? What makes you humble?—all the right responses you have chosen in comparison to the one little attitude you are holding on to that says, “I don’t deserve this!”? There is great danger in this kind of thought process. We deserve hell!

“Be afflicted and mourn and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up” (James 3:9-10).

When we choose to not put on humility we bring the judgment upon ourselves. We are essentially telling the Lord, “I don’t need You—I don't need more peace or more love or more contentment,” and His response is, “Okay!” With His arm stretched out against us, He purposefully turns His face away! Our behavior measures out His mercy! That is what James is teaching! You want grace abounding more and more? “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 3:8).

Humility says, “I am nothing! You, O Lord, are everything! I don’t deserve this; I deserve far worse. It is Your blood that redeems me. Show me my sin! Help me not to evaluate the sin of another—even those sins that are committed against me. I surrender to You completely. I choose, right now, to lie face down before Your throne, and I trust You alone to lift me up!”

He will, for “the Lord is good unto them that wait for Him…although He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies” (Lamentations 3:25, 32).

“God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” James 4:6

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Your Troubles Tremble

“When the Red Sea saw You, O God, its waters looked and trembled! Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters—a pathway no one knew was there.” Psalm 77:16 & 19 (NLT)

I can often feel just like the children of Israel—hemmed in as it were—by vast wilderness. The view, either in front of me or behind me, is extremely hindered by rock, and the obstruction brings great discouragement. I am not sure why the Lord saw fit to “lead me out” and my natural mind begins to question His judgment. I am tempted to feel that I must know what lies beyond that boulder if the Lord wants me to continue to walk in that direction. Isn’t it my right to know what lies beyond? Why does He hide, so thoroughly, the one thing I desire to see so fervently?

I hold in my possession a treasure the children of Israel, at that time, did not have—their own glorious history and promising future—in writing. God took it upon Himself to author a beautiful and intricate story—a picture book—full of illustrations I can read in order to understand my God better. He took time, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, to express His character and His sufficiency. He took time, in order that I might believe that what He says He will do—He will do—no matter what lies in between the promise and its fulfillment!

God chose the wilderness path out of Egypt, specifically, with Israel in mind! He chose the rocky, dry ground and the treacherous landscape. I must believe, with all my heart, that God has chosen the path I walk upon as well—that He purposefully sets the rocks in front of me! I must believe that what He ordains is for my protection! Exodus 13:17 states that after Israel's miraculous freedom from their bondage in Egypt, “God led them not through the land of the Philistines, although it was near.” Did you catch that "not"? Although they would have reached their destination quickly and would have had a pretty clear idea of where they were going, God deliberately placed them on a road to nowhere—“peradventure the people repent [change their mind] when they see war, and they return to Egypt.” The Lord wanted His children to “make it”…He knew their weak, human hearts and in His loving faithfulness He made it literally impossible to do what their fears would compel them to do—turn around and go back!

As alone and deserted as they felt—Deuteronomy, chapter one, declares that those feelings were far from reality. The Lord wanted to fight for them. The Lord wanted to be their sole protector. He wanted them to believe that He would bear them, “as a man doth bear his son.” He promised to go before them “to search out a place to pitch [their] tents in” and to always show them which way to go. The rock that appeared to block their vision, should have been of no consequence. If only Isreal would have remembered to look up toward the cloud by day and the fire by night—if only they would have been faithful to keep their eyes upon their Guide—there would have been less murmuring and more obeying. Deuteronomy 1:32 reveals God’s disappointment in their behavior: “Yet in this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God.”

We must believe our God! But can’t you just feel their frustration?—God promising deliverance, and yet, only finding another rock beyond the one you just struggled to walk around, and then another rock and another and another! Where is the open road? Where is the evidence that God is leading you to where He said you were going? Have you felt hemmed in of late? Are you, after climbing that last mountain, exhausted and weary, now discovering a body of water too deep to swim? Behind you, a demonic army, taunting and ridiculing your faith—before you, an impossible sea—dark and foreboding—mocking every miracle you have ever witnessed!

Here is where the story must come alive and our confidence must be strengthened! Here is where we must believe! Don’t listen to the growing noise of the enemy—God promises to defend you and has already blinded the “Egyptians” (Exodus 14:20)—the reality of their presence should never influence your faith. And don’t look at the vast impossibility slapping its waves up on the beach—God has already promised you a land flowing with milk and honey on the other side—if He has promised you something it is already yours!

I believe there is purpose in every move our Lord makes, and I am striving to see His mighty hand at work within every “dead end”. At times my trial can seem eternal—but it is not. One second the children of Israel were staring in dread at the Red Sea, the next, they were walking upon dry ground. A roadblock will always remain until it disappears. That is almost too simple to be profound—but read it again—for it is profound! Your trial will be visible until God sees fit to remove it. The obstical is not the problem, it is only a catalyst to reveal a miracle. Once it is time, your trial will vanish—no matter its size or complication—and there will be no question as to who removed it. Its existence is there to prove God’s supreme power over all things. I love the simplicity of Psalm 77:19 “a pathway no one knew was there.” There is a road you cannot see—it is there—believe that today!

I like to think that my troubles tremble when they see the Lord. If I could just picture that when I tremble at my troubles!

“When the Red Sea saw You, O God, its waters looked and trembled! Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters—a pathway no one knew was there.” Psalm 77:16 & 19 (NLT)