Pastor's Column

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4/24/18


There is only One who is bigger than our sin and its fallout, bigger than Satan, bigger than death, bigger than everything you are afraid of. There's only One: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And at the cross of Jesus, God extends His gracious embrace to all who receive Jesus. Free. A gift. For you and me.

And in the arms of God, you no longer need to be afraid no matter how scared you feel. If you “fear” God (trust and obey God by believing in and following Jesus), you need fear no other. You are free to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

 

4/17/18

 

“…even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…” (1 Peter 3:14-16, NIV)

Always be prepared to give an answer…But that doesn’t mean everyone will always like your answer or respond by embracing Jesus. Are you ready to give an answer even when it means risking losing a friend to potentially gain them as a friend of God and a brother or sister in Christ? There is so much to gain!

 

4/10/18

 

“Who handed Jacob over to become loot,

and Israel to the plunderers?

Was it not the Lord,

against whom we have sinned?....” (Isaiah 42:24, NIV)

 

This is the bad news that must come before the good news. This is each of us and all of us apart from God. No matter how innocent we feel, we need nothing more than to be forgiven and redeemed.

 

     “….But now, this is what the Lord says—

he who created you, Jacob,

he who formed you, Israel:

‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’” (Isaiah 42:24, 43:1, NIV)

 

This is the good news. In Jesus, God redeemed us and claims us as His very own. Not because of anything we have done or desired or felt: simply because God loved us because He is kind beyond measure.

 

Praise God. We are freed, and we are His.

 

4/3/18

 

In an article on debates about LGBT questions in Christian colleges, one student shares, "When I realized that my faith wasn't necessarily about the [Christian Reformed] Church, and it wasn't even necessarily about the Bible but about my relationship with God and that God is all-encompassing and loving, I felt very free..." (https://www.npr.org/…/christian-colleges-are-tangled-in-the…)

The problem with this student's approach to God is that he misses out on how God reveals Himself (how much can we know about Jesus outside of Scripture? If we abandon Scripture, we will also abandon Jesus—and abandon God's forgiveness and claim on us which is our only hope.)

This approach also forgets that Christians are under the authority of God—and that His authority is always loving and never despotic. If God forbids something, that must mean it's against His glory and against our good—no matter how attractive it seems or how unreasonable He seems at the time. Of course, there are plenty of times Christians have twisted God’s Word to use it in a despotic way: Speaking against things that God has lovingly forbidden (whether same-sex sexual encounters, heterosexual lust, etc.) but speaking out of self-righteousness and cruelty rather than out of love for God and others. That’s wrong. The reality is that the same One who said “Don’t lose hope, son. Your sins are forgiven" (Matthew 9:2, NIRV) also said “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away…It is better to lose it than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30), and is the same One who gave up His life for sinners.

Sin kills, God gives life. All who don't submit to Jesus as their King will ultimately fall before Him as their judge. So He commands us to reject sin and take refuge in Him. The only alternative to having Jesus as Lord and Savior is hell. But there is hope in Christ alone, Who alone deserves our complete love and trust and surrender.

(For a powerful article on a similar topic, see https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/…/the-loving-intoleranc…/ "The love of God is not a tolerant love. It is much better. It is a redemptive love.")

 

3/20/18

 

If your purpose in life is to be true to yourself more than to follow Jesus, you will lose yourself. But if you trust Jesus and lose yourself to and for Him, you will find the life you were created to live—in relationship with Him.

Jesus says: "...whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." - Matthew 16:25, NIV

“LORD, this life I have called 'mine' is actually Yours. All I have is You, and all I am is Your new creation in Jesus. By Your strength, I follow You."

 

3/13/18

 

I want people to like me…But plenty of people hated Jesus.

 

God’s perfect love and perfect truth defined His every action and word. And even so, people didn’t like Him, hated Him, killed Him. God’s Son, Himself fully God, loved so fully and spoke so truthfully that some embraced Him and others rejected Him.

 

Sometimes people don’t like me because I’ve been selfish or obnoxious or unloving. Whenever that’s the case, I need to (get to!) tell God and them that I’m sorry.

 

But if my desire to be liked is greater than my desire to help others meet Jesus, then I will present a fictional Jesus to others. I will present a version of Jesus who never loves us enough to offend, who never loves us enough to tell us we’re far from God, who never loves us enough to command us to come home, who never loved us enough to die for us and who doesn’t command us to trust and follow Him at all costs. And a fictional Jesus can’t forgive anyone or bring anyone home.

 

If I love God and others, I must be willing to sacrifice their opinion of me for their friendship with God. I must be willing to lay down my reputation with them for their encounter with Jesus. I must be willing to love them enough to lead them to the only One who loves them perfectly. Because, thank God, Jesus loves me enough to speak the truth to me even when I don’t like Him for it, and others love me enough to point me to Jesus even when I don’t want to follow Him.

 

If everyone likes me more than people liked Jesus, that is a warning sign that they might not be encountering the presence of Jesus in me. That doesn’t mean we should try to be unlikable, but it does mean that our lives and words must help others see Jesus as He truly is—not a fictional, less loving, more likable, powerless version of Jesus. Do others see Jesus as He truly is, through your life and words? Do they get to meet the One who loves them enough to have given His life for them, and who unapologetically lays claim to the entire world and to our entire lives? He doesn’t love us in halves, so He claims our whole lives.

 

He is full of love, and He is able to bring you back home to God. He loves the Father and loves you so much that He readily sacrifices your “like” of Him for His glory and your joy.

 

3/11/18

Boasting is good.

The answer to anxiety, discouragement, and low self-esteem is boasting. And the answer to pride, self-centeredness, and self-righteousness is boasting.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes: “Because of what God has done, you belong to Christ Jesus. He has become God’s wisdom for us. He makes us right with God. He makes us holy and sets us free. It is written, “The one who brags should brag about what the Lord has done.” (1 Corinthians 1:31, NIRV)

I tend to wallow in anxiety at times. But I’ve been learning that sometimes, the best way to respond to anxiety is not to grit my teeth and tell myself over and over “Don’t be anxious!” Instead, I’ve begun to respond to anxiety by boasting—boasting about how big God is, how well He promises to take care of me, and how much He has everything covered through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I might even pray aloud, telling God how good and strong He is. Turn worry into worship. Let anxiety serve as a reminder to anchor your confidence in the God of the universe. Turn an attack into an advantage.

So if feelings of worthlessness are consuming you, don’t just accept them or try to argue them away. Instead, begin boasting about how your heavenly Father did an amazing job creating you and making you new in Jesus (see Psalm 139:14 and Ephesians 2:10)—He’s good at what He does! Turn the spotlight on Him.

And if you recognize ungodly pride in yourself, the answer is not beating yourself up or pretending you don’t have any strengths. The answer is to brag about God, who is the author of any strengths anyone has. Boast about His power, His love, and His kindness to you in Jesus—that He hasn’t rejected you even in your pride.     

So the next time you feeling worthless or inadequate, begin boasting—in the One who loved you and claimed you and made you his new creation in Christ. The next time you are anxious, begin boasting—in the One who is willing and able to provide for all who trust in Jesus. The next time you are looking down on others and pushing yourself into the spotlight, begin boasting—in the One who alone merits all glory, who alone is all-powerful, and who loves sinners so much that He makes us His own sons and daughters.

 

All honor and glory to God.

 

3/4/18

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be my name,

my kingdom come,

my will be done,

on earth as it is in my mind.”

 

Isn’t this what our prayers often boil down to? “Let me be honored, protect my comforts and my kingdom, and help me achieve my dreams.”

 

But God is rightly dedicated to His glory and loves us too much to just give us what we want. Like C.S. Lewis writes, the realm of “my will be done” is hell, not the new heaven and new earth.

 

So pray (even when your kingdom and your agenda seem better than God’s) that God’s name would be honored in your life and in the world, that everything and everyone would surrender to His good reign, and that His will would be accomplished in our lives.

“…Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven…” (Matthew 6, NIV)

 

2/27/18

In a famous journal entry [en]titled "The Tame Geese,” Soren Kierkegaard imagined [a] land in which the geese could talk. Not only could they talk, but it was also their habit to waddle off to church every Sunday, where one of the ganders preached. The sermons were essentially the same: The geese have been given a lofty destiny and a high goal by the Creator (and every time the Creator was mentioned, the geese all curtsied and the ganders bowed their heads). “By the aid of wings, the geese could fly away to distant regions, blessed climbs, where properly they were at home, for here they were only strangers. And so it was Sunday after Sunday. But Kierkegaard noted the unfortunate truth that each Sunday after such eloquen[t] sermons, “as soon as the assembly broke up each waddled home to his own affairs, "rather than attempt[ing] to fly. All the while, the geese "throve and [were] well-liked, became plump and delicate – and then were eaten...and that was the end of it.” (Robert Bretall, ed., A Kierkegaard Anthology, 433, as quoted in NIV Application Commentary by Arnold, 426)

No matter how often we preach or listen to God’s word, it’s no good to us unless we act on it. It doesn’t matter how often we hear about how God reconciles us to Himself through Jesus if we don’t lean on Jesus. It doesn’t matter how often we preach about following Jesus if we aren’t actively following Him in trust and obedience.

“Lord, even though I feel more comfortable doing my own thing than trusting and obeying You, I take the first step of obedience now. You have given me life in Jesus; please help me take hold of that life today by clinging to Your promises and obeying Your command to believe in Your Son. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

* See the whole book of James in the Bible, and the Gospel of John, chapter 6, verse 29.

2/20/18

How do you respond to being rejected or disliked or not respected or left out because you belong to and are following Jesus? Do you avoid this at all costs and despair if it happens, or do you rejoice in the immense privilege of suffering for Him? 

In the book of Acts, some religious leaders tried to stop Jesus’ followers from telling others about Him:

 

“They called the apostles in and had them whipped. The leaders ordered them not to speak in Jesus’ name. Then they let the apostles go. 41The apostles were full of joy as they left the Sanhedrin. They considered it an honor to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. 42Day after day, they kept teaching in the temple courtyards and from house to house. They never stopped telling the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 5, NIRV)

 

Sometimes we’re rejected because we’ve been obnoxious or done wrong. That’s not what this is about. This is about suffering because you belong to and are following Jesus.

Often, when we experience resistance because we belong to Jesus, we view it as unexpected and bad. But two truths: First, we should expect suffering if we are truly trusting and following Jesus (if Jesus suffered, so will those who belong to Him). Second, we can count it an honor to suffer for the name of Jesus!

We don’t need to seek suffering, but seek Jesus and you will encounter suffering in various forms as God permits it. But God is bigger and can turn the greatest suffering to the greatest good. Jesus’ crucifixion seemed to be a victory for Satan, but in reality it was part of God’s victory over Satan.

They considered it an honor to suffer shame for the name of Jesus.”

2/13/18

What Should I Give Up for Lent?

Summary: Many people choose to give something up for Lent—like desserts or Facebook. This can be good, but don’t just give something up; add something that helps you know and rely on God. Lent is a time for repentance (turning from things in our lives that aren’t honoring to God) and faith (turning to Jesus for forgiveness and new desires, and following Him). “Spiritual disciplines” are a way to practice both of these. In a sense, spiritual disciplines are like putting up a sail on a sailboat: It helps it be moved by the wind. Spiritual disciplines help us be open to God’s grace, so we can know and enjoy Him better. If you want to read more about spiritual disciplines, see below. Otherwise, skip to the “disciplines” listed below, and consider one from each list to practice alongside another Christian until Easter.

__________________________________________________________

Not watching TV, going on Facebook, or eating desserts for Lent may be hard, but that by itself doesn’t mean it’s good. Spiritual disciplines are meant to be regular practices that open us to receiving God’s grace—kind of like regular time with a friend allows you to get to know them better and allows the friendship to grow. They are meant to help us to enjoy God more!

Lent is a time for focused repentance from sin, and renewed faith in Jesus. Spiritual disciplines can help us practice repentance and faith, saying “no” to things that aren’t good and “yes” to God.

Consider—alongside others at New Hope—engaging in a “spiritual discipline” over Lent. But don’t just remove something (“disciplines of abstinence”); replace it with something from God (disciplines of engagement).

As you decide what spiritual disciplines may be most valuable, ask yourself: “What is something in my life that may not be in itself wrong, but is serving as a cheap replacement for God or distracting me from Him?” (maybe TV or an iphone that is filling up all your time, or busyness in general, or materialism, etc.) Give that up in some specific way, and add in something that addresses the true need. (So if gluttony is about eating to satisfy loneliness rather than hunger, perhaps begin memorizing Scriptures about God’s presence, and get together weekly with a mature Christian who loves God.)

Don’t try to go it alone: practice the disciplines alongside another Christian (a “workout buddy”).

Spiritual disciplines—no matter how much we give up or add in during Lent—never earn God’s love. But they can help us grow more receptive to His love, and more satisfied in Him! Final thoughts on resolutions and spiritual disciplines:

  •        Revelation must energize resolutions. We loved because He first loved us. So if you resolve to be more patient with your co-workers, begin by soaking up God’s immense patience towards you.
  •        The goal of resolutions & spiritual disciplines is to grow in knowing, enjoying, & honoring God.
  •        Resolutions that build your kingdom rather than God’s kingdom will always fall short.
  •        The power for change isn’t in your resolution; it’s in God. Your resolutions are like a sail and the Holy Spirit is the wind. We raise the sail by Scripture reading, confession, prayer, corporate worship and fellowship, etc.. But in all of this, God holds the power for change!
  •  

The following list of spiritual disciplines is taken from http://www.soulshepherding.org/2012/07/spiritual-disciplines-list/, and supplemented from a list by Bill Donahue on Bible.org (“Suggestions” are added):

Disciplines of Abstinence (not for their own sake, but to help you seek God and His will by taking away less important things):

 

  •        Solitude: Refraining from interacting with other people in order to be alone with God and be found by him. (Suggestion: Set the timer on your phone for 30 minutes, and go for a walk with God by yourself)
  •        Silence: Not speaking in a quiet place in order to quiet our minds and whole self and attend to God’s presence. Also, not speaking so that we can listen to others and bless them. (Suggestion: Commit to not interrupting during Lent, or listening to an audio Bible and just taking God at His word.)
  •        Fasting: Going without food (or something else) for a period of intense prayer — the fast may be complete or partial. (Suggestion: Perhaps drink water instead of something else each meal.)
  •        Frugality—Learning to live with less money and still meet your basic needs. Before buying something new, choose to go without or pick a less expensive alternative that will serve your basic needs. Live a simple, focused life.[1] (Suggestion: Don’t buy anything new during Lent, unless needed)
  •        Chastity—Voluntarily choosing to abstain from sexual pleasures for a time (those pleasures that are deemed morally right in the bond of marriage) to find higher fulfillment in God. Decide together as a couple to set aside time to go without sexual pleasures in order to experience a deeper relationship with God in prayer.1 (Suggestion: Choose a limited number of days that both of you agree on, and add in something each night such as together reading aloud a Psalm or chapter from the gospels.)
  •        Sabbath: Doing no work to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others. (God designed this for one day a week. We can practice it for shorter periods too.) (Suggestion: Commit to not doing homework or career work one day each week—even if it’s hard—and focus on thanking God that day for His provision.)
  •        Secrecy: Not making our good deeds or qualities known to let God or others receive attention and to find our sufficiency in God alone. (Suggestion: When someone else is talking, refrain from telling any stories about yourself, and remember that God notices you.)
  •        Submission: Not asserting ourselves in order to come under the authority, wisdom, and power of Jesus Christ as our Lord, King, and Master. (If you think of this as submitting to a person as unto Christ then it’s a discipline of engagement.) (Suggestion: Work on your taxes as an act of worship to God—not because the government spends money perfectly, but because honoring authorities is honoring to God, if the authorities are not commanding something contrary to God’s will.)
  •        Sacrifice—Giving of our resources beyond what seems reasonable to remind us of our dependence on Christ. Choose to give your time or finances to the Lord beyond what you normally would. 1 (Suggestion: If you feel safe doing so, next time you walk by someone asking for money, invite them to get a bite to eat with you. Or choose a charity to give weekly to and pray for.)

Disciplines of Engagement (not about earning “credit” with God, but like scheduling regular time with someone you love):

 

  •        Bible Reading: Trusting the Holy Spirit-inspired words of Scripture as our guide, wisdom, and strength for life. (Suggestion: Read one chapter of a gospel each morning seeking to get to know Jesus better, or pray through the words of five psalms each evening.)
  •        Worship: Praising God’s greatness, goodness, and beauty in words, music, ritual, or silence. (Suggestion: Whenever you feel anxious or worried, let it be a reminder to praise God for one thing.)
  •        Prayer: Conversing with God about what we’re experiencing and doing together. (As we see in the Lord’s Prayer the main thing we do in prayer is to make requests of our Father for one another.) (Suggestion: Pray through a psalm and make the words your own. Or take a walk each day and pray one line of the Lord’s Prayer for each block you walk, for someone else and yourself. Pray for God’s kingdom to come in their life, or for them to know God’s forgiveness and extend it, or for daily bread.)
  •        Fellowship/Soul Friendship: Engaging fellow disciples of Jesus in prayerful conversation or other spiritual practices. (Suggestion: Arrange one time each week to get together with another Christian, and approach the time with the question “What does God want to do with our time together?”)
  •        Confession—Regularly confess your sins to the Lord and other trusted individuals. As often as you are aware of sin in your life, confess it to the Lord and to those you may have offended. (Of course this isn’t just for certain times; it’s a central part of living as a Christian every day.) 1 (Suggestion: Whenever you realize you’ve wronged someone else, actually tell them what you are sorry for, and ask for their forgiveness in time. Or verbally tell God how you have wronged Him, and take Him at His word that He has forgiven you if you belong to Jesus.)
  •        Service: Humbly serving God by overflowing with his love and compassion to others, especially those in need. (Suggestion: Take a meal or loaf of bread to someone each week, or shovel someone’s driveway.)
  •        Submission—Humbling yourself before God and others while seeking accountability in relationships. Find faithful brothers or sisters in Christ who can lovingly hold you accountable for your actions and growth in Christ. 1 (Suggestion: Ask a mature Christian to call you once a week, to hold you accountable in releasing an ungodly habit to God.)




[1] Reprinted with permission from https://bible.org/illustration/spiritual-disciplines, quoting Bill Donahue, Leading Life-Changing Small Groups, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1996), pp. 51-52. “Suggestions” added by Jonathan Fischer, with some ideas from https://dynamiccatholic.com/everyday-life/creative-things-to-give-up-for-lent/

Further Reading: http://www.authenticdiscipleship.org/pdfs/2-spiritual-formation/Spiritual%20Disciplines/SF%201.0%20Introduction%20to%20the%20Spiritual%20Disciplines.pdf




2/6/18

We sometimes talk about “trust” and “faith” and “openness” as if they are always good things. But they are only as good as the thing we’re trusting in, putting our faith in, or being open to. People putting their faith in Hitler led to hatred and atrocities; too much trust in get-rich-quick schemes leads people to bankruptcy; and putting our ultimate trust in ourselves leads to spiritual death. But putting our faith in the God who made us, convicts us, claims us, and forgives us leads to a life of sacrificial love and obedience.

1/30/18

Every Christian is possessed.

If you believe in Jesus, you belong to Jesus—not first to yourself or to any other
.

“So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8, NIV)

You are not your own because “you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20, NIV). This is both a powerful comfort for you and an absolute claim on you. You are not your own: you belong to Jesus.

This means that before Minet is “my wife”, she is God’s daughter. Before I can talk about “my five-year plan”, I must know that the next five years belong to God. Before I can think of “my body”, “my child,” or “my friend”, I must recognize that first and last they belong to God.

This is both freeing and humbling. Our lives as Christians are not ultimately our own to preserve, so we are completely safe in God’s hands. And the purpose of our lives must not be to seek our own ambitions, but God’s will. We belong to Him.

And if we begin to apply this truth to specific areas of life, the applications are endless. Begin to ask yourself through the day, “How must the fact that I (and fellow Christians) belong to Jesus change how I approach this situation?” This does away with ungodly fear, with disobedience, with insecurity, with attempts to domineer or micromanage others, with apathy about others’ relationship with their God, and with apathy about the holiness of God's Church.

Fellow Christian, you are possessed: You belong to the One who loves you, to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to your Lord and Savior.


1/16/18


God’s never told a lie, and He never will. But I’ve been recognizing how much I argue with Him that something He says couldn’t really be true. I read the Bible and often sort between what makes sense to me (perhaps accepting those things) and what I don’t understand or don’t feel (perhaps rejecting or ignoring those things). This is deadly.


What has God said that you are arguing with Him about, or just ignoring Him? What has He commanded that you don’t want to do? Be done with arguing, beginning with that one thing. Take Him at His Word, obey Him, no matter the cost.


 

He is trustworthy.


 


1/9/18

Thereis no substitute for being alone with God. If you don’t have time, you need to quit something to make room. Skip a meal. Cancel a meeting. End some regular commitment. There is literally nothing more important you could do today. God literally determines whether or not you take another breath. “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Could anything be more important than meeting with the One who decides if you live through this day? Could anything be better? How can we not make time to be with the Maker of time? What plans do you have today that you think so important that you would race past the Creator to get to them?” (Francis Chan, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-greatest-thing-you-could-do-today)


A seminary professor of mine once told about what he learned through his daughter when she was four (I’m paraphrasing his account). Every night he would tuck her in bed, read a story, sing a song with her, and then kiss her goodnight. Then one night, he tucked her in, read a story, sang a song with her, and was about to kiss her goodnight when she looked up into his eyes and said spontaneously, “Daddy, I love you!” He was on cloud nine—her spontaneous expression of affection warmed his father’s heart. The next night, he went up, tucked her in, read a story, sang with her, and lingered, waiting, hoping she would again say she loved him again. But she just turned over, said, “G’night Dad!” and went to sleep. My professor observed how he’d been trying to capture and recreate that one special “Moment” of feeling especially close to his daughter. But the reality is that we can’t force “Moments”: they come in the context of “Habits”—like him spending that time together with his daughter every night no matter what. Trying to force the “Moment” would actually stifle the relationship instead of growing it.


And it’s similar with our relationship with God: There may be some “Moments” when we feel extra close to God. But those “Moments” often happen within the context of habits—regular time with Him, listening, obeying, trusting, even when we don’t feel close to Him. So getting to know Him better often involves time—regular time with God even when we don’t feel close to Him or feel like seeking Him. He is a God who reveals Himself, so seeking Him by coming to Jesus is not fruitless.


1/2/18


John Piper writes: The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there? And the question for Christian leaders is: Do we preach and teach and lead in such a way that people are prepared to hear that question and answer with a resounding No? (John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Wheaton, I: Crossway, 2005), p. 15., quoted at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/the-critical-question-for-our-generation/)


But the amazing news is that Jesus doesn’t only save us from Satan; He even saves us from sin—from our own lack of desire for God!


12/26/17       


It’s not always wrong to hurt someone.


 


If a friend sees that I’m not respecting my wife Minet well, they’re justified in confronting me. And it will hurt to be confronted: Especially as a pastor who preaches about God’s love, it highlights my failure to love His daughter well.


 


But it won’t necessarily harm me to be confronted: I need to hear where I’m wrong so I can come clean and change.


 


In Jeremiah 6:14, we read about religious figures who were saying what people want to hear, instead of God’s words: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (NIV)


 


And in Proverbs 27:6: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (NIV)


 


Sometimes if we refuse to do anything that might hurt someone else, we will inevitably harm them. That’s not an excuse to be callous or unkind. It’s a call to have the courage to take the keys from your friend who’s had one too many and is insisting on driving. It’s a call to be willing to sacrifice someone’s opinion of you for their long-term good. It’s the call to trust God enough to tell someone when they are running from them at the danger of their eternal future—even if you might lose the friendship.


 


I’m grateful the Holy Spirit isn’t too worried about hurting my pride or my feelings. He is profoundly kind—and it is because He is kind that He will not endorse my way to sin and death with pleasant flattery and indiscriminate endorsement. He loves me far too fiercely and He desires His glory far too much to do that.


 


12/19/17


No matter how many presents or family gatherings or good meals you enjoy this Christmastime, it fades away to nothingness without Jesus. The good news of Christmas is that God’s brought us home to HimSELF: Apart from Christ, there is no good news.


J. C. Ryle writes to any who desire “heaven” without God,


But alas, how little fit for heaven are many who talk of going to heaven, when they die, while they manifestly have no saving faith and no real acquaintance with Christ. You give Christ no honor here. You have no communion with Him. You do not love Him. Alas, what could you do in heaven? It would be no place for you. Its joys would be no joys for you. Its happiness would be a happiness into which you could not enter. Its employments would be a weariness and a burden to your heart. Oh, repent and change before it be too late! (J. C. Ryle, from his sermon “Christ Is All” (on Col. 3:11), chapter 20 in Holiness: Its Names, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (1877; reprint, Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan, 2001), p. 384.) (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/the-critical-question-for-our-generation/)


If you don’t have Jesus, no matter how much else you have, you are poor. If you have Jesus—or rather, if Jesus has you as His very own—then no matter how little else you have, you are rich. And belonging to Jesus is a free gift: Come! Then be ready to share this wealth with others: “Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you about the hope you have. Be ready to give the reason for it. But do it gently and with respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIRV) The hope you are sharing is the hope of reconciliation with God Himself!


12/12/17


 


25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14, NIV)


 


Belonging to Jesus is a free gift, and this life is incredibly costly.


"[Tim Keller, speaking of a woman who was learning the gospel for the first time]: “She said that she had gone to a church growing up and she had always heard that God accepts us only if we are sufficiently good and ethical. She had never heard the message she was now hearing, that we can be accepted by God by sheer grace through the work of Christ regardless of anything we do or have done. She said, ‘That is a scary idea! Oh, it’s good scary, but still scary….If I was saved by my good works -- then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace -- at God's infinite cost -- then there's nothing he cannot ask of me.’ She could see…that…God loves us freely, despite our flaws and failures. Yet she also knew that if Jesus had really done this for her—she was not her own.” The gospel is the good news of God’s gracious claim on us in Jesus—and what an amazing thing that He calls us His very own just because of His love! (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, 120-121)


Belonging to Jesus as His disciple is a gift of sheer grace, but it is not easy. “If you think the Beautiful Fight [of being a Christian] is an easy life, you’ve been misled. Yes, Jesus said, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light,’….he also said, ‘Take up [your] cross,” and ‘In this world you will have trouble’….[But take heart! I have overcome the world.] This chapter is about courageously facing and even using the ‘cross’ and the ‘trouble’ as you walk the road of a transformed life….I’ve come to realize that when I refuse to face the pain of transformation, eventually I must endure the misery of my immaturity….Pain in this world is a foregone conclusion. The only questions is whether we choose to live a life of redemptive pain or of self-destructive pain….‘The necessary materials for the building up of a saint are in every life; they need only to be used....It is not necessary to be hung upon a cross in order to be crucified; an idle slander accepted meekly will do instead. It is not necessary to kiss a leper to secure self-discipline; a genuine effort to be kind and companionable to a person we dislike intensely will do as well. It is not necessary to face martyrdom before a heathen judge to secure a severe test, for a humble acceptance of a sudden insult or the true and instant forgiveness of a wrong will serve as well.’....The ordinary events of family life provide more than enough drama to increase and foster spiritual maturity if we will only embrace them as such. (Gary Thomas, The Beautiful Fight, 197, 199, 202 [quoting R. Somerset Ward])




12/5/17

 

Are you willing to die for Jesus?

 

But that’s not the only way we count the cost of following Jesus….

 

Are you willing to not be respected for Jesus?

 

Are you willing to be “left out” for Jesus?

 

Are you willing to lose out on that promotion for Jesus?

 

Are you willing to end that relationship for Jesus?

 

Are you willing to drop off the team for Jesus?

 

Are you willing to be disliked for Jesus?

 

Following Jesus is costly. It may mean physical death, but even when it doesn’t mean that, it may well mean the death of our reputation, the death of certain relationships, the death of our ambitions—all for the sake of the greater ambition of knowing and obeying our Lord and Savior. Are you ready to pay that price, giving up anything that is driving you away from God? Jesus rightly demands our everything.

 

There is abundant forgiveness in Jesus, and that forgiveness restores us to walking the path of costly discipleship, upheld and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. He is good, and He is enough: He is our life when we die, our honor when others don’t respect us, our portion when we are “left out”, our ambition when we aren’t promoted, our security when we lose a relationship, our acceptance when we are rejected.

 

11/28/17

 

It’s no use trying to pretend or wear a mask in God’s presence. He sees us and knows us. And that would be terrifying, except that He has also poured out His love for us at the cross. Confident in His redeeming love, the realization that He knows us becomes freeing. He knows it all—and still claims me and loves me! I am not my own: I belong to Jesus, bought at the price of His life.

1 You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

2 You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3 You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

4 Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

5 You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me....

....7 Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

....23 Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:1-5, 7, 23-24)

 

11/14/17

 

In Hebrews 10, we read that “by one sacrifice he [Jesus] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Assured that God has forgiven us, we then read:

 

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10, NIV)

 

Believing in and belonging to Jesus, we have confidence to come into the very presence of the God of the universe! We couldn’t stand a moment in His presence on our own, but He’s made us new. That’s amazing.

 

And with this confidence in God’s presence, how should it affect our relationships with other Christians?

 

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10, NIV)

 

 

11/7/17

 

Who is more trustworthy: us, or God? In whom are we daily placing our confidence? Are we living based on our perception of reality, or on what God shows us about Himself, us, and His gracious claim on us? And who are we obeying—ourselves or God? 

 

This is a question of life and death. Trusting and following ourselves leads to death; trusting and following God means life now and in the new heavens and new earth.

 

Only God is trustworthy, and only He gives life. So we confess and surrender our unbelief and disobedience to Him wherever it arises, because He is full of forgiveness and is able to make us new.

 

10/31/17

 

If someone asked you not “how are you?” but “who are you?”, what would you say? If you had to describe your core identity in one word or one sentence, what might it be?

 

“Student”? “Soccer player”? “Teacher”? “Wife”? “Dad”? “Mom”? “Engineer”? “Homemaker”?

 

Ultimately, if you belong to Jesus, your first identity is none of these things: Before anything else, you are a “Christian.” All other identities will ultimately collapse if we try to define ourselves first by them. At the end of the day, all we have is Jesus and all we are is His very own.

 

But even if we would describe ourselves first as a “Christian”, we often live as if something else were our core identity. Christian growth involves believing God when He says who He is and who we are, and then surrendering to Him all other ways we define ourselves and all the other things we center our lives around. And then, first as Christians, we are free to be student, soccer player, teacher, wife, dad, mom, engineer, or homemaker without trying to place the weight of our identity on those things since it is already anchored in Jesus.

 

10/24/17

 

False hope can be more dangerous than despair.

 

Despair can be deadly, but despair of ourselves is only one step away from hope in our God.

 

False hope is even more deadly: It’s like getting a good night’s sleep in a burning house, keeping us from calling out to the only One who can rescue us.

 

God our Father, in Your grace wake us from the dangerous peace we find in false hopes, lead us to despair of our own strength, and bring us to more deeply hope in You. Help us to lead others out of false hope and to You, ours and their only true hope.

 

10/17/17

 

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves. –Psalm 127:1-2 (NIV)

 

11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. 12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. -1 Corinthians 3 (NLT)

No matter how hard you work, it is useless unless your foundation is Jesus Christ, unless God’s at work, and unless you’re seeking His kingdom (rather than our own). But as you seek His kingdom and build well with Christ as your foundation, your work means eternal reward.

 

10/9/17

 

God’s kindness is our only currency.

 

We fall into pride when we think that we have another bargaining chip—as if we have anything other than God’s grace in Jesus. We fall into despair when we think that God’s kindness in Jesus is not enough, or that it is not for us.

 

Prayer: Lord, please lead us away from pride and despair and towards gratitude.

 

10/3/17

Don’t wait until you trust God to obey Him: Sometimes the feeling of faith comes after the experience of His faithfulness once you obey. I often find myself feeling paralyzed because I don’t feel that I trust God even though I know He’s trustworthy. Perhaps the feelings will follow acts of obedience, as I begin to experience His faithfulness. Don’t stand still until you can drum up feelings of faith; simply move forward in obedience to God and trust He will show Himself faithful.

 

9/26/17

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. - Proverbs 27:6 NIV

 

We each need others who love us and are willing to gently point out our faults, for ours and others' good and for God's honor. Are we inviting a few trustworthy people to be this kind of friend to us, and are we being this kind of friend to others?


9/19/17


What do we have except the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord? And what don’t we have in God’s gracious embrace in Christ?


“Neither death nor life....will be able to separate us....” - Romans 8, NIV


9/10/17


13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4, NLT)

 

Two thoughts...

 

First, we do grieve. Jesus wept after Lazarus died even though He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.

 

But second, for all who believe in Jesus, grief happens within the greater context of hope. If you will receive God’s gracious claim on you in Jesus—no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done—you belong to the One who has died and risen and defeated death. His hands are stronger than death’s grip, and He is kind.

 

So grieve. This is appropriate when we experience the effects of the fall. But let your tears of sadness be mingled with tears of longing, and even with tears of assurance through the darkest valley. Because there will come a day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes. 


9/6/17


“Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’;

others will call themselves by the name of Jacob;

still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’...

(Isaiah 44:5a,b,c, NIV)

 

If we define ourselves by our career, by our family, by our athletic ability, by our intellect, by our popularity, by our accomplishments, by our sexuality, by our good deeds, by our personality, we will never find who we were meant to be. In fact, if we try to define ourselves at all, we will never find ourselves.

 

Only in being found by God do we become who we were always meant to be. Only in yielding to Him and coming to know Him as our Father do we even begin to realize who we are. Only in believing His gracious claim on us in Jesus do we finally come home. Because our ultimate need is not to know ourselves, but to know and be known by our God.  

 

Who are we? We are His.

 

(See also “Who Am I?”—a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer before he was executed: http://www.dbonhoeffer.org/who-was-db2.htm.)


8/29/17

A sense of entitlement is something each of us finds in ourselves all too often, but it never belongs in our lives as Christians.

“What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7b, NIV)

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:35-36, NIV)

 

No room for despair: God gives good things to those who deserve nothing good, because He is good.

 

No room for pride: We didn’t make ourselves who we are, and we didn’t earn the things we have. We are nothing and have nothing apart from Jesus, but trusting in Him we are children of God, and we have the love of God.

 

Only room for gratitude and worship: Every good thing is a gift, so we thank the One giving, praise Him for His lavish generosity, and are ready to share with others the hope we have in Him.

 

We don’t deserve anything, but through Jesus God’s given us everything.

 

Lord, I am so sorry for thinking I’m entitled to anything good. Thank you for Your goodness, and I receive Your free, undeserved kindness poured out in Jesus as my portion for today. I rest in Your goodness, God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

8/22/17


Fellow Christian, all you have is the free, undeserved kindness of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and all you are is God’s new creation in Christ.


The enemy will try to convince you that God’s kindness is not for you, or that you have things other than Him and His kindness; and the enemy will try to convince you that you are not His new creation in Christ, or that you are something other than God’s new creation.


Whenever we latch on to any of those lies, we are wandering from God. Growth in relationship with God is increasingly recognizing that all we have is Him—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and that all we are is God’s new creation in Christ.


8/15/17

 

None this week.

 

8/7/17

 

For the pastor’s columns the next few weeks, I will include the New Living Translation of the psalm we studied on Sunday. Try using the psalm as a prayer this week, on your own, the church’s, or others’ behalf.

 

When I am afraid, I will put my trust in God...

 

1 O God, have mercy on me,

for people are hounding me.

My foes attack me all day long.

2 I am constantly hounded by those who slander me,

and many are boldly attacking me.

3 But when I am afraid,

I will put my trust in you.

4 I praise God for what he has promised.

I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?

What can mere mortals do to me?

 5 They are always twisting what I say;

they spend their days plotting to harm me.

6 They come together to spy on me—

watching my every step, eager to kill me.

7 Don’t let them get away with their wickedness;

in your anger, O God, bring them down.

8 You keep track of all my sorrows.

You have collected all my tears in your bottle.

You have recorded each one in your book.

9 My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.

This I know: God is on my side!

10 I praise God for what he has promised;

Yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.

11 I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?

What can mere mortals do to me?

12 I will fulfill my vows to you, O God,

and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help.

13 For you have rescued me from death;

you have kept my feet from slipping.

So now I can walk in your presence, O God,

in your life-giving light. (NLT)

 

7/31/17

 

For the pastor’s columns the next few weeks, I will include the New Living Translation of the psalm we studied on Sunday. Try using the psalm as a prayer this week, on your own, the church’s, or others’ behalf.

 

God is more than enough; He created us, and we find true pleasure and joy only in His presence. And through trusting in Jesus who died and rose for us, we are ushered into God’s presence as His very own sons and daughters, with the assurance of life with Him even beyond death!

1 Keep me safe, O God,

for I have come to you for refuge.

2 I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!

Every good thing I have comes from you.”

3 The godly people in the land

are my true heroes!

I take pleasure in them!

4 Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods.

I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood

or even speak the names of their gods.

5 Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.

You guard all that is mine.

6 The land you have given me is a pleasant land.

What a wonderful inheritance!

7 I will bless the Lord who guides me;

even at night my heart instructs me.

8 I know the Lord is always with me.

I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

9 No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.

My body rests in safety.

10 For you will not leave my soul among the dead

or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.

11 You will show me the way of life,

granting me the joy of your presence

and the pleasures of living with you forever. (NLT)

 

7/24/17


For the pastor’s columns the next few weeks, I will include the New Living Translation of the psalm we studied on Sunday. Try using the psalm as a prayer this week, on your own, the church’s, or others’ behalf.

 

Don’t wait until you feel like praising God to begin praising Him; start bragging about Him today!

 

Psalm 8 (For the choir director: A psalm of David, to be accompanied by a stringed instrument.)

1 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

Your glory is higher than the heavens.

2 You have taught children and infants

to tell of your strength,

silencing your enemies

and all who oppose you.

3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—

the moon and the stars you set in place—

4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,

human beings that you should care for them?

5 Yet you made them only a little lower than God

and crowned them with glory and honor.

6 You gave them charge of everything you made,

putting all things under their authority—

7 the flocks and the herds

and all the wild animals,

8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,

and everything that swims the ocean currents.

9 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

 

7/18/17

We’ve been studying and praying through Psalm 77 for the past few weeks. Here is the whole psalm in the New Living Translation. I invite you to pray through it and make it your prayer—or your prayer on someone else’s behalf.

1 I cry out to God; yes, I shout.

Oh, that God would listen to me!

2 When I was in deep trouble,

I searched for the Lord.

All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,

but my soul was not comforted.

3 I think of God, and I moan,

overwhelmed with longing for his help.

Interlude

4 You don’t let me sleep.

I am too distressed even to pray!

5 I think of the good old days,

long since ended,

6 when my nights were filled with joyful songs.

I search my soul and ponder the difference now.

7 Has the Lord rejected me forever?

Will he never again be kind to me?

8 Is his unfailing love gone forever?

Have his promises permanently failed?

9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?

Has he slammed the door on his compassion?

Interlude

10 And I said, “This is my fate;

the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

11 But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;

I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.

12 They are constantly in my thoughts.

I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

 

(NIV for verses 10-12: 10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:

the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.

11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;

yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

12 I will consider all your works

and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”)

13 O God, your ways are holy.

Is there any god as mighty as you?

14 You are the God of great wonders!

You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.

15 By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,

the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

Interlude

16 When the Red Sea saw you, O God,

its waters looked and trembled!

The sea quaked to its very depths.

17 The clouds poured down rain;

the thunder rumbled in the sky.

Your arrows of lightning flashed.

18 Your thunder roared from the whirlwind;

the lightning lit up the world!

The earth trembled and shook.

19 Your road led through the sea,

your pathway through the mighty waters—

a pathway no one knew was there!

20 You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,

with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.


7/11/17


15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,

the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

16 The waters saw you, God,

the waters saw you and writhed;

the very depths were convulsed.

17 The clouds poured down water,

the heavens resounded with thunder;

your arrows flashed back and forth.

18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,

your lightning lit up the world;

the earth trembled and quaked.

19 Your path led through the sea,

your way through the mighty waters,

though your footprints were not seen.

20 You led your people like a flock

by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:15-20, NIV)

 

We have been praying through Psalm 77, focusing on a different part each week.1

 

Earlier in the psalm, the psalmist cried out to God: Where was He and where was His goodness? Then the psalmist moved from questioning to remembering and worshiping: God is holy and powerful, and has acted in the past to rescue His people.

 

And then in verses 15-20, we see a powerful portrayal of God’s immense power and tender care for His people. He is sovereign over all forces of nature (amazing power), and led His people like a flock (amazing tenderness).

 

So the psalmist anchors his hope in the God whose power and character never change, ending the psalm with worship. God is the psalmists hope, and our only hope.

 

Right now, wherever you are, begin to worship God, even before you know how He will answer your prayers. He is good, powerful, and worthy—and He leads His people like a flock.

 

Prayer: Lord, in the midst of everything I acknowledge that You are powerful and good. You love Your people, and so I place my hope in You to lead me well. I worship You for who You are! In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

 

1 This is a prayer for God’s people—for any and all who trust Jesus as Savior and King. But if you are not yet a Christian, I’d still invite you to catch a glimpse of God’s character through this prayer—and perhaps begin to entrust yourself to Him and His grace in Jesus. 


7/4/17


13 Your ways, God, are holy.

What god is as great as our God?

14 You are the God who performs miracles;

you display your power among the peoples.

15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,

the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. (Psalm 77:13-14, NIV)

 

We have been praying through Psalm 77, focusing on a different part each week.1

 

In Psalm 77:7-9, the psalmist cried out to God. Where was He and where was His goodness??

 

Then the psalmist moved from questioning to remembering. And now he remembers and worships: God is holy and powerful, and has acted in the past to rescue His people. That doesn’t mean that the psalmist personally experienced the Exodus: We don’t need to have personally experienced God’s power in order to remember and bank on what He’s done for others in the past. His character is the same today as it was three thousand years ago, and He responds to all who come to Him in humble faith.

 

So God’s grace and power evidenced in the Exodus are a help to the psalmist’s present struggle of faith, leading the psalmist through questioning to worship.

Prayer: Lord God, Your character, power, and grace have not changed from when You rescued Your people from Egypt. I bank on You to rescue me as well, not because I deserve it but because You are good and You have given me grace in Jesus. In His name, amen.

 

 

1 This is a prayer for God’s people—for any and all who trust Jesus as Savior and King. But if you are not yet a Christian, I’d still invite you to catch a glimpse of God’s character through this prayer—and perhaps begin to entrust yourself to Him and His grace in Jesus.

 

6/27/17


7 “Will the Lord reject forever?

Will he never show his favor again?

8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?

Has his promise failed for all time?

9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?

Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:

the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.

11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;

yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

12 I will consider all your works

and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:7-12, NIV)

 

For the next few weeks we will be praying through Psalm 77, focusing on a different part each week.1

 

In Psalm 77:7-9, the psalmist cries out to God. Where is He and where is His goodness??

 

God gives us words to ask these desperate questions. That’s an amazing gift: We don’t have to pretend when it feels like God is absent.

 

But the psalm doesn’t stop there: The psalmist moves from questioning to remembering. God’s character and power never change, so if He worked mightily on behalf of His people in the past, He will do so again. As the psalmist remembers what God has done in the past, he can re-anchor his hope in God to act again, even though God seems absent in the moment.


Prayer: My God, where are You? Why do You seem so far away? But in the midst of this turmoil, I will remember what You’ve done in the past (in Scripture, in my life, and in the lives of others) for those who have trusted in You. And as I remember, I make the decision to anchor my hope in Your never-changing goodness to Your people—including to me as I come to You in Jesus’ name, as His follower who belongs to You.

 

 

1 This is a prayer for God’s people—for any and all who trust Jesus as Savior and King. But if you are not yet a Christian, I’d still invite you to catch a glimpse of God’s character through this prayer—and perhaps begin to entrust yourself to Him and His grace in Jesus. 



6/20/17


7 “Will the Lord reject forever?

Will he never show his favor again?

8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?

Has his promise failed for all time?

9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?

Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (Psalm 77:7-9, NIV)

 

For the next few weeks we will be praying through Psalm 77, focusing on a different part each week.1

 

Some of us will want to skip past the messy/grief-filled parts too quickly, afraid that it’s not “spiritual” or “Christian” to dwell there; others tend to stay stuck in grief. In contrast to both approaches we have Paul’s words to Christians grieving the death of fellow believers: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thess. 4:13, NIV) Christians grieve, but can grieve with hope. This balance can be a wise guide for Christians in any time of loss or sorrow.

 

In Psalm 77:7-9, the psalmist expresses a desperate prayer and string of questions. Where is God? Where is His goodness now?

 

If this were a friend of ours asking these questions, we might be uncomfortable and simply try to stop them from asking. But this is part of a prayer God has given in the Bible, and asking these questions might be a necessary step towards a renewed faith in God. That’s not an excuse for unbelief or for dishonoring God; it’s simply permission to be real before Him and cry out to Him with everything in us. So walk through these questions and the cry of desperation, towards a confidence that is anchored in God even when He seems absent.

Prayer: My God, I don’t deserve anything from You, but I am desperate and hopeless without You. Where are You? Why do You seem so far away? Why does Your activity in my life sometimes seem such a far cry from what You did for others in the Bible? Thank You for letting me cry out to You honestly, and thank You that You hear my cry as I approach You in Jesus’ name...

 

 

1 This is a prayer for God’s people—for any and all who trust Jesus as Savior and King. But if you are not yet a Christian, I’d still invite you to catch a glimpse of God’s character through this prayer—and perhaps begin to entrust yourself to Him and His grace in Jesus. 


6/6/17

3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;

I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. 

4 You kept my eyes from closing;

I was too troubled to speak.

5 I thought about the former days,

the years of long ago;

6 I remembered my songs in the night.

My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

7 “Will the Lord reject forever?

Will he never show his favor again? (Psalm 77:3-7, NIV)

 

For the next few weeks we will be praying through Psalm 77, focusing on a different part each week.1

 

Some of us will want to skip past the messy/grief-filled parts too quickly, afraid that it’s not “spiritual” or “Christian” to dwell there. Others of us will tend to stay stuck in the grief-filled parts, refusing to trust that God is bigger. Neither is the right approach. This Psalm leads us into and through grief and desperate prayer, towards confidence that’s anchored in God.

 

In the verses 3-7, the psalmist sees a contrast between the past and the present. Remember when God did great miracles on behalf of His people? Remember how He clearly revealed Himself through the events recorded in the Bible? But how far off and long ago those times might seem to us now! And that begs the question: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?”

 

This question is, in some form, answered later in the psalm. But isn’t is amazing that God gives us a prayer, that allows us to name the disparity we might feel between the past and the present—between when God seemed so near and when He seems so absent?

 

So cry out to God, knowing that this is not the last word in the psalm, or the last word for all who place their hope in the One who might seem far away, but has actually come near through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, to usher us into the presence of the Father.

 

Prayer: LORD, I think of times recorded in the Bible when You showed Your goodness to ordinary people, when You seemed so much nearer than today. Where are you? Have You rejected me? Thank you that You give me words to express how hard this is, and thank You that even when You seem distant, You never abandon us as Your children. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

 

1 This is a prayer for God’s people—for any and all who trust Jesus as Savior and King. But if you are not yet a Christian, I’d still invite you to catch a glimpse of God’s character through this prayer—and perhaps begin to entrust yourself to Him and His grace in Jesus. 


5/30/17

“I cried out to God for help;

I cried out to God to hear me.

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;

at night I stretched out untiring hands,

and I would not be comforted.” (Psalm 77:1-2, NIV)

 

When we go through dark times in life, the Psalms help us turn our grief and even anger into prayers. Not prayers that pretend or deny the facts, but real, raw, honest cries to God.

 

For the next few weeks we will be praying through Psalm 77, focusing on a different part each week. This is a prayer for God’s people—for any and all who trust Jesus as Savior and King. But if you are not yet a Christian, I’d still invite you to catch a glimpse of God’s character through this prayer—and perhaps begin to entrust yourself to Him and His grace in Jesus.

 

Some of us will want to skip past the messy/grief-filled parts too quickly, afraid that it’s not “spiritual” or “Christian” to dwell there. But these verses are in God’s Word for a reason, so pray them with sincerity and trust.

 

Others of us will tend to stay stuck in the grief-filled parts, refusing to trust that God is bigger. That also is a pitfall. The psalm will lead us to a place of being anchored in God’s never-changing power and love: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord....What god is as great as our God?” (vv. 11, 13) Don’t be afraid to own up to the full weight of sin and brokenness, but also don’t believe the lie that God is smaller than that very sin and brokenness.

In the first two verses, we cry out to God with the words of the psalmist (here, Asaph). We aren’t content with cheap solutions or substitute answers: We plead for God Himself. And in this heart-wrenching prayer is a deep faith, for why would anyone cry out to God if they don’t believe that He exists and that He is good?

 

Our prayer is based on verses 1-2. These verses are past tense in the psalm, with verses 13-14 as present tense (highlighting God’s never-changing character)—seeming to imply that we are to move through (though not skip past) the weight of our problems, to the recognition of who God is even in that very moment.

Prayer: God, I cry out to You for help; I cry out to You to hear me. When I am in distress, I seek You, Lord; at night I stretch out untiring hands, and I won’t be comforted (by cheap substitutes). You alone are the One I need!


5/23/17


In the parking lot outside the doctor’s office this morning, I saw a dog in the front seat of a car, howling mournfully—as if it were wondering if its owner would ever come back for it. 


I am so often like this dog when God tells me not to worry. The dog’s owners can’t assure their dog that they’ll be back soon, but God tells believers that He never abandons us, even in the darkest times when He seems completely absent. Our lives already have enough suffering, but I often add to it by worrying that He won’t “show up”, instead of confidently longing and pleading for His power and grace to work in even the darkest moments.


So we should plead with God to show up, crying out to Him with everything we have. (In fact, pleading with God is itself evidence of some measure of faith, because you wouldn’t plead with someone you didn’t believe in or didn’t believe was good.) We don’t have to pretend that we don’t miss the assurance of His presence, or that we aren’t struggling. But we can plead with confidence in His faithfulness, presence, and power—that turns even the greatest evils to His glory and to our good.


The Psalms powerfully express this confident pleading with God. Today, consider praying Psalm 27 with this in mind, on yours or someone else’s behalf:


Prayer: 1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?.....7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. 8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. 10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. 11 Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. 12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. 13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:1, 7-14, NIV)

5/16/17

I often find that, when I’m working in the kitchen, our dog Clemmie has come down and curled up by the table. And as I walk around the kitchen, she doesn’t move, but her eyes follow me wherever I go. She’s settled, calm, and quiet—and she keeps her eyes on me.

In Psalm 16, David writes:

“....I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;

apart from you I have no good thing.”....

....I keep my eyes always on the Lord.

With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken....” (vv. 2, 8, NIV)  

 

In a sense, it’s as if Clemmie sees Minet and me as the center of her world. Her sense of security rests in our care of her, so her eyes are fixed on us.

It’s amazing to see how God can teach us about how to relate to Himself, even through His very creation.

Prayer: Father God, You are my everything. But I confess that so often my eyes are fixed everywhere except on You: My gaze wanders to rest on my own abilities, on others, and on the fears I have—and then I am shaken when those things fail me. Today, by Your power, I turn my eyes to You. And whenever my gaze does wander, I ask You to turn my eyes back to You more and more quickly. Thank you that my hope is in You, not my strength or my circumstances or even in the strength of my faith. 



5/9/17

“Jesus, Martha, and Lazarus, Part II”

 

Lazarus had died, and his sister Martha meets Jesus as He arrives in town:

 

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11, NIV)

Martha knows that a day is coming when God will unveil His power and all will see Him—and her brother, who belongs to God, will rise from the dead. Some might think of this conviction as “pie in the sky by and by”, but it is true: a real promise and a real hope....and a real threat to all who persist in rejecting God.

But God not only gives hope for the future: He is also sovereign over the present. So Jesus replies:

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha sees (though she still expresses doubts until Jesus does raise Lazarus from the dead) that life isn’t only something coming in the future/last day. She sees that where Jesus is, there life is.

This doesn’t mean that everyone we’ve lost will rise from the dead, or that every sickness will disappear immediately, or that all of our wishes will come true today. But it does mean that life—eternal life in relationship with God—spills from Jesus right now into a world filled with death. Sometimes that life comes in ways we can’t yet see; other times it comes in the midst of what looks like death (I have seen those who are physically dying finally come to a knowledge of God, crossing over from death to life); other times it comes in a way that exceeds what we could begin to imagine.

Where Jesus is, there life is. But all that we experience now are appetizers for the real feast: When Christ returns and gathers His own. We must not forget that life begins now in Jesus, but we also must not forget that our ultimate hope and the fulfillment of our deepest desires will only come when Christ returns.

Prayer: Lord, You ask me—not just Martha—“Do you believe this?” I confess that I often doubt You when You say that You are the resurrection and the life. I look for life in other places; forgive me and restore me to a vibrant hope in You. I relinquish my doubt to You today and every day, and I trust in Your presence and power to bring life from death even now—both in my life and the lives of those I love—and ultimately when You return to judge the living and the dead.




5/2/17

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26, NIV)

Martha’s brother Lazarus had died, and Jesus hadn’t been there to prevent it. But Jesus’ presence brings hope where there would otherwise be despair.

You and I are sometimes in Martha’s position, and the only solid place to anchor our hope is in the One who has authority even over life and death. There is ultimately no life outside of Jesus, and ultimately no death in union Him. 

Where are you needing to believe Jesus again—trusting that He has power to do more than you can ask or imagine, and that His goodness is even bigger than your desire for Him?

Prayer: God, I cannot bring life to myself....But You are the resurrection and the life. In every area where I am stuck in sin or death or despair, You are my salvation and life and hope—my all. I trust in You, and entrust myself to You, who died and rose from the dead for me—even when I can’t yet see how you will bring life from death in or around me.




4/25/17

“Restore us again, God our Savior,

and put away your displeasure toward us.

Will you be angry with us forever?

Will you prolong your anger through all generations?

Will you not revive us again,

that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your unfailing love, Lord,

and grant us your salvation.” (Psalm 85:4-7, NIV)

 

Even if you feel you can’t pray, this is a prayer you can still say. Even if you feel your faith is dead, this is something you can still ask of God. When you are angry, apathetic, or filled with doubt, these are words you can still cry out.

So ask the God of the universe to give you life—the God who has given us life in His Son (see 1 John 5:11, NIV). A prayer that is in one sense answered even before we pray it, and we appropriate the answer as we ask, as we embrace Christ as our life, and as God reveals Himself. “Everyone who asks receives....” (Matthew 7:8, NIV)

Prayer: God, revive me! In Jesus’ name, amen.



4/18/17

This past Sunday, we focused on the account of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. He has authority to give life to the dead, even to us. But He’s not just the Lord of the mountaintop experiences; He’s also the Lord of everyday, “mundane” life before and after those mountaintop experiences.

 

In Luke 8:54-55 we read of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter:

 

“....he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up....” (NIV)

 

An amazing moment! But it continues:

 

“Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.”

 

Jesus didn’t just care about raising her to life; He also cared about her life itself even after that moment.

 

Jesus isn’t just Lord of Easter Sunday; He’s also Lord of the following Monday...and Tuesday...and Wednesday—“ordinary” days that might not feel exciting or extra-ordinary. Even in the mundane, He is still alive; He is still King; and we whom He has purchased and given new life to at the cross and empty tomb are still His very own.



4/11/17

Spring has finally arrived! But while some are relishing the change, others are feeling that spring has arrived but that they are still stuck in winter. Spring can be a time of enjoyment, or depression.

 

Sometimes Easter celebrations can feel similar: Some of us will arrive at Sunday with a sense of joy and excitement; others will feel left behind—even mocked—by the joy of the resurrection. The world has moved on, and I’m left behind.

 

But while Easter is certainly for those who come brimming with joy, it is also for those who feel left behind, dark, and lifeless. Because Easter is about our God who raises the dead! Jesus went all the way to death for us, and He rose to give the dead life—even you and me.

 

So even if you feel grief instead of joy, and winter instead of spring, come join in worship on Easter—trusting in the One who rose to give life to the dead.

 

Romans 4 gives a powerful call to faith, for those who can’t yet see the new life God has ushered in at Easter. I’d encourage you to read it. Then along with Abraham, face the facts in your life that seem so dark, but finally anchor yourself on the even bigger fact of God’s faithfulness—the God who gives life to the dead.

 

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Romans 4 (NLT):

 

Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? 2 If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. 3 For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God [when God promised Him many ancestors], and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” [Gen. 15:6]

 

4 When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. 5 But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners......

 

........16 So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe. 17 That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations.” This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.

 

18 Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!”* 19 And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb.

 

20 Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. 22 And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. 23 And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded 24 for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. (NLT)

 

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God is still in the business of raising the dead and of reconciling sinners to Himself, making them (even you and me!) beloved sons and daughters. Come and be reminded of this on Sunday—even if you still feel mired in winter.



4/4/17

It is so easy to live as if I’m entitled to so many good things, and when I don’t receive what I think I deserve, I respond with anger, self-pity, and resentment. But that attitude forgets the cross: Jesus took what I deserved so I—united with Him—could receive what He deserves.

Self-pity and pride demand what they think they are entitled to; only humility asks for grace. And God gives grace to the humble.

James 4:6-10, NIV: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

LORD, in this season of Lent I see what I was entitled to: what Jesus suffered on the cross for me. I come before You humbled, desperate for what I’m not entitled to but what You delight to give anyway: Your grace. Thank you that You show favor even to me, humbling me and lifting me up in Your arms!”

 

3/28/17

We read about Jesus in Isaiah 53:8, seven hundred years before His crucifixion:

“By oppression and judgment he was taken away.

Yet who of his generation protested?

For he was cut off from the land of the living;

for the transgression of my people he was punished.” (NIV)

                                             

LORD, You were punished for our transgressions, so there is no punishment left for us who have taken refuge in You. Thank you, Lord, and please give us an increasing awareness of the magnitude of Your love and claim on us, and give us opportunities to lead others to You.



3/21/17

We read about Jesus in Isaiah 53:7, some seven hundred years before His crucifixion:

“He was oppressed and afflicted,

yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

so he did not open his mouth.” (NIV)

 

If someone criticizes me, I can hardly stop from defending myself to try to ward off the pain of criticism—even if I know that their criticism is fair.

 

But Jesus didn’t even open His mouth to ward off unjust criticism, or His excruciating death and the weight of our sin laid on His shoulders.  

 

He could have done far more than defend Himself: He could have spoken a word for an army of angels to decimate all those mocking and beating Him. He could have revealed His perfect innocence and holiness, driven us to our knees, and justly pronounced the death sentence on us. But He went to the cross, and stayed there until it was finished....not opening His mouth because He was dying for us. There was no other way to bring us back home to the Father’s embrace, but for God Himself to die in our place.

 

I think that Jesus’ silence was an expression of His immense security (knowing exactly who He is even when in the face of others’ blindness) and His immense love for us. He loved us enough to take the blame for me and you, all the way to conviction and death.

 

LORD, You have taken the blame on our behalf, and we no longer bear it. Purchased by and united to Jesus, there is now no condemnation for us. We praise You and thank You for Your immense glory and love! Please pour out into our hearts the very same confidence and love that You so powerfully expressed for us at the cross. And You answer this prayer, for You have given us Your Holy Spirit—Your very presence living in us!