Gratitude, Day 10—The Shepherd And Guardian Of My Soul


I suppose since I’ve already said I’m thankful for salvation and for God’s kindness, it’s probably apparent that I’m thankful for God Himself. But today I’m specifically thankful for these two aspects of who God is—my Shepherd and the Guardian of my soul. I learn about these characteristics of God from 1 Peter 2:

For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Years ago I read A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller. It gave me a much deeper understanding of that metaphor. The shepherd isn’t just hanging out watching the sheep graze all day. The sheep really do stray, and the shepherd really does hunt them down, steer them away from danger, rescue them from the holes they get in, check them closely for critters that get into their wool, protect them from snakebite, from predators that would carry them off and eat them alive.

The Shepherd of my soul looks out for me spiritually in much the same way.

He also stands guard, the way a watchman does from a city wall. He is ready to sound the alert because he is ever vigilant.

Consequently, I can get a good night’s sleep. I don’t have to worry or anxiously look about, wondering if the next cultural trend will irreparably harm me or my faith. I don’t have to wring my hands at the latest election results or what the new atheists are saying or the progressives who pose as believers, but are not.

Because I have a Guardian of my soul who will not let the evil tear down my faith.

It’s really peaceful to put my trust in the Shepherd and Guardian of my soul. I’m still concerned about the way the world is going, the way western culture is moving into a post-truth way of thinking. I pray for revival. But one way I know I have a Shepherd and Guardian of my soul is that just today I heard another radio sermon in which the pastor talked about praying for revival. He is not the first! Other believers, other pastors, are praying, too.

So yes, I pray. And I do all in my power to be an obedient sheep, following my Shepherd, not one of the other stupid creatures who jump at any loud sound and go running off to hide. I once was straying, but not any more. Now I want to get as close to the shepherd as I can get. I’m that thankful for Him.

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Published in: on November 14, 2018 at 6:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gratitude, Day 6—Thanking God


Sunset on Fields near City

God is great
God is good
And we thank Him
For our food.

Amen!

I grew up “saying grace,” before meals. To this day I don’t know how that euphemism came about, and in our house, I’m not sure we used the term. I understood our prayer before each meal to be us offering thanks for the food.

By and large, however, it was a formality, though we didn’t use a formalized prayer. Despite the fact that there were lean years in my family, I was too little to realize how tight money was and how iffy our next meal could be. By the time I was in school, our “financially tight years” were behind us.

Consequently, not having known want, I didn’t have the overwhelming sense of gratitude that comes from receiving something you needed but had no means to acquire.

In other words, I mostly took my meals for granted. Not to the point of wasting food, certainly. My parents, especially my mother, saw to that. How could I, being so fortunate, throw away food that the poor children in China would be so happy to have. Didn’t I realize that they were starving and I was abundantly blessed?

Well, actually, I didn’t realize the abundance I enjoyed. Until I was seventeen. That year my family moved to Tanzania, East Africa, to a small town named Korogwe where there was a teacher-training college and a good road to Tanga. My dad, being a professor of education, took a position at the college, and I learned, among many other things, what abundance I had.

In Tanzania I saw most people walk barefoot or ride bicycles. Only the rich had cars. We had a car.

In Tanzania I saw men walk around with tee shirts so holey they barely had enough material to stay on their backs. I asked why people would bother to wear shirts like that which certainly had little function. Because, I was told, it was better to have a shirt, no matter how many holes or how big the holes, than to have no shirt at all. I didn’t own a single item of clothing with holes and I had many changes of clothes.

In Tanzania I saw children throw rocks and use sticks to knock unripe mangoes from a tree. They would rather have the unripened fruit than no fruit at all. I had the choice of whatever fruits and vegetables were in the market, all of which we could afford to buy.

In Tanzania ugali, made from cassava root, was the staple for most people’s diet. They pounded it into a flour and made a kind of thick mush they rolled into balls and dipped into broth. I enjoyed three meals a day, including a main meal of meat and vegetables, often with fresh, home-made rolls.

In Tanzania I saw sick children with runny noses a parent never wiped or distended bellies, some carrying bundles of sticks on their heads as they walked in the red dust of the African roadway. I had received a multitude of shots to keep away such diseases as typhoid and yellow fever, and I received a booster to protect me from the various forms of dysentery that plagued the African people.

In Tanzania I saw Masai children covered with flies, especially around their noses, eyes, and mouths, and they made no effort to brush off the insects, so used to their presence they had become. I slept under a mosquito netting and enjoyed a home with screens on the windows and on the doors. And still we had cans of bug spray and fly swatters.

There was more. That good road to Tanga, the second largest town in Tanzania at the time, which passed through Korogwe, made it possible to go to stores from time to time where we could buy some of the foods we would have considered staples in the US.

In Korogwe we enjoyed an abundant supply of water, no small feature in itself, but the water also made growing fruits and vegetables possible year round whereas in southern Tanzania, the dry season was very dry. People might find the only vegetable in their markets for months was cabbage.

I could go on. But the point isn’t to make a case for how poor Tanzania was or how much better Korogwe was than other parts of the country. The fact is, I could repeat a similar list for Guatemala where I spent three years or for Mexico where I spent a summer or for Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, even England and Japan where I’ve spent some short amount of time.

I could repeat the list for places here in the US, too.

But up until I was seventeen and spent that year in Tanzania, I didn’t realize I enjoyed abundance. I wore hand-me-down clothes and never owned a bike, though I wanted one desperately. My family drove used cars and bought furniture at Goodwill. We weren’t rich, but we had an abundance.

I think true thankfulness might not be possible until you realize what abundance you have. How many of us are thankful for our health . . . until we get sick? Or for our friends until they move away. Or for our jobs until we lose them.

Simple FieldNot having and then having, or having and then not having provides the contrast that wakes us up to abundance. Seeing others not have when we have can do the same thing. Or it can create a defensive, hording mentality—I never want to be without, like those people—in the same way that seeing others have when we do not, can create envy and greed.

All this to say, in our abundance, however great or small that may be, we have the opportunity to thank God for what He has given. Think about what Habakkuk said:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (3:17-18, emphasis added)

Even in want, there’s cause to exult in God. He remains the source of salvation, and that is God’s lavish provision for sinners who did not deserve His grace and mercy.

Thanks, and praise, and rejoicing are always the right response to God.

It certainly makes sense. If He is great, and He is, and if He is good, and He is, then why wouldn’t I give Him thanks?

This post originally appeared here in July, 2014.

Published in: on November 8, 2018 at 4:45 pm  Comments (2)  
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Gratitude, Day 3—The Kindness Of The Lord


As you may (or may not) remember, I am doing a series of Thanks posts, sort of in protest to the fact that Thanksgiving here in the US is being squeezed out amid the candy and costumes of Halloween and the presents and lights, carols, nativity scenes, and Santas of Christmas.

I actually love Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that hasn’t been overly commercialized. It can’t be confused with any other holiday, the way Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and Flag Day can be confused with each other. But the greatest plus is that the origins of the holiday have a spiritual foundation. The Thanks in Thanksgiving, is directed to God. And that fact gives me a good reason to love this particular day above other celebrations.

So, today, I am particularly grateful for the kindness of the Lord. A particular verse from the Bible came to mind when I thought of God’s kindness:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5)

Clearly, God’s kindness is connected to His work of salvation—something another verse of Scripture spells out:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

So, yes, God’s kindness and love save us, but a great part of the process is His kindness leading us to repentance.

Repentance?

Isn’t that connected to an awareness of our sin? I mean, how can someone repent if they don’t actually think there is something in their life for which they need to regret, to be remorseful about, to wish were different in regard to their actions and/or character? I mean, are people who can only see their strengths ever going to repent?

No.

And that’s actually the human condition. We want to think better of ourselves than we are, but when we can’t avoid the problems, we tend to blame others. It’s society’s fault. I didn’t get a good education. My parents didn’t love me the way I needed them to. It was the snake who deceived me. The wife You gave me tempted me.

All those things are true or might be. But that doesn’t change the facts: whatever the conditions, we gave in and sinned. We made the decision to do what we knew we should not do. We stand guilty. Condemned.

And it is the kindness of God that brings us to that point. Kindness. Because once we’re aware of our need to repent, we can repent. We don’t need to hide any more, to blame others, to carry the guilt.

God’s kindness brings us to the place where we can deal with sin once and for all. Not through works we do. But by accepting the washing, the cleansing, the being made new provided by God.

God is actually kind in so many other ways. He is kind to give us friends and family, jobs and meaningful activity, churches and Bibles, homes and entertainment. But His kindness is greatest when it leads us to Him. Because nothing is more important. Our lives in the here and now are, as James says, a vapor. The Psalmist and Isaiah talk about our lives being like a flower—here today, and tomorrow gone with the wind or the scorching sun.

But only the here and now part. The eternal part of our lives stretches out before us. Nothing could be more important than that we live that eternal part with God our Savior. So how kind of God to invest so much into directing us to repentance for our sin.

He could ignore our need for repentance and make sure that these brief moments are nothing but pleasure-filled. I mean, it isn’t comfortable to think about our sin, to admit that we are the ones responsible, that we have gone our own way and ended up in a mess of our own making. But God’s kindness won’t let us delude ourselves into thinking that we’re OK in spite of our sin.

He is too kind to let us live in that delusion. He’d rather lead us to repentance.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

Published in: on November 5, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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God Knows


I find myself saying “God knows” a lot these days. God knows about the person who is living an immoral life style. God knows about the unfair treatment the church person is meting out. God knows about the corruption in our government and the lies from the politicians. God knows about the problems I see at so many different levels.

I am comforted by the fact that God knows. It’s a reminder to me that even the things that seem so out of control actually aren’t.

I think of young Joseph, gang tackled by his older brothers and hauled to a pit, even as he pleaded for his life. Did he think in those darkest moments when he was fished out of the hole and pushed into the hands of the slavers, that God knows?

Certainly, years later Joseph knew that truth. God knew and as a result had the whole circumstance under control. In fact, all the evil directed at Joseph, God turned to the good for … well, the world.

Because He sent Joseph ahead to preserve the lives of his entire family, He set in motion so many things related to Jesus—His lineage and numerous important types that show the story of salvation. There would have been no exodus if Joseph hadn’t gone to Egypt. There would have been no Passover lamb, no passing through the sea on dry land, no giving of the law, no priestly office, no serpent lifted up for the sick to look at and be healed, no daily portion of manna, and on and on.

After the fact, Joseph could tell his brothers that he got it—God knew, and what was evil, He made good. Now we can read the story and see too, the way God worked it all out. But what was Joseph thinking at the time? Wouldn’t he have been comforted if he could have glimpsed the end?

Of course, God had graciously given him just such a glimpse. Remember the dreams? God had shown Joseph his family bowing to him. Not once, but twice.

Did the memory of those dreams comfort Joseph when all seemed so horribly wrong? Did he think, I don’t know how this will happen, but God said He would put me as a ruler over my family. He knows I’m a slave now instead.

I suspect Joseph did hold onto the truth because he clearly held onto God. When his master’s wife wanted to sleep with him, he didn’t say, Your husband might find out. He said, How can I sin against God?

That’s the answer of a man who understood that God knows.

This article was first published here in October 2010.

The Effective Prayer Of A Righteous Man


At the end of the book of James, there are a few verses that deal with prayer. The context is specifically prayer for someone who is sick, which seems like a lot of prayer from Christians in 21 century America. I used to take prayer requests from my students, sometimes publicly, so we could pray together, and some times privately, for my eyes only. And for God’s. The vast majority of the requests were for health issues.

But that’s beside the point, because, though that was James’s starting point, it’s not where he ended up. Instead he went to a general statement, then to a specific example. First the statement: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

What kind of “much” can prayer accomplish, James?

He answers this question with his example:

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (5:17-18)

I love the explanation of who Elijah was—a guy just like the rest of us. No super saint. He didn’t have angelic blood. He wasn’t special in any way. But he did have two things going for him. 1) His prayer was earnest. 2) He was righteous.

Whenever I read these verses, I think, I should be praying more. I mean—rain! We could use rain in Southern California.

But the point is not to pray for stuff just because I want to see stuff happen. Like the Dodgers winning the World Series or even something more practical like safety for a friend who is on a trip.

The key, I think, is in the “righteous” part. It reminds me of a verse in Psalm 37, one people love to quote: “Delight yourself in the LORD / And He will give you the desires of your heart.” (v 4)

Health-and-wealthers use that verse as a limitless credit card that God has to honor. Atheists use that verse as evidence that prayer “doesn’t work.”

But both groups are ignoring the first phrase: “delight yourself in the LORD.” That’s like being righteous. It’s essentially saying, enjoy God so much you would not want to be doing anything He doesn’t want you to do. So why would we ever pray for something we aren’t absolutely sure God wants?

In Elijah’s case, he prayed for no rain, then three plus years later, for rain, because God told him what to ask for. So he was sure. He knew what God wanted.

But why does God even bother? I mean, He can send the rain whether we ask or not, and usually does.

Again in Elijah’s situation, God accomplished several things. Elijah didn’t ask for these things in secret. People, particularly the king of Israel, knew why there was no rain. God was showing His power, His sovereignty to a disobedient and godless man. At the same time, Elijah’s prayer was serving as an example down through the ages to all who knew his story but who later read James’s commentary on it. And finally, God delights in involving His people in His work.

That’s believers today, just as much as it was believers in the first century.

My tendency, when I do get an idea of what God’s heart might be, is to pray too generally. When I was a kid it was, “Bless Grandpa and Grandma and all the aunts and uncles and cousins.” Today is more apt to be, “Work in the hearts of this people group or that one.”

So general. How would I ever know if that prayer is accomplishing much?

I’ve said before that the secret to prayer isn’t that it “works” at all, yet this verse in James and the one in the Psalms makes me think I’m only partly right there. I do think the biggest part of prayer is sharing God’s heart, pouring out my concerns to Him, and recommitting myself to trust Him in those circumstances. But praying for a judgment on a disobedient land? I would most certainly have to be convinced that’s what God wanted, just as Elijah was.

But that’s the point. Prayer moves me closer to God so that I actually do know what He wants. I know, for example, I am to love my neighbors. Any time I am not loving my neighbor, I can know for sure that I am not delighting in God, I am not praying as a righteous person who can expect to accomplish much.

In short, I don’t really need to worry whether or not my prayers are too general or too selfish or whatever. I simply need to pray so that I draw closer to God, so that I can be used by Him when He shows me what He wants me to pray for.

Published in: on October 5, 2018 at 5:54 pm  Comments (6)  
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Ordinary People


Christians aren’t superstars. God hasn’t gone about picking the brightest and best, the richest or most handsome. He’s not finding out who’s the best speaker or writer or IT guy or teacher or sports star or supermodel. Actually, God enlists ordinary people to be his followers.

We can see this in the Bible. Take King David, for example. He was the youngest of his family. His job when the prophet Samuel anointed him to be king was—shepherd. He hadn’t acquitted himself on the field of battle or proved himself to be an astute leader of men. Those would come as God walked with him through days of exile, through nights of hiding and running. But when God put His finger on David and said, I want him, David was just an ordinary man.

Which is fitting because his great-grandmother was sort of a nobody. She was a widow, probably a little older than most marriageable women. She was from a foreign country. And she had committed herself to the care of her mother-in-law, which was why she went to Bethlehem in the first place.

Then there was David’s great-great-grandmother. She was also from a foreign country where she was a “working girl.” A prostitute. Some might even think of her as a traitor because she helped “the enemy” by hiding the Jewish spies which had come to search out the land, particularly the city of Jericho.

Yep, neither Ruth nor Rahab were special and yet God used these ordinary women, not only in order that they would be part of David’s lineage, but that they would be part of the Messiah’s heritage.

No one could have considered himself more ordinary than Gideon, but when Israel was harassed by an enemy who stole their crops, their livestock, pretty much everything that made life possible, God called him and put him in the position of delivering his people.

There are loads of other ordinary people who God chose to become heroes or behind-the-scene workers. What about the no-name widow who gave her last coin as an act of worship? Jesus commended her and said she would be remembered for her faith. Not for her status. She had none. Not for her wealth. She was poor beyond measure. What she had was a belief in a God who would not leave her or forsake her.

Or what about the thief on the cross, the last-second convert who still gives comfort and encouragement today for those who have lived all their lives apart from Christ. What hope do they have, so many are tempted to say. There’s every hope because Jesus accepted the thief who was dying beside Him. He didn’t have to have a lengthy resume of things he’d done for the kingdom of God. He simply had to believe.

Think about the twelve men who Jesus chose as disciples. One was a dedicated enemy to the Roman government. He’d be considered a terrorist today. Another was a collaborator—a man who worked with the Romans and, in his own way, oppressed the Jewish people. Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector should have been enemies, but they gave up their former pursuits and both followed Jesus.

At least four of these guys were fishermen. They hadn’t studied with Gamaliel, like Paul had. They weren’t rich like Joseph of Arimethia. They were just guys, working for their dads’ fishing businesses.

Thomas was an ordinary skeptic. No “rich in faith” guy, he. He was of the “show me” variety, and Jesus did just that: showed him his hands and feet, and the nail prints there.

The other three guys were so ordinary we don’t really know anything about them apart from the fact that they went where Jesus sent them, did the work God gave them.

And these are the men responsible for converting the Middle East. Well, not all of it. But this small band of Christ-followers, ordinary men without anything this world values to commend them to the people they talked to, were the people God used to spread the gospel.

And that’s continued. For every Billy Graham, there’s a J. Wilbur Chapman who no one has heard of, yet introduced the greatest evangelist of our time to Jesus.

For every Corrie ten Boom, there’s a Papa ten Boom who taught her the faith which prompted her to protect Jews from the Nazis, to forgive the German guards who persecuted her in the concentration camp and oversaw her sister’s illness and death.

Who was Papa ten Boom? A watchmaker. Who was Corrie ten Boom? An unmarried woman approaching her senior years. Just ordinary people who God chose, who were willing for Him to do with their lives as He pleased.

What about Ravi Zacharias? He was a young Indian man who had tried to take his own life, whose father said he wouldn’t amount to anything. The future was bleak for this ordinary man, but God saved him and used him to speak around the world, to facilitate an entire apologetics ministry.

He was willing, and that’s really all that matters. God is happy with the ordinary people because when each of us comes to Him, it’s a testament that God is the one who saves. Not our bank account. Not our talent, our looks, our status, our strength. God saves.

And how awesome, how mind-boggling, how incredible that He uses ordinary people to get the word out.

Holding Fast To The Word


When I say hold fast to the “word,” I’m referring to the Bible, but I could just as easily say this about the Word, which is Jesus Christ. The Bible actually only points to Jesus. It isn’t itself an object of worship. But it is through the Bible that we can learn about God and all that He has revealed to us.

I love the first two verses of Hebrews because the truth is right there—about both the Bible and Jesus:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

The fact is, we know about God because He spoke long ago and we know about the Son because He came long ago.

I know a lot of atheists think this “long ago” business is suspect. They say, if God is really all powerful, why can’t he speak now, today, so that we can know first hand what He wants us to know.

I don’t have a real answer for that other than that God shouldn’t have to repeat Himself. I mean, He graciously has said many things many times, but not for every generation in every place.

I have to believe His decision when and to whom to reveal His person, plan, work, and word, is part of His sovereign choosing based on His omniscience. I know it’s beyond my pay grade. It isn’t within in my ability to determine God’s best way of revealing Himself to the world, apart from what He has already told us.

What He said was that we, His followers, are to be his ambassadors, that we are to go and make disciples. In other words, getting the word out is something He asked us to do.

I’m constantly amazed that God, who spoke the universe into being, actually wants me to come alongside Him and do something with Him.

Best example I can think of took place when I was teaching. For a number of years I had the benefit of a student or two working as my teacher’s aide. Several years I even had an adult who came in and worked in that capacity. But inevitable, when someone new came in and I had to ask them to do a task—say, put up items on a bulletin board—I realized I could do the work faster, more efficiently, and more to my liking. Of course, the more the aide worked, the better they got.

I think of that as an illustration of God allowing me to do work He could manage way better. There certainly could be multiple reasons He decides to work this way, but one reason certainly is for our benefit who do the work. We enjoy the blessing of serving Him.

What does all this have to do with holding fast to the word? I think some people are so preoccupied with hearing something new from God, they miss what He’s already said.

I think some people want the next new spiritual thing in the same way they want the next cool development in technology.

God doesn’t change, though. Who He is, is who He has always been. He’s not going to surprise us with a new slate of Ten Commandments. He isn’t giving a pope or a prophet a new set of regs He wants the Church to follow.

In truth, He’s already said what we need to know. Now it’s up to us to listen and to do what He’s asked us to do. That’s not complicated. But it does require us to get a good grip on the truth.

Athletes who are successful have a good grip on the fundamentals of their sport. The study film, they compare notes, they research analytics, they listen to coaches, and they practice. They take the job that they have—pitching or batting or fielding; blocking or throwing a football or rushing the passer or running pass routes—very seriously. They might be gifted athletically, but their physical prowess will not earn them a spot on a team unless they hold fast to the fundamentals.

Christians need to do the same. We need to learn the fundamentals and we need to hold fast to the fundamentals. Those fundamentals are in the word and in the Word. Everything else comes from those two: prayer, how to handle temptation, dealing with sin, with fear, and mostly how to draw close to God. It’s all in the Book and the Book points us to Jesus.

Published in: on September 26, 2018 at 5:59 pm  Comments (3)  
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And The First Commandment?


I can’t get the ongoing discussion prompted by Pastor John MacArthur’s Social Justice and the Gospel statement out of my head. What the discussion has reminded me of is a question I’ve asked myself from time to time

You see, I’ve heard any number of great messages about the second command, as Jesus labeled it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These are excellent, Biblical, needed.

What I don’t recall hearing much are sermons about the first command:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Matt. 22:36-38)

My thought is, if this is indeed the greatest command, shouldn’t we hear sermon after sermon about how we can actually love God with all of who we are?

Maybe that’s embedded in particular messages.

For instance, I heard one pastor whose sermons are on the radio, preach about abiding in Christ. Just recently I heard a message about being filled with the Holy Spirit, and a different pastor preached about the need for revival, in the Church but in our hearts first.

I’m not sure those are the same thing as the First Commandment. Isn’t loving God with our heart, with our soul, with our mind something we should do intentionally along with abiding in Christ and being filled with the Spirit?

Maybe having our relationship with God revived would address how, or to what extent, we love God. I’m not sure. The pastor made a good point that revival is for believers. You don’t revive dead people, and unbelievers are spiritually dead. We the Church need revival. The rest of the world needs to hear the gospel and respond for the very first time.

I’m thinking now that perhaps the angelic addresses to the seven churches in the book of Revelation were calls to revival. And to one of them the angel said, You have left your first love. In other words, you don’t love God with all your heart, soul, and mind any more.

Makes me think of what the prophet Joel said to the people of Judah:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

The chapter goes on to describe what can only be stated as sorrow for sins. Repentance.

So one part of loving God, I think, would have to include keeping short accounts with Him. Short and shorter. And when we sin, instead of just making it right with the person we have sinned against, perhaps above all we should make it right with God.

Not that our sins are somehow undoing our salvation. But they harm our fellowship. I don’t know how it works. God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west. Not just past sins, but all sins. Then how can they harm our fellowship with God? I don’t know. Maybe because we remember them, because we need to bring them to the cross to know that yes, that too, God has forgiven. All I really know is, repentance restores my soul. It simply does. It’s not a psychological thing. Not a trick of the mind. When my sins are removed, the are removed! And it’s something that only other Christians understand.

What else does loving God with heart, soul, and mind entail? Jesus said we love Him if we keep His commandments. That’s kind of interesting. Usually we think of keeping commandments to be a physical thing: do this good deed, make this sacrifice, give up this thing, stop doing that thing. But the command to love God with our heart, soul, and mind, would seem to be saying that loving God starts inside. So extrapolating on that, keeping Christ’s commandments starts first in our hearts, souls, minds.

Now I know that the First Command is recorded in other gospel accounts, like Luke 10:27, which add “strength.” So yes, we’d have to say there is a physical component in loving God.

That makes me think of the parable that Jesus told about the King, after He separated the sheep from the goats, said for those on His right to come into His kingdom. Why? because they had fed him, give Him a drink, clothed Him, visited Him when He was a prisoner, taken Him in when He was a stranger, came to Him when He was sick. When did we do that, the people asked. The King answered, “‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Matt. 25:40b).

And therein lies social justice, I think. It’s tucked inside our love for God. We care for the lest, the lost, the left out, because we love God.

But we can’t leave out our heart, our soul, our mind. Loving God starts inside. It doesn’t start by what we do. Nor is what we do, the sum of our love for God.

Loving God isn’t measured by how high someone lifts their hands in worship, and it isn’t measured by how much food they provide for the homeless ministry. There’s more. And I want to learn what all that is.

Years ago, Christians talked about “practicing the presence” of God. I never really understood what that meant. Just like I’m not sure what it means to abide in Christ or be filled with the Holy Spirit.

In all this rhetoric, I keep thinking, it shouldn’t be that hard. I just want to be with God, to cling to Him, to depend on Him, to please Him, to rejoice in Him, to celebrate Him. I don’t want to fight Him or ignore Him or stray from Him. I don’t know that these things come naturally, so I wouldn’t mind hearing a sermon or two on the First Commandment.

Treasonous Prayer


“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How many people have memorized that line from Matthew 6, along with the rest of Jesus’s prayer, and recited it routinely without grasping the traitorous implications? I’m one.

I listened to part of a radio message some years back from Pastor Philip De Courcy in which he made the point that this line from Jesus’s prayer is a radical, traitorous plea.

In His day, Rome’s kingdom ruled and Caesar’s will was to be done. For a good reason, the Jewish council stood before Pilate accusing Jesus of opposing Caesar (John 19:12).

Paul says in Philippians 3 that the believer’s citizenship is in Heaven. Meaning, if we think about it, that we are little more than guest workers here in the US or wherever else we might live.

Of course, we quickly explain, we actually have dual citizenship because God’s kingdom is spiritual. Jesus Himself said as much when He was answering Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).

But how does dual citizenship work? In our spirits we obey God, but in our bodies we obey the government? We might draw that conclusion from Jesus’s answer to the question about paying taxes: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).

Yet there’s that prayer—“Thy kingdom come.” It’s a plea for God to put an end to the machinations of Man and for Him to take His rightful place as Sovereign.

It’s also a statement of loyalty—I want You to prevail, Your kingdom to be triumphant, even over the kingdom in which I presently live.

I guess the biggest question is whether or not I mean the words I say when I’m quoting Jesus’s prayer. Is it His will I want? Am I passionate about His kingdom coming or would I prefer a cleaned up version of the one we have right here and now?

Honestly, it’s sobering to think what those words from the Lord’s prayer mean. I even thought about whether or not it was wise to title a post “Treasonous Prayer.” After all, the way the world is starting to look at Christians, we could well be accused of working against the “good of mankind,” and do I really want a written record about praying something treasonous?

Yes, actually I do because the real revolution that I am praying for must occur first in my heart, where I step off the throne and allow God to rule, to have His will prevail. How could I pray for His kingdom to come and then resist His takeover in me?

This article first appeared here in September, 2011.

Published in: on September 12, 2018 at 5:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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When There’s No Water


July officially started the new rainy season, though for SoCal, that is kind of like saying, each year we start with two months of 0 inches just so we can put down figures for 12 months. This kind of “dry spell” is actually normal. The problem manifests itself if November comes and goes and we still have not had significant rain. Or if January, February, and March don’t give us some meaningful moisture.

A good year for us is around 33 inches. Compare that to the Carolinas which likely received 33 inches in this last storm.

All this to say, I know what it’s like to live in a place with no water. Except, we have technology now that allows us to bring water in from places that have more than they’re using. Not everyone is happy with this arrangement. But that’s not the point of this post.

The real subject is waking up and realizing there is not enough water to, you know, live. Because water is one of those commodities that we actually can not do without.

The descendants of Jacob, the Hebrews newly escaped from Egypt, came to a place where there was no water. And they were well over 600,000 people. The men of the age to fight number 600,000, so add in the elderly, the women, and the children, and there are probably twice as many people, conservatively speaking—all without water. And don’t forget the animals. These folks were shepherds. They had their flocks and their cattle to take care of, too.

So when they’d been on the road for a while and they didn’t come upon any water, they were concerned. Rightly so. This was not a minor issue, a little inconvenience. This was a life-and-death matter.

So what did they do? You’d think they would cried out to God. What else could you do? I mean, He’s omniscient—He’d know where they could get water. And He’s omnipotent—He could bring rain at the drop of a hat. Crying out to God would seem like a wise, intelligent thing to do.

But the Hebrews? They decided to grumble against Moses instead. You should have left us in Egypt, they said. We told you this journey was not a good idea, they said. We want to choose another ruler, someone who will take us back to Egypt, they said.

Remember. Egypt was a mess. Dead army, dead firstborn sons, dead or diseased cattle, devastated crops, people who were afraid of Moses and had driven the people of Israel from their land.

Remember also. The Hebrews had cried to God because of the harsh treatment they were receiving. The Egyptians had ordered their baby boys to be killed. Not just the first born. All of them. For how long? We don’t know for sure, but obviously long enough that the people of Israel would no longer outnumber the Egyptians. They wanted zero population growth, at a minimum.

And most of all, remember that God had promised to take them out of Egypt, so clearly that Joseph charged his descendants with taking his bones, his mummified carcass, along with them when they went.

Not only did God give them this promise, but remember He gave them His protection. When darkness fell over Egypt, it did not fall in Goshen where the Hebrews lived. When hail wiped out two crops and killed the livestock left in the field, it didn’t fall in Goshen. When the locust came, when disease attacked the Egyptian animals, when their first born sons were taken, the Hebrews escaped unscathed. They saw God’s power first hand, and they experienced His protection.

I could go on. They were receiving manna every day, they had quail to eat when they asked for meat, they’d been without water before and God surprised them by giving them miraculously and then leading them to a place of abundance.

But none of it was enough.

When is enough evidence of God’s direction, provision, protection, ever enough? Sometimes the people who cry the loudest have the most evidence in front of their faces, but they simply choose to ignore it. Instead, they decide they want to go their own way, choose their own leader, deal with their own problems.

Seems silly to me, because if they had turned around at that point, they would have continued for days without water before they arrived at that place where God had taken them before. How many of them would have survived?

But God is so merciful. Despite their grumbling and complaining, God gave them what they needed. He did so miraculously and symbolically so that centuries later we could see the Rock who is Jesus, struck to provide Living Water to a wayward people.

God had a reason for testing the Hebrews. He had an example to paint for generations who would come after them. He wanted them to see His power and trust Him, but He also wants us to see His power and trust Him.

Their need for water was real and serious. Their reliance on their own “solutions” was foolish. But our God isn’t limited by weak people who keep on doing the wrong thing. Peter could deny Jesus three times, but God was able to turn him into a pillar of the Church. Paul could chase down Christians to persecute them, but God was able to turn him into a vibrant evangelist.

In fact, none of Christ’s followers can ever boast that we have life figured out, that we’re on the road to heave because we are clever enough or strong enough or good enough to make it on our own. Rather, we are the army of second chances. God saved us because we need to be saved. We are out of water, and we can’t make it on empty. So He does the impossible. He provides Living Water so that we will never thirst again.

Published in: on September 11, 2018 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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