Brick #48 – Psalm 27:4

Untitled designOne thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek Him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

This verse always puts things in perspective for me. It shows me how far I am from God and reveals my sinfulness and selfishness. Why? Because I know that if I could ask for ONE THING, it would not be what David asks for.

I might ask for good health or protection for my kids or wisdom in decision making. I might ask for salvation for a friend or family member or God’s blessing on our church or peace in the midst of turmoil. I might ask for God’s power to fuel me or His presence to refresh me or His grace to overwhelm me. All of these are good things to ask for. But they are very different from what David asks for.

In point of fact, David does ask for some of the things that I might ask for – just read the rest of Psalm 27. Hear me (v.7). Be merciful to me (v.7). Don’t reject me (v.9).Teach me (v.11). Lead me (v.11). Protect me (v.12) But if he could only ask for one thing it would be to be with the Lord and to be able to gaze upon His beauty. Note what David says in v.8, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” David is seeking God’s face first and foremost. I tend to seek His hand and what He can do for me.

This Psalm indicates David’s complete confidence in the Lord despite what might be going on around him. “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”. (v.1) “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (v.13) His confidence flows out of his relationship with God and is a result of the time that he spends in the presence of God.

A lesson I need to learn. What about you?

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Brick # 47 – Matthew 9:36-38

BbB“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.””

Jesus has been traveling from town to town preaching and teaching and healing. As a result He had attracted quite a following. But  gathering a large crowd was not what mattered to Jesus. People mattered to Jesus. He was overcome with emotion as He looked over the crowd and recognized their plight.

Webster defines plight as “a difficult or precarious situation.” This is what the people were facing without even knowing it. This is what we are facing as well. This is what sheep face everyday and why Jesus chose this metaphor. Jesus recognized that…

Sheep (we) need protection – Not only do we find ourselves exposed to the dangers of this world which are bad enough, but we are also susceptible to the dangers of the supernatural world. Our enemy, the devil, is always on the prowl “looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). And it is a danger that we are almost completely unaware of. We need protection – whether we know it or not.

Sheep (we) need leadership – Sheep tend to wander without really paying attention to where they’re going – this is not unlike a large percentage of our population. Many people are just wandering through life without any clear direction or purpose. People crave strong leadership – and yet there is such a void of strong, godly leadership in our culture that people have fallen prey to charismatic leaders who are only looking after their own interests, not the interests of the people.

Sheep (we) need green pastures and quiet waters  – According to Psalm 23 this is what a good shepherd provides for his sheep. We need food that nourishes and water that refreshes. We need a diet that strengthens and satisfies our soul. We don’t need spiritual pablum.  We don’t need a diet that makes us feel good about ourselves we need a diet of Truth that causes us to exult in the greatness of God.

As Jesus perused the crowd and saw their great need He turned to His disciples and challenged them to pray for workers. But inherit in the challenge to pray was also a challenge to go and be one of those workers. Jesus was training His men for a mission. And that mission was incumbent upon recognizing how much people matter to God.

Brick #46 – Romans 8:28-30

Untitled designAnd we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.30 And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

This passage, probably more than any other as far as I am concerned, epitomizes the free choice/predestination dialogue. I am neither a theologian nor the son of a theologian but here are my thoughts for what they are worth.

Does the Bible say that we have freedom to choose to believe in God or not? Yes! Note verse 28: “…for those who love God…” Love involves choice. I choose every day whether or not I will love God. I choose every day whether or not I will love my wife. I choose every day whether or not I will love my kids. No one is making me love. I love by my own freedom of choice. The Bible absolutely affirms freedom of choice. I choose to love God and place my faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross – therefore, I am saved from condemnation and damnation.

Does the Bible say that we are predestined by God to be saved?  In other words, did He choose me to believe? Yes! Note verse 29: “…those whom He foreknew He also predestined…” I am one of God’s chosen ones. It was His choice that I be saved. He chose me before the beginning of creation to reign with Him in eternity. The Bible absolutely affirms predestination. His choice, not mine!

But are not these two affirmations saying two different things? How can they both be true? I’ll say two things about this:

1) If we were able to explain everything about God and our faith then we would not have a great and awe-inspiring God. We must leave room for mystery and trust that one day God will make that which is unclear to be incredibly clear.

2) The best explanation for this for my puny mind goes like this. From man’s perspective we have complete freedom of choice. From God’s perspective He is the One who does the choosing. Imagine yourself preparing to enter Heaven’s Gate. There is a sign over the gate that says, “Everyone who believes in the Lord shall be saved!”  (Our choice) After you enter you turn around and notice a sign on the other side of the gate that says, “Chosen before the creation of the world.”  (God’s choice) It all depends on your perspective – from this side of heaven or the other side.

You will hear lots of arguments these days about this subject. I choose to say what I believe the Bible says – both are true, even if I can’t completely understand how.

Brick #45 – Galatians 5:16-24

Untitled designThere is a lot more going on in these verses than just a really popular memory verse about the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23). These verses really hinge off of some very strong language that Paul uses back in verse 12: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate (castrate) themselves.”

Evidently there are some people who have infiltrated the Galatian church who are encouraging believers to take advantage of their “freedom in Christ.” They are basically saying that because you have been given freedom in Christ you can live any way and do anything that you want to. The most recent version of this heresy  tells people that if they have prayed a prayer and have “fire insurance” then they can sin as much as they want because they have a “get out of hell free card.”

Paul says, NO WAY JOSE’ to this spiritual bunk. He, in no uncertain terms, tells the Galatians that the litmus test to determine if you are genuinely saved is not whether you have prayed a prayer or not but whether you are daily being led by the Spirit of God and demonstrating evidence of this by the way that you live. He lists 15+ “works of the flesh” and juxtaposes these against 9 “fruit of the Spirit.” Essentially he is reiterating what he said to the Corinthians:

5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor. 13:5)

Galatians 5:22-23 are indeed  great verses to memorize. But whenever you ponder these verses keep their context in mind and it will make their meaning even more powerful. 

Now go forth and be fruitful!

 

Brick #44 – 1 John 5:4-5

Untitled design“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:4-5

The word victory and the word overcome both come from the same Greek root – nike. You might recognize this as an apparel brand or the name of a  Greek goddess. So the verses could really be translated like this: “For everyone who has been born of God has victory over the world. And this is the victory that has gained us victory over the world—our faith. Who is it that has victory over the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

The implications of this verse are at least twofold:

We are already victorious – God has already declared that we are overcomers. This is true because of who we are in Christ – who is the ultimate Overcomer. We have already gained victory over death and damnation. We have already gained victory over sin.

And yet, the fight goes on. Therefore…

Day by day we must continue to overcome – Day by day we must exercise our faith, demonstrating our ongoing dependence upon God, to overcome temptation and worry and the difficulties that will come our way. Being an overcomer entails more than believing; it means that our faith is manifest through actions and choices each day.

I love the promises in The Revelation that are given to overcomers. They give me hope and motivate me to continue to overcome each day…

  • To the one who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (2:7)
  • The one who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (2:11)
  • To the one who is overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (2:17)
  • To the one who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—  that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.  I will also give that one the morning star. (2:26-28)
  • The one who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. (3:5)
  • The one who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. (3:12)
  •  To the one who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. (3:21)

May God gives us the courage and strength each day to overcome this world as we anticipate the rewards for overcomers that we will gain in the next world.

Brick #43 – Habakkuk 3:17-19a

Untitled design“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength;” (Habakkuk 3:17-19a)

In this short book tucked away toward the back of the Older Testament, Habakkuk asks the kinds of questions that we all ask from time to time.

Why, God,  do I cry for help and it seems like you don’t listen? (1:2)

Why do you tolerate wrongdoing and injustice in the world? (1:3)

Why do you do nothing when wicked people triumph over the righteous? (1:13)

Where are you when I’m jobless and and have no hope for a financial upturn? (3:17)

The one thing that you notice when you read this book is that though Habakkuk is complaining, he is complaining to God. This is a healthy kind of complaining. It is the complaining of a man who passionately loves God and is trying to make sense of who He is and what He is doing in the world around him. It is the kind of complaining that takes the time to listen to God after he puts all his gripes out on the table. It is the kind of complaining that isn’t trying to twist God’s arm into getting what he wants. Habakkuk loves God but there is much that he does not understand and much that he does not like. So he tells God. He is not ditching his faith; he is not turning his back on God; he is not complaining to whoever is willing to listen. He is talking with God. I say “with” rather than “to” because he takes the time to listen to what God has to say.

Pastor/author John Ortberg says in his book God Is Closer Than You Think, “When we are passionately honest with God, when we are not indulging in self-pity or martyrdom but are genuinely opening ourselves up to God, when we complain in hope that God can still be trusted – then we are asking God to create the kind of condition in our hearts that will make resting in His presence possible again. And God will come. But He may come in unexpected ways.”

After he has said his piece to God, Habakkuk finds peace with God. He is reminded that God is indeed in control. He is reminded that dire circumstances do not mean you cannot experience joy. He is reminded that each day he needs God’s strength to deal with life. He is reminded that even though life often seems unfair, that God is a fair and just Sovereign.

May we find our joy and our strength in Him today – no matter what we may have to complain about!

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Brick #42 – 2 Timothy 1:12

Untitled design“Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

Do you believe what you say that you believe? And do you have lifestyle convictions that lend credibility to your faith?

In the passage preceding this verse, Paul talks about how he has been saved by grace through faith in Christ and has been appointed a herald and apostle of the gospel. This is what he believes and bases his life on. He has experienced persecution and difficulty and torture as a result of his beliefs. His suffering for the sake of the gospel gives his faith credibility. No one doubts that Paul believes what he says he believes because he is willing to suffer and die if that is what it takes to live out his faith. He is not in any way ashamed of the fact that he is a follower of Jesus. What he says reflects this; what he does reflects this; what he endures reflects this.

Where does this kind of conviction come from? As I look at my own life and the Christian culture in general I see very few examples of the kind of conviction that Paul displayed. As I think about this question, there seems to be a past, present, and future element to establishing strong convictions that result in courageous living. Here are my thoughts for what they are worth…

Past: Convictions comes from a genuine encounter with our resurrected Savior – There is an eternal difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. Many people know about Him but knowing about Him does not transform you. Knowing Jesus is transformational. When you meet Him, when you have a genuine encounter with Him, then you are changed. Your life canNOT ever be the same. The things that matter to you change. You begin to care about the things that matter to Him. Convictions begin to develop because you are thoroughly convinced that He is Lord and reigns triumphant in your life. Paul had a life-changing encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that was both overwhelmingly convincing and emphatically convicting.

Present: Convictions come from the Holy Scriptures – As we immerse ourselves in the Word of God, the Spirit of God changes our heart and challenges our mind so that we become convicted of sin in our own lives and in the injustice that we see around us. The Scriptures have the power to pierce through our apathy and indifference; to invade our capricious conscience; to penetrate the fallow and infertile ground of our wayward hearts.  As we are saturated with Truth, God’s Spirit can supernaturally create within us robust convictions that will enable us to stand the strength of any storm that might encroach upon our lives.

Future: – Convictions come from  having a clearly defined end goal – For instance, if my goal is to shed 100 pounds of weight and I have a clear picture of what it takes to get there then I suspect that 2 of my convictions will involve a healthy diet and regular exercise. If my  goal is to stand before the Father upon my death as one who is holy and unashamed then I will develop convictions along the way that will help to steer my choices regarding what I can and cannot do. One of Jonathan Edward’s Resolutions went like this: Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life. Thoughts of death turned his mind to eternal realities, making worldly temptations of the moment seem empty and unattractive. Living as if he was in his last hour helped him keep sinful things at a distance. Having his heart and mind set upon heaven helped him cultivate clear and concise convictions.

May God make us men and women of conviction – men and women who really believe what we say that believe!

Brick #41 – Philippians 4:12-13

Untitled design“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

Contentment is a wonderful thing. But what is genuine contentment and how do you cultivate it in your life?

Jeremiah Burroughs, the Puritan preacher and author of The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, describes contentment this way: “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Think about that for a minute and it will begin to make perfect sense.  It has also been said, “When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need.”

So how do you develop this kind of attitude. Here are a few things that i have learned over the years that perhaps will be helpful…

1) Cultivate a grateful heart – Thank God for what you do have right now , rather than grumbling about what you don’t have. Thank people everyday who come across your path for things that they do and ways that they serve you. People appreciate appreciation! Gratefulness fuels contentment. More and more our society is becoming a society of entitlement. We, as believers, need to model for the world what it means to be grateful for the incredible blessings that we experience everyday. And if you are not aware of these then you are not looking very hard.

2) Cultivate a fierce trust in the sovereignty of God – What I mean by this is that we must acknowledge that God is in control – even when it appears that life is out of control. And we must cling to the promise that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). And we must confess that God “has chosen us before the creation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4) And we must delight in the fact that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” (Ephesians 2:10) And we must worship Him “for in Him all things were created….all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together….”. (Colossians 1:16-18) Believers are not fatalists. Rather, we believe that God has a plan and a purpose  for everything and that He will accomplish His purposes. He is in control. A strong grasp of the sovereignty of God fuels contentment.

3) Cultivate a daily recipience of the strength that God provides – We live in a self sufficient culture. But what we believe is counter cultural. We are taught to rely on ourselves (or the government) to muddle through this life. But as Christians we confess that we are needy people. We can’t do it on our own. We must have the strength that God provides through His Spirit if we are not just going to survive but to thrive in this world. Our prayer each day should be something like this: “God, today would You give me the strength and the courage and the grace and the compassion that I do not have on my own. Would you fill me that I might be used to display Your goodness and Your glory to those around me. I confess my need for You and my dependence upon You.” A daily recipience of the strength that God provides fuels contentment.

“Live near to God, and so all things will appear to you little In comparison to eternal realities.–” Robert Murray McCheyne

May you and I enjoy the contentment that comes from God as we freely submit to and delight in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.

Brick #40 – James 1:2-3

Untitled design“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1:2-3

Is James really serious? I mean does it make any sense at all to to be happy when hardship and difficulty comes our way. No it does not. And that is not what James says. He says, rather, that we should rejoice when we go through tough times. Big difference! No doubt you have heard it said that our happiness depends on our happenings – our circumstances, which more often than not we have little or no control over. But our joy is dependent on our relationship with God and our understanding of His purposes for our lives. God is not concerned so much for our happiness as He is with our holiness.

Here are 3 quotes from Tim Keller’s book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering  that I have found helpful – and a few comments to go along with them.

  • “Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” – (contra means “in contrast to”) Verse 4 of James chapter 1 goes on to say, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you can be mature and complete not lacking anything.” Scripture is full of story after story of how God has used suffering in the lives of His people to bring about His purposes. When we understand that there is a purpose to the difficulties that we go through then they become endurable.
  • “Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story.” – Our redemption was brought about because Christ was willing to endure the suffering of the cross on our behalf. Because He suffered and personally took upon Himself the wrath of God, we will not have to experience the agony of eternal damnation.
  • “Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you.” – One of the great promises of Scripture is that God will be with us. He will be with us in the good times and He will be with us in the tough times. He has said that He will NEVER leave us or forsake us. Suffering is always easier when you are not suffering alone.

Suffering is hard. I don’t wish for it. I don’t pray for it. I’m not looking forward to it. But I know that it will happen because we live in a world that is suffering from the consequences of the Fall. And I do recognize that God can use suffering in our lives to bring about good for us and glory for Him.

Brick #39 – John 10:10

Untitled design“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

This verse does two things: 1) It reminds me that I am in a spiritual battle and what the mission of my enemy is – this is important because it is easy to forget that there is a war being waged in the spiritual realm. 2) It reminds me why Jesus stepped out of heaven and what He wants for my life.

Regarding #1 – One of the best ways to combat the devil’s schemes is to understand his battlefield tactics. This is the reason that C.S. Lewis wrote his classic book The Screwtape Letters.  The Screwtape Letters comprises thirty-one letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood (named after a star in Revelation), a younger and less experienced demon, who is charged with guiding a man toward “Our Father Below” (Devil/Satan) and away from “the Enemy” (God). Here are a few quotes from Screwtape  that give some insight into the enemy’s strategy…

 
  • “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”
  • “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
  • “The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.”
  • “(God) wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”
  • “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
We must never forget that the enemy of our souls is a thief and a liar and a killer who wants to deceive, distract, discourage, and destroy us.
Regarding #2 – Because of my sin I was facing a dark eternal death. But Jesus came that I might have Life. And not just any kind of life but an abundant life. So, what does it mean to live abundantly?
First of all, Jesus is NOT promising a life of wealth and prosperity for believers. He is promising life that is truly life – a life that overflows with joy and gladness and purpose and hope. He is promising a life that is worth living, a life that is God-honoring, a life that is filled with promise and fueled daily by the presence of God. This passage in John 10 where Jesus calls Himself The Good Shepherd is reminiscent of Ezekiel 34 and what the Lord had to say about Israel, His flock:
“12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…” 
Rescue! Pasture! Tend! Feed! Bind up! Strengthen!
Jesus came to give us life. Life that we don’t deserve but that by His glorious grace He gives us anyway. What a Savior!