Our nation is in desperate need of change. We are anything but united. Large portions of our country long for things to be different. The recent election resulted in a new occupant of the White House which pleased some and angered others. There has been a long, loud and increasingly angry cry from a segment of society for justice. Prayerfully, someday the forces behind the voices on all sides of the spectrum will realize that Washington cannot solve the root of all of the world’s problems. They are simply putting band aids on symptoms.
The real issue plaguing our nation is embedded in a much deeper place. We see violence. Our eyes can detect that, and we can identify the anger that is expressed verbally in words and visually in actions. It is obvious, but the “why” behind it all is not. Fingers are pointed, the shouts get louder and nothing is solved. Feelings are stirred, but everything remains the same. Legislation might control behavior but cannot touch what truly ails us.
America has a spiritual problem. God has been shoved to the side. Children have been taught for generations that they are nothing more than a highly developed animal. There is no place for the concept of being specially created on purpose. There is a reason that each of us is here. We are not simply the product of random coincidences that resulted in humans. We have had our true identity stolen from us and are seeing the consequences. Life is futile and pointless.
There is no concept of the eternal. Everything is for the moment. Eat, drink and be merry is the feel-good philosophy of our time. Let nothing or no one get in the way. Even the ultimately innocent unborn is at risk. A view of life in which there is nothing beyond this world is hopeless. The future extends only to a graveyard. Everyone is scratching and clawing for their little bit of heaven on earth, because there is nothing beyond.
The cure for our national illness is the Lord. It makes our mission of being light-bearers urgent. Darkness has descended on our nation; and no courtroom, laws or politician can touch the human heart which is the genuine problem. Deep within each individual is an itch which only God can scratch. People have tried sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. They failed. There is no temporary fix for an eternal need.
The word of God probes the heart (Hebrews 4:12-13). It touches internal nerves and opens up our private intentions for inspection. The Lord sees far beneath the surface and that is where His interest lies. Do we dare look? Words and deeds originate there. That is where it all begins (Proverbs 4:23). Our lives are governed by our hearts. No, the world is not fair. It never has been since people snatched their hearts away from God.
Nothing turns our life around quite like faith. It takes our minds to an eternal dimension. Living in a purely physical world presents challenges to our commitment to an unseen God who resides in an invisible realm. Our impulse is to gravitate to that which we can see and touch. Satan is very convincing, and lures us into the tyranny of the temporary.
It is the here-and-now that clashes with the eternal. The parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-8) makes clear that the productivity of the harvest depends on the soil not the seed. It is an easily understood story that shines a light on a spiritual reality that Jesus explains later in the chapter (Verses 11 through 15). The response to the word of God is determined by the condition of the heart of the one who hears. The Lord’s message finds persistent interference from the devil and his worldly tools of pain and pleasure, both of which are momentary.
There is constant competition for our loyalties. Satan will give us a long list of reasons not to spend time in Bible study. There is no other way to cultivate genuine soul-saving faith, and he will seek to block us at every turn. Pressures from our daily obligations will consume our time. The Lord will be pushed to the edge of our schedule, then totally off. Both good times and hard times stifle us. It requires dedication and the intent to fortify our faith to survive such a maze of obstacles. It will not happen by accident.
Faith is a step into the unseen. All is not always clear to us as we make this journey. Our steps are often hesitant and unsteady. Trust is essential. Believing in the goodness of our Father, and that He is 100% trustworthy sees us through those puzzling days of our pilgrimage. Like the recently liberated Israelites fresh from Egyptian slavery, we sometimes long to go back to the secure provisions of the old ways. Many will stumble along the way. Old habits are hard to break, and there is no magic pill for it. The Lord awaits us at the finish line. We are on the way to be with the One who loves us infinitely. Faith eliminates anything that hinders us from getting to Him.
The evil one manipulates the ways of the world to fit his agenda (1 John 5:19), and he makes them deceptively attractive. He draws people into his trap, and they become his unsuspecting slaves (2 Timothy 2:26). Of course, very few of us would willingly serve him but he has been the master of disguise from the very beginning. Faith breaks those chains of guilt and the tyranny of the temporary. Faith sees beyond the horizon of time to focus on the Lord of eternity, knowing that He is a God who rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
Peter, James and John never expected what awaited them on top of the mountain that day (Matthew 17:1-8). Jesus led them up, and they witnessed the most remarkable sight imaginable. Moses and Elijah stood before them along with their Lord. In his excitement, Peter had a notion to build something to commemorate the moment, and that is when heaven spoke brief but unforgettable words which included a single command, “Listen to Him.”
We are in the embryonic stage of a new year which is the perfect time for cultivating the habit of listening before we do anything else. It will lead us in the right direction as we couple that with our forty days of prayer. We hear His voice through Scripture and speak to Him in prayer, both seeking and asking for His guidance. It all begins with the Lord, “Listen to Him.”
Peter would have engaged in a building project that God never intended if he would have carried out his plan. It raises the question of how many human schemes have been concocted, financed and carried out that the Lord never wanted simply because people did not investigate the word of God to find out if that is what He desired. They did not take the time to “Listen to Him.”
Adam and Eve paid a steep price for turning a deaf ear to the Lord (Genesis 3). Two voices competed for their attention, and they listened to the wrong ones. She listened to the serpent, he listened to her and both forfeited paradise. The whole world suffered as a result. Consequences of not listening have always reverberated in wide circles.
The list of those who have ignored divine directions is long including even the faithful. King David allowed his wandering eyes to overrule his listening ears and he wandered into adultery and a murder conspiracy. Religious leaders through the ages have succumbed to the temptations of the devil. He has a deep bag of deceitful tricks to deafen our ears, divert our eyes and lead us off into destruction. Underestimating him is a tragic mistake.
David’s son Solomon was a man of great God-given wisdom, but he had a terrible blind spot or deaf spot might be more accurate (1 Kings 11). God had prohibited relationships with foreign women, because they would invariably affect their hearts. He ignored the warning and suffered exactly as he had been told. His heart was turned away from God, he fell into idolatry and the Lord was furious. It was quite a tumble that he never saw coming. He should have. He had been warned.
Life is a long and winding road. Scripture warns of pitfalls and speed bumps that are over the hill and around the curve. God sees what we cannot and knows our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. “Listen to Him.” Words to the wise from the Father of our Savior.
We began 2020 with our customary forty days of prayer and an emphasis on vision. The goal was to begin the year with a deeper look at God and ourselves. Such reflection should lead us to a greater appreciation of our Creator, the Savior and our dependence on Him. What we did not anticipate is what the next twelve months would hold. It provided a dramatic backdrop to bring everything more sharply into focus.
The headline of the year might be shared with the pandemic and the racial unrest that spread across our country. Both opened our eyes in different ways. We saw the need for a foundation that is not shaken by the events that are beyond our control. None of us could have stopped either. We have helplessly watched as covid-19 marched relentlessly around the world. Anger swept through the streets of Minneapolis and subsequent events spread the fury. We watched and could not stop it. They reminded us of just how powerless we are in the grand scheme of things.
We stayed home and wore masks when we finally did cautiously venture out. Worship stopped temporarily as we pondered how to handle that which we could not see, control or understand. Zoom offered a temporary solution, followed by outdoor services and finally the move back inside with limitations. The fellowship that we had always taken for granted was no longer worry-free. It was certainly an eye-opening time.
Tensions rose with several tragic events involving police. The air was racially charged. Cynical eyes studied those of the other race, whoever they were. Skin color came front and center as the entire country seemed to explode. Marches degenerated into riots and cities burned. People created in the image of God battled other people created in the image of God, and our eyes were forced open a little wider.
Twenty centuries ago, Jesus told His disciples that this world was a troublesome place (John 16:33). Yet, we are surprised when we see the evidence of just how true that is. He came on a mission of mercy and met with rejection, hostility and ultimately crucifixion. He offered the greatest possible gift, and people killed the giver. It is little wonder that we have the mess that we do.
2020 is almost over, and it is doubtful that anyone is sorry to see it go. It has been a unique year, but has it opened our eyes? Improved vision sees life for the gift that it is, one that is not to be squandered but embraced. Illness and death can take it suddenly. Relationships are based on the character of individuals not on their race or occupation. Jesus summed it up rather simply: Love God and love your neighbor. Those are principles that are not dependent on how others behave but on who we are. That is where we need to look first.
Ho! Ho! Ho! And fa la la la…It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Strings of lights and trees are up. Inflatable penguins, snowmen, reindeer and Santas dot the neighborhoods. Grumps are smiling (Well, a few of them! Scrooge is still Scrooge.), atheists are in a rage and parents are in a tizzy with last minute preparations. Amid all of the fuss are those occasional thoughts of a baby in a manger. Although the holiday is all a human concoction, it is a good occasion to reflect on the incarnation of the Son of God.
He was there long before the world. He was God (John 1:1). It is beyond our comprehension to think of being in such a lofty position and choosing to become totally dependent. He was born into a normal human family who was responsible for taking care of the Lord of the universe as an infant. He required feeding, bathing and diaper changing; quite a humbling experience for the one who had always existed in equality with God and created His caretakers.
Most of His early life was spent in obscurity. His “dad” was a carpenter, and we are provided very little information about him. Mom didn’t exactly grab the headlines, either. She was…well…a virgin when she gave birth. That is pretty noteworthy. Her baby was obviously a cut above the norm, so special that His arrival warranted an angelic announcement accompanied by shining glory and a heavenly chorus. The Savior had arrived, and that is amazingly good news, right? Well, not exactly.
He came to His own people and was greeted with rejection (John 1:11). We marvel that so many today turn their backs on the salvation that the Lord offers. We shouldn’t be surprised. His own kin didn’t welcome Him. In fact, they were among the most hostile at the notion of who He was. He behaved contrary to their interpretation of the Law. He healed on the Sabbath. He confronted the leadership with their hypocrisy. Light is seldom welcomed by the darkness. He was no exception.
It didn’t take very long for the civil authorities to join in the opposition. The king could hardly stand the challenge of another “king.” He was hardly willing to share the throne, so he did what authoritarians do. He mandated a wholesale slaughter of every toddler two years old and younger (Matthew 2). It was a grim beginning on His march to the cross. He was born to give His life, but it would happen on His terms and in His time. The world was universally hostile to the Prince of Peace. From the throne of heaven to the “most wanted” category hardly seems like the path to success. That, of course, depends on our definition of “success.” If accomplishing God’s plan to save sinners is in mind, it was perfect. Mission accomplished. Thank you, Lord. Merry Christmas.
It is the journey of a lifetime. Strategies are formed, and steps are taken toward this goal and then the next. Missions are accomplished and targets are hit. A driver’s license. High school and college. A job with a future. Romance and marriage. Success. A house, maybe a second one for vacations. Retirement. Then what? As attractive as this world may appear to be, it is only home for a moment. Then we move on. To where?
There are two roads, both with clearly defined destinations. We choose and travel. One is much easier than the other. The entry is broad and inviting. Virtually anything is permitted and baggage is unlimited. There are few sacrifices and lots of company. It is perpetually marked with signs declaring the fun of the trip, forget the destination. Enjoy the party.
The other road is much more rigorous. Even the onramp is demanding. It requires a change of clothes and leaving the old dirty ones behind, even our favorite sweatshirt that we’ve worn for years. There are perpetual challenges that demand continual references to the directions. Take this turn and avoid that one. Do this not that. We notice very little company along the way. We stretch our eyes to see a solitary figure far ahead of us. We quicken our pace to follow the leader.
As we close the distance, we see scars. The hands that gesture for us to join Him on the journey bear remnants of ugly wounds. The marching feet do, too. His back is marred by stripes that testify of a brutal beating, and His brow shows evidence of a different kind of crown. It is clear that this is a path unlike any other. It is little wonder that very few will choose it.
The choice is not an easy one. It should be but isn’t. Humans are so near-sighted that we don’t see beyond the horizon where our destination lies. The devil knows exactly how to tempt us with the here and now. He immediately attacked the hunger that Jesus surely felt. He dangled worldly power and prestige before the Son of God. He taunted Him with the sensational. His bag of tricks isn’t empty now, either. His deceptions make the destructive way look awfully attractive. We never know when the road will end, only that it will. The word of God makes it clear that we all have an appointment with death that is unavoidable. Both roads take us there and then judgment. Eternity begins and never ends. Never. That makes this decision the only one that will ever matter. Shall we take the narrow, challenging way or the broad, easy way. We’ll have brief diversions along the way and then one final stop that will last forever. Our choice is determined by where we want to spend eternity. Only one road leads to life. Choose wisely.
There can never be a compromise between sworn enemies. One of them must be utterly defeated, which is exactly why the Son of God entered the fray. The Lord watched as the battle raged, and all-too-often the evil one had been victorious. His persuasive deceptions had proven to be nearly impossible to resist, and another prison-of-war had fallen under his spell.
Keeping God at arm’s length will never work because the enemy exploits even the slightest opening. It is a losing strategy. We will never outsmart nor outmaneuver the devil. His slick packaging took fruit that was guaranteed to be fatal and made it appear to be an irresistible life enhancer. He has never lost his skills at peddling lethal products disguised as health food. Don’t let him fool you. They are still terminal, even in small doses. Compromise kills.
Make no mistake about it, we are in life-and-death combat. We yield to one of two field generals, and they will guide us to either victory or defeat. The only way to win is unconditional surrender to the ultimate source of truth who is Himself the truth (John 14:6). There are many imposters in the world who seek our devotion, but we must resist them no matter how attractive they appear. They are losers, always have been and always will be. So are his followers.
The Son of God stepped into the arena to defeat sin and death once and for all. He did not choose to watch at a distance. He could have tossed a war manual down and left the fighting up to us. He didn’t. Instead, He chose to meet the devil on his turf and show us how to fight. We still have our individual battles but the war is already over. The world was in the relentless grip of the father of all lies. He had even infiltrated the covenant people of God. Then came the Savior.
Satan and his soldiers threw all of their heaviest artillery at God the Son. Their troops included the religious and civil authorities. Kings and commoners closed ranks in opposition to the Messiah. Hostilities increased in spite of incomparable compassion and miraculous demonstrations that should have answered all of their questions but didn’t. Hatred knows no reason nor compromise. Evil will not be appeased. Whips tore flesh, thorns adorned the holy brow and ungodly hands nailed divine hands and feet to the cross. He was dead…till Sunday.
The exceeding wickedness of evil was on full display that day. There was no pursuit of middle ground. No compromise. It sought to destroy a perfect man. He had to die. Such is the strategy of the serpent of old, and he is the enemy of the Lord. Each day we awaken to an empty cross, and we choose who will be put on it. Someone is going to die today. Who will it be?
Seek and you will find. It is a profound truth in easily understood words. If we are looking for the bad in people, we will find it. Ditto with the good in them. Days are that way. Life is, too. It makes the decision of what our target will be extremely important. Our thoughts, actions, time and talents will all be affected by it. What are we seeking?
“Seek first the kingdom of heaven and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).” The Lord offered these words immediately after He discussed the misdirected emphasis that those who have no relationship with God have. They are so busy fretting about food and clothes that they miss the reassurance of a loving Father who promises to provide our necessities. Of course, Christians would never make such a mistake, would they?
Seek first means it is a top priority. His kingdom and His righteousness take precedence over everything. It is primary, not secondary. God, who takes care of birds and flowers, is our Father. He knows exactly what we need, and that is revealed in every syllable that is contained in His word. We sometimes get so wrapped up in our worldly worries that we lose sight of the great promises and directions given in His word. Seek and you will find.
David was a man after God’s own heart. He knew the extraordinary victory of taking down a giant with a slingshot, a handful of rocks and the Lord. He also experienced the devastating moral failure that comes when he took his eyes off of God and put them on the girl next door. The king sought the wrong object. The Lord let him. He got what he wanted but never expected the consequences. Seek and you will find. Lust led to adultery which resulted in murder and the death of an innocent child. Be careful what you want.
Jonah ran away from God. He sought distance because he didn’t want to do as he was told. He wanted to get away from the Lord. Storms came as a result. So did a huge fish, a big gulp and Jonah got exactly what he wanted. Life from the inside of a fish’s stomach was not exactly what he expected, but he received his wish. The Lord seemed a long way away. When he got what he wanted, he didn’t want what he got. Seek and you will find.
We seek and we will find. Will the discovery be what we expected? That depends on whether it is consistent with His kingdom and His righteousness or our own “kingdom.” Are we seeking to be the king of our own lives? If so, we may find ourselves eating forbidden fruit like Eve and attempting to be like God, knowing good and evil. Or David and Jonah. Seek and you will find. Simple yet profound, and it never fails. Choose carefully.
The Lord endured the agonizing death of a crucifixion, spent time in a tomb and rose the third day. All authority had been placed in His hands, and He gave directives to His small band of followers. Go make disciples. It did not matter who they were or where they were from. Their history was unimportant. Make students who will follow Me, and teach them of their responsibility to cling tenaciously to my commands. Their life should always be decided by His guidelines. He promised to always accompany them and sent them on their way. Disciples making disciples.
Has the church lost sight of her mission? Buildings are built and programs are implemented. Do they form committed followers of Jesus Christ? It was once observed that preaching should feed the sheep not entertain the goats. Discipleship is the exact opposite of worldliness, but we find methods being adopted which minimize self-denial and maximize self-indulgence. Would the Lord recognize the people who claim to be His? Even more importantly, will He recognize them on the last day? Or will they hear, “I never knew you, depart from me…(Matthew 7:23)?” Are we disciples?
Every life has those back burners. They are for the secondary issues in our lives. We make our own choices about what to put back there. Seldom do we choose self. Yet, Jesus put that at the head of the line when it came to following Him (Luke 9:23). There are no exclusions or exceptions. That begins with the decision to go His way rather than our own, “If anyone wishes to come after Me…” If that is what we want to do, He leads and we follow. Self gets in the way of that and must be pushed onto the back burner.
Selfies capture the essence of our times. People want to be in the picture, right up front. Look at me! The word of God teaches us to recede into the background. We are expected to help the poor, pray passionately and regularly, and exercise spiritual self-discipline but not for human praise (Matthew 6:1-17). God sees, hears, knows and rewards. That is enough.
Following the pathway of Jesus always involves a cross. It is individual and awaits us every single day. No two crosses are exactly alike, and we choose to pick it up. We think of our cross as burdens, and that may be a part of it, but the cross is an instrument of death through which we are crucified to the world and the world to us (Galatians 6:14). The cross changed everything in our decision making. Discipleship is not an easy road. We are perpetually bombarded with what seems to be attractive options. Self-fulfillment and gratification are promised by a culture that is under the influence of the evil one. He used the same deception in the Garden of Eden, and we see how that turned out.
The life of a Christian is consistently described in the Bible in terms of walking. It is not God’s design to give us new life in Christ so that we will complacently sit. It is not a single step but a walk, a journey that is unlike any other. It is through a narrow gate onto the road less traveled. It is on that path that we find life.
Conversion brings us into a new relationship with the Lord. We look to Him for the direction that is best. Our flesh continues to exert pressure on us to do as it demands, but we must not. Our initial steps are uncertain and shaky like a newborn colt. We stagger and fall, disappointed that we have not mastered our own actions. We rise again to try another day. Failure is not permanent but a temporary setback. We are still children of God, and we’ll do better tomorrow.
Growing up is never easy. Whether we are describing physical development or spiritual maturity, we struggle. The Lord understands. He made us, and He knows our weaknesses. He also knows our potential and has expectations expressed through His prophet, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).”
Humility does not come naturally. Our inclination is to strut our independence and hide our shortcomings. It seems inconsistent with maturity to acknowledge weakness, so we try to keep it secret. Yet, it is essential to face up to our need if we want to walk with God. Our self-determined steps will inevitably put us on the wrong track because His ways and ours lead in opposite directions (Isaiah 55:8-9).
A humble submission to Jesus Christ as our Lord will reveal itself in a lifestyle. Christians are no longer slaves to emotions. Yes, those feelings still exist but they are no longer master over us. It involves a conscientious choice to reject that course of action for one dictated by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). Giving the reins of our life to the Lord requires faith that Father knows best. The outcome of that decision produces a fruit so unique that it could only come from the Spirit as we walk with Him.
God has a great love for His children and desires the best for us, both in this life and the next. His word provides His thoughts on how to accomplish that. Now, it is up to us. It involves our decision that we trust Him enough to thrust ourselves completely into His hands, recognizing that we do not know how to go. Total surrender is the only way. Our part is to humble ourselves under His all-powerful hand, and He will take care of the rest (1 Peter 5:6-7). He always has.