Archive for July 2015

You Are the Blessing

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Father, how You long to bless Your people with all Your best!
And You Yourself are the gift You most long to give.
You are the prosperity that You pour into our souls.
You are the peace, the harmony, the completeness, the well-being
with which You would fill us and our world.
Your own Spirit is the blessing that You would
breathe and
speak and
sing
throughout all we are
into every corner of the universe.

Father, in You, we are cradled in Your
unfailing love and
absolute dependability.
You are unfailing love.
You are absolute dependability.

In You we possess all things.
In You we possess all the riches of reality
rather than this world’s passing illusions.
You are All-in-all,
the Source,
the Goal, and
the Giver.
Whom do we have in heaven but You?
And on earth, what could we ever need but You?
In life,
in death,
in all the world,
in all eternity,
there is nothing we could want but
the blessing You will soon give in all its fullness:
Yourself.

Living a Relationship

I want to know Christ. (Philippians 3:10, NIV)

Being a Christian is not living a set of rules.
It is living a relationship.

It’s like a marriage.
What God wants most from us is to
love the Lord your God with all your heart . . .
soul . . .
mind and . . .
strength (Mark 12:30).

I’ve learned that when my wife wants something -
when she’s irritable or withdrawn -
what she usually wants is me.
She wants to share with me.
She wants us to truly be together for a while.

Jesus is the same.
When He wants something from me,
He wants me.
Not some great work of service -
me.
He wants me to turn to Him.
He wants to live that moment,
every moment,
in relationship with me.

He wants us to walk together
day-by-day,
step-by-step.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: It’s So Good to Be with You
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The Peace of Jesus

John 14:27-31

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27, NASB)

As Jesus faces all the trouble,
all the suffering,
all the death this world can bring,
He gives us His peace.
His peace is unshaken and unshakable.
It is not just an absence of all conflict.
It is wholeness,
harmony,
completeness,
rightness, and
well-being.
It is an unencumbered relationship with God our Father.

We talk a lot about peace,
but do you truly want it constantly in your heart and life?
The scriptures consistently point us to Jesus Christ:

Christ came to bring us peace. (Luke 2:14)

In the midst of our hardships,
we can enjoy His peace. (John 16:33)

Christ has made us right with God,
giving us peace with Him. (Romans 5:1)

The Kingdom of God is not temporary, physical pleasure,
but righteousness, joy, and
peace in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)

As we bring our concerns to Christ,
He wraps us in His peace. (Philippians 4:4-7)

Love, joy, and peace are the fruit of
the Spirit of Christ within us. (Galatians 5:22)

Christ gives us His peace, and
it is unlike any other.
It is not vague, temporary, or shallow.
It is not a serene setting or a passing mood.
It is a full, rich, unchanging well-being in God that
will not fade in and out with changing circumstances.
It will not change, because God does not change.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Pass the Peace of Christ
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The Lord Bless You

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Numbers 6:22-27

One of the most familiar blessings in the Bible is also one of the earliest. After God had delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, He spent 40 years leading them through the desert wilderness, testing them, teaching them, and forming them into His own people. During those years He gave this blessing to Moses and asked him to give it his brother, Aaron, and to Aaron’s sons, God’s priests in Israel. God told them to speak this blessing to the people of Israel:

The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26, NASB)

God delights to bless His people, and He wants us to know that He delights to bless us. But more than that, He wants to put His blessing in our mouths. He gives us chances to speak the Lord’s blessing over the lives of others, and to be blessed by God through the words of others. God wraps His people in the giving and receiving of His blessings.

But here, what specific blessings does God ask to be spoken by and to His people?

  • God is keeping us. He is always watching over His people. Read Psalm 121, which is a beautiful picture of God keeping constant watch over those He loves.
  • The Lord not only turns His face toward us, but He causes His face to shine on us. His face is the light of His love, and it beams on all of us and each of us. We are the focus of His joyful concern and personal care.
  • God is gracious toward us. He works to give us His very best, even though we don’t deserve it.
  • The Lord blesses us with His peace – not only with relief from conflict, but with harmony, fruitfulness, and complete well-being in Him.

Look particularly at v.27. This blessing, and all the blessings of God that we speak to each other, are not empty, pious wishes. They are God’s blessings. God has decreed the well-being of His people. We are simply His instruments, His spokespersons, speaking His blessings into the lives of others.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: God Blesses His People
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Live with the End in View

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26, NASB)

Moses had a choice. He could identify with his birth family, who were Hebrew slaves, or with his adoptive family, the royal house of Pharaoh, one of the most powerful families on earth. Identifying with Pharaoh would have meant privilege, respect, comfort, and wealth. Identifying with a slave race meant sharing their bitter oppression in all its forms.

Moses walked away from the royal family and instead embraced the difficulties, danger, and disgrace of being the leader of the Hebrew slaves. Why? Because he chose what was right and best in the long-term over short-term comfort. The reproach of Christ (Hebrews 11:26) held more appeal and satisfaction for him than all the pleasures and treasures of an Egyptian palace.

In Hebrews 13, the writer describes how Jesus chose to take our reproach, our curse upon Himself. He suffered outside the camp (v.11) as the disgraced and discarded corpse of a sin sacrifice. In v.13, the writer urges us:

So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. (NASB)

That’s what Moses chose to do: willingly bear the suffering and reproach of Christ. Christ had accepted the reproach that rebellious sinners had heaped on God His Father (see Romans 15:13). We are urged to share that reproach, that reviling, ill-treatment, and disgrace.

When Moses made that choice, according to Hebrews 11:26, he was looking to the reward. Does that mean that actually, he was simply seeking what was best for himself in the long-run? In the gospels, Jesus often emphasizes our heavenly reward as the reason we should choose God over sin. Is our reason for obeying God to simply gain the best outcome for ourselves? Is Jesus endorsing shallow and selfish motives for doing the right thing?

No, Hebrews 11 gives a different perspective. It repeatedly praises those who make the right long-term decisions, in spite of short-term suffering. Such decisions prove their faith in God. Their actions demonstrate their conviction that God is who He says He is and will do all He says He will do. This is the faith that pleases God (vv.1-5).

That’s the faith that Moses lived.

Father, in Your loving plans for Your children,
suffering is always a means to a good end.
It is only a transition,
never a destination.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Captives of Eternal Love
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When We Fail

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, NIV)

What should you do when you find you have forgotten God for a while? Don’t beat yourself up. Simply turn to Him again, admit your failure, and continue joyfully walking with Him. Your sadness is a sign of your love and desire for Him.

What should you do when you realize you’ve sinned? Don’t be discouraged. Admit it. “That is just like me! I cannot do anything right without God.” Confess your sin and confidently petition His grace, focusing not on your sin, but on His merits.

Then return to your normal work, and never let your mind go back. Put yourself completely in God’s hands for life and death, for time and eternity.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Father, I’ve Failed You
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Jesus Models Forgiveness

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read Luke 23:32-48

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NIV)

Imagine that you are Jesus on the day of His death. Look around. Who do you see?

  • the religious leaders, proud, self-righteous, angry, blind to their own murderous jealousy
  • Judas, a close friend whose heart had wandered and who turned you in for a few pieces of silver
  • the disciples, who lived with you for three years then fearfully deserted you in your time of trouble
  • Pilate, who sensed the truth but was too weak to act on it
  • Herod, who held your life in his hands but was only concerned with his own entertainment
  • sadistic soldiers, to whom you were cruel sport
  • a thief hanging next to you, taunting You in an effort to save himself
  • the crowd of people, a mixture of mindless mob and curiosity seekers.

In short, you’re surrounded by humanity. To them, you’re a criminal, a blasphemer, a financial opportunity, a pawn, a scapegoat, a fool, a buffoon. Your pain is their afternoon’s entertainment. You’ve given yourself for these people, and they’re crushing you with their indifference, injustice, torture, humiliation, and the most agonizing death they can devise.

Every fiber of your being is screaming in pain and begging for relief. You are in your final moments. What is on your mind?

Most people being crucified would have filled their last hours with angry curses and bitterness. Read Jesus’ words. Listen as He speaks them. What is on His heart during these moments?

Forgiveness. Forgiveness fills His mind, His heart, and His words. Forgiveness for the proud, the cruel, the ignorant, the fearful, the weak. Forgiveness for us.

In Him, pain and injustice never overwhelmed love. In His final moments, with His final life breath, He completed His beautiful portrait of our loving, forgiving Father.

Your Unique Place of Service

For years I felt that God had called me to one specific task. I would get impatient with Him when He seemed intent, as He often did, on diluting my focus. Why did He continually drain away my precious-little time on other obligations, other responsibilities outside my one, all-important “calling”?

At age 65, I finally have a little perspective on that issue. I look honestly at myself, and I freely admit that I am not the world’s best at anything I have done. I am not the world’s best composer. I am not the world’s best author or lyricist. I am not the world’s best Bible scholar or publisher or teacher. I never will be.

But I am one of the few people whom God has specially prepared to combine and integrate all those abilities. My uniqueness is not in one special ability, but in one special combination of abilities. In my college years, when He drew me to study classical music composition, far outside my musical comfort zone, He had a purpose. When He led me to leave the conservatory halfway through a masters and teach at a small Bible college, He had a purpose. When He sent me to Kansas City, far away from family support, to work in the demanding field of church music publishing, He had a purpose. All those years when I longed to spend every spare moment writing, and He had me invest those hours studying the Bible to teach an adult Sunday School class, He had a purpose. Through every twist and turn and mystery of my life, He had a purpose.

Stay flexible as the all-wise, almighty God stretches you in various directions. Be patient through all the waiting and all the side-trips, through the alluring successes and discouraging failures. You never know what skills, experiences, and perspectives He is combining in you for some very special role, some very special ministry He has reserved just for you.

I Am from You

God, in a way, our relationship is private and personal,
one that You and I share alone.
It’s an organic relationship,
as fundamental as my substance,
as my existence.
I am from You.

I turn back to You now as demands leave me
uncertain and
seeking support.
I am from You.

I don’t just have my source in You.
I’m not a child now seeking independence.
I am a part of You once ripped away,
now seeking reunion.
You are life, and I am alive.
You are reality, and I exist.
You are air, and I am a breath.

Father, I am from You.
Make us one again, I pray.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Imagine Your Creator’s Breath
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The Unforgiving Servant

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read Matthew 18:21-35

Jesus taught about forgiving others most vividly in His parable found in Matthew 18:21-35.

In the ancient world, slaves could become highly responsible and trusted members of the household, and thus a huge debt owed by a slave was plausible.

To understand “ten thousand talents” (v.24), consider this. One talent was what a laborer might earn in half a lifetime. The slave could not have paid this debt in five thousand lifetimes. Ten thousand talents was approximately three hundred tons of silver. But ten thousand was the largest numeral for which a Greek term exists, and a talent was the largest measure of money. Thus when Jesus, the master storyteller, talks about ten thousand talents, He is using the largest amount of money He could express. In our current slang, He might say that the servant owed a gazillion dollars.

The one hundred denarii owed by the second slave was only about three to four months wages, or 1/600,000 of the first servant’s debt. In asking for relief from his debt, the second slave used roughly the same words as the first (vv.26, 29). The response was different only because of the unforgiving heart of the servant.

In the end, their generous master would forgive a huge debt. But he would not forgive his servant’s refusal to share his generosity. The unforgiving servant wanted “justice,” so he got it.

Paul put the same teaching this way: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32, NIV).

But sometimes the wrongs done to us wound us on a deep, emotional level. We want to forgive, and perhaps we have forgiven on a rational level, but we continue to have ill feelings about the person who wronged us. If you struggle with this:

  • Pray sincerely for the person every time they come to mind.
  • Realize that the God you love, loves that person very much and understands them. Put their wrong on His account, and you will still owe Him more than you can ever pay.
  • Bitter, angry thoughts are Satan’s temptations, pure and simple. Refuse to embrace them. Pray for God’s help every time those feelings arise.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: The Joy of Forgiveness
Recording
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