Archive for December 2015

A Fascinating Person

from the book, ONE WITH OUR FATHER 

John 2

We hear a lot about Jesus from various sources. But have you ever been personally curious about Him? Have you ever wanted to decide for yourself? Just get a Bible and read one of the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

You’ll find Him a truly unique, fascinating individual. He was always His own person, but in an unselfconscious way. Talk about “marching to the beat of a different drummer,” He lived with an open line to God His Father. Jesus listened to Him and talked to Him freely. He loved Him and lived to please Him. He only said what the Father told Him to say, only did what the Father led and enabled Him to do. Jesus made Himself totally dependent on His Father. He trusted Him completely and constantly.

As a result, He was amazing. He was radical. He was confrontive and fearless. He was natural. He was gentle.

He taught grand truths by telling stories – simple stories drawn from common, everyday life.

The needs of people moved Him to compassion. And when He was moved, He always did something to meet the need. He taught. He healed. He fed. He gave of Himself and whatever He had.

His ministry lasted only three short years. There was so much to do, and He was always active, always about His Father’s work. Yet He never seemed hurried or tense. I guess that’s one of the things I admire most about Him. While He was single-minded and focused, He never bristled at interruptions. He was always open to people and their concerns.

Jesus came to show us what God our Father is like and how He feels about us. The picture is a beautiful one.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Knowing the Father in the Son
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Lust

Too often we approach the Bible fearfully, with this question in mind: “How much would it cramp my lifestyle if I followed the Bible?” We seem to assume that we’ve already found the happiest way to live. We wonder how much we’d have to compromise that to please God.

But are we really perfectly happy? Doesn’t our loving Creator know the happiest, the best, the most natural way to live?

For example, Jesus spoke these words:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28, NIV)

Seems like a tough standard, doesn’t it?

But if you’ve tasted lust, you know that it’s like any other addiction. It starts with an offer of pleasant stimulation. So simple. So innocent. But it’s progressive. It pulls you in, step by step. It demands more and more, and before you know it, you’re on a downhill slide with no power to stop.

The result: shame, humiliation, corrupted thoughts, and a tarnished relationship with the one dearest to you. Unless you find a way to uproot the lust, it will one day bear very bitter fruit.

So what is Jesus saying to us here? “If you want to do yourself one great big favor, don’t take that first look.”

If you’ve been down that road, you know the wisdom of what He’s saying: If you want to be happy with your mate, never allow yourself to be stimulated in any other direction. Even in our sex-soaked culture, that one simple principle applies. It’s practical. It works.

Focus all your love – body, mind, and spirit – on that person alone. Devote yourself to pleasing him or her. Reserve for yourself life’s greatest sexual pleasure: loving only one person for a lifetime.

That’s your Creator’s precious gift to you. Treasure it. Cherish it. Protect it.

And if you’ve traded that gift, turn back to Him. Repent and ask for forgiveness and restoration. You’ll find Him a God who loves to give second chances. He is glad to heal, renew, and restore.

Your Creator has a happier life for you. He really does.

Turn to Him. Trust Him.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: As I Trust You
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Words That Never Pass Away

John 14:24; Matthew 24:35 

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35, NIV)

Have you ever stopped to consider these words of Christ? How incredibly, unbelievably bold a claim!

In August 2010 Google estimated that there were nearly 130 million different books in the world. Millions more are released each year. That’s right, millions! Visit any used bookstore, and you’ll get a tangible, sobering view of the fate of most published words. Walk past the dusty shelves and peruse the dated, decaying books. Welcome to the graveyard of human “truth”! With lots of focus, hard work, and “luck,” publishers occasionally get a book that survives in active circulation for a few decades. Rarely does anything last beyond that.

Here is a Jewish peasant in a tiny corner of the world, never published, never holding any position of influence in society, many centuries before the printing press, with absolutely no means of mass communication, simply speaking words out into the air. Only a handful of His closest friends were listening, and in society’s eyes they were as unlettered and unimportant as He. Yet He claimed that His words would never pass away, even when heaven and earth were long gone. Not even the greatest human classics could pretend to such a status.

How could He say that?

“These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:24, NIV)

Jesus’ confidence was in His Father. He knew that the word of the sovereign Lord of all reality would never pass away. He speaks, and it is so. Matter obeys His will. No force can oppose Him. No change touches Him. As long as Jesus spoke the Father’s word, His words would never pass away.

God’s Word is our confidence as well. The very best of human “truth” is permeated with ignorance and weakness, selfishness and change.

Do not put your trust in . . . human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing. (Psalm 146:3-4, NIV) 

God’s Word is pure, sovereign, and unchanging. As we trust Him, we are on immovable ground.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Your Sovereign Word
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God Born Among Us

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Isaiah 8:19 – 9:7

Isaiah 8:19-22 describes the fate of those who ignore God. When times get tough and they face the ultimate issues of life, they will know only distress, despair, and darkness.

But what a contrast in the verses that follow, Isaiah 9:1-5! Isaiah strains to adequately communicate wonderful, unbelievable blessings that will come to the neediest of God’s people – blessings that are far beyond their experience and imagination. These blessings will be like:

  • A Great Light where there had been only gloom and darkness (vv.1-2)
  • A gladness and joy as at a bountiful harvest, or as when they receive a financial windfall (v.3)
  • A sense of complete freedom as when we’ve finally been released from a long and difficult oppression (v.4)
  • A deep and permanent peace as when war has ended forever (v.5)

What will bring these indescribable, unimaginable blessings? The birth of a child – a child who will become a great, eternal, magnificent, and righteous King.

In the Bible, names often signify who a person truly is – that person’s character, purpose, and importance. A name is more than a label for someone. It is the person’s identity. And if names could describe this magnificent King, what would His names be?

  • Wonder of a Counselor
  • God of Might
  • Father of Eternity
  • Prince of Peace 

He will rule forever with perfect justice and righteousness. He and His decisions will always be just and right as God Himself is just and right. The peace, harmony, and complete well-being of His Kingdom will grow and grow forever.

How can we be sure that these incredible promises will actually be fulfilled? Because the burning, unquenchable love of the Unchanging God, I AM WHO I AM, Lord of All the Heavenly Armies, guarantees it!

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Isaiah 9
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Luke 6:1-11

 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge…
who are you to judge your neighbor?
(James 4:12, NIV)

Lord, when I judge others, I am like the Pharisees. My “righteousness” is cold and small, unloving and unlovely.

I criticize rather than encourage.

I push others down that I might pull myself up.

I condemn and analyze rather than love and give.

I am proud rather than repentant.

My small, narrow notions try to force Your great mercy into my tiny box.

Who am I to judge or criticize someone else? I am unqualified. I am unworthy. I need Your mercy as much as they.

Forgive me, gracious Lord, forgive me.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit
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Look to the Horizon

As you trust yourself to God,
what is your destiny?
When His purpose is complete,
who will you be?

Look to the man Jesus Christ.
See His moment-by-moment relationship with the Father.
See His calm sufficiency in every situation.
See His complete dependence on the Father,
His full submission,
His calm confidence,
His unbroken peace.
See His selfless love toward everyone around Him,
both friends and persecutors.
See the Father’s goodness and greatness
radiating from Him.

See Jesus Christ.
He is the Father’s desire for you and
His promise to you.
He is the grand horizon toward which our race is moving.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Christ Is Our Horizon
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His Treasured Possession

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read Deuteronomy 7:6-11; 14:1-2; 26:16-19

God makes clear throughout scripture that He wants us to fear Him. That is, He wants us to believe that He is all He says He is, and to respond to Him accordingly. He is our Creator. He is holy, almighty, and all-wise. He is transcendent and sovereign, unbounded by matter, space, or time. How can we not trust, obey, and worship such a God?

But He also wants us to know how much He cares for us and how much He values us. He longs for us to glimpse how wonderful it will be for Him to be truly, fully with us.

“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:4-6, NASB)

The word translated above as “own possession” is a fascinating and meaningful one. Generally, it refers to personal property.

It can also be translated “special treasure”. For example, it is sometimes used to refer to the vast personal treasures of a king. Ecclesiastes 2:8 says that accumulating such treasures is sheer vanity.

But God repeatedly states that His people are “His special treasure” (see Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psalm 135:4). In Malachi 3:16-18, He says that those who fear Him become His personal possession, His special treasure, and He will never forget them.

These passages are the original inspiration behind several familiar New Testament scriptures:

[Christ] gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:14, NASB)

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9, NASB)

When we trace this term, the inescapable truth is this: the greatest wealth is not anything we possess. It is being possessed by God.

Loving Difficult People

We who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. (Romans 15:1, NASB)

Lord, I’m glad to love and serve other people…as long as it’s convenient and reasonably comfortable. I’m willing to give a little money to feed the hungry.

But You want me to bear with those who are weak in other ways, ways that may be inconvenient and uncomfortable for me. You call me to love those are who struggling with emotional scars, blind spots, moral problems, and disordered lives. You call me to be compassionate when hidden fears cause unpredictable and volatile reactions.

Lord, You have always fully accepted me, with all my problems. Help me do the same for others.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Your Thoughts, Your Words
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Share in Christ

Consider the people nearest to Jesus during His life on earth:
His mother,
His father,
His disciples.
Those closest to Him shared His sufferings.
In their own degree, they bore what Jesus bore.
Their relationship with that one man cost them everything.

For them, the mysteries of the transcendent God weren’t abstract and far away.
They witnessed those mysteries close up.
They tasted them.
They journeyed through them.
They wrestled with them daily –
the light, the darkness,
the privilege, the pain,
the waiting, the questions, the wrenching self-sacrifice.

For each, it started with a personal call.
They sensed it was the call of the Living God,
and that decided their response,
though they couldn’t see the end from the beginning.
Mary answered the angel,
“I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38, NIV).
Joseph obeyed a dream and took a pregnant woman as his fiancé.
The disciples, average working men with deep local connections,
dropped everything familiar and
followed a homeless, itinerant teacher.

The price was real,
but the result was life rich beyond imagination,
permeated with truth and peace,
love and fruitfulness,
eternal meaning and undying glory.
That is still the price and the reward for all who share in Christ. 

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Partners in the Mystery
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Walk with God

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Read Genesis 5:21-24; 24:40; 48:15; Malachi 2:6

In the Garden of Eden, before God’s open, natural fellowship with us was destroyed by sin, it apparently was God’s practice to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day.

Now read the brief account of Enoch in Genesis 5:21-24. According to this list, Enoch was the seventh generation of Adam’s line. Twice in four verses we’re told that Enoch walked with God (vv.22, 24). As a result, Enoch did not die as most other men did and do. God was so pleased with Enoch that He took him directly to Himself.

But Enoch was not the only person who walked with God:

  • The Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1, NASB)
  • When Abraham was nearing death, he summarized his life by saying that he had walked before God (Genesis 24:40).
  • Just before Jacob’s death, as he was blessing Joseph, he said that his fathers Abraham and Isaac had walked before God, and that God had been his shepherd all his life (Genesis 48:15).
  • God’s priests were to walk with Him in peace and uprightness (Malachi 2:6).
  • The prophet Micah summed up our whole obligation to God this way:

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, NASB)

All these people from various ages and times were to please God by walking with Him or walking before Him. Such walking suggests something done regularly, repetitively, continually, day after day. It suggests living in God’s presence, in ongoing fellowship with Him, in contact with Him and in response to Him.

What a beautiful way to live! Many have experienced it, and God wants it for you and with you.

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