Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Bad Place

While most of us, if not all of us, can remember times where life just wasn’t fair to us, I doubt too many of us can say we were in a situation like Joseph’s.  He was separated from his family, hundreds of miles away from those whom he knew, because his siblings sold him.  Let that fact sink in for a few seconds.  Talk about rejection…

So as a young man, just seventeen years old, Joseph finds himself in a strange country, with a different culture, language and religious customs that were all so different than everything he knew.  Joseph wasn’t in a good place.

What strikes me in this passage in Genesis 39 is how God still was ordering Joseph’s steps.  Look at verse 2a, “The LORD was with Joseph and he was a successful man.”  Even in this foreign country, away from everything he previously knew, God was still blessing him. This was a habit in Joseph life because when he is wrongly thrown is prison, again the comment is made how God was with him and “gave him favor” (verse 21).

Learning to follow God and trusting right where you are isn’t all bad.  But too often when we are in situation we don’t like – especially if it is a situation where you, like Joseph, were not put in willingly, we can’t see beyond our current dismal surroundings.

I can’t say this is a quality of mine.  When I’ve been in less than pleasant circumstances, I didn’t look for ways to see that God was blessing me.  Mostly, I whined and complained about my situation.

But God was still with Joseph just as He was with me and He is with you when you find that you aren’t in a good place.  Stay true to Him and look for ways to see God’s blessings in your life.  This isn’t an easy task, but He is there, looking out for His own.

Blessings My Friend

-jm

Declaration of Dependence

Declaration_of_IndependencePsalm 119:89-94a

Each year our nation celebrates July 4th as our national birthday.  It is day we commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  As a group of English colonies, we determined King George III had crossed a line and after great debate, we decided we had enough.  We would break off from the rule of the English crown and become our own independent nation.

While this may be fine for a group of people to oppose tyranny and declare themselves separate, it is completely opposite of the life of a Christian.  Opposed to being totally independent, we are to be completely dependent.

This runs counter to our North American culture as we often say “you can be whatever you want ” or “you can do whatever you want to do!  It’s a free country!”  Except as a Christian, we no longer serve ourselves.  We serve Him and as a result, serve each other.  A Christ-follower isn’t independent, but is very dependent.  We can’t “do whatever we want.”

I think this is what the Psalmist was getting to in Psalm 119:89-95.  I submit this is to be our Declaration of Dependence.

Just as our founding document is written is a few sections, so is our Declaration of Dependence.

 

Vs 89-91 Observation

One gets the idea the Psalmist took a long walk outside and looked up into the heavens and became overwhelmed with the beauty, clock-like precision, complexity and constant presence of the stars.  This seems particularly plausible when you read the previous verses of Psalm 119.  In verses 81-88, he seems discouraged by his situation.  He finally pleads in verse 88, “Revive me according to Your loving-kindness.”   In context, it seems that he became so distraught, he walked outside and was suddenly encouraged by the majesty of God’s creation.

He makes these claims:

In verse 89, “Forever, oh LORD Your Word is settled in heaven”

Verse 90, “Your faithfulness endures to all generations, You established the Earth and it abides (stands).

And finally in verse 91, “They continue this day according to Your ordinances.”

No matter what problem I am experiencing, one look into the heavens helps re-size things for me.  Our God is bigger.  He (and His Word) is forever.  He is faithful.  Always has been, always will be.  Everything continues at His command.

God handles the universe just fine.  Planets aren’t running into each other.  Stars aren’t changing places over observable time.  The sun comes up every morning from the east and sets in the west.  He’s never messed that up had the sun rising over the South Pole.  Once I can realize the faithfulness of God handling the heavens, I can easily conclude, He’s got my problems under control.

God is way bigger than any thing we’re facing.  He created this universe with His Word (Psalm 33:6).  He is huge and our problems are so insignificant when we put them in comparison to Him.  Yet we can easily become enthralled in our situation and while we may not speak these words, we conclude, God can’t resolve this problem for me.

If I can step back and observe just a small segment of His work, I can re-order my problems.  While they still exist and I still need to face the battles before me each day, I can go through my day knowing, He is faithful to all generations and He established the Earth and it continues.  He’s got this.

 

Vs 92 – Conclusion

 Based off his observation, of how faithful God is, he makes this statement in verse 92, “Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”  While I believe ‘law” here means His Word, I think it has another application for us by meaning by His direction for my life.   In other words, if it wasn’t for Your direction, Your command, Your intervention, I would not have survived.

Solomon tells us, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).  I am successful and content when I am following His path, His direction for my life.  I need to delight (and rest) in His plans for me.  Without His directive, I wouldn’t survive.

 

Vs 93-94a Declaration

 Near the end of our Declaration of Independence, there is this famous line,

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America,….solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”

 According to verse 94 and 95, our declaration is the opposite.

“I will never forget Your precepts.  For by them, You have given me life.  I am Yours” (emphasis mine).

As Christians, we are declaring, I will never turn against You.  You are the provider of life to me and therefore my life is Yours.  It isn’t mine.  I am declaring my complete dependence on You.  It is not unlike Paul’s point in Colossians 3:1 where he says, “For you died, and your life is hidden in Christ.”  Many times Paul and even the LORD’s brother James (James 1:1) refer to themselves as “slaves.”  Jesus claimed “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

As a disciple of Jesus, I am to follow His command.  It makes no difference whether I agree with it or not.  It changes nothing if I like His command or not or whether it’s convenient or not.  None of that matters as far as His command to me.  If I am a Christian, I am to follow Him.

Yet too often, we get caught up in our “rights.”  We at times end up demanding things from other people.  We want our “voice to be heard” or respected.  We don’t like it when our feelings get hurt or if situations don’t turn out as we expect.  Sometimes we wallow in a sense of self-respect thinking, “I am owed better than this.”  When in reality, we are owed nothing.

As a follower of Jesus, my life is not my own.  We must declare like the Psalmist, “I am Yours.”

I can make that declaration because when I observe His works, put my issues into perspective, conclude He is directing my life and arrive at the point where I say, “I will never forget Your precepts.  You have given me life.  I am Yours.

That is our Declaration of Dependence.

 

The Desert

There is a simple verse in Acts chapter 8 that I think we often ignore. At least we don’t talk about it when we discuss the concept when we are talking about successful ministry.

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. – Acts 8:26 NKJV

Early in this same chapter, he leads many people to Jesus. A well known practitioner of “the magic arts,” often we refer to as “Simon the Sorcerer,” was converted to Christianity. There were great miracles happening at the hand of Philip. There was so much excitement about God was doing in Philips ministry, he got a visit for the big guys, Peter and John. Rather amazing stuff going on don’t you think?

What is striking to me is that Philip is called away from a very successful ministry. In the midst of this great revival, God calls Philip away from Samaria and tells him to “go south” toward Gaza. Then just so we understand where this is, Luke (the author of Acts) describes this as “desert.”  When I think of desert, I think of hot, dry, sand… lots of sand, and more hot and dry. Not exactly a nice Hawaiian beach.

3 things have been coming into focus surrounding these verses:

1. God will sometimes call us away from all the successful ministry activity.

Looking at things from a non-spiritual perspective, this idea is totally wrong. Why leave great success and head to the dry desert? Simply put, God doesn’t call us just to ministry where looks fun or where all the excitement is. Phillip had to leave the exciting place of ministry to go serve in a dry place.

2. Phillip went to the desert alone.

To me, this might be the hardest part of this whole concept. We have no account of how Philip handled this or if he resisted this call of God in any why. But I have to think there was a good chance he was given plenty of advice from those serving around him, “Why would you leave this exciting place and head to the desert?” God didn’t call Peter and John or anyone else to go to the desert like He told Philip. This was the calling for Philip and he alone was responsible for his obedience to God’s direction.

3. In the desert, God puts individuals in our path that we never would have encountered if we remained in the exciting place.

Read the rest of that chapter. God places Philip right where he needs to be to reach that Ethiopian eunuch. God had a reason to remove Philip from the excitement of Samaria and it was to ministry to this guy. Reminds of some advice I was given years ago about serving God right where you are – no matter how much you hate being there.

I can only speak for myself, but I have noticed that God many times directs this way. Yet we often resist this concept. We want to be called into bigger or bigger ministry ventures. Or desperately long to be in our own “Samaria” where ministry is exciting. We’ll say “I’ll go anywhere to serve you God,” but if He places us in a desert, we cry out to Him as if He’s rejected us.

I just wonder if many times we are called to be more like Philip and serve Him right where we are – even if it’s a desert, and quit longing for something else. I mean, didn’t we say He could use us anywhere or did we only mean a place with nice people, temperatures consistently in the 70’s serving people who already have it all together?
So, next time someone preaches a ministry call or challenge at your church, remember… God might call you to some exciting place with great things going on. Or He may send you to some quiet, dry, out of the way desert area to reach one person.
Chew on that awhile…

Blessings My Friend
-jm

Eight Things We Can Pray For That God Always Grants

Psalm 119:33-40
A few days ago I posted some things I noticed about Psalm 119:57-64 which describe some indicators of a mature believer. Continuing my study of the longest chapter in the Bible, I also discovered some verses where the Psalmist clearly is asking God for some things. As I thought this over, I realized these are always things God grants to us – if we are sincerely looking to Him in these areas.
I’m not a name-it-and-claim-it guy (although I often wonder if I’d see more miracles in my life if I’d just trust and ask Him more), but these verses from Psalm 119:33-40 seem to be things all of us can be confident that God wants to grant to us – if we ask Him.
Vs 33 – “Teach me O LORD the way of Your statues”

I recently read in the Christian Post this paragraph:

According to the 2014 “The State of the Bible” report by Barna Group and American Bible Society, a majority of U.S. adults (81 percent) said they consider themselves highly, moderately or somewhat knowledgeable about the Bible. Yet less than half (43 percent) were able to name the first five books of the Bible. The statistics are similar to the previous 2013 report which also showed that only half knew that John the Baptist was not one of the 12 apostles.

From the antidotal evidence I’ve experienced, I would agree with those statements. But this doesn’t need to be! God wants to show us or teach us things from His Word. Anyone who really wants to know His Word can always pray confidently “God teach me Your Word.” He always grants that request.

Vs 34 – “Give me an understanding and I shall keep Your law.”

While on the surface, this verse seems a little redundant, I’m convinced there is a deeper level of understanding His Word. Based off this verse (and many others) all of us, once we’ve made the commitment to allow God to teach it to us, can move to a point where we “understand” it. We’ll not only know facts and history from the Bible, but we’ll understand major theological points. We will be able to, like the Bereans in Acts 17:11, check out what we hear with His Word.

Vs 35 – “Make me walk in the path of Your commandments. For I delight in it.”
The Christian life is not a sprint. It isn’t even a marathon. It’s a walk. A daily walk and the Psalmist asks the LORD to make or direct his walk in the LORD’s commandments. Every day, we need to walk in His path as directed by the Bible. We need to live a life submitted to Him. While I have no real data to prove this point, I do think the happiest people of those who delight in His Word. They can trust in the fact that God is directing their path every day.

Vs 36 – “Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to covetousness.”
Doesn’t this remind you of the 10th Commandment? As a general rule, I find that when I am struggling with coveting something, I haven’t been as faithful in His Word as I should. I can only speak for myself but I don’t seem to have a natural “bent” toward His Word. I need to work at it. I find so many other things compete for my attention that I need to pray, “LORD, incline or bend my heart to Your Word.” Often, when that happens I find I am so much more content with my situation and can look to others and not be covetous.

Vs 37 – “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things and revive me in Your way.”
I have a footnote in my Bible at this point saying, “Cause my eyes to pass away from…” I need to pray this verse early and often throughout the day. As the writer of Hebrews states, “….the sin that easily ensnares us.” Jesus said in Matthew 6 that we can pray, ..”lead us not into temptation.” I pray, Lord keep me from those trouble areas in my life.

Vs 38 – “Establish Your word to Your servant who is devoted to fearing You.”
The first layer of building project is the foundation. Everything, and I mean everything, rests upon the foundation and if the foundation is poorly made, the building may collapse or at the very least will never be able to fully do what it was intended to do. We need to have His Word “established” in our life if we ever want to be the servants God’s designed us to be.

Vs 39 – “Turn away my reproach which I dread. For Your judgments are good.”

This is a another way of saying, “Sin is a bad thing.” I do not want my sin to cling to me as a reproach. While I am forgiven from sin at the cross, sometimes the lingering effects of my sin can have consequences. Further, I need to constantly seek His forgiveness when I fall short of His will for my life. Sin is a bad thing and I dread it. His Word, His judgments are always good.

Vs40 – “Behold, I long for Your precepts. Revive me in Your righteousness.”
This is a nice way to summarize these eight verses. His Word brings life to me. It encourages me, strengthens me, convicts me, educates me along with many other tasks all summarized in this few words, “LORD revive me in Your righteousness.” I need Him in my life to live His righteousness.

So here are eight things we can always pray for and know, He’ll honor and grant these requests:
1. Teach me Your Word. Help me learn who You are from Your Word
2. Help me understand You and Your Scriptures. May these verses reveal more of You to me.
3. Help me walk day-by-day in Your will as expressed in Your Word.
4. Increase my desire for Your Word above everything else that competes for my attention.
5. Help me avoid potential trouble areas.
6. Give me a strong foundation and help me learn to have Your Word established in my life.
7. Help me always run back to You and Your Word when I need Your forgiveness again.
8. May I live in Your righteousness. Revive me Lord through Your Word.

Eight Marks of a Mature Believer From Psalm 119

Nearly a year ago, I began studying Psalm 119.  Yeah, that one.  The longest chapter in the Bible and for many of us, quite intimidating merely because of its’ length.  If you can’t tackle all 176 verses, where do you begin?  Where do you end?  While I have read Psalm 119, I never really took the time to study it, to really dive into the text and see what is there for us in the 21st century.  That changed awhile back and I must tell you, it has been an eye opening exercise.  While I had always heard how Psalm 119 describes God’s Word, I’ve never realized how practical it is for the contemporary believer.

For example, one of the many little nuggets I’ve stumbled onto are simple but powerful instructions about living a life devoted to God and His Word.  Beginning in verse 57 through 64, this section seems to describe eight characteristics of a mature believer.

What Do I Talk About?

Vs 57 – “You are my portion, O LORD. I have said that I would keep Your words.”

One obvious mark of a true believer is how we speak  about God’s Word.  Speaking or making a public confession about His Word and our publically stated desire to follow it.

What Do I Search After?

Vs 58 – “I entreated Your favor with my whole heart.  Be merciful to me according to Your word.”

Some versions say “I sought”.  The term here implies a degree of effort on my part.  Much like the words of Jesus in Matthew 6, “Seek and you will find…” requires some exertion on my part.   I remember it being described to me once as a “hunter pursuing his prey.” Knowing God, knowing His character and seeking His will means I need to spend effort in seeking Him through His Word.

What Do I Think About?

Vs 59 – “I thought about my ways and turned my feet to Your testimonies.”

What do you spend your time thinking about?  That dream vacation?  Retirement?  A new house?  Here, we are told how the Psalmist “thought about” his ways and “turned my feet to Your testimonies.”  A mature believer spends time and mental energy thinking about what God was done in their life.

How Quickly Do I Follow?

Vs 60 – “I made haste and did not delay to keep Your commandments.”

This might be the hardest verse in this section for me.  Remember the WWJD fad a few years ago?  Everything was postured with the question, “What Would Jesus Do?”  I rarely have trouble knowing what Jesus would do in situations.  Rather, my problem often is I don’t want to do it.  Here we are told to quickly obey His Word.  Make haste!  Get at it!  Don’t let the grass grow under your feet and move quickly to keep His commands!

How Committed Am I?

Vs 61 – “The cords of the wicked have bound me. But I have not forgotten Your law.”

The first part of this verse tells of the “cords of the wicked have bound me.”  This seems to indicate a degree of personal persecution or opposition making a difficult or even hostile circumstance for me.  I might even feel helpless and “bound” unable to do much about it. Yet in spite of those opposed to Him, I am still to follow Him and not forget His law.

Am I Thankful?

Vs 62 – “At midnight will I rise to give thanks to You, because of Your righteous judgments.”

The phrase “at midnight” isn’t really referring to a time of the day, but rather the darkest hour.  Those times when it seems like the darkness has surrounded me and I’m alone.  Times when there seems no way of rescue and I’m at the end of myself and see no way out, a mature believer still displays an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude.  If I can thank Him even at these darkest times, I can trust Him and His plan for me even when it seems the darkest.

Who Do I “Hang” With?

Vs 63 – “I am a companion of all those who fear You and of those who keep Your precepts.”

This isn’t a verse of isolation.  Meaning that I only am around other believers and never connect with the  the world.  We’d never be able to fulfill the Great Commission by totally isolating ourselves.  Living on an island like compound and controling all outside contact is cultish.  However, we do need to make wise decisions about who we closely associated.  That’s why we are to “assemble together” (Hebrews 10:25), find encouragement and accountability with other Christians via church, small groups and personal friends.

Do I See Him Everywhere?

Vs 64 – “The earth O LORD is full of Your mercy, Teach me your statutes.”

If we look for it, you can see God’s mercy all over this world.  Mature believers look for and see God’s mercy and are not distracted.  The writer sees God’s mercy and asks God to “Teach” him His statues.  Even with a whole world of options, I still need to be dedicated to His Word

So here are eight questions we can ask ourselves based off these eight verses:

  1. Do I speak about His Word and my allegiance to it? Or do I shrink away and remain silent when the authority of the Word is challenged?

 

  1. Do I put in the effort to dig into His Word?

 

  1. Do I ever think about God and what He’s done?

 

  1. Do I delay my obedience for my convenience?

 

  1. Do I still follow Him through the hard and difficult times in my life?

 

  1. Am I thankful for His will even when it’s midnight?

 

  1. Do I make special efforts to be close to other strong Bible-centered believers?

 

  1. Am I easily distracted by other things – even good things – at the expense of time in His Word?