Job, the Devil, and Me

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“God,” I prayed as I drove home, “every time I think it can’t get much harder, it gets harder. The vice gets tighter. The weight gets heavier.” You get it. I read your posts. I hear your prayer concerns. But as I passed the cotton fields I heard very clearly, “Have you considered my servant Dorcas?” And suddenly I had a glimpse into the unseen world. You probably recognized this as coming from Job, the hard-pressed Old Testament fellow who suffered enormously just to prove satan wrong.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. One day satan came before the Lord who threw down a challenge: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8). To which satan replied, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” (1:10). He then offered up a challenge: take it all away and the man will curse you to your face. Twice God allowed satan to test Job, first taking away everything he had – including his children – then afflicting him with physical pain and misery. The only thing he left Job was his shrew of a wife and his condescending “friends.” And the Scripture says Job “fell down to the ground in worship (1:20) and adds “In all of this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (2:10).

What if satan is still at it? Isn’t he “the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10).  And what if God really did say, “Have you considered my servant Dorcas” (God speaks to and of me by my given name). Don’t you see?  Satan continues to accuse and press and annoy and abuse God’s people to prove the same point – we only love Him for what He does for us.

And now we understand why that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) is rooting us on to trust God to our last breath. They are telling us that whatever hardships we face will be worth it in the end. Because our God will never, ever fail us. Oh, Beloved, stand strong with the Lord. Do not curse Him for the hard things you face, but trust in His goodness and faithfulness. Let’s prove the devil wrong to his ugly face.

What Do We Do About Sin?

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Because you trust me as a Bible teacher, I want to tell you that sin is not an issue in my life. I want to tell you that, but it would be a lie. Yes, I belong to Jesus, He has saved me and redeemed me and continues every day to transform me into His image. He has done such a work in my life where sin is concerned. But like every other human being, I was born with a sinful nature and sinful desires – perhaps different from the things that tug at you, but sin is a real and present danger for me just as it is for you.

How do we handle our bent towards sin? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Recognize sin for what it is and don’t make excuses or exceptions for it. (Psalm 51:3)
  2. Keep God’s Word close – in your hands, in your mind, and in your heart. (Psalm 119:11)
  3. Keep God closer. (James 4:7-8)
  4. Keep sin at a distance. Don’t put yourself in positions you know lead you into sin – whether places, events, movies, T.V. shows, websites, or even people. Take the way out. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  5. Repent when you do sin. (Acts 3:19).
  6. Pray. 

The prayer I find myself returning to again and again is: “Lord cause me to love you so much that sin has no appeal to me.” I came to that prayer while meditating on Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.” I realized that if God is my delight, then I will desire only Him and that is a desire He is more than willing to fulfill. And if God is the delight and desire of my heart, I will take no delight in sin and will instead be repulsed by it because I love God with all my heart. And if I love God with all my heart there is no room in my heart to love sin.

I know I have a very long way to go before that is the reality of my life. Sin still beckons to me.  But this is my prayer – and the desire of my heart. Beloved, will it be yours too?

I love you God

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“I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Psalm 18:1)

I recently came across boxes with 25 years of prayer journals. The boxes are very heavy, but it’s not just the physical weight of the notebooks and binders and pretty journals. It’s the weight of my life, my heart, my burdens, my fears and sins and questions and raw, honest emotions.

I found a box with the earliest years and I was struck by how often I told God “I love you.” And I did, but as I read those entries, I realized my love for God was all about me. That He saved me and helped me and blessed me – not that there’s anything wrong with that. God loves to love on His children. But the truth is, I loved God because He loved me.

Then I found a box from some hard, dark, painful years and I learned to love God for His presence and grace and comfort and strength. I learned that difficulties don’t mean that God doesn’t love me, they just mean that He draws even closer to me. His love was more palpable and the roots of my love for Him began to go deeper.

Then I packed away journals from the last 7 years. These also held some strong memories – times of great uncertainty, of excitement and promise mixed with being overwhelmed and frustrated. These journals are also full of rainbows and new adventures and Joy. And grief. And a deeper love for God that has grown as I’ve come to know Him more.

Today when I say “I love you God” it’s a love that has grown through years of hard times and good times and times when I felt I was soaring and times when I thought the pain would kill me. It’s a love built on sweet communion and honest conversations. A love that is measured not by a yardstick but by width and length and height and depth (Eph. 3:18) that never ends.

Beloved, I pray your love for God grows deeper and stronger as you come to know Him more through the good days and the bad days and all the days in between. Because to know, know, know Him, is to love, love, love Him. And I do.

Deep People

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God is looking for deep people. No, not intellectual people but . . .

people with deep conviction—1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 says  “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”  People who are convinced that Jesus Christ is exactly who He claimed to be. They are people who . . .

take “hold of the deep truths of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:5).  The bulk of the New Testament is made up of Paul’s replies to people who were not content with a surface knowledge about Jesus but searched the Scriptures for Him and wrote to Paul seeking clarification. These are people the Lord can entrust with . . .

 “the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).  That’s not knowledge outside of the Bible, but it is “spiritual truths . . . taught by the Spirit . . . in spiritual words” (2:13). In other words, people who are walking with and listening to God’s Spirit expressing the deep things of God’s Word. They are also people . . .

 with deep love.  Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers would be “rooted and established in love, [and have] power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [they] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19) Paul is not trying to put parameters around God’s love, but rather to express its greatness and better understand its limitlessness. Then, from the deep love of God comes . . .

deep love for one another. Peter added: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). This is how we obey Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We can’t deeply love people until we deeply love God.

Oh, Beloved, I pray you are stirred with a yearning to go deeper with God. What better time than the Easter season to set your roots in the depths of His love.

With All Your Heart

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This is the story of the spiritual downfall of a king. It’s also the story of how any one of us can fall out of love with God. 2 Chronicles 25 is the account of Judah’s King Amaziah. Amaziah obeyed the Law of God in some circumstances – where it suited him, but not in others. That sounds familiar. When the king led his troops to war against the Edomites, it suited him to disobey God. “When Amaziah returned . . . he brought back the gods of the people of Seir.  He set them up as his own gods, bowed down to them, and burned sacrifices to them” (v. 14).  Because of his unfaithfulness, God brought the army of Israel to destroy the city’s protective wall, loot the temple and the palace, and take hostages back to Israel. This isn’t meant to be a political statement, but the king’s failure cost his nation greatly.

There is so much here that we can unpack and it all stems from verse 2, the defining statement of Amaziah’s life: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly.” Amaziah’s heart was divided, which meant that his devotion to God was divided and it showed. The lure of other “gods” pulled him away from the Lord God.

 A half-hearted devotion to God is a wholehearted rejection of God. Here’s the bottom line: you are either all in or you’re not in at all. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6: 24). His immediate context was about wealth, but the principle is the same. As the great missionary, Hudson Taylor said, “Christ is either Lord of all or He is not Lord at all.”

You and I cannot love God and the world.  We cannot love God and money. We cannot love God and status.  We cannot love God and lust.  We cannot love God and alcohol or drugs. We cannot love God and . . . any other thing. (Now, I am certainly not saying we cannot love our families or our church or people – we love them because God loves us.) If we’re wholeheartedly devoted to God, there’s just no room for other loves in our hearts; God takes up the whole thing.

Beloved, does God have your whole heart? Is it time to reevaluate your loves?

But I Like My Sin

“I know the Bible says this desire is wrong, but why do I have to give it up?  Doesn’t God want me to be happy?”  Yes. And no. Happy in God’s vocabulary isn’t the same as our 21st-century “it’s all about me” understanding. In the Bible, the word “happy” is interchangeable with the word “blessed.” Happiness is a blessing from God. It is not something you can attain from circumstances, pleasures, or emotions. And especially not from sin.

In the last half-century, the church has flung the doors wide open and said, “You don’t have to give up anything – just come sing a few songs and sip some coffee and God will make you happy.” That is nothing less than an outright lie. Before you throw your Bible at me – yes, God accepts us as we are, but His purpose in accepting us is to conform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).  One who has no love for sin. A more conservative answer is, “You don’t have to give up your sinful desire, just don’t act on it.” It is an attempt to live in the tension between the holiness of God and your flesh. Two things will happen:  you will withhold the most important part of yourself – your heart – from God, and you will eventually give up the pretense.

Here’s the deal, God isn’t after your cooperation, He’s after the desire of your heart.  I Chronicles 28:9 says, “The Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.”  He knows when your outward obedience masks a heart that still yearns for sin. Friend, the reason you and I fall back into sin over and over again is that we hold on to those fleshly, sinful, evil urges and don’t make Him the complete desire of our heart  That’s what the Bible calls “cherishing sin (Psalm 66:18).  It’s also called a divided heart.  And you can’t survive with less than a whole heart – physically or spiritually. Believe me when I tell you God is stomping all over my toes right now.

Beloved, you may think the sin you desire so much will make you happy, but that’s a lie. When God is your heart’s greatest desire sin cannot compare. When your heart delights in Him He will bless you. That’s true happiness.  

Got Love?

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Got anybody in your life who is hard to love? Yeah, me too. I think every person who seeks to follow Christ will have the “blessing’ of hard-to-love people. It’s one of the tools God uses to shape and mold us into the image of His Son, which is the point of our lives (Romans 8:29). 

Hallmark makes love look so easy. It’s not.  Love is hard. It’s painful. It’s demanding. It’s often unfair. Love will take you to hard places and cost you more than you ever imagined. That’s why people give up on love so easily.

I’m struggling with some of those people so this morning I prayed: “Lord, help me to love as You love.” He sent me to 1 John. I learned some stuff I thought I’d share with you. By the way, I purposefully left off the actual verse so you would look these up for yourself.

First, I cannot love difficult people on my own.  I can only love them out of the love God has for me (4:16).

Love comes only from Him (4:7). (Not my human emotions).

God is love (4:16). He has lavished His great love on me (3:1).

Because God loves me, I can love them (4:19).

Because I know God – who is love – I can love them (4:8)

Because He lives in me through His Spirit, His love for others lives in me as well and completes and perfects my insufficient love so that  I can love them (1:12, 17, 18).

God loved me sacrificially (4:9-10). The love I show to others must follow suit (4:11).

God expects me to love them (4:20-21).

When I consider how unloveable I have been – and often still am – I marvel that God loves me. Yet He does. So how can I, as His child, in whom His Spirit dwells, withhold love from those who are unloveable to me?  I have read the Bible from cover to cover and I find no place where God said, “Stand up for your rights!”  But over and over I find two things I lean on hard: God calls me to love, and He promises to fight for me.

Beloved, I don’t know how much clearer it can be. We are called to love God and love others – even, especially, the ones who make it hard to love. They need it most of all.

Obedience = Love

The class I’m taking this semester is a study of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.  This week we’re in Leviticus, the book where New Year’s Resolutions go to die. I know – this book is so antiquated – so many strange rules, weird diseases, and issues that rub against the grain of our culture. But it is also completely applicable to the 21st Century if we will take the time to study it and think.

As I sat down to read this week’s assigned chapters, right off the bat, God spoke a timeless word to me.  The Lord said to the Israelites “When any of you bring an offering to the Lord . . .” (Lev. 1:2). Can you guess what jumped out at me – what word is as relevant today as it was then?  “When.” Notice that God didn’t say, “If you bring an offering to the Lord” – He said, “When.” What did that mean for Israel, and what does that mean for you and me? Simply that God expects obedience. He didn’t offer a suggestion they can accept or decline. The sovereign Lord gave a command. The Israelites were obligated to obey.

That chafes against our modern sensibilities and our independent, autonomous attitudes. We stand proudly and say, “I’ll do what I want to do.” “I make my own decisions.” No one has the right to make any demands on me. And when it comes to “religion” – we “pick-and-choose” from the Bible what we feel comfortable with and then put our own spin on it. “This is what I think this verse says and that’s what I intend to follow.” How else could the church applaud and celebrate what God so clearly condemned? 

What was true for Israel is true for the church and believers today. God expects obedience. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Obedience is the fruit – the evidence – of our love for Him. Beloved, what had God been calling you to do? That can be a big as a call to ministry or as small as pulling weeds for your elderly neighbor. Are you regarding it as a choice you can take or leave – or as the Word of God that you will commit to obey? Obedience = love. Do you love God?

Advent 2015 – Day 18 – The Secret to Finding Joy

adventcandlesweek3“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’”  Matthew 22:37-39

What is the secret to finding joy?  The answer is in the word itself.

JJesus

OOthers

YYourself

It is the perfect accompaniment to Matthew 22:37-39 and it is the truest path to real joy.

To love God is the highest joy we can have.  To love Him with all your heart and soul and mind is to love Him with your entire being.  The heart—kardia—is the seat of emotional thinking, it is the place from which our truest self emanates.  When the Bible expresses the character of a person it describes the condition of his heart: “His heart was righteous; His heart was evil.”  The mind—duaboia—is the seat of conscious thinking, where we process information, establish our understanding, and, most telling of all—make choices.  When we say “My heart is set on” a certain thing, what we are really saying is “I’ve made a choice and directed my heart toward this thing.”  The mind and heart are inter-connected.  When we talk about our soul—our psyche—we are speaking of the part of us that is immaterial and eternal – the part that God placed in us when He made us in His image.  Interestingly, the root word for soul is psycho, which means to grow cold.  A healthy psyche is a soul that burns with a passionate love for God.

As we love God in this all-consuming way, we cannot help but love others.  Such love overflows from our heart and touches others around us, our families, coworkers, friends, even people you don’t even know can be touched by the love that springs from a heart in love with God.  You won’t have to force yourself to love them, it is a natural response when God is the greatest love of your life.

The Lord doesn’t want you to neglect love for yourself.  God loves you, that’s reason enough to love and care for yourself.  Be kind to the one that Jesus loves.  Be kind to you.

Joy is not hard to find, it is as simple as loving—Jesus—Others—and Yourself.

Of Love and Praise

“I love You, O Lord, my strength.” Psalm 18:1

What words do you most enjoy hearing? If you are like me, “I love you.” is at the top of the list. Those three little words are comforting and powerful. They can soothe a crying child, bring light to a young lady’s eyes, and tears to the face of the strongest man.

God also enjoys hearing us express our love to Him. In Psalm 18, David is rejoicing at the defeat of Israel’s enemy, Goliath, and He knows the source of his victory is the Lord.
He offers Him a prayer of praise, and begins with the most important words we can say to God, “I love You, O Lord.” In the Bible, almost all prayers recorded begin with praise. And rightly so, for no one is more worthy of our praise than God. Expressing our love for God is the highest form of praise.

In our busy, fast-paced society, we are continually urged to “get to the point” and not waste time on pleasantries. But prayer is a different kind of communication and praise is an important part of the conversation. Praise should never be thought of as “buttering God up” so He will answer our requests; but should always come from a genuine heart of awe and appreciation for who God is.

David had the right perspective and offered God the adoration of his love. Have you told God you love Him today?

I love You, Lord. You are worthy of all my love and praise. Please help me to tell You every day how much You mean to me. Amen.