19 Jun 2018
Covered or Exposed?
“Do not waste your time bothering whether you love your neighbor—act as if you did.” –C. S. Lewis
There is an insatiable appetite for so-called reality TV these days.
Chances to see a celebrity’s family implode on camera, to watch rock stars go through rehab, to tune in to see who got caught, who got arrested, and who was humiliated produce gold ratings. People are entertained by the sins, sufferings, and shame of others.
There’s an Old Testament story that starts out like this:
“Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside” (Genesis 9:20-22).
When Noah’s son Ham discovered his father drunk, naked and passed out, he reveled in the sight. He went quickly to bring his brothers in on the joke. This could be the basis for an episode of reality TV—a crowd tuning in to see Noah’s humiliation.
“But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked” (Genesis 9:23).
Noah’s other sons, Shem and Japheth, wouldn’t take joy in their father’s shame.
Instead, they mirrored God (who had fashioned animal skins to cover Adam and Eve in their shame), by covering their father in his vulnerability. They averted their own eyes so their picture of their father wouldn’t be marred. They wanted to protect him from embarrassment.
They loved him. They covered him up. Love covers.
In the Old Testament we read: “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:12).
In the New Testament, Peter writes: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Love can cover the mistakes, misfortunes, the failures and even the folly of others. Like Shem and Japheth, our decision to love like this mirrors our God.
How different would reality look if we embodied this truth?
My prayer this week – Almighty God, I am thankful your love covers a multitude of my sins and shortcomings. As others struggle around me, would you help me to have a loving response? May my love for others mirror you!
12 Jun 2018
How Is Your First Love?
“How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.” –John Newton, Amazing Grace
Do I love Jesus more right now than on the day I first believed?
Imagine if your spouse came home and said, “I don’t love you anymore. Don’t worry—nothing’s going to change. I’ll still go to work, pay my share of the bills, still live with you, eat with you and sleep with you. I’ll still help parent the kids. I just don’t love you anymore.”
Would this be good enough for you?
Imagine a believer saying: “Jesus, I don’t love you like I used to. Don’t worry. I’ll still go to church. I’ll still give money. I’ll still serve where I can. I will even tell others about you. I just don’t love you like I used to.”
But in reality, this can actually become our walk with the Lord.
In the book of Revelation, the Lord dictated a letter to the apostle John for the church at Ephesus.
It begins: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:2-3).
This sounds really good, doesn’t it? The Lord is aware of all the good things they’re doing in his name. But Jesus didn’t stop there.
He continues: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).
The church at Ephesus was going through the motions. But Jesus called on them to return to their first love—this is what he desires!
How do you do it? He gives the Ephesians a simple three-step plan to follow: Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first (Revelation 2:5).
Remember. Look back and see from where you’ve fallen. You loved the Lord. You loved his word. You loved prayer. You loved fellowship. You had fellowship with him. You’ve fallen—or in other words, you’re in a spiritual decline.
Do you remember?
Repent. The word repent means to change your thinking, or to have a change of heart. In this instance, the Lord is calling on those whose love for him has grown cold to rethink, to change their attitude towards him—to exchange apathy for renewed affection.
Repeat. Jesus closed the three-step admonition by encouraging the Ephesian believers to go back and “do the things they did at first.” Those early experiences of thirsting for the Lord, for truth, for knowledge, for his presence—go back!
Pray, study, fellowship and serve out of a revitalized love. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
My prayer this week – Lord, I realize my love for you hasn’t always been as deep and abiding as it was when I first believed. It is my desire to love you more. Would you help me to experience my relationship with you anew? Would you be near?
05 Jun 2018
How Will They Know We Are Christians?
“Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” –Francis of Assisi
People speak of love as something we’re passive to—it just comes over us. We’re moving through life when all of a sudden, unaware, we fall in love—sort of like someone walking along a road might fall into a ditch. Boom! Just happened. “Whoa! How did I get here?”
Love is often expressed as if it’s a feeling. You’ve heard someone say, “It’s like butterflies in my tummy.” Is that love … or gas?
Something we’re passive to; a feeling that comes and goes—this is a faulty definition of love. It’s not love as God defines it.
Jesus commands us to love one another (John 13:34). We’re commanded to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39). We’re even commanded to love our enemies (Luke 6:27)!
Those commands are impossible to follow by the world’s capricious definition of love. But by God’s definition, love is a decision you make; it’s action you take; it’s a commitment you embody.
By God’s definition, “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8).
God did more than define love; He demonstrated it. The Bible declares, “God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
There’s a great picture of a father’s love in the parable of the prodigal son. The son demands his inheritance early to declare his independence, to go off and live life his own way. The father lets him leave. In time, the son realizes the folly of his choice and sets out for home, broken and dejected.
Here’s the rest of the story: “But while [the son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion” (Luke 15:20).
This means that the father was looking—longing—for his beloved child to appear on the horizon, to come home. He was waiting expectantly. That’s love. There’s nothing fickle or passive about it!
How do I know I’ve passed from death to life?
There was that time I came forward at church … the time I said the sinner’s prayer … the time I was baptized … All well and good, but here’s a real litmus: Do I love others? “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14).
How will others know I’m a Christian? “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Love is all-important!
My prayer for the week – Father, I acknowledge my love falls short. Would you teach me more of your love? May the Holy Spirit, who has poured your love into my heart, help me to extend selfless love to others.
29 May 2018
How Amazing is Grace?
“My trust in God flows out of the experience of his loving me, day in and day out, whether the day is stormy or fair, whether I’m sick or in good health, whether I’m in a state of grace or disgrace. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am.” –Brennan Manning
Remember how much fun it was to build things as a kid? Maybe you built with an Erector Set, or Lincoln Logs, or LEGOs. Maybe you built a fort with your friends. Do you remember how proud you were of the accomplishment?
You’ve heard the Bible story of the Tower of Babel. Mankind conspired together: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth,” (Genesis 11:4).
Their aim was to construct, with their own hands, significance and prosperity—to go it alone, without God. As construction began, the Bible records God took notice. We read: “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building,” (Genesis 11:5).
It’s an interesting observation that mankind was constructing the tallest tower they could, and yet, God had to stoop down to see it.
This is a telling picture of religion. Mankind desires to ascend. We yearn to catch God’s eye, earn his approval and favor, to be noticed in the heavens. It’s the offense of the gospel—the New Testament calls it “a stumbling block”—that we cannot earn salvation.
We cannot earn God’s favor. Though we may think very highly of our attempts, Isaiah said, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
Thank God for grace! This is how the apostle Paul sums it up in the book of Romans: “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace,” (11:6).
It’s by grace we’ve been saved! It’s by God stooping down, meeting us where we are, and loving us as we are. This is why the gospel is truly good news.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast,” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
We’re saved by grace and we stand in grace:
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand,” (Romans 5:1-2).
I want to appreciate, every day, how amazing God’s grace really is!
My prayer this week – Heavenly Father, thank you for your all-sufficient grace—it saves me and sustains me! You know my weaknesses and failures. Without your grace, I can accomplish nothing good for souls, my own or others. Grant me your grace in great measure!
22 May 2018
How Do You Pray?
“Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” –Soren Kierkegaard
A storm was raging at sea. A ship began taking on water and it became apparent to the captain it would soon sink.
The captain called out, “Does anyone on this ship know how to pray?” One man stepped forward and said, “Yes, Sir. I know how to pray!” “Good!” replied the captain. “You pray. The rest of us will put on life jackets. We’re one short!”
Just a silly little story. But what does prayer look like in moments of great difficulty? Consider Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. What can we learn?
“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus went on a little farther from where his disciples waited. Prayer with family and friends, seasons of corporate prayer at church, they’re all wonderful, but in those moments of real difficulty, there is no substitution for a singular audience with God.
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you,” (Matthew 6:6).
Next we learn something of the heart’s attitude as we pray. Jesus falls with his face to the ground. What is our proper place, our proper posture before Almighty God?
Many times in the Bible we’re taught, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word,” (Isaiah 66:2).
May we not miss the tenderness of Jesus addressing God as “My Father.” It’s as a son or daughter of God that we approach our Heavenly Father in prayer. We don’t have standing before monarchs or magistrates, powers or principalities, but the loving ear of our Father listens for our every word!
“The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father,” (Romans 8:15).
Consider also the persistence of Jesus’ prayer. In the garden of Gethsemane he repeats the same prayer three times. Remember Jesus once shared a parable about a widow’s persistence to illustrate how God hears and answers persevering prayer (see Luke 18:1-8).
The most revealing part of this prayer is found in its conclusion:
“Not my will, but Thine!” I need to punctuate my prayers with surrender. Let me be content to leave my prayer in God’s hands—for he truly knows what is best, how to give, what to give, and what to withhold.
My prayer this week – Abba Father, will you teach me to pray? Will you help me to experience intimacy with you, to approach in a healthy balance of confidence and humility, to persevere and prevail in my prayers, and to be willing to leave it all in your hands?
15 May 2018
Have You Listened to the Music?
“The greatest wonder is not the music itself but the Musician, not the creation but the Creator. He is beautiful.” –Steve DeWitt
You’re familiar with the old saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” We all view and interpret art differently, but in any of its forms, art is always an expression of the artist. It’s intended to speak to us.
Consider God’s masterpiece. A quick read of the first chapter of Genesis reveals the phrase “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) punctuates the creation account.
At every step in the process, God determined each element was good and made a meaningful contribution to the whole. The pieces fit nicely together. There was interdependence among them. His ideal was coming to pass.
At the end of the creation account, we read: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good,” (Genesis 1:31). Notice the adverb—it was very good.
It thrilled God to see all the systems and order he created revealed to creation. It thrilled God to see his image and likeness—a resemblance—in us. This is a beautiful picture of the beginning of it all.
The Psalmist declares creation as God’s first book to mankind, a chance to see God’s glory in clarity.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the earth,” (Psalm 19:1-4).
God’s handiwork—all we see around us, and even the very pulse within our wrists—declares Him. It pours forth a testimony which cannot be missed, a song that is audible to everyone, everywhere.
Often we get so busy with the schedules and minutiae of life we miss the concert which is God’s masterpiece all around us.
Plan a short break in the routine this week. Take a walk. Soak in some sunlight. Observe life all around you. Allow your senses to drink deeply of this spring. Listen to God’s masterpiece as it sings, “Hallelujah!”
My prayer this week – Father, help me to slow down and take notice of the beauty of your creation all around me. Will you help me to see your hand in life’s seasons, recognize your presence in life’s stories, and sense your wisdom and power in life’s systems and order? Lord, I not only want to hear the Hallelujahs—I want to join the chorus!