July 22, 2016

Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.

As I was reading just now this verse jumped out at me and I thought, this is what triggered that hymn! Open My Eyes That I May See has long been dearly loved, and now I know its roots. The thing is, anyone who genuinely loves God is going to want to know more and more of Him. Actually, it all fits in together. The more we know God’s love for us, the more we will love Him, which will mean we will want to be more obedient to Him, doing His will more and more consistently, which will increase our capacity to grasp Him and His love for us. It’s a glorious cycle! The world is filled with supposed Christians who don’t really pursue God. What a waste! When we accept that He loves us enough to send His Son to die for us, which is at the foundation of becoming/being a Christian, you would think that we would want to “snuggle into” that love, to experience it more and more, but sadly, it seems many people can’t be bothered with that because it takes up too much of their time. What misplaced priorities! As finite beings we don’t have much opportunity to experience the infinite, but God’s love is literally infinite, and it is poured out for us. When we get even a small grasp of that, the appetite for more just keeps growing. However, the devil and our flesh fight tooth and nail against that, seeking to distract us from God with anything possible. That’s why fellowship with God requires our conscious choice. However, if we will choose to press into God and make Him our first priority, we will find that the rewards are greater than anything in the world, or the whole world put together.

This is intensely personal for me on any number of levels. The hymn is one God used to baptize my wife in the Holy Spirit, before I could let go of myself enough to receive that baptism myself. I have had times of fellowship with God that were so intense I thought my flesh would give up on the spot. The first priority for every day is spending time alone with my Lord and His Word. And as a pastor, the cry of my heart is for those to whom I minister to have the same priorities, the same depth of fellowship. Sometimes I am exasperated and sometimes I just want to cry at those who know Jesus to a degree but won’t press in to know Him more. I can’t change them in my strength and wisdom, but I can pray for them and love them with God’s love. I am totally convinced that when we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, intimate fellowship between God and the children He created to love are at the very heart of it. I am to submit my will to God to that end, for His glory.

Father, the message You’re giving me for Sunday is about intimacy with You. There is so much I want to say, so much I want to impart, that I feel overwhelmed. All of life is about this, so how can I even turn the first page in a single message? I ask for clear guidance and anointing, and for restraint so that I won’t try to say too much, but most of all I pray that Your Spirit would prepare the hearts of my hearers so that they may hear Your loving voice and respond in gratitude and obedience, for their eternal blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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July 21, 2016

Psalm 119:1-3 Blessed are they whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
Blessed are they who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart.
They do nothing wrong;
they walk in his ways.

Psalm 119 has something of a bad rap. It’s the longest chapter in the whole Bible, and that doesn’t sit well with today’s “sound bite” culture. On top of that, it is an acrostic poem, with every verse in each successive stanza starting with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which makes it seem dully mechanical, at least in theory. The problem with those objections is that they don’t hold water at all. The writer was someone who deeply loved God and His Word, and this Psalm is an expression of that. As such it has a great deal to teach us about practical faith in the face of all the pitfalls of life. These first three verses set that tone. The casual reader today might dismiss them because of the superlatives: “blameless” and “nothing wrong.” They would insist that no one lives that way! However, the key to that is in verse 2: “seek Him with all their heart.” It is true that none of us does things perfectly, but we will get it right to the degree we seek God with our whole heart. Honest self-examination tells us that we live most of the time with a divided heart, perhaps seeking God but seeking other things as well. Too often, God isn’t even in the top few in our priorities, much less the focus of our lives. Verse 11 is one of the most famous in this Psalm, and it gives a practical key to keeping it all straight: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” There is no better way to maintain our focus on God than to fill our hearts with His Word. This isn’t the same thing as memorization, though that isn’t bad. Rather, this is meditating on, thinking about, what God has said so that it becomes part of us, guiding our thoughts and helping us stand against the constant barrage to lies that come at us. That is the way to walk in the good path that God has laid out for us, recognizing and receiving the abundant blessings He has prepared for us.

My life is a good case in point. Raised in a missionary family, the Bible was a given in my life, always there and hardly ever questioned. However, my seeking God was sporadic, and whereas I learned quite a few Scriptures, I didn’t take them in to make them part of me; they were simply intellectual property. I was doing what James warns against, deceiving myself. (James 1:22) It was only when God got through to me to show me my twisted heart that I repented and fell in love with His Word. In the years since, by the grace of God I have become addicted to the Bible, and I think I have that in common with the writer of Psalm 119. One of the high points of my life was when one of our church members, a recovered alcoholic, said in a Bible study we were having that I was addicted to the Bible, because he knew addiction first-hand. I can’t say I never lapse, any more than Paul could, (Philippians 3:12) but I do know that the course of my life is set, and that gives me great peace, joy, and satisfaction.

Father, thank You for the Bible. Thank You that it is so readily available, and that it was so present in my home as a child. Help me be an effective interpreter of Your Word to others, communicating Your truth in love so that more and more may be set free from the traps of the enemy to walk in Your glorious light, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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July 20, 2016

Psalm 116:1-2 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.

Nothing draws forth prayer like experiencing answers to prayer. However, an amazing number of people either never pray at all, or only pray rote prayers that are so generalized that it’s almost impossible to determine if something happens as an answer to them. Some of that comes from failing to recognize answers they do receive, which of course reinforces the tendency not to pray in the first place. Then again there are James’ famous words on the subject. “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3) God isn’t going to answer prayer for infidelity to go undetected, if anyone were so foolish as to pray that in the first place! The other side of that coin is perceived unanswered prayer. Some people abandon faith because specific prayers aren’t answered. That’s when we especially need to follow Jesus’ example in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed so earnestly that he sweat blood (which is a real medical condition), but He also did that in full submission to the Father. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) He was completely past the point of “I’ll pray if you’ll grant my requests.” Prayer springs from two things: recognizing our own inability to meet needs, either for ourselves or for someone else, and a simple desire for fellowship with God. Too many people pray to get things, with no real desire for fellowship. It is when we are in closest fellowship with Him that our prayers are most likely to be answered affirmatively! Jesus called that “remaining in Him.” We quote John 15:7 with no real idea of what Jesus was talking about. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” If we want our prayers to be answered, we need to get close to the One who can answer them.

As I am frequently reminded, I was raised in a home where prayer was as natural as breathing. That was because my parents talked with God on the basis of their relationship with Him. As a pastor I am sometimes distraught over how believers won’t develop a consistent prayer life, but that stems from their lack of fellowship with the Father in the first place. I try to teach prayer as one facet, though a very important one, of an intimate relationship with the God who loves us enough to die for us. (The other facets are taking in His Word to learn to listen to Him, and a commitment to obedience to whatever we hear Him say to us.) Tragically, many people just can’t be bothered with developing such a relationship, even though they claim saving faith. I am not to give up on anyone, because God didn’t give up on me. I am to speak the truth in love, as often and for as long as necessary, letting that truth cut through the lies of the enemy to set people free for the intimacy with God for which they were created, for their infinite blessing and His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me package this truth as You intend so that it will be received by my hearers. There are many applicable Scriptures; help me use only the ones You want me to, so that people won’t be overloaded. May all who hear me gain both a hunger for real intimacy with You and a Hope that by Your grace it is possible, so that together we may become all that You want us to be, causing Your name to be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom to come as Your will is done in and through us, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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July 19, 2016

Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O Lord, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.

It is very interesting that this Psalm of praise and exhortation to praise starts off with this one-verse prayer. It is actually very helpful, because unless we are firmly focused on Whom we praise, we have the strange tendency to make praise to God be self-congratulatory, and end up praising ourselves for having the right religion. That is particularly a risk when we point out, as this Psalm does, the futility of other religions. This verse asks that glory go to God because of His love (the Japanese says grace) and faithfulness. There is recognition that all the good things that come to us, even those for which we might be praised, are because of God’s character. If He weren’t the loving, gracious, faithful God that He is, good things wouldn’t happen. When the world is as it is today, with bad news daily, it is perhaps easy to lose sight of who God is and what He is like. God has given mankind free will, and that too is a reflection of His character, no matter how horrible the results of human choice might be in the short run. When things seem dark, that’s the time to expect God’s light to burst forth. Frankly, current events have quite a Last Days feel to them, but that timing is in God’s hands. Our job is to let our faithfulness be a reflection of His, applying ourselves to the tasks He sets for us, so that the glory may indeed go to Him as His power and character are manifested in and through us.

This is of course fully applicable to me personally. I am at times tempted to go find a hole to hide in, but that benefits no one and nothing. I am to keep firm hold of the hope that I have in Christ, and when people are surprised by that, tell them why. (1 Peter 3:15-16) I am to remember that my task is faithful, trusting obedience; the fruit is God’s business. (John 14:5-8) God has been incredibly gracious to me, and I am to apply myself to the glory going to Him.

Father, thank You for who You are. That includes so much I couldn’t possibly express it all. Thank You for the people to whom You have allowed me to speak the past several days. With some, You have allowed me to speak in some depth about matters of life, death, and faith. I pray that Your words through me would indeed bear rich fruit in each heart and life, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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July 18, 2016

Psalm 108:6 Save us and help us with your right hand,
that those you love may be delivered.

This goes against my grain, but right now the turn of phrase in the NIV strikes me as a prayer to be enabled to help others. That is quite out of context and is almost certainly not what David wrote, but it is a valid prayer nonetheless. However much we love people, we must remember that God created them and He loves them more than we ever could. We also need to remember that however much we want to help people, true salvation comes only from the Lord. He often uses people, and He may even use us, but the salvation, the power, are His. I am reminded of the parable someone told of a person who had been trapped in their house by a flood, but each time someone came by to rescue them they declined, saying, “God will rescue me.” Finally, after they had been swept off of their roof and drowned, they accused God for not having rescued them. His response was, “What do you mean? I sent person A and person B and person C didn’t I?” It is a privilege to be an instrument of God’s right hand, but we must be available and not presumptive. Countless situations have been made worse by well-meaning people who have tried to do God’s job for Him. Actually, any time we pray for any sort of situation we need to offer ourselves as instruments for God to use in answering our prayers. The phrase, “You’re an answer to prayer,” is far more than a cliché. But again, we must remember that the power, the wisdom, the salvation itself, come from God alone, and so give Him all the glory.

I could literally sit here all day listing situations about which I am concerned. Ones far away are relatively easy to yield to God because that’s all I can do. However, ones close to home are more complicated. That’s when I have to keep reminding myself that God loves that person more than I do. In all probability, God is far more patient with that person than I am! Material concerns are one thing, because though they may be pressing, they are ultimately temporal and thus temporary. However, people are what Jesus came and died for, and there it gets more complicated. We are on this earth to have opportunity to know God, to choose to commit ourselves to Him in faith so that we may live with Him throughout eternity. Everything else is secondary: most specifically, creature comforts. Just as God delights to bless His children but knows better than to spoil them, we need to meet needs but also give God space and time to work in people’s hearts through their circumstances. I have demonstrated many times that I don’t have the wisdom to make that call accurately on my own, so I’ve got to stay on my face before the Lord, figuratively and at times literally, to hear and thus do what He would direct. Only then will His salvation be manifested as He intends.

Father, thank You for this clear, unexpected Word. You know who is on my heart particularly right now, but again, there are many. Help me be so in step with Your Spirit that I don’t get in Your way, but rather am useful to You in however You want to manifest Your salvation, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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July 17, 2016

Psalm 101:2-3 I will be careful to lead a blameless life—
when will you come to me?
I will walk in my house
with blameless heart.
I will set before my eyes
no vile thing.

This Psalm is a statement of intent, and as such is beautifully in line with the message I will be preaching this morning. None of us is perfect, but we must not be content with our imperfection. Rather, we are always to be pressing forward toward the goal God has set before us, just as Paul did. (Philippians 3:12-14) This Psalm claims to be by David, and would be in line with what we know of him. As is well known, David made some drastic mistakes, but his intent was to walk in purity and obedience at all times. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that all we really can offer God is our free will, our choices. I preached not long ago on Praise and Worship, and one of the points, based on Psalm 22:25, was that even our praise to God comes from Him; all we give Him, as such, is the choice to do so. In the same way, we don’t have the strength, wisdom, power, ability, what have you, to do anything apart from God. Jesus Himself was quite blunt about that. (John 15:5) However, that is not at all to say that we are to be passive. The Bible speaks many times of God desiring our hearts. That is nothing more than the fact that He wants us to choose Him. I am convinced that human free will is the most valuable thing in the universe, because if we were not free, we would not be responsible for our actions, which would mean sin would be meaningless. It is only because sin is real that God had to send His Son to die as an atonement for human sin. Thus we come to the conclusion that our free will is worth the life of the Son of God. That is mind boggling indeed, and shows why our choices, on a day-to-day basis, are the most important things we do.

Having said all that, I realize that there are people who are paralyzed by an inability to make choices. There have been times when I have agonized over choices myself. However, such indecision is actually secondary. Our primary choice is extremely simple: God or other. It is when we understand that is our choice that everything falls into place. I’ve got to remember, and teach others to remember, that whatever it might look like, our choices all boil down to whether we will seek God and place Him first in our hearts and lives. There are indeed relatively inconsequential choices, such as what shirt to wear on a given day, but even those are relatively inconsequential. As a case in point, what we eat, when we eat, and how much we eat don’t seem terribly spiritual to most of us, but they are directly related to our stewardship of our bodies. If our focus is truly on God, then our intent will be to treat our bodies as His temple, (1 Corinthians 6:19) and so we will maintain them properly. I am painfully aware of my own imperfection in every area, but by God’s grace I choose Him, to allow Him to work in and through me what He desires, and nothing else.

Father, thank You for this strong Word. Since it relates to what You have given me for this morning I am tempted to try to incorporate it, but that would certainly produce overload in most if not all of my hearers. Guide in when and how I am to share this truth so that it will penetrate and be applied. May we all choose to be Yours, even though we don’t yet know all that means, so that Your Name may be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done in and through us, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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July 16, 2016

Psalm 97:11-12 Light is shed upon the righteous
and joy on the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous,
and praise his holy name.

I have the feeling I’ve written on this before, because the Japanese for verse 11 is so striking. Rather than just saying “shed,” like the NIV, the Japanese says “sown like seed.” Seeds are not static; they are alive and grow. Light and joy grow for those who are right with God. As Jesus made very clear in His parable, (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23) the soil has a huge influence on the success of seeds. Just as with the Word of God, which Jesus was talking about, how we receive God’s light and joy greatly affects their influence on us. If we are constantly comparing the light/revelation we have received with that of others, that light isn’t going to penetrate very far into our hearts and lives. No one person, or even part of the Body of Christ, has the whole revelation of God, and feeling that our revelation is “better” than that of someone else is a sure way to walk in darkness rather than light. (1 John 2:9-11) The same sort of thing can be said about God’s joy. If we let jealousy or feelings of entitlement spring up, they will quickly choke out the joy of the Lord, and we and all around us will be much the poorer for it. When we realize how God’s grace operates toward us, the appropriate response is gratitude and praise, as it says in verse 12. That’s the way to keep the soil of our hearts plowed and moist, ready to receive God’s seeds.

I don’t recall connecting this passage to Jesus’ parable before. That is traditionally called “The Parable of the Sower,” but it would seem to be more accurately called, “The Parable of the Soils.” After all, there is no difference in the quality of the seed sown. As a pastor, I am in many ways a gardener. I don’t create the seed by any means, but I can plow and plant and water, and God will give the increase. Since my primary gifting is Teacher, I am very focused on planting the Word of God, but if I ignore the crust that has formed on the surface of the soil, that Word isn’t going to penetrate. Such crusts can form from pressure, such as being stepped on or driven over. The people to whom I minister suffer from all sorts of pressures in their lives. If I ignore those, I won’t be very effective in planting the seed. Such crusts can also form from minerals within the soil coming to the surface and hardening. I’ve got to let the Holy Spirit peel back and remove such layers. Sometimes it takes a major impact to break through such a layer. I must never try to apply such treatment myself, but I must be watchful to go in and minister God’s grace and love when it happens. I may be a gardener, but God is the Source of Life, and I must never forget that. My role is one of great privilege and high honor, but pride will totally destroy my effectiveness.

Father, thank You for this clear Word, expressed in ways I hadn’t thought of before. Thank You that You indeed keep growing Your light and joy in me. Help me never hold back, but always be eagerly receptive of all that You pour out, allowing it to flow through me to others, unhindered and uncontaminated, for their blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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