Friday, May 30, 2014

The Tear Bottle

“You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?
When I cry out to You, then my enemies will turn back; this I know, because God is for me.  In God (I will praise His word), In the Lord (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” – Psalms 56:8-11

David was on the run from the Philistines when he wrote Psalms 56, which is a prayer to God.  One of the most beautiful metaphors is found in verse 8 when he writes “You number my wanderings”, referring to the many times he had to change his hiding place.  He writes that God “put my tears into Your bottle, are they not in Your book?” which refers to a Roman tradition for those that grieve. 

When a Roman died, each one who loved them had a time of grief.  As they grieved the priest would come by, swab their tears, and wring out the swab into a bottle.  The bottle was often made of precious stone, but sometimes clay or skin.  The bottle would be placed into the grave with the one who died as a memorial.  It was also thought that the drops of tears shed for someone about to die, when placed on their lips, had healing powers.

David writes that God has kept his tears in a bottle, noting that he had God’s full attention, and God was aware of his struggle.  He also says that God had recorded each tear in His book, accounting for them all as deeds done against him.  He writes that when he cries out to God, then he is victorious over his enemies “because God is for me”.  Then David makes a bold stand and says that because he praises God and the Lord and will not be afraid because man cannot harm him.

We often read the last of this passage and find peace in thinking that God always fights our enemies.  But while God is for us all, not all of us will escape our enemy.  God loves us all, sinner and saint.  But the way in which He loves us is different.  John 3:36 says “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”  When God’s wrath is upon you, it is through love.  God punishes those that He loves (Hebrews 12:6), as a parent will correct their child for the long term benefit of the child.  Sometimes that punishment comes through the enemy that pursues us.

What makes David different is that David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).  He was obedient to God’s call on his life and daily activities.  Sure, David messed up.  He once slept with another man’s wife, conceived a child, and had the man murdered.  He was guilty in that one action of coveting, adultery, and murder.  But when his sin was pointed out to him, he didn’t try to run from it, but he confessed it to God, mourned, fasted, and prayed for forgiveness. 

Obedience to God doesn’t mean we get it right every time.  Obedience is a lifestyle, a position of the heart, that causes us to strive to please God.  In our human frailty, we will always sin.  If we could be perfected, Christ’s death would have been in vain.  But a “man after God’s own heart” seeks to please God, and continually strives to obey Him.  And that man can truly say, “In God (I will praise His word), In the Lord (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?”  For this man, God is his rear guard, and the One that goes before him, and when he cries out, God answers “Here I am” (Isaiah 58:8).  For this man, God does count each tear that falls.




Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Who Do You Work For?

For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:10

When meeting someone for the first time, there are a few common questions we ask when making small talk.  We ask about their family, their line of work, and we ask who they work for.  These give us something to talk about, and begin the remainder of those introductory conversations.

In Galatians 1, Paul speaks to the Galatians about whom he works for, and in his subtle way, approaches the subject of who is getting their hardest efforts.  The one who controls our life is often not our employer, and never pays our salary.  In fact, sometimes our job is just a notch on a bigger belt of things we’re pushing to accomplish in order to serve our true employer. 

Paul tells the Galatians that he doesn’t serve people, because if he did, he could not also serve Christ.  In Matthew 6:24 Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” Jesus is referencing those that are in love with riches rather than God, but the same is true of those who are in love with pleasing people.  You can either serve people or serve God, but you cannot do both.  Somewhere along the way, the two entities will disagree on your proper behavior, and you’ll have to decide who you will serve.

I grew up hearing the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses”, which means that we strive to keep up with those that are receiving the favor of men so that we are accepted as well.  This is often the rich, well educated, well dressed, driving the finest car and living in a big glamorous home.  “Keeping up with the Joneses” became a way of living.  On Sundays we dressed up for church rather than wearing the clothes God saw us in all week.  When going into town to shop we were to be on our best behavior, rather than acting like we did at home when God was watching.  When we ate in public, we had to have “manners” rather than our normal means of shoving food into our mouths. 

The problem is that with all our efforts to please people, we never succeeded in pleasing them all.  People are fickle.  Today they want you to wear chevron print clothes.  Tomorrow they want you to wear geographic prints.  But next week, they may want you to wear t-shirts and jeans again.  Today they might favor the Escalade, and tomorrow the most respectable car may be a Prius.  Today they might respect you if you join the golf club, but tomorrow they might disrespect you if you haven’t joined the health club.  Today they might respect your relationship with Christ, and tomorrow they might prefer you not bring it up at the party.  After being on the rollercoaster of people pleasing for years, I got off!  It was a life that never included acceptance for who I was.

How did I get off?  I discovered someone who accepted me as I was, in t-shirt and jeans, overweight, without good manners, driving a car I’d had for years, and living as I wanted.  Working for God is different.  His acceptance is simple – love him and obey him.  It’s been the same for all time because God does not change (Malachi 3:6).  His rules are so steadfast that they’ve been in print for years without having to be amended. 

Listen to how Jesus encourages us to come to Him, and allow Him to be our focus.  Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  While people pleasing offers you the work of maintenance of their respect, coupled with continual condemnation and ridicule, Jesus offers rest for your soul.  He says to take up His yoke, which refers to His way of living, because it’s easy and not a burden. 

In the words of Joshua from Joshua 24:15, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve”.  You can get off the rollercoaster any time you want.  What you cannot do is serve people and God.  So, how will you answer the question?  Who do you work for?


Sunday, May 18, 2014

What a Job Offer!

To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure;  being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.” – 1 Corinthians 4:11-13

Last year I went on vacation with my daughter to the Dominican Republic.  While there we were on a beach one day and I saw some young men who were busy cleaning up the beach with rakes and buckets.  The sun was hot, they were wearing long pants and long sleeved shirts, and happy.  Not only were they happy, but joking around with each other, and smiling and laughing.

While I laid there watching them God spoke to me.  His words were “Would you become poor if that’s what I asked of you?”  I was glad I had on sunglasses because I started to cry when I knew the answer in my heart was “Please God! Not that!”  Yet, these people were, and it wasn’t money that was making them happy.  I think we put too much emphasis on what money can do for us, seeing it as a ‘blessing’, and too little emphasis on the blessings God can give us that have nothing at all to do with money.
Paul writes of his and Apollo’s’ circumstances to the church family at Corinth.  He tells them that they are hungry, thirsty, and poorly clothed.  He says they have been beaten. They are homeless.  They’ve been reviled and persecuted, and others have spoken badly of them.  They were made to be the lower class of people.

How many of us would choose that job over those offered around us today? 
Wanted: Inexperienced person to work 24/7 365 days a year, often having to travel away from your family and home with no definite time to return.  You will not receive enough wages and benefits to clothe or feed yourself.  Physical and emotional harm are not only possible but likely.  Hard labor may often be required.  It will be required for you to socialize with the outcasts of society, and speak out against inhuman and ungodly activities.  You may suffer as you’ve never suffered before, for a blessing larger than you’ve dreamed to receive in the future.  No monetary compensation will be given.  No heath care. No 401k. No dental or vision plans.

I dare say if this job offer received any responses at all it would be to the tune of “Are you kidding?” Yet one of the greatest preachers of the Bible, the Apostle Paul, made this his life.  And I dare say he had no regrets except those of the life he lived before accepting the position. 
We often read Jeremiah 29:11 which says “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”, and want to believe that God’s plans for us include abundance of our needs and wants.  Well, it didn’t for the Apostle Paul.  It didn’t for Thomas, who was crucified upside down.  It didn’t for Sister Teresa, who chose to serve God in the poorest of India.  It didn’t for many who have become unnamed martyrs trying to put the Word of God into the hands of those who have never heard it.

Friends, there is a greater blessing to be earned in service to God than a buck or two here and there.  What if your highest degree of happiness was in being poor, in sweeping a beach each day with a rake, going home to hard labor in a garden that fed your entire family and your elderly neighbors?  What if from that job and the friendships you made in it were the greatest pleasures you could receive?  We underestimate God’s blessings when we believe they are only to meet our physical and emotional needs.  And we further underestimate what God can do when we fail to step out in faith, as Paul did, and follow God’s calling on our life.  Yes, you may go hungry.  Yes, you may not be a fashionista.  Your entire wardrobe might fit into a single homemade dresser drawer.  Yes, you may walk from place to place because you don’t own a car, and you may not own a bed to sleep on at night. 
But if you become one that God looks at and says “Check her out! That’s my girl!” or “Well done my son! You've been such a good son!”, is it not worth more than that?  Is knowing that God, Almighty God, is pleased with you not worth more than all the money in the world?  The answer to that is in how much we value our relationship with God.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Antidote for Life

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.” – Psalms 91:14-16

There are special blessings reserved for those that have made God their passion.  To those He gives deliverance from evil, and companionship.  He will be with them when trouble comes in a way that is felt and known, providing peace, and deliverance.  He will even extend their days, giving them not only more days, but contentment.  And He will “show him My salvation”, extending to Him the full value of the gift of salvation for all that it is worth both on this earth and for eternity.  He will honor those that love Him above those that choose to place their heart on others and other things.

There’s a common misconception that God does not show favoritism.  Perhaps because we are not to show favoritism to our children, we feel that God shouldn’t as well.  But God is God, and our nature is nothing like His nature.  Often, Romans 2:11 is quoted, which says “For there is no partiality with God”.  But the verse is taken out of context.  In context, that very verse substantiates the fact that God does treat those who love Him differently than those who don’t, speaking of His justice.   It states that He will “render to each according to his deeds” (Romans 2:6). 

How did we get from loving God to our deeds?  Do we have an “out” in that we can claim to love God and yet not obey Him?  No, friends, we don’t.  It’s simple.  If you love God you obey Him.  John 14:15 says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” 1 John 5:3 says “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” In Deuteronomy 5:33 and again in 6:18, Moses reflects on receiving God’s commandments and twice tells the people that if they obey it will be well with them.  He says “You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.
Consider what it would be like if God did not honor those that love Him more than those that don’t.  Would that be fair?  What if the most evil and vile criminal were given peace, deliverance, and contentment?  Would there be a benefit to serving God over serving our own lusts and desires?  Justice would not be in His character if He did not show those that love Him favor.  Proverbs 21:15 speaks of His justice as two-sided, saying “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”

To have deliverance from our struggles, to find peace, to have contentment with life and even longer life, we have to set our hearts upon Him.  These are the things that make life worth living – the true blessings of God.  Loving God is the antidote for life’s problems.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Ulterior Motive of an Evangelist

That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes,
which we have looked upon,
and our hands have handled,
concerning the Word of life—  the life was manifested,
and we have seen,
and bear witness,
and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father
and was manifested to us—  
that which we have seen and heard we declare to you,
that you also may have fellowship with us;
and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” – 1 John 1:1-4

The Apostle John shows such love for Christ in this passage, describing Christ.  He says that He and the apostles (“we”) had heard His voice, seen Him with their own eyes, touched His flesh, which is the meaning of Christ being manifested.  Manifested in its Greek origin is phaneroĊ (Strongs G5319), which is defined as making visible and realized, making known by teaching, exposed to view, understood for who and what one is.

Then John turns to the response for having seen Christ and known Him in the flesh by saying that they bear witness of Him, they declare Him, they declare Him to us that haven’t seen Him.  And again, out of love this is done so that we can “have fellowship with us”, meaning the apostles, by experiencing what they have experienced.  And then John clarifies by saying “truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”, meaning that even though we would share the same understanding of Christ with them, we would all be drawn into friendship with God the Father, and Jesus, His son. 

Have you ever wondered what ulterior motive an evangelists has?  What causes a man to leave his family to proclaim the gospel, losing friends, and risking his life?  John slips the motive in verse 4 when he says “that your joy may be full”.  John was also called “John the Beloved” based on his own words in John 20:2 where he refers to himself as “the other disciple, whom Jesus loved”.  John knew Jesus loved him, and because he was loved, he wanted others to be loved as well. 

The love for mankind in combination with love for Jesus Christ is the ulterior motive for a truly called man of God to spread the gospel.  It’s not for money, fame, or fortune, but to see others fall in love with the One they love most.  When you truly love someone, you want share them, to see others appreciate the person they are.  You introduce them to your friends and family.  It brings joy to your heart when you see the one you love being loved by others.  This is why we share Christ.  We want nothing more than to find others who delight in Him the way we do.  From that love, our own joy grows.