A Leading Question

Question Which Direction-resized-600Proverbs 3:5,6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

“Brother, please pray for me for direction.” How many times have I heard this prayer request? We all want to know how to receive guidance from God. Lord direct my paths!

How does God direct us? I confess I have used this verse in the past to claim and even teach that God directs us by means of our circumstances. ‘In all your circumstances acknowledge Him’? Yes, God is sovereign in our circumstances, but are we truly capable of understanding just how this is accomplished? Are we able to properly interpret the meaning or significance of this or that happening?

Proverbs 20:24 “A man’s steps are of the LORD; how then can a man understand his own way?”

Over the years I have discovered that my attempts to interpret circumstances have often led to more trouble. Too many times I looked at “coincidences” as confirmation.

For example, two friends of mine once recommended me to do a back yard renovation for a friend of theirs. Neither of my friends realized that the other had made such a recommendation. My friends, my new customer and I were all Christians. I prayed with the customer and felt peace about pursuing the job. Two Christians who did not know each other randomly recommending me for a job when the county I live is full of contractors more qualified than I do so such a job? All of us Christians who loved the Lord? It all just seemed right.

The job went sour right from the beginning. Through an amazing series of mishaps and misunderstandings I ended up owing my customer $11,000.00! As of the writing of this blog I am half way through paying off this debt. I learned many things because of this incident for which I praise God continually. One of the greatest things I learned was this:

Coincidental confirmations and peaceful feelings are inferior and potentially disastrous indicators of God’s will!

Was God directing? Yes. Did I understand what He was doing or where He was taking me? Not at all.

Do you trust ABC, NBC or CNN to report the news in an unbiased manner? No? Trust your feelings even less! Are you allowing circumstances to dictate your next decision? There is a better way.

Feelings are a blessing, but only in the context of God’s will. Circumstances are the tools by which God grows our faith, but are merely pieces in a million piece puzzle that we will never figure out until He puts it all together.

Now let’s look at Proverbs 3:5,6 in context, by beginning with verse 1.

“My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you.

Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 of Proverbs all begin with an admonition to keep the words, instructions, laws, commands, and doctrine of God.

To acknowledge God in all our ways we are not acknowledging circumstances as our guides but the truth of God’s word in our circumstances.

What could I have acknowledged in my failed job? God’s truth! Here are just two, though there are many others. Psalm 138:8 “The LORD will perfect that which concerns me” and Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

For every feeling and for every circumstance there is a promise from God that covers it. As Peter declared in 2 Peter 3,4, “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature…”

When we know God, He, through His power and promises, gives us everything we need that has to do with our daily lives or our service to Him.

We need to settle this in our hearts once and for all. I am yelling at myself right now. “Stop being led about and deceived by your feelings! Your feelings are tied to your flesh and your flesh wants to lead you into lustful cravings.”

Feelings are only a blessing in the context of God’s revealed will.

And how about this (I shout to myself): “Do not be lead by coincidences and circumstances, but while you are in them, acknowledge the truths of God’s word that apply and reject any other conclusion.”

Circumstances are God’s tools for growing our faith. They are opportunities to learn to trust God’s promises.

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 310 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Infinity Minus One

98841893Rev 3:12 “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.”

How can I refrain from evil for all eternity?
If I get tired worshiping for two hours in church, how will I praise God for eternity?
Will heaven be boring?

We all know the answer to these questions intuitively.  We know that we will be free of sin, rapturously worshipful and joyfully occupied for all eternity, but I want to share a thought which gave me great comfort regarding why this is so.

First, what is infinity minus one?  Mathematicians agree that infinity minus one is still infinity.  Even if you managed to subtract a trillion from infinity, infinity would continue to stretch out indefinitely, infinitely.

Similarly, the Bible says God is One. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct Persons and yet is undivided, undiminished, God, unifying the parts into one Whole.

God has a way of giving away parts of Himself without being diminished.  For example, without losing any of Himself, He gives life to every man.  This is no small accomplishment.  Anybody can create a puppet or even a computer that makes logical deductions, but self awareness and emotions such as love, and actions, such as sacrifice, cannot spring from dead, inert materials.

How can people be conscious unless God breathes into them life and the light of consciousness?  In this sense we are all His offspring and can never be uncreated.  Why?  Because, without diminishing Himself, God put something of His very own nature into us. As has been said, in this sense we are “sparks of the divine.”

Whether we live eternally in His presence or outside His presence, live we shall. 

Fast forward into the eternities to come.

Will I refrain from evil for all eternity?  (Fidelity)
Will I be able to praise God for all eternity? (Joy)
Will I have eternally satisfying aspirations? (Purpose)

Yes!  Because in heaven we shall be as He is.
Psalm 17:15  As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.

1 John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

Yes, we are now created in His image; yet we cannot see Him face to face.  But in heaven we will see Him so and not perish.   We will awake in His likeness in a much greater sense than now.  We will be like Him!   We will be direct partakers of His very nature.  In heaven we will possess the name of God.  We will not be Gods but we will have God’s name written upon us and thus share of His nature.

What do we know about God and His nature?  One thing we know is that He is infinite in every attribute, including fidelity, joy and purpose.  Therefore in Him, because of Him and because of the very Nature that He grants us, we also will be forever faithful, eternally joyful, and never, ever bored for even one moment.  We will drink from eternal springs and eat forever of His delights!

We do not need to fear sin, apathy or boredom.   Why?  Because the Eternal One will stamp His very nature hard upon our soul.

For infinity minus one (or even a trillion) is still infinity.

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On the Lamb

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

This was one of my favorite verses when I was a young man. How encouraging to know that my crimson, scarlet sins could be as snow or as a coat made of white wool! Often I bathed in this truth and felt the filth of my flesh melt away from my defiled conscience.

Now, as an adult this passage impresses me anew with its full contextual meaning. Now I see conditions I missed when I was young. Oh, I am still comforted by God’s wonderful grace, but I am also sobered by the consequences of disobedience.

You see, Israel at the time of Isaiah was a very religious land. They fulfilled their appointed sacrifices, they observed new moons and Sabbaths. They sang songs and they fasted. They held sacred meetings and burned incense. But God despised their religiosity because something was missing.

Obedience.

While they sang and worshipped, innocent blood was being shed in their land! They did not stop their evil practice of child sacrifice, nor did they take action to do good or seek justice. They did not rebuke those who oppressed others and they did not defend those without fathers or husbands who could not protect themselves.

Now join me as an adult and read Isaiah’s words…in context:

Isaiah 1:13-20 Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.

15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.

16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.

18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword”; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

I am so comforted by God’s promise to cleanse my sins. But let’s keep in mind that this passage was originally written as a corporate warning to Israel to repent of two things.

  •           Committing evil acts, to the point of shedding innocent blood.
  •           Failing to confront evil.

Lord, have mercy upon us! Save us from burying our heads, not in the sand, but in the safety of our songs and our sanctuaries!

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Getting Worked

1 getting worked“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.” Matthew 11:29,30

Jesus, Your yoke is easy? Your burden is light? Really? When I think of the toil and struggle of my life stretching back even into childhood I cannot hold back the tears. And scripture even verifies this.

In the world we will have tribulation.
It is through much tribulation that we enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
With much wisdom comes much sorrow.
We are called into a fellowship of suffering with Jesus Christ.
Those who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

The list goes on, but you get the picture.

So how can Jesus say His yoke is easy and His burden light? In what sense are we able to find rest for our souls?

First, note that this passage in Matthew 11 is preceded by “come unto me all you who labor…” and assumes that we are in fact laboring. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner (God) who hires laborers (us) for His vineyard (the world.)

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Matthew 20:1

In the above parable all laborers are paid the same wage no matter what time of day they were hired; so we rejoice because last minute reprieves are possible. A good example is the thief on the cross next to Jesus who repented in the nick of time.

Obviously being a laborer in His vineyard does nothing to guarantee our salvation, for what labor did that thief perform? Nevertheless, once we are hired (saved) we are now, among other things, His laborers.

“Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” 1 Corinthians 4:8

So, we are called to be His laborers, or His workers 1Co 3:9, 2Co 6:1, Phl 4:3, 3Jo 1:8.

Many times I cried out to Jesus and asked Him, “Jesus, how is Your burden light? In what sense is your yoke easy?” But when I saw this passage in the context of labor I realized that when it comes to the fruit of our labors in Him, there is absolutely nothing I can do. He alone grants the increase.

Thus, in toilsome labor of time and energy, in my heart of hearts I rest in the knowledge that He is with me, working what He wills and receiving all the glory.

Furthermore, if I am actually laboring in His vineyard there is a rest available to me that is otherwise elusive. That rest is the abiding sense that I am doing what I was created to do.

Oh then what joy and rest and peace there is when I labor in this manner! I labor in tears and sorrow and suffering, but with great peace that the results are not up to me. I put my shoulder to the harness though it chafes and cuts, trusting in His deliverance, His provision and in His healing power.

Though at times it is eventual, it is certain that I will find His rest. Even when the evil day arrives, the day of overwhelming trouble, I fall forward into His grace and hope in His mercy, and always find rest for my soul.

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Peekaboo

god-is-peeking“In Your presence is fullness of joy and at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 16:11

Ah pleasure. Most Friday nights my wife and I indulge in a little too much sugar and usually rent a movie. We miss each other because our busy week is full of activity: work, children, grandchildren, friends, ministry and so on. I admit, especially in the past, guilt has often followed because, honestly, we have so much fun together that the consciousness of God can slip away into the night. But it does not have to.

When we talk about pleasure and God in the same sentence the two seem incompatible. It is true that extending our earthly pleasures beyond what is reasonable has the potential to divert our attention away from God entirely. Furthermore, the pursuit of pleasure can lead to psychological and even physiological dependency. In this case the very thing we pursue in order to enhance enjoyment of life ends up causing us a progressive sense of grief rather than pleasure.

“Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit.” Proverbs 25:16.

However, we must not forget that God is the Creator of pleasure. The danger inherent in pleasure is not that we will have too much fun, but that it will lead us into a state of mind whereby God becomes a hazy memory rather than a present reality.

Why is this so important? Can I offer a cosmological answer? In the grand scheme of things those who follow Christ will one day live in the presence of God forevermore. What a wonderful hope we have! I can hardly contain my excitement at the thought!

But how does our Lord feel about us being in His presence? Listen to the Lord’s lament about His people:

“Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number.” Jeremiah 2:32.

Oh, He loves us. He will freely give us all things, even His kingdom! Just not yet. For now “the LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.” Psalm 11:4.

His eyes appear to be closed. His eyelids are at half-mast, as though He were sleeping and unaware of our activities. But He is actually watching to see if we are the sort of person who will remember Him always. Will we remember Him first thing in the morning and last thing before we sleep? Will His name be on our lips daily through every challenge, trial and triumph?

If so then no pleasure of this plain can divert us from remembering Christ nor take us beyond what is reasonable. If we remember Him now in the land of darkness, how great will be our pleasure (and His!) when we are together in eternal light! One day we will be incapable of forgetting Him and yes, we will love Him dearly. So let us demonstrate the sincerity of our love now by making it our practice to make all our joy and pleasure in Him.

For in such a state no earthly delight can derail, detain or destroy us, but instead serve as a metaphor, a reminder of the pleasures we will have in His glorious Kingdom and in His presence forevermore!

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Treasure! Arrr…

treasure chestProverbs 2:1-9 My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.

Psalm 19:10,11 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

When I was younger I imagined myself trudging through the Word of God day after day, week after week, year after year, verses, chapters, book after book, bored by genealogies and bothered by incongruities beyond my understanding. Oh, from time to time I found slices of silver and nuggets of gold, and put them in my treasure chest to be admired now and then. But little did I understand that when we were called to “meditate” upon His precepts “day and night”—to write them “on the tablet of” our hearts, it was that nugget or slice of God’s word that first excited our souls.

We found revelations from God’s word that brought us peace, warnings that kept us from sin and insights that gave us direction. These are the passages we meditate upon day and night, adding others as we continue our pursuit. We are not reading to get spiritual credit with God, but as treasure hunters, we are searching for gold and silver—beautiful, weighty, valuable insights that will keep our minds renewed and our freshen our hope—words laden with power, that compel us to action, quicken our faith and reacquaint us with our love relationship with Christ.

And where do we keep these treasures? In a jewelry box? In a safe? No, we write them on the tablet of our hearts. In other words, memorize them. What then? We wear them on our fingers! One ring for each finger! Scores of shining bracelets! Necklaces abounding. In other words, we bring them out of the treasure chest and into the open, reciting them and admiring them, so that they jingle in our hearing and adorn our lives with beauty.

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