Don’t Harden Your Heart!

-Heading Out On A Little Vacation-

-Next Post: August 25th-

-God’s Intentions Are Good!

God is benevolent toward us! That simply means that He is well-intended! His intentions toward us are good! It is in His very nature that He is loving, gracious, and merciful! His benevolence is not only intended toward us as individuals; but, also toward the nations of the world! However, while He is well-intended toward us— the people of the world— He holds the Sovereign right, as Creator, King & Lord over His creation, to withdraw His intended blessings from us as individuals; or, as a nation, when we fail to listen to His revealed Word!

-It’s His Sovereign Right To Judge!

He holds the Sovereign right to act toward us in the judgment that our actions deserve! And, listen, friend, you don’t wanna go there! God often warns us, in His Word, not to test Him! He often railed on Israel, His chosen people, for their constant testing of His resolve! He will judge! He will punish! It’s not what He wants to do; but, it is what He will do! Over the last several posts, we’ve considered the parable, in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, about the “potter and the clay.” In the parable, God is said to be the “potter”; while, we are His “clay.” We’ve discussed God’s Sovereign right to make of each individual lump of clay what He wills to create! We’ve also discussed how gracious God is to “remold” us after we’ve lived a life of rebellion that did not conform to His will! If we’ll confess our sinful & stubborn will, He will put us back on His spinning wheel and make of us a remolded piece of pottery!

-God’s Sovereign Right To Cast Us Aside!

In this post, we want to point out, from God’s parable in Jeremiah, that God also has the Sovereign right to cast us aside when we become hardened against Him:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Go, buy a potter’s clay jar. Take some of the elders of the people and some of the leading priests and go out to the Valley of Hinnom near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. Proclaim there the words I speak to you. Say: Hear the word of the Lord, kings of Judah, and residents of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on this place that everyone who hears about it will shudder because they have abandoned Me and made this a foreign place. They have burned incense in it to other gods… you are to shatter the jar in the presence of the people traveling with you, and you are to proclaim to them: This is what the Lord of Hosts says: I will shatter these people and this city, like one shatters a potter’s jar that can never again be mended” (Jeremiah 19:1-10). Those words are terrifying! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God! Don’t mess with Him! Yes, He is loving, gracious & merciful! But He is equally just & righteous; and, He will punish those who harden their hearts against Him! If you harden your heart against God’s Word, He has the Sovereign right to cast you aside!

-Submit To The Designer’s Will!

We are a lump of clay in God’s hands! We are like clay, which has little value, until we are molded, by the Master Potter, into Jesus’ likeness! God has a design for you; and, in the eternal sense, it’s the same for each one of us! He intends to mold us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. “For we are His creation,” Paul wrote the Church of Ephesus, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). There’s a story told that when Michelangelo was asked how he could fashion his masterpiece, of King David, he’s reported to have said:  “It wasn’t that difficult. I just chipped away every piece of the stone that didn’t look like David.” That’s what God, the Potter, is doing in your life. He’s forming you! He’s shaping you into the image of Jesus. Sometimes it hurts a little as He’s forming us; but, He always works on us because He loves us & His plans are best for us!

Trip Hazard!

-We’re Our Own Biggest Problem!

There are several verses, in the Old Testament book of Psalms, that bring “trip hazards” to mind as I read them! This wisdom literature points us to ourselves! We, ourselves, are probably the most problematic “trip hazard” that we face as we attempt to walk with God. For example, Israel’s King David says that any unconfessed sin we hold onto will harm our health! “When I kept silent, (about my sin),” he says, “my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat” (Psalm 32:3).  Even our bones become brittle when we hold onto our sin! Our strength is sapped like every day is a 100-degree day!

-God’s Heavy Hand Against Us!

God’s hand is heavy against us as long as we refuse to confess our sin to Him! “But,” he says, “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You took away the guilt of my sin” (v.5).  I vividly remember carrying the burden of my sin as a 13-year old boy. But, when I confessed my sin & accepted Jesus’ payment for my sin, by His death on the cross, I remember how my guilt vanished! What a great Psalm! Mark it in your Bibles! You’ll need it when Satan comes to accuse you of your sin— ”You say you’re a follower of Jesus? And, look at you! You’re nothing but a sinner!”  Rebuke the devil! Remind him that you’ve been forgiven for every sin you’ve ever committed! Once & for all they were nailed to Christ’s tree of crucifixion. Your sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus! God promises never to count them against you again! He makes you righteous in Christ!

-You Really Aren’t Strong Enough!

But, there’s another way that we are our own worst “trip hazard.” We get in the way when we think that we can do life in our strength! One of the clearest signs we have a problem, in this area, is our lack of prayer & our lack of time spent in Scripture! When we fail to pray & when we fail to read His Word, we’re telling God—by our actions—that, “I Got This! I don’t need your help, God!” We erroneously think we’re strong enough! We’re wise enough! We trust our resources! The nation of Israel’s failure, in this area, should serve as a warning to us:  “A king is not saved by a large army; a warrior will not be delivered by great strength. The horse is a false hope for safety; it provides no escape by its great power” Psalm 33:16. Large armies won’t save us!

-Fear God!

The great strength of a warrior will not deliver him! A horse’s great power offers false hope! Our strength & intelligence & ingenuity is a curse when we depend on it to save us! Rather, “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him—those who depend on His faithful love to deliver them from death and to keep them alive in famine. We wait for Yahweh; He is our help and shield” Psalm 33:18. We need to fear God for His great power! Depend on His faithful love to deliver you! He alone should be our help & shield! Though it’s never fun when our world is crashing around us, it proves to be a blessing when we see God turn things around! And, He’ll only do that after we’ve come to the end of ourselves! When all our resources & all our strength & all our wisdom just isn’t enough! It’s incredibly freeing to stop trying to be your own Savior; and, everyone else’s Savior too! To let God be God; and, admit you don’t know what to do next!

A Heart Devoted To God!

-Qualities Of A Good King!

In my last post I talked about the Old Testament descriptions of kings who were said to be either “good” or “evil.” Either they did that which was “good” in the sight of God; or, they did that which was “evil.” We talked, at length, about King Jehoshaphat; and, some of the reasons he was said to be a “good” king! In today’s post, I want to continue pointing out some of the qualities that made him a “good” king! The Scriptures also claim that he was good; because, his heart was devoted to the Lord— ”His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord…” 2 Chronicles 17:6.  That literally means that his heart was “devoted” to the LORD! Above every other thing, in his life, he was COURAGEOUS in his devotion to the ways of the LORD!

-Jesus: 1st Place In Everything!

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Corinth about where Jesus needs to fit in our live:  “He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything” Col 1:17-18. We need to be devoted to Jesus in the same way that King Jehoshaphat was devoted to the LORD! 1st PLACE in everything! We need to be honest about this, Church! We give a lot of lip service to Jesus having 1st PLACE in our life; but, does He have 1st PLACE in our lives when it comes to reading the Scriptures every day? Or, does that only happen if you can find time to squeeze it in? If He has 1st PLACE you’ll make reading Scripture to be PRIME TIME in your day! Does He have 1st PLACE in your Sunday morning when it comes to gathering for worship with the rest of your faith community? Are you ready to worship at the start of that service? What about the Sunday School hour? Does He have 1st PLACE during that time slot in your week? Are your kids getting the Bible training during the Sunday School hour that they so desperately need?

-Have You Been Lying To Yourself?

Does He really have 1st PLACE? Or, have you just been lying to yourself? We need to get real with ourselves, Church! We need to get real with God! We need to get real with each other! We need to identify the idols that are pushing Jesus out of that 1st PLACE position in every part of our lives! King Jehoshaphat’s devotion to God was so deep and true that he longed to know God through His Word! In 2 Chronicles, chapter 18, there’s an incident where he had interaction with King Ahab.

-He Sought His Father’s God!

Now, King Ahab was classified by God, in Scripture, as an “evil” king in Israel! And, when he showed interest only in what the false prophets of Baal had to say about a situation, Jehoshaphat insisted on hearing the Word of God from Micaiah, the prophet of Yahweh. And, that was the pattern of King Jehoshaphat’s life! Though he failed to always keep God’s Word, he had an affinity for it! He loved it! So, again, he provides us with another great example to follow. If you don’t long to know God’s Word; if, you’re not hungry for it, you’re not in a good place spiritually! You need to pray for God’s Spirit to help you! What made King Jehoshaphat a good king? Well, his story clearly reveals that he wasn’t a perfect man! He sinned! He was guilty of indiscretions. Not all of his decisions were wise ones! But, God called him a good king because he humbly repented when he was faced with his sin! The world needs men like King Jehoshaphat!

Lead Like Jesus!

-Not Like Rockstars!

The more I read the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ interactions, with His disciples, the more convinced I am that the prevailing world view, of His day, was really not much different than that of our own. The disciples all wanted to be “ROCKSTARS.” That’s why they followed Jesus at the start! He was popular! They thought He was going to be king over Israel & deliver their people from the Romans. Who wouldn’t want to latch onto that star, if given a chance, and, ride it as far as it would go? If ever they were going to be His disciples, Jesus would have to retrain & reteach them! His kingdom was not of this world, He told them!

-Jesus’ Kingdom Way!

The way of Jesus’ kingdom was entirely different from the kingdoms of this world. Listen to what Jesus told them, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel:  “Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In essence, Jesus is teaching them to live their lives out in the hidden places of service rather than the public places of being noticed. One of my favorite pastors & authors challenges us to make that our prayer! We’ll have to pray that God changes our heart & makes us a servant; because we’ll never choose the place of obscure service in our flesh.

-Jesus Is Attractive To Many!

You see, Jesus & His Gospel have been misrepresented by much of the western church! So many self-identified “Christians” live such a selfish, mean-spirited, ugly way of life that our unbelieving neighbors want nothing to do with whatever it is they’re peddling! But, many unbelievers do find Jesus attractive! And, many find the true church— that strives to follow Jesus & His teachings— to be attractive like Him! Just think about it church—Jesus won us over because He served us at our deepest need! He loved us in spite of our sinful brokenness! Our cities & our neighbors will begin to pay attention to the church again when we serve them, in their need, like Jesus served us! When we love them like Jesus loved us!

-Jesus’ Model Of Greatness!

That’s how Jesus discipled His followers, according to Mark’s text. This is what true greatness looks like, in Jesus’ kingdom! Don’t steal the world’s model for greatness because it doesn’t look anything like greatness in God’s realm! True greatness, in God’s kingdom, is counter-intuitive to this world’s standard. The “…rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them…” If you’re going to rule or lead, in the Gentile world— or, among unbelievers— you have to dominate them! You have to show ‘em who’s in charge! Like the former Russian Communist leader, Lenin, once said: “One man with a gun can control 100 without one.” That’s worldly leadership! It’s not Jesus’ way!

The Humility Of Jesus!

-Our Lack Of Humility!

Our general failure to serve others, as Jesus did, stems from our failure to humble ourselves as Jesus did! As Jesus washes the feet, of His disciples, He finally comes to Peter— “Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you’” John 13:6-10.  Peter’s words express his shame; that, he had been unwilling to humble himself & wash the feet of the disciples, “Lord, You’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” His words express a brokenness among the disciples now.

-Overcome By Selfishness!

They were overcome by their individual selfishness & humiliated by their pride that kept them from washing each other’s feet! And, the occasion provided Jesus the opportunity to exhibit true humility! That seems to be Jesus’ intent when He tells him,  “…you don’t understand now, but you will know after this.”  “Peter, you’re protesting because you’re ignorant,” Jesus was saying, “I’ve been telling you, for 3 1/2 years, that I came to minister to people, not to be ministered unto. I came to be humiliated & humbled! Someday you’ll understand.” After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter did understand. He had observed the total humiliation & humbling of Jesus on the cross.  But, not now! As Jesus washed his feet, the complete picture, of what Jesus came to do, was not evident yet to Peter. He still thinks Jesus is about to launch His Kingdom! This is the King— “What are you doing down there washing my feet, King Jesus?” “Peter, you’re just not tracking with me,” Jesus was saying, “I must humble myself! That’s why I came! And, if you won’t let me humble myself, in your place, you can have no part of Me! If I don’t experience the ultimate humiliation of death, on the cross! If I don’t take your sin & the sin of the world! If I don’t make atonement for your sin, you can have no part of Me! You’ll never spend eternity with Me!”

-I’ve Given You An Example!

He finishes washing their feet & says, “You call Me Teacher & Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord & Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” John 13:13-15. The “example” He gave was NOT the practice of foot washing! The example He gave us was HUMILITY!  His ministry, as a SERVANT, didn’t appeal to the religious leaders! Serving others made Him weak, in their estimation. He couldn’t possibly be the Messiah! Judas Iscariot came to the same conclusion! So, he determined to cut his losses & make a little profit from his wasted 3 1/2 years with Jesus! How sad they missed the Servant King!

 

Serve One Another!

-Jesus, The Example!

For I have given you an example,” Jesus told His disciples, after washing their feet, “that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master…” John 13:15-17.  The example, He set before them, was NOT the washing of their feet! In some circles, where the washing of feet is practiced, individuals can actually take “pride” in the “humility” they display as they wash each other’s feet. No, the example Jesus sets is true humility in the serving of others! It is humble deference to others; and, serving them in every life situation!

-Jesus, The Master!

I am your Master,” Jesus says, “And I’ve given you an example to serve in the SAME WAY you’re seen me serve!” That’s the identity that Jesus gives us! That’s who we are! We are servants, just like Jesus, our Master! We’re called Christians; and, that literally means “little Christs.” Acts 11 says the believers were first called “little Christs” at Antioch. They so resembled the humble, servant Christ that the unbelievers said they acted just like Him! Like a “little Christ.” We will never serve like Jesus served until we grab hold of that! To use Jesus’ words, our purpose & calling is to “…do as I have done to you…” He calls us to be a servant to all! Just like Jesus!

-Jesus, The Lover!

But, we will never serve like Jesus served until we love like Jesus loved! In the first verse, of John 13, it says, of Jesus, “…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The key to understanding that verse; and, the kind of love Jesus had, is found in that phrase, “…He loved them to the end.” It means “to the uttermost” or with “total fullness.” He loved them “utterly”, with “total fullness”; even though He knew that His hour, to endure the cross, was near! Though He knew of His approaching death to pay for the sin of the world! All the way to the cross He is pre-occupied with His love for them! His kind of love drove Him to serve! To minister! And, we’ll not serve like Jesus until we learn to love like He loved! It’s quite simple really! We don’t serve because our pre-occupation is with other things! We’re pre-occupied with the building of our own little kingdoms; rather, than His kingdom! We don’t serve because it’s not on our agenda!

-Will They Know You’re His Disciple?

We’re not in love with the same things Jesus was in love with! Later, in the same chapter, John records these words of Jesus: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:35. The world will know that we are Christians (“little Christs”) by our love; and, our love will be evidenced by a life of service to others! Loveless people are too pre-occupied with their own “self importance” to do common ministry… like washing someone’s feet! Not Jesus! He is fully aware of His identity! He is the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is God incarnate! And, He’s washing the feet of disciples who were too proud to serve each other! That is true love’s character! And, the nearer we are, to Jesus, the closer we’ll get to other people! And, we’ll serve them like Jesus did!

 

The Prayer Of Repentance!

-Once Upon A Time!

The Parable Of The Ducks”— Once upon a time there was a town where only ducks lived. Every Sunday the ducks waddled out of their houses & down Main Street to their Duck Church. They waddled in & squatted down in their proper seats. The Duck Choir would waddle in & take their place. And, the Duck Pastor would waddle forward & open his Duck Bible. And, he’d read to them:  “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up & soar like Eagles! No walls can confine you! No fences can hem you in! You have wings, so FLY!” All the ducks would shout, “Amen!” And, then they would all waddle home!

-When Sin Invades!

The moral to the story? Once sin invades our life it cripples our ability to live the Christian life the way God intended for us to it; and, until we repent of our sin, we’ll “waddle” through this life though God has ENABLED us to “FLY” IN CHRIST! Before his ascension, to the throne of Israel— and, for much of his early reign—  King David was a man of moral integrity. But, some where he began to take himself too seriously; and, pride began to crowd out the voice of God’s Spirit, in his life; and, he began to lose his way spiritually. The tragic events leading up to King David’s most memorable sinful gaffe are found in 2 Samuel ch. 11.

-David’s Tragic Gaffe!

It began “..in the spring,” v.1 says, “when kings march out to war.” It was customary for kings to march out to war, with their soldiers, to inspire them! But, David decides to indulge himself at home while his soldiers set up camp in an open field. “…David sent Joab,” the text says, “with his officers and all Israel.  They destroyed the Ammonites & besieged Rabbah, but David remained in Jerusalem.” That decision proved to be a dreadful mistake for David! One evening, while out for a stroll on the roof of his palace, he sees something he never would have been exposed to if he had marched to war with his men. A woman was cleansing herself. She was a beautiful woman, according to v.2; and, David decides he wants her. So, he sends messengers to find out who she was—she was the WIFE of one of his soldiers, Uriah & that should have ended it! She was another man’s wife! But David sent for her & slept with her!

-The Big Cover-Up!

It would just be a 1-night fling for the king; but, she got pregnant! And, then he orchestrated a cover-up that ended in her husband Uriah’s death! But God was displeased with what David had done; so, He sent Nathan, the Prophet, to expose King David’s sin & to inform him that the son, that Uriah’s wife would give birth to, would die. It’s at that point that the Scriptures allow us to peer in on King David to see what a “Prayer of Repentance” looks like! What we learn is that repentant prayer re-opens communication with God that sin had closed! I’m pretty confident that David’s sin didn’t begin here with Uriah’s wife. When the big sin shows up, there’s always a trail of little sins leading up to it. And, David repented of all of it!

 

Is Your God Too Small?

-Are You Too Big?

40 some years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote, what turned into a Christian classic, Your God Is Too Small. It’s a great book! I highly recommend it! Phillips does a great job of capturing the struggle, that we humans have, of seeing how big God really is! We tend to see God as much smaller & less awesome than He is; and, we see ourselves as much bigger & more significant than we really are!

-Superman Don’t Need No Airplane!

I love the story about former heavy weight boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, who loved to boast, in jest, about being the greatest! It was part of his shtick & show! Once, while flying on a commercial flight, the stewardess told him to fasten his seatbelt just before takeoff. “Superman don’t need no seatbelt,” Ali replied; and, the stewardess shot back, “Superman don’t need no airplane, either.” That pretty much epitomizes the attitude the “health, wealth & prosperity FALSE gospel” has spawned here in the western church! The image of God has been distorted!

-He’s No “Genie In A Bottle”!

Much, of the Church, has turned God into a wimpy “Genie in the bottle” kind of God who grants OUR wishes; and, somehow NEEDS us to feel significant! Rather, than the self-sufficient, self-sustaining Sovereign God, that He is, who needs nothing & is the KING of kings & LORD of lords! I love how Paul addresses this subject in his letter to the Roman believers:  “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.  Amen” Romans 11:33-36.

-Glory In God’s Wisdom!

That’s another one of those rich texts, of Scripture, that magnifies & lifts up our Awesome God! Paul is like caught up in the wonder & the mystery of who He is! He seems to be promoting the underlying thought that good or bad, big or small, whatever comes our way, let us give God Glory for everything that happens in life! Notice, he challenges the church to give God Glory for His “…wisdom and knowledge…” Whatever comes, give God Glory because of His wisdom & knowledge. He knows what He’s doing!

-Is God Foolish?

There’s another great verse that Paul included, in his letter, to the Church of Corinth: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” 1 Cor 1:25. Don’t you just love that? Mind you, Paul is NOT saying that God has a foolish side to Him. On the contrary, He’s pointing out how foolish we are when we think we’re really wise & smart. IF God had a foolish side—and, He DOESN’T—He would still be wiser than you and me! He’s “omniscient.” That means He knows everything! Anything that’s knowable, He already knows it; and, He’s known it for all eternity! He knows everything you & I have forgotten; but, He still knows it! And, He knows everything that you & I will never know! Only God knows why He allows the wickedness, in the world, to enjoy temporary victories! Trust His wisdom!