Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Week Fifty - Zeal

 “For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproach of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.”  Psalm 69:9
And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”  John 2:17
While these verses are linked by the fact that one is a quotation of the other, there is a bit of variation between the two definitions probably due to the fact that one is Hebrew and the other Greek. 
In Psalm 69 the word means ardour, zeal or jealousy, especially that of a jealous husband.  In John, the definition means more an excitement of mind, fervour of spirit in embracing, pursuing or defending anything.  It also indicates a fierceness of indignation, or an envious and contentious rivalry.
Jesus’ zeal for the house of God was demonstrated as he made a scourge of small cords and drove out those that sold sacrifices and the moneychangers from the temple.  Upon seeing his zealous actions, the disciples remembered the verse from Psalm 69. 
It is this same sort of zeal that drives men to serve the Lord and to stand for righteous causes.  David rejoiced in the streets as the Ark of the Covenant was returned.  John the Baptist preached and stood against sin.  Steven was stoned.  Paul cast aside all earthly reward counting it all but dung for the reward of knowing Christ.  The Book of Hebrews records those who with fervent zeal embraced and pursued a higher call.  All these were “eaten up” with fervent passion and contended for the faith.
As we face a New Year, maybe it is time to examine our own level of zeal.  Just how defensive or jealous are we for the things of God?  Are our churches filled with things that Jesus would chase out?  Do we rejoice when we see God’s greatness?  Do we boldly stand against sin?  Do we endure rejection and persecution with our eyes upon the Lord?  Do we count Christ a worthy reward?  Are we “eaten up” with fervent passion about the things of God?  Are we fiercely contending for the faith?

 “For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many.”  II Corinthians 9:2
The thing about zeal is that it is contagious!
When I started Bible College the Shah of Iran had just fallen.  This sent missionary Ken Liles back to America.  God opened the doors for him to be my mission teacher.  His zeal for the ministry was fresh and fervent.  He wasn’t afraid to challenge my thinking and he excited my mind with increased faith and a deeper devotion.  His zeal provoked in me a fervour to pray for the peoples of the Middle East that continues to this day.
Over the years there have been so many blessed ones God has used to provoke me to greater zeal in other areas as well.  Some have been Sunday school teachers who challenged me to hold my Bible is high regard.  Some have been men and women who encouraged me to not lose hope in parenting.  Some have been pastors who have opened God’s Word with great wisdom and directness.  And others have been friends who have walked alongside with words of instruction and kindness.  All of these exhibited a level of zealousness and compassion that prompted me to have greater strength, determination or devotion.  I am so thankful for each one who influenced me by their zeal and compassion.
As we look at our own lives we must wonder - upon whom have I had an influence?  Have I passed my zeal on to others?  Am I living a contagious Christian life?
 “….that he that a great zeal for you…”  Colossians 4:13
Epaphras was one of those faithful men who served alongside the Apostle Paul.  The Bible records that he was a fervent laborer that kept people in prayer and who genuinely cared.  The use of the word zeal means that his concern was not casual.  He passionately wanted to see those around him growing in the Lord and inside God’s will.
Christian zeal for others can be displayed by various means and is usually done in relation to our spiritual gifts.  Givers give.  Exhorters exhort.  Mercy givers give mercy, etc.  All are valid means of exhibiting our zeal and care toward others.  The thing is that if we are not exhibiting care toward others, then we are obviously without zeal toward them.  Without zeal we can be assured that we will affect very few to any positive results. 
Giving and caring characterized the Christians of the New Testament.  They sold possessions in order to feed the others in the church.  They opened their homes for daily meetings and meals.  Even the words used to describe their activities reveal that their social economy was different than that of those around them.
When defining brotherly kindness Berg writes, “What is most interesting is that in the secular Greek world…the word was reserved only for blood relatives.  The early church extended its use to those outside the natural family because they considered anyone in the body of Christ a “brother” or “sister” in Christ….the unbelievers despised the Christian use of this term outside the natural family lines….the New Testament is the only place where the word has been found outside the context of the home.  A first-century reader would therefore come across it here with a sense of shock.”
Would zealous compassion be a word used to describe your relationships?  Would brotherly kindness be a term in your vocabulary?  Does your compassion extend beyond your family boundaries?  Do you have a zeal for others or is our life self focused?
 “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”  Isaiah 9:7
We live in a time between the establishment of Israel and the total restoration of Israel.  This verse is a promise of completion.  There will be an eternal government of peace, judgment, and justice that reflects the character of God.  It will be ordered with prudence and equality.
And how will this happen?  God will make it happen.  He will undertake to bring to pass.  He has all power in his hand and all creation at his beckoning.  God’s zeal – his ardour, passion, and determined will for good – means that He will not do less than everything to accomplish His plan for the ages. 
This zeal is what we see in Christ’s spiritual victory over Satan at his first coming and is the same zeal that accompanies the judgments on the Antichrist, Satan, and every enemy at the second coming.
God will perform it.  Here is a place for us to rest, a place of solid assurance and confidence.  A place where we have nothing more to do than believe.  God didn’t just write the Bible down for us to read.  He wrote it to affirm to us His plan.  To help us to look beyond today to the realization of His truth – His plan – His will. 
He is zealous.  We might not see how all of the cogs fit.  We might think that time is ticking by and no progress is being made.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  God is always working to bring about the fulfillment of His Word and will.  He is not stagnant, nor has He forgotten.  This you can believe.
One day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess...until that day, we also need to be zealously living for this future.  Are we?
 “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.”  Isaiah 59:17
I don’t know if I can adequately describe the image I see in my mind about this verse.  Let me start by backing up in Isaiah 59 to show you what is happening.  Words like, iniquity, evil, destruction, crooked, groping, lying, falsehood and truth that has failed bring us to the phrase in verse 15, “…and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.” 
Then, in verse 16 it states that, “there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor…”  God saw that man’s state was one of hopelessness.  So, “….therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him.”  God chose to do something about it!
As a mighty warrior and a victorious king he donned his robes – a breastplate of righteousness, a helmet of salvation, battle gear and cloaked it all in zeal.
I see him standing at the gateway to heaven with the crown upon His head, His garments blowing in the wind and ready to step out into battle.  As he makes his initial step he takes the train of his royal robe and casts one side over his shoulder.  He is clothed in zeal, ready for battle and not to be deterred.  This is our God – a God jealous of his children, ready to defend.  He is the man.  He is the intercessor. 

“So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun.  When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.”  Isaiah 59:19

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Eve 2014

 “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”  Matthew 1:23
Immanuel – God with us – the promise of Christmas.
The coming of the Messiah is the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3:15 – a Saviour for mankind.  And not only a Saviour to recover man from sin, but also the assurance and reality of God actively and personally involved in each individual life.  God sends his Son, and the Son gives his life. The Spirit is the seal of our salvation -the ever-abiding presence of God – God with us.
In John 16:32 Jesus tells the disciples that they will soon all abandon him.  But he assures them, saying, “…yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”  The presence of the Father brought Him comfort, strength and assurance.  If you are alone, or feeling lost in the crowd at Christmas, I hope you can draw aside to consider that God is with you.  You are not alone.  And, as Jesus said in John 16:27, “For the Father himself loveth you.”   You are not unloved.  
This assurance is “the product of the interaction between a God-seeking man and his Saviour through the Word of God.  A.W. Tozer put it this way:
For millions of Christians…God is no more real than He is to the non-Christian.  They go through life trying to love an ideal and be loyal to a mere principle…(but) A loving Personality dominates the Bible, walking among the trees of the garden and breathing fragrance over every scene.  Always a living Person is present, speaking, pleading, loving, working, and manifesting Himself whenever and wherever His people have the receptivity necessary to receive the manifestations. 
It remains for us to think on these truths and pray over them until they begin to glow in us.  If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian and a life radiant with the light of His face.”  (Berg)
It is my prayer and hope for you at this season that the presence of God is a reality, that His light radiates from within you and His Spirit is a genuine part of your celebration.  Take time to ponder on the truth that God is truly with us and let it sink deep into your heart.  You are not alone, and our Heavenly Father – God with us - loves you.
Next week will be my last weekly blog for this year.  God has given me a dear friend who is gong to help me edit my devotionals and our goal is to at least get a Kindle edition out this coming year.  Meanwhile, Tom and I will be Stateside reporting to churches and seeing family.
May God be with you and give you a Merry Christmas.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Week Forty-Nine- Wrath

 “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?”  Proverbs 27:4
Wrath.  It means heated rage or hot displeasure.  Wrath may seem like an unlikely subject while the Christmas season is upon us, but one character in the Christmas story exemplifies this verse – Herod.  His wrath was cruel and his angry response was totally outrageous.  Even God removed his Son from the reach of this king’s envy by instructing Joseph to take his young family into Egypt.
You know the story.  Herod appealed to the Wise Men with the pretense of wanting to worship the new King, but his real intent was to dethrone him before he could come to power.  His wrath, anger and envy drove him to murder all baby boys in his realm under the age of two.  Outrageous.
But this is the manner of wrath.  It causes us to lose our balance and sense of reality and justice.  All we can think of is our own vengeance.  We strike out in self-protection or for the purpose of securing our position.  People do it at work, in the home, and, sadly, in the church.
The Bible is full of examples of individuals who allowed their wrath to drive their decisions, and with disastrous consequences for themselves and others around them.  The Bible is also full of verses warning us about wrath and how best to deal with it.
The trouble with wrath is that it is so closely bound with pride.  We don’t even want to admit we are angry.  So we hold it inside.  Meanwhile, it is burning its way through in our words and actions.  Eventually it will be exposed for the cruel thing it really is.
Are you holding wrath, anger and envy in your heart against someone?  What better time than today to let it go?  Forgive – that is the only lasting remedy for anger – before it explodes.

 “For wrath killeth the foolish man, and envy slayeth the silly one.”  Job 5:2
“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”  James 1:20
Wrath has a way of provoking us to frustration.  It is a vexation of the soul, an agitation and a violent emotion.  It overtakes and makes its mark on our life and on the lives of those around us.
Job says it will kill the foolish man and James tells us that it does not produce good things.  This tells me that there can really be no justification for holding on to wrath. 
Yet how many families are marred by wrath?  You hear stories of Christmases that are completely destroyed by the anger and envy brought into the home by those who refuse to let it go.  Surely there is nothing sadder than a family who cannot enjoy time together without fear of someone’s outburst.
Oh, yes, someone did something to someone or said something several years ago, and no one is going to allow him or her to forget it.  Why do we think this is wise?  Why do we think that somehow holding on to a hurt will make better?  Do we not understand that the longer you hold a hot coal in your hand the deeper it burns?  The scar will not go away easily, but picking at it only makes it worse.  Again, forgiveness is the only cure for anger.  You must let it go.  You must take the hot coal out of your hand and apply a healing balm to the wound.
Grace and forgiveness is the best balm.  Grace that says, “I will overlook the comment.”  Forgiveness that say, “I will let the hurt go.”
This just might be the best Christmas gift you could ever give to yourself, and to your family.

 “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”  James 1:19
“But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication our of your mouth.”  Colossians 3:8
One of the most common ways for wrath to expose itself is in our speech.  It doesn’t take long to talk with someone and discover where his or her pressure points are.  They may be angry with their boss or frustrated with a co-worker.  It will come one in their conversation.  Some people live their lives angry.  Nearly every word they speak is coloured by resentment.  It really behooves us to examine our core to see if we are living from anger.  Sometimes we might even need to ask a trusted friend to know if our tones of voice or mannerisms are exhibiting this characteristic.
Nevertheless, God is clear on how we should direct our speech and how speech is related to wrath.  A soft answer turns away wrath.  Simple.  If someone is angry, don’t respond in anger as well.  This only heightens the emotion.
Then, we are told to listen better, speak less, and not be so quick to respond emotionally in anger.  Sound advice!  You will learn so much more by listening than by speaking your own mind and allowing emotion to drive the conversation.  Matter of fact, I have found that simply listening without responding means I can take it away, pray over it, and usually not have to respond at all.  I can take it to the Lord and leave it with him.  Emotions don’t have to drive everything I hear.  And people don’t always have to know what I think.
Finally, Colossians gives us a list of things we need to simply put out of our life and speech.  The definition of wrath here means: passion, angry, heat, anger forthwith boiling up and soon subsiding again.  Oh, my, isn’t that how wrath is?  It has an ebb and tide and is driven by emotion.  Reminds me of the verse in James – the double-minded man is unstable.  Allowing anger to be the deciding factor in our life and speech means that we will always be boiling up and down.
Do you want to live like that?  Or, rather, do you live like that?

 “A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.”  Proverbs 21:14
Christmas is a time of gift giving.  Here God is telling us that gifts certainly have their place.  And in the matter of wrath, they can perform a definite function.  Some commentators read this verse in relation to bribes, but I believe there is a principle here that does not hold such a dubious relation.
An angry person needs appeasement.  He needs help to pacify his anger.  It might be a soft answer or a listening ear, or, it might mean something more tangible like an act of kindness or a gift.
One beautiful Bible example is the wisdom exhibited by Abigail toward David.  As David’s anger had been violently aroused by Nabal’s disrespectful rejection, she arose in secret with a gift and a soft answer full of wisdom to turn away David’s anger and planned action.  This was not a bribe, but a gift showing her sincerity.  David praises her for her wisdom.  Her timely gift, given respectfully, saved not only Abigail and her household, but also David’s reputation.
And there is the idea of gifts given to pacify anger.  They must be done circumspectly and secretly.  Gifts given openly make a show of the giver and cause shame to the receiver.  They do not pacify, but intensify.  The gift given must be of sincerity, not in condemnation, and should never be announced publically.  Done correctly, with the right heart, gifts create the opportunity for reconciliation and remove wrath.
Is there someone to whom a show of your sincerity would release wrath from their life?  It isn’t about who is right or wrong, it is about who wants to make the first step toward reconciliation.  Will you be the one to offer the gift?

 “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”  John 3:36
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”  I Thessalonians 5:9
Here is the real story of Christmas and the answer to eternal wrath.  We deserve the wrath of God.  This wrath is justified and eternal.  It is not cruel or envious.  It is not emotionally driven.  It is factual.  Man sinned.  He deserves punishment.
But the balm of grace and forgiveness came to us in the form of man to pay the penalty for our sin and release us from the wrath of God.
This is God’s plan – God’s appointment, that we should escape His wrath and obtain eternal salvation. 
Here is also a picture for us.  Though our enemy, friend, or family member may deserve our wrath by their actions against us, we have the option of appointing them the opportunity by grace and forgiveness to be released from the penalty.  We can choose to forgive. 
Chuck Lynch wrote a book called, I Should Forgive, but…  He goes through the many reasons we tell ourselves as we try to justify holding onto our hurts and grudges.  It is a good read and I heartily recommend it if you are struggling with issues of anger and unforgiveness.
The gift of Christmas is proof that the choice of God is forgiveness.  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”  Hebrews 8:12

What is your choice?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Week Forty-Eight - Wisdom

“But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?”  Job 28:12
Wisdom seems to be a rare commodity in our age.  We have only to look at our governmental leaders to see that there are very few men and women whose lives exhibit this quality.  Sadly, even in our churches we often see less than wise leadership.  We, ourselves, also often struggle to know what is the right course of action, or, what is the right stance on an issue.
The definition of wisdom as used in the Old Testament is skill.  It can be skill in war or in administration.  It can mean shrewdness and prudence in ethical and religious affairs.  There are over 200 verses that use this word.  I wish we could have time and room to look at them all, but as we think about what wisdom is and where it is found, let’s look at just a few.
Job poses the question – “Where can wisdom be found?”  Solomon gives us the answer – it is found in the fear of the Lord.  This is the place to start - the only real place to start.  Then, wisdom grows with experience and increased knowledge of the Creator.
Proverbs 24:3 tells us, “Through wisdom is an house builded, and by understanding it is established.”  So wisdom is a tool that will build and establish our lives.
Ecclesiastes 7:12 tell us, ”For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.”  Isn’t that an amazing thought?  Skill can keep us safe, and so can money, but skill gives life.  It reminds me of those proverbs that say the poor man is better off than the rich man!  Wisdom isn’t purchased.  It is a life skill that is free to all.
Isaiah 33:6 says, “And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the LORD is his treasure.”  Wisdom gives stability and strength.  A wise man isn’t easily ruffled by life.
Psalms 90:12 concludes, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
Is wisdom found in your life?  Are you using it as a tool to establish and defend your home?  Is your life characterized by wisdom that gives you stability and strength?  Are you applying yourself to increasing in wisdom, or just bumbling through life?

“He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul: he that keepeth understanding shall find good.”  Proverbs 19:8
The definition of wisdom in this verse is different than skill.  It means the seat of the emotions, resolution or determination of the will.  It could read – “if we determine good for our souls, then we are well advised to examine the depths of our heart, mind and soul and apply them to knowledge and understanding.”
Such examination and determined seeking will produce the skill we need for life.  Solomon wrote often about the value and beauty of wisdom.  Since he was the wisest man who ever lived, maybe we should take heed?
“For wisdom is better than rubies; and all things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.”  Proverbs 8:11
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”  Proverbs 4:7
The most important thing we can gain in life is wisdom.  Over and over God encourages us to seek it.   There is nothing to compare to the beauty it gives to life and nothing so secure as wisdom in producing a solid home life, career, and family.
It isn’t hard to find this wisdom.  It is found in Christ, in God and His Word. It simply requires that we bring ourselves into submission and lay aside our own way and conceits.
“In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  Colossians 2:3 
“But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”  I Corinthians 1:30
So are you busy applying yourself to wisdom?  Are you searching your heart for foolish motives and self-will?  Are you bringing yourself under Christ in submission to His wisdom?  It is the principal thing – go get it!


 “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.  But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.  This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”  James 3:13-17  
I remember when these verses came alive to me.  I was struggling with bitter thoughts and inner anger.  I don’t remember the source, but I do remember the feelings.  I kept taking my bad attitude to the Lord and he directed me from these verses.
May I paraphrase?  God said to me, “You think you are so smart, huh?  Well, if so, then your actions should show it.  Not in assertiveness, but in meekness – knowing your place.  If you are struggling with bitterness and strife, then there is something wrong in your heart.  You can’t deny it.  These thoughts and emotions are not from me.  They are earthly – of this world.  Sensual – of the flesh.  And devilish – directed of Satan.  That is why you feel so confused and why your attitude is so rotten.
If you were working from my wisdom your life would exhibit totally different qualities.  You would have pure thoughts and motives.  You would be at peace and making peace with others.  You would be gentle in your actions and tone of voice.  People could ask for your help or understanding and know they would be received graciously, not begrudgingly.  You would be generous and giving to all – no matter if they deserved it or not.  So which kind of wisdom do you want to rule your life?”
God knows how to give us a real talking to, huh?
Let’s add one more thought to this – James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God…”  Most people take this to mean that God will give them power in decisions, but if we take this verse along with verses 2-4, we will see that this wisdom is not decision-making, but wisdom to endure temptations and the trying of our faith, and for the creation of patience in our lives.  Wise Christians know that wisdom is a characteristic born out of adversity.  It is developed by the choices we make.  Choose wisely!

“There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD.”  Proverbs 21:30
“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”  II  Corinthians 2:5
“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.”  II Corinthians 3:19

Meditating on these verses brings such comfort and strength.  There is no one, no philosophy, and no argument that can hold truth except our Lord.  He is the place where we should stand.
Man’s reasoning is flawed and limited.  His understanding is not complete or all encompassing.   Men, therefore, should undertake to keep all activities under the direction of God.

The truth is that there can be no success without God.  Acting in opposition to him, in contempt of his commandments, or in contradiction to his Word cannot prosper.  If the Lord is not on our side, our plans will fail.  Psalm 2:1-6 tells us that God sits in heaven laughing at men’s projects against him and that He will carry out his will in spite of all of their efforts to thwart his design.  Revelation 17:14 tells us that those who fight against God are preparing shame and ruin for themselves.  He will overcome them!

Since there can be no success without God, wisdom dictates that we must never act but in dependence on him.  It is a wise man that knows his place and rests there with confident assurance.  It is a fool who tries to get around truth and strives to live independently of his Creator.

We all like to think we have some smarts about us, but honestly, we have no smarts apart from what He has already given us.  He is truth. Why do we think we can take what He has imparted and out smart him?  It can never be done.

“But wisdom is justified of all her children.”  Luke 7:35

This world is full of people who are experts.  They want to tell you what to do and convince you of the wisdom of their opinion.  Blackaby comments, “God says that it is not the one who declares his viewpoint the most loudly or vociferously who is the wisest, but the one who is vindicated over time.  Wisdom is not proven by argument or debate.  Wisdom is proven over time.”
I have lived long enough to know this is true.  The wisdom of our choices in live isn’t always apparent at the onset, but over time it is revealed.  Not so we can say, “I told you so”, but so we can rest assured in God’s providence and blessing.  We can see that scarlet thread of God throughout our life and know that wisdom has been validated or justified.
The world laughs as we talk of waiting upon the Lord, or, seeking to do things God’s way.  Both ideas are diametrically opposed to the philosophy of the world.  Their way is to get all you can get by whatever means is necessary.  But the methods of grace, though ridiculed by some, are the way to the greatest good.
Basing our live choices upon the Word of God assures us that time will be on our side and will validate the wisdom of our choices.  So hang in there!

Be wise now…be instructed…serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling…Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”  Psalm 2:10-12