Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Year

My watch jumped to March 1st today even though it is February 29th because it is leap year. Yes, every four years we get an extra day to balance the Gregorian calendar whose origins are of Pope Gregory of the 16th century. It causes me to wonder a bit about meaning.

Biblically there is no real reference to leap year. There is the fascinating reference in Joshua 10 speaking of God hearing Joshua concerning his enemies. They were routed as the sun and moon stood still for God to rout Israel’s enemies the Amorites. On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
    and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” 
So the sun stood still,
    and the moon stopped,
    till the nation avenged itself on[a] its enemies,
as it is written in the Book of Jashar.
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.  There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:12-14).

I find that we may have been given a day to enjoy or waste or make the most of. Psalm 90 concerning the eternity of God gives us an admonition of days and life.
“All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan. 
Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away. 
If only we knew the power of your anger!
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. 
Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:9-12).

Life is hard and we are only given so many days that pass very quickly. So let’s make the most of them or number them with a heart of wisdom that is gained through the years, hopefully!  This wisdom comes from the God who numbers our days. This is a verse that I have preached at funerals and sometimes the recipient has done just that, sometimes not. We have a choice, not the number of days, but how we spend them.

This leap year I look at it as an overflow. We are given abundantly an extra day to enjoy, spend productively for what? The Psalmist David said that The Lord our “Shepherd” makes us to lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters if we will only take advantage of the stillness and time to walk with the Lord. He goes on to say that God sets a banquet for us against our enemies of pain, fear, illness, joblessness and sins of many kinds. He anoints us and our cups “overflow.” I like the overflowing image like a leap year day that flows over the calendar. The psalms are full of overflowing images: “And our carts overflow with abundance” (Psalm 65:11) and therefore, “My lips overflow with praise” (Psalm 119:171). In Proverbs 3:10 Solomon says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled with overflowing.”  God promises a blessing for our trust. God wants us to be overflowing in every way. “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thessalonians 3:12). We can’t do this without the Holy Spirit empowering us as Romans 15:13 tells us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

So this one extra day, make it a point to overflow with gratitude, joy and peace as you recognize that this day is a gift of God that flows from above. Make it a good one.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Yesterday I bit into a crisp red delicious apple. The sweet juice ran down my chin. The flavor burst in my mouth. The crunching sound of pure white flesh breaking told me the fruit was perfectly ripe with no rotting.
The Bible uses fruit as a metaphor for goodness in action.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:16 “You will know them by their fruits...Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”  This statement seems simple enough to understand, however, it is not easy to do except through the power of the Holy Spirit of God. When we receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. This Spirit is power within us. Many Scriptures reveal the Spirit’s guidance, love, teaching, illumination, and truth within us. 

Scripture uses fruit as a strong metaphor again in John 15 speaking of grapes and its vines. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

There is perhaps no more well-known and vivid picture of fruit than a luscious bunch of ripe grapes hanging on a vine. Grapes have been cultivated for millennia. Wine has been consumed for health and to bring happiness, or pain if overdone. But to make wine the grapes must be crushed and poured out.  This is the process of life, the journey, the pilgrimage of a Christian.  Paul described himself being poured out as a drink offering in Philippians 2:17. This verse speaks of being fully used for God’s purposes. 

Perhaps the most important passage in the New Testament book of Galatians regarding fruit speaks of walking in the Spirit and not fulfilling the lusts of the flesh.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” This is a listing of what walking in the Spirit means. We will be filled with the fruit, juice, wine, and liquor of God.  Against these there is no law. In other words these are godly traits and passions. They work together to create the best fruit possible, perfect in color, taste, smell and firm ripeness. How do we get these in increasing measure?  This fruit comes through abiding, living, dwelling in the vine of life-God.

The Book of Psalms opens with blessings for the man who delights in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf does not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” This tree that bears fruit is luxuriant and ever blooming. God makes clear from the beginning in Genesis 1:22 saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply.”  The Psalmist again in Psalm 128 says, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. His wife will be like a fruitful vine.”

God speaks of fruit in Genesis and again in Revelation describes heaven pure and beautiful. “In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of nations”(Revelation 22:2).  Heaven is the consummation of fruitfulness. God is making clear throughout Scripture that “Fruit is better than gold” (Proverbs 8:19). It is what separates us from the world through Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit. It is not by power or might, but by His Spirit and its fruit that we serve and heal and live godly lives. May it be our prayer that we are filled with the Holy Spirit and His fruit always.

Friday, February 19, 2016

God Reliance v. Self Reliance

You are a strong individual. You can do it. Go for it! Yes I can! That is the mantra of our nation in so many ways. Yet, I proclaim that this is a misreading of the Founding Fathers’ and God’s ideas.
I just read a Wall Street Journal Economic research paper saying that the more religious a nation, the less innovative. The conclusions identify that religion make you inflexible and not open minded to new ideas. This will bring less healthy economies. I have a problem with this thesis.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 1:7;9:10). This simple phrase is the foundation of life with the Creator of the universe, the One who made all and is in all.  This thesis is about the awesome respect above all for the One who knows all and is unchangeable. Wisdom is a central theme of Proverbs and many other books of the Bible. For it is from the Lord that we receive wisdom. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as high as the heavens are higher that the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Since the beginning, God who made man in His own likeness said subdue and have dominion over all the earth. He gave us free will. “Therefore whoever the Son sets free will be free indeed” (John 8:36).  We have had free will ever since the Garden of Eden. There, mankind changed Paradise into toil and sweat by our own decisions to be God.  This was Satan’s error and why he was kicked out of heaven. Pride and arrogance is the beginning of the fall. It is indeed a great temptation to think that we know more than God in directing our steps.  Proverbs is pretty clear about that too, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Life is full of trials and storms for every one of us. If you have not experienced this, you are now, or you are about to. It is in the storm that we find our true compass or show the world who we really are. Do we trust in our selves, or are we God-reliant?  I have learned over and over that when I trust in myself that I am on my own and my world falls apart.  Fear and anxiety take over and the results are not pretty.

Yet, the world looks to the strong leader who has “the right stuff” to handle the situation. David Brooks new book, The Road to Character, speaks to this problem. The “Big Self” is the problem. Humility — which Brooks defines as “the awareness that you are an underdog in the struggle against your own weakness” — is the beginning of any plausible solution.

God’s grace is sufficient for you, My power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Paul goes on to say that, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” This is one of the incredible paradoxes of Christianity and the Bible.  Author Dan Schaeffer addresses this in his book, The Power of Weakness. Our weaknesses are magnified every day, but we are apt to hide them or downplay them in favor of our strengths.  Dwight L. Moody said,
“When God wants to move a mountain, he does not take a bar of iron, but he takes a little worm. The fact is, we have too much strength. We are not weak enough. It is not our strength that we want. One drop of God’s strength is worth more than all the world.”
An interesting paradox is that as our body deteriorates, our emotions become more fragile. How do we come to a place where we realize that we glorify God in our weaknesses? The world would say, “Believe in yourself,” drive, ambition, success.   What if the path to true power isn’t trying harder, but giving up the attempt to be powerful altogether?  Is it possible that it is through your weaknesses that God wants to demonstrate His power?   What did He say to Zerubbabel? “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). 

 God wants us like Paul, to boast in and embrace our weaknesses.  Even Christ in Gethsemane was not perfectly strong.  Look at the Hebrews 11 faith chapter. It is filled with people “Who from weakness were made strong” (Hebrews 11:34).  God’s power is launched from weaknesses, not strength.  Paul and Moses humbled themselves and became obedient. This is about vulnerability, taking a risk. Will this threaten our self-image? It is hard, because we fear being sidelined.  Think of Joni Erickson-Tada or Corrie Ten-Boom, paralyzed but useful to the kingdom. We live in a world of people trying to appear strong.  But the gospel says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” Ephesians 6:10).  I think we have trouble trusting that God will show up.  He was with the Hebrews in the fiery furnace of Daniel. He always has a holy purpose in our circumstances; we just need to submit. Paul reminded Timothy that God had given him a spirit of power.

I think many Christians fear because we have a lot of baggage and we are worried it will be found out. God works in spite of it. We have losses and as C.S. Lewis said, they feel like fear. Those with PTSD are counseled to go back into the fear or hurt, that is where the healing takes place. It is hard to consider it pure joy when we come into trials as James tells us. It is there where God is making us mature and complete. And if we don’t know what to do God says just to ask him.

Embracing our weakness is taking our eyes off ourselves and fixing them on Jesus. Trust Him as the Perfector of your faith. Don’t be double minded and do what He tells you. Stop worrying and do it now.  Oswald Chambers said, “God comes in where my helplessness begins.” Success is about what He can do through you if you let Him.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Are You Thirsty?

Are you thirsty? I think that this world makes us thirsty for good news. Although it seems that the world increasingly plays into our more prurient and fleshly desires. What are those you might say? Lusts of the eyes and flesh are materialism and greed along with addictions of other kinds like alcohol, drugs and sex. We all have needs that only the Savior, Jesus Christ can meet.

Jesus said, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink” (Matthew 25:35). Jesus is talking of caring for the stranger and the needy. He says to give food and drink to the least of these. Yes, these basics can save a life for now. But there is something or someone who can save a life forever into eternity.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).  This was at the beginning of His ministry on earth. At the end of His ministry, on the cross, He said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). This utterance, in anguish, was a fulfillment of a prophesy of Psalm 22:15, “My strength is dried up like a potshard, and My tongue clings to my jaws; you have brought Me to the dust of death” (Psalm 22:15). He was totally depleted. He had given His all for mankind. They did not understand their need then, as we do not understand today. Christ had to die, He had to give His all that we who trust in Him might live.

Jesus on the last day, the great day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths, Ingathering) said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, Scripture has said, ‘out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).  But Paul in Romans 3:11 says, “There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.”  Yet the Psalmist declares, “As a deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My Soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2). This is a powerful description of a deep desire for God’s presence. Do you thirst for a living God in a dry land?  I certainly do. I find life increasingly more dry and difficult without the presence of God.

Seven hundred (700) years before Christ, the Prophet Isaiah told of His coming, “For the water shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water” Isaiah 35:6-7). He is describing the coming and the way of the Lord for the redeemed. God’s blessings continue, “I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants and my blessing on your offspring” (Isaiah 44:3).  This prophesy is fulfilled in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and made complete in His return to reign. Then in Revelation (revealing) we read, “They will hunger and thirst no more…I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.”  (Revelation 7:16; 21:6).

Now finally Jesus says, “And the Spirit and the bride (church) say, ‘Come! And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”  (Revelation 22:17).

I have hungered and thirsted for flowing waters. Christ has filled me to overflowing. As I knelt in the new fallen snow along the shores of Lake Superior in a January blizzard, He changed me from crimson to pure white. His power was made perfect in my weakness. What I could not do for myself, He did for me through His Holy Spirit for me. Now as I sit by the waterfalls or lakes I see and re-experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit in me. May you be thirsty and seek and find the source of pure and life-changing water too.