vision check (part 1)

Have you ever had your eyes examined?  I have witnessed eye exams but  have never experienced one.  Today we can do both if we choose to apply God’s Word to our lives.

Luke 18 presents us with a contrast of two men taking a spiritual “optical exam.” Verse 18 opens with, “A certain ruler asked Him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'”  A most interesting conversation ensues.

Jesus replies, “Why do you call me good?”  The Lord’s question used to confuse me, because surely He knew that many people considered Him to be good based on the works He did.  But I now understand that the Lord  sees the man’s heart and knows that he considers Jesus to be nothing more than a “good teacher.”  Jesus states, “No one is good-except God alone.”

In essence, if the rich ruler had believed Jesus to be the Son of God, he would have addressed Him as such.  But his eyes only see before him a good man.

Jesus responds to the man’s question by listing the commandments that reference our treatment of our fellow man.  The rich ruler responds confidently that all those he has kept since he was a boy.

Now Jesus dilates the man’s eyes and looks into his inmost being-the true test of spiritual vision.  Will you keep the first commandment and have no other god before Me?  Jesus said, “You still lack one thing.  Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow Me.”

The result?  Spiritual blindness.  That commandment to place God above all other things was a “no can do” in the rich man’s book “because he was a man of great wealth.”

He left God’s presence very sad.  My heart aches knowing that his sadness was temporary, but his torment is eternal.  He chose a life separated from God all because of his love of temporary riches.  Jesus was not seeking that day to strip him of his earthly wealth.  He was only proving that to love money more than God was idolatry.  The rich ruler wanted to know how to inherit eternal life, and Jesus exposed his obstacle.

Next time, we’ll look at another patient.  His “eye exam” leads to perfect vision and a whole lot of celebrating!


the gift that keeps giving

Are you thinking about Christmas shopping these days?  I am!  Are you clueless and asking God for direction?  Me too!  I realize that since my love language is words of affirmation, I am weak in the area of gifts!  Give me words; I’ll give you words… we’re all happy, right?  I wish it was so!  Somebody pray for me that I will love well those around me according to their love language needs!

I have a suggestion for gift-giving to ourselves!  You know how it works:  I’ll buy one for her and one for me….  But this gift to ourselves may not cost us a dime!  Let’s read all the way through God’s Word in the year 2012!  And why is that a gift to ourselves, you ask?  It is the one that keeps giving!

“You have made known to me the path of life; You fill me with joy in Your Presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart” (Psalm 19:8).

“If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands and remain in His love.  I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:10-11).

Joy is a result of our following the truths presented in Scripture!  I feel certain that there are many just waiting to unwrap some joy this year!  Not happiness, J-O-Y, joy!  Happiness comes and goes according to life’s circumstances, but joy remains a constant.

2012 is a year of celebratory joy as we unwrap the goodness of God’s ways found hidden in His eternal Word.  His truth is a light for our paths, and we will avoid many pitfalls if we will simply read, believe and obey.

Starting in the new year, I will post a weekly reading plan that I have enjoyed following in the past.  But in the meantime, let’s get our minds convinced that we can and will do this.  We have 6 weeks to mentally prepare.  Are you ready for His joy?

why are you burdened?

The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God (Ex. 34:6), is reaching out to us today and asking, “Why are you burdened?  “Why are you weary with physical and emotional sickness?  Do you believe that I am Jehovah Jireh?  Do you believe that I can indeed provide for every need?  If you have a material need, I am your Provider.  If you have a physical need, I am your Provider.  If you have an emotional or spiritual need, I am your Provider.”

Psalm 91 is a wonderful promise of God’s protection for those who fear harm from an enemy.  It opens with, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”  Verses 9 and 10 state, “If you make the Most High your dwelling… then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.”

How do we make the Lord our dwelling?  We seek His Presence every day that we live.  We go to Him in faith believing that He can do what He says He can do.

“He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Ps. 91:4).

Dwelling in His Presence results in us finding refuge and a peace that passes all understanding.  It is that place where all things broken become new and whole.  It is that place where we find ourselves overwhelmed by the knowledge of who He is and by the grace He bestows upon us.

Today, respond to His invitation and receive everything that Jehovah Jireh has for you.  He only asks, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

a very unpopular topic

There’s a difference between loving the Lord with all your heart, your mind, your soul and your strength and merely having an interest in Him.

To love Him is to worship Him for all He is and all He does.  Worship is a demonstrative love; it takes action.  It involves sacrifice.

To sacrifice is to lay down something precious.  Have you ever sacrificed anything for Jesus:  time, $, reputation, friendship, vacation, tv show, music, a meal?

To live a life of sacrifice is a foreign idea to most.  Our world epitomizes the idea that we will give something away only if there is something to get in return.  Entitlement.  (I am owed something.)  We teach our children to give to the food drive because if their group gives the most, they will win a pizza party.  It’s a selfish attitude that supports the “Build Your Own Kingdom” mentality.  In your kingdom, you are first and highly important. In your kingdom, the motto is “Serve Self,” because no one is more important than you.

Is this the Gospel of Christ? Clearly not.  Philippians chapter 2 describes His gospel and the intended reaction of those who want to follow Him.  “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 2:5).

Consider the attitude of a little child who willingly made a decision to be a part of a bone marrow transplant for his ailing sibling.  Even though his young mind did not fully understanding the procedure,  he just knew that his sacrifice was worth it for the other to live.  As his IV was started on the day of the transplant, he suddenly became frightened and asked his parent, “Does it hurt to die?”

“Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).

are you a critic?

I was just telling my husband, Jon, a few days ago that I do not want to fall into the trap of criticizing the work of others.  It is so easy to do.  It is easy because our prideful human nature wants to believe that we can do everything better than everyone.  It’s also easy to criticize because little effort is needed to sit, observe and judge the work of others.  It is a totally different scenario to actually get into the game, to get into the classroom, to get into the ministry, to get into the career field, and the list goes on.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.  Psalm 1:1-3 (emphasis added.)

I want to be blessed!  I want to be fruitful in ministry at home, at church, at my children’s school, and in my community.  I desire to be that tree representing abundant life and prospering in all things as I invest myself in the lives of others.

The Word of God clearly states some prerequisites to this blessed life.  Psalm 1: 1-2 clarifies what to avoid and what to ingest.   To not “sit in the seat of mockers” brings to remembrance my first experience in a high school pep rally as a 9th grade cheerleader.  After we finished our cheer and dance routine, we left the gym floor excitedly only to hear boos from the crowd.  I couldn’t understand the lack of school spirit displayed.  It was that day my mother taught me it is easy for mockers to sit, but it is hard to actually get out on the floor and do the routine.  In spite of the negative impact of my peers, she made me feel like a champion.

In what places does your life intersect?  Are you seeking counsel from God’s Word for the ways in which you can make an investment in those places?  Are you choosing instead to let others carry the workload?  Be careful.  You are susceptible to  joining the mockers!  If you must sit on the sidelines, may I suggest that you drop down to your knees and pray about the work going on before you?  When you pray,  God will fill your heart with compassion for those who are laboring in the field.  In that state, it will be impossible to “sit in the seat of mockers.”

The world has enough critics.  In the body of Christ, we choose instead to be investors and encouragers.

a kingdom, a coin, and a kick in the butt

I think I get it now.  I have always been perplexed by Jesus’ solution to Peter’s conviction to pay up on the temple tax.  What God has shown me in my study and meditation is that once again, there are two kingdoms to contrast.  So many of Jesus’ teachings that we read in the gospels bring light to our confusion over the kingdom of God.  And we realize that His kingdom is very much in opposition to the way the world system operates.

Go with me to Capernaum where we find Jesus confronting Peter’s quick “yes” to the question, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” (Matthew 17: 24-27)  I detect some intimidation from the religious leaders posing the question; they were always seeking a way to entrap Jesus in some wrongdoing that would invalidate His ministry.  But I don’t expect the commonly bold Peter to so easily cave to this enforced religious system.  After all, in recent days, he had been participating in the supernatural work of the kingdom of God.  He had experienced the divine and abundant provision of bread for crowds of 4000 and  5000 when only a few loaves were available!  He had seen the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear and the demon possessed delivered!  He was among the few on a mountain when Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about His soon-coming departure!  Peter was right in the midst of the kingdom work of God.

But in one moment of seeking to gain man’s approval, Peter states that His Master does pay the temple tax.  Jesus quickly has his friend realize that He is not a part of that system.  He says, “… the kings of the earth collect…taxes from…others….the sons are exempt” (Matthew 17:25).

And this is where a lesson is learned the hard way…  So that Peter could be a man of his word, and so that the religious leaders were not offended, Jesus sends the disciple away to secure the funds needed for the temple tax.  In essence, if Peter is going to succumb to the operations of the world system, then he must return to it for the necessary provision.  Peter is told to go cast a line in the lake, catch a fish, open its mouth to extract a coin in the exact amount needed for two men’s temple tax, and deliver it to the religious leaders.

Did this really happen?  Yes!  Jesus could have produced the coin from within His sleeve as a magician does, but that wasn’t the point!  Neither was it the point to pay the tax for 11 other disciples.  The heart of the matter is that Peter forgot he was no longer a part of the world’s system.  In showing his mistaken willingness to honor the world system above the kingdom of God, he now had a lesson to learn.  And the most effective way to teach Peter a lesson, was to send him back to the profession he had before he met Christ.  He went back  to handling fish for income.  He went back to striving in his own strength to produce results.  He went back to the realm of sufficiency.

How long was Peter on the bank of a lake that day?  I really do not know.  This could have been a one-hour ordeal or a twelve-hour ordeal.  But we do know that according to the Scripture, Jesus went right on with the work of the ministry.  He began teaching his remaining disciples who were eager to learn more about the kingdom of heaven.  Where was Peter, the man who loved to be in the midst of things?  He was at the lake casting a line.  I think Peter was giving himself a swift kick-in-the-butt!  Once again, he had blown it.

How does this message apply to you and me?  Those of us who are in ministry have abandoned the notion to please man according to the operating system of the world.  We now participate in the kingdom of heaven where we see the reality of heaven expanded upon the earth.  We walk according to God’s ways as He reveals them to us in His Word and in the Spirit’s leading.

But in one moment, if we take our eyes off of our Heavenly Father in order to appease man, we will separate ourselves from the work of the ministry of Christ and find, like Peter, that we are forced to strive to produce something sufficient. Think about it:  do we really want to vacate the working of a supernatural God in and through us?  Do we really want to rely instead on the old way of doing things?

If you are feeling burdened and tapped out, without direction or wondering where the passion that you once had for ministry went to, allow this to serve as a warning.  Perhaps somewhere along the way, you said a quick “yes” to someone in the religious establishment.  Perhaps you too presumed participation without actually hearing from God on the matter.  Or maybe there is greater value placed on the world’s system than on God’s ways.  Not all is lost.  Receive your correction and go about the steps necessary to re-prioritize.  Seek the Lord’s guidance in the Word.  He will never mislead you.  Every step we take in alignment with the Spirit leads us more greatly into the reality of the kingdom of heaven.  I don’t want to miss any of it- do you?

a shelter in the storm

Psalm 116:1-2  “I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.”

Even though we in the Hampton Roads area may be accustomed to the occasional visit from a tropical weather system, it does not make it any easier to cope with the uncertainties that accompany these types of storms.

In every facet of life we face difficulties, and it is because of the trust we have in our faithful Heavenly Father that we weather all kinds of storms with success. Psalm 91:1 states, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”  I liken this scriptural truth to the picture of a mother hen hiding her chicks under her wings in times of danger.  While the chicks cannot see exactly what is going on out there in the big world, they know that they are safe under her protection.

The same is true for us.  When we hide ourselves in God’s shelter, we rest securely in knowing that His promises are true.  This abiding in His Presence may not make the skies any clearer in the midst of a storm, but His Word does promise peace.

Because of God’s great love toward us, let us declare as the psalmist, “I will call on Him as long as I live.”