Saturday, June 28, 2008

Serving with Joy

If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you (Deut. 28L47-48a NLT).

Today, I see something entirely different in this passage. It speaks to me about the way in which we are to serve the Lord. I see in this short statement the attitude and equipping for serving God. We can (and should) serve him with joy and enthusiasm because he has abundantly gifted us with the ability to do everything he asks us to do. That is, God does not call us to struggle, with our limited resources, to serve him. He loads us with "abundant benefits" (natural and spiritual). Among these benefits are the very tools for serving him.

We don’t have to serve him with fear of not knowing how, because he said he would teach us.

"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men" (Matt. 4:19).

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me . . .” (Matt. 11:29a).

We don’t have to shrink back from serving him because of feelings of inadequacy—we are merely “jars of clay,” but the power of God works through us anyway.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Cor. 4:7).

We should not allow ourselves to be immobilized by the memory of our latest failure, but step back into the light and allow the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from the tendency to sin.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

Jesus encapsulated what it is like to serve him when he said:

“[M]y yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30 NIV).

I like the Message version of this verse and the two verses before it. This passage is a good summary of all of today’s thoughts.

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly" (Matt. 11:28-30 MSG).

Friday, June 27, 2008

Enjoying Life

If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you . . . (Deut. 28:47-48a).

One great revelation in this verse is that having an abundance of benefits doesn’t automatically bring joy! Well . . . maybe for a short while, when one receives a new blessing. But then taking for granted sets in. “It’s not quite what I wanted” and “It’s not as good as my neighbor’s” takes over. And so we can be loaded with benefits but feel as if we have very little.

I guess the principle is: APPRECIATE IT OR LOSE IT. Without appreciation, we will lose it, even if we still have it. We will not experience the joy of it. Not only that, we will begin to be enslaved by the enemy of disappointment and discontentment.

Upon looking at the consequence in verse 48 for taking God’s benefits for granted, one might think he is severe. But God, unlike us, never overreacts. By warning us that there will be consequences for taking our blessings for granted, God corrals our attitudes in the direction of appreciation and joy. We would do well as parents to imitate him by teaching our children to be thankful for and to be responsible in the care of the gifts we give them; by teaching them to respect us as providers of their livelihood. There would be fewer of us throwing up our hands in despair because our children are demanding, never contented, and largely uncooperative.

Joy and enthusiasm are a choice. Actually, joy is automatic—but only if one first chooses to be appreciative. An appreciative person will make a point of thanking God (and others involved) for favors and blessings. An appreciative person recognizes that he is fortunate to have received them. An appreciative person will counteract feelings of discontent by reminding herself of all that is good in her life. Appreciation requires a little effort at the offset, but ends up in sheer delight—and in great willingness to do anything for the Giver.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Gate Keepers

Psalm 24

1 The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;

2 for he founded it upon the seas

and established it upon the waters.

3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ?

Who may stand in his holy place?

4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.

5 He will receive blessing from the LORD

and vindication from God his Savior.

6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,

who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Selah

7 Lift up your heads, O you gates;

be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

8 Who is this King of glory?

The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.

9 Lift up your heads, O you gates;

lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?

The LORD Almighty
he is the King of glory.

I pondered long on the relationship between verses 7-10, which I talked about in my last post, and the first part of this psalm. I believe the first part is talking about the King of glory who owns the whole earth and has set into place the principles by which it operates. He created us to have a significant role on this earth, partnering with Him to rule it. But only those who have clean hands and a pure heart, only the generation of those who seek Him, will fully achieve this destiny and "receive blessing from the Lord." Only they will participate in this glorious encounter, in which the Lord marches up to their doors in majestic array and gives them the opportunity to open wide and receive him in all his splendor and might.

Does this mean that a person who is, as yet, very imperfect in character has no partnership with God? Does a small child not "help" mom and dad? But the child's true helpfulness emerges as he or she develops in reliability.

Friday, June 20, 2008

An Invitation

From Psalm 24

7 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

8 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.

9 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

10 Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty—
he is the King of glory.

One might wonder why, if he is the Lord of hosts, he needs to stop at the door and ask for admittance. But it is part of the greatness he put into man—dominion over the earth and the power to choose who will rule here. Just as in the Narnia Chronicles, it took representatives fro Adam’s race to determine the destiny of Narnia, so we as dscendants of Adam and children of God have the authority to open the doors of earth for heaven to come in.

Generally doors are not lifted up, they swing outward on hinges. But tonight, in a spirit of worship, I lifted my hands. I began to sense that I was also—without words—interceding for my students. My hands were receiving what heaven had determined to pour out upon them. Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century French monk, practiced the presence of God in a very simple way—he kept his heart lifted up to You. Many times I have done that, humming to You, if possible, and Your anointing has come and brightened faces, healed differences between students, and caused lethargic students to run after me, eager to turn in an assignment which normally they wouldn’t bothered to do. So our hearts and our hands, the actual doors that welcome the King of Kings, don’t swing outward, they “lift up their heads” so that “the King of glory may come in.”


With slight alterations, this is a journal entry I wrote in 2002 for a class on "Psalms," taught by Sandy Gulso at Midwest Bible School.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Staying Connected

Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs. .. . .

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

(Psa. 100:2, 4)

Daily, a Christian can become bogged down in the daily grind, and need to get back into the place (spiritually) in which he see things the Lord's way and can operate in the Lord's patience, wisdom, cheerfulness, power, and love. At such times, one can "enter his gates" by purposely beginning to thank him for his goodness and his blessings. One can walk all the way into "his courts" by praising him. That might be praise directed to him personally or it can be by making a comment to someone else about the goodness of God. One creative way to do this was practiced by my pastor, Tony Shuff, in his early days as a Christian. As his co-workers took a break to have a smoke, he took a break to get away and praise the Lord.

As thankfulness and praise are directed deliberately toward God, the heart breaks free from the crust of care and intense effort. One can again see the Lord, step freely into his presence, and begin again to function in his grace.

Monday, June 16, 2008

How to Approach Him

Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs. . . .
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
(Psa. 100:2, 4)

Psalm 100 in its entirety seems designed to be used as a Call to Worship—something to recite out of a hymnal or prayer book in church. That’s all I would have thought about it in bygone years. But it has taken on life-changing meaning since it has was pointed out to me that this is the way to come into the Lord’s presence at all times.

Picture, if you will, a subject of King David's who desired an audience with him. This person would not consider coming into the king's palace and before his throne empty-handed. He would bring a gift to honor the king, to show his appreciation for the king's attention, and, hopefully, to garner his favor. This was mirrored by worshippers coming before the Lord in the tabernacle or temple--they brought sacrifices and offerings. On feast days, throngs of worshippers ascended the hill to Jerusalem singing psalms. Psalm 107 states that such thanksgiving was also an offering or sacrifice to the Lord.
Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And declare His works with rejoicing (Psa. 107:22 NKJV)
Do we rush into the Lord's presence and begin asking him for things? Thanking and praising him first will give him the honor that we owe him. It will also lift our eyes to see him--not only as our Father and our Friend, but as the King of all the earth, who is mighty to save.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Simple and Pleasant

Psalm 67
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine upon us, Selah
2 that your ways may be known on earth,

your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise you, O God;

may all the peoples praise you.
4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy,

for you rule the peoples justly
and guide the nations of the earth. Selah
5 May the peoples praise you, O God;

may all the peoples praise you.
6 Then the land will yield its harvest,

and God, our God, will bless us.
7 God will bless us,

and all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Psalm 67 is full of surprising connections, when one notices that it is full of cause-effect statements.

Cause (1)
Verse 1
When God
· Is gracious to us
· Blesses us
· Makes his face shine on us
Effect (1)
Verse 2
The whole world becomes aware of
· His [kind, generous] ways and
· [The fact that] he saves

Cause (2)
Verses 3-5
When people
· Praise God (4x)
· Are glad
· Sing for joy
(because of God’s
· Just rulership
· Guidance)
Effect (2)
Verses 6-7

· The land will yield a good harvest
· God will bless us (2x)
· He will be feared [reverenced] around the world

The whole message fits together especially well if one considers verses 3-7 first, then verses 1-2. When read that way, the message of Psalm 67 can be summarized as:

Expressing thankfulness to God →
Multiplied blessings →
Widespread awareness of his goodness

This is one example of how pleasant and simple our relationship with God can be. I respond in love and thankfulness. He takes even better care of me. The world around me begins to respond to him and come into the place in which they can be fully cared for by him also. How much more natural and effective this is than trying to obtain God's blessings for myself by much petitioning, and trying to point others to the Lord by "preaching."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


“A fountain of water springing up to everlasting life” -
That’s what You promised the Samaritan woman
If she would believe on You.
And then:
“Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”
You spoke of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit
In those who would believe.

How I’ve experienced that to be true,
Since I invited You to come dwell in me!

Your presence is life-giving water.
How often have I wilted under the pressures of life
And then come and taken in Your word and communed with You,
And – like a wilted plant that has finally been watered –
I stood up straight and strong again.

The water of Your presence
Causes new leaves and blossoms to spring forth.
Wisdom that was not there before,
Perfect words coming out of my mouth, unpremeditated, hitting the mark,
Skill, confidence, boldness…
I don’t know myself –
It isn’t myself.
You are flowing out of me.

And when You are flowing out,
Everything around me is cleansed and healed.
Hostile people show good will to each other.
Peace settles in on gatherings where there was confusion and lawlessness.
Foolish, immature individuals begin behaving out of a sound mind.
It’s uncanny.
The invisible river has flooded the place –
With highly visible effects.

Your water transforms my inner landscape.
Tenderness for You,
A forgiving heart,
Caring more about others than myself,
Patient, peaceful waiting –
Qualities I cannot achieve on my own.
The harder I try, the harder the ground of my heart becomes,
But lingering in Your presence changes all that.
The water softens my heart,
And then the fruit of Your Spirit just happens.

The less of me there is,
And the more fully I entertain You,
The more the water of Your presence refreshes me –
Makes me free, light-hearted, even giddy with joy.
It makes it easier to fly!
“Lay aside every weight,” Paul said.
“It’ll help you run the race,” he said.
Oh, yes!

So help me to keep a clean heart
And a mind stayed on You –
A temple for Your presence,
Because without Your presence, I am not willing to live.

With slight alterations, this is a psalm I wrote four years ago for a class on "Foundations of Prayer," taught by Carol Boyd at Midwest Bible School. The kind of living described here was something I experienced occasionally, but missed terribly the rest of the time. He is removing the impediments . . .

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Original Witness

John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness . . . (Rev. 1:4-5)

The words that struck me in the above passage are “Jesus Christ . . . the faithful witness.”

It is common in Christian circles to speak of being witnesses for Christ. There are some expectations associated with this concept, such as: a Christian witness shares the gospel message with unbelievers, invites people to church, leaves tracts in restaurants, goes door-to-door doing any or all of the above.

But this passage describes Jesus as being a witness. As I began meditating on what that meant, the following insights came to me.

Basically, a witness reports what one has observed. Witnesses are important in a courtroom because they have seen and heard things that the judge and jurors need to know in order to make a just decision. In what respect was Jesus a witness? He had come from heaven; no one else had. He had seen the Father; no one else had. As Jesus expressed it:

No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father (John 6:46).

Not only that, he regularly heard from the Father while he was on earth.

So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him" (John 8:28-29).

So Jesus was a witness in that he
· Reported what he knew of the Father and of heavenly things
· Reported what the Father continued to teach him and to instruct him to do

But I notice that Jesus was described in Revelations as a “faithful witness.” This suggests at least two things to me.
· He spoke with complete truthfulness
· He did not fail to speak what the Father wanted him to speak, at all opportunities.

And then here is one more thought about Jesus as a witness. The Apostle John, says of Jesus

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).

Here John used terminology that shows that Jesus was the ultimate witness: he was, for us, the expression of God. He was God in visible form. By seeing him, we see God (see John 14:9). In other words
· He was the very thing that he was testifying about.

That simplifies for me what it means to be a Christian witness. It is to

· Share what we have experienced of Jesus. “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard” (1 John 1:3).

· Remain in close contact with the Lord so as to know what and how to share. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

· Be faithful to share a word of life whenever possible. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2).

And, most of all:
· Be what Jesus is—in character, in attitude, in behavior—so that people will grasp what he is like. “Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God's living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.” (2 Cor. 3:2-3 MSG).

Do we feel inadequate for this? Well, Jesus' disciples, who turned the world upside down with the message of the gospel, did not become such powerful witnesses overnight. Jesus made it simple for Peter and Andrew:

"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I WILL MAKE YOU fishers of men" (Matt. 4:19, capitals added).

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Courage

The Lord had called Gideon “a mighty man of valor (Judges 6:12 KJV), and so he appeared to be, as he boldly opposed the idolatry in his family and town, and then summoned an army of 32,000 with trumpet and messengers. Then . . . he realized . . . They were going out against an enemy “as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number . . .” (Judges 6:5).

What about the doubt and fear that hits us when embarking on a task God has given us? Does it mean something is wrong with us? Or is it a natural response to the realization that the God-size commission we have received has put us in “way over our heads?” Is it the sober realization that if we get out of touch somehow with God we will get stomped? That only a miracle will accomplish what the Lord has called us to do?

The Lord is not like those who “load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and . . . will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46). He graciously granted Gideon assurance. When he first appeared to Gideon, he touched Gideon’s offering, causing it to burst into flame. This sign that it truly was God who had called him, emboldened Gideon to destroy his father’s idols. After that, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon (Judges 6:32)” and he called together a large army. Then, before heading into battle, he granted Gideon’s request to give him a sign (a fleece to be covered with dew, but the ground around to be dry) . . . and then another sign (the fleece to be dry, but the ground covered with dew). Finally, when the Lord stacked the odds against Israel by whittling their troops down from 32,000 to a mere 300, he sent Gideon down by night to the Midianite camp to “listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp” (Joshua 7:11). There Gideon overheard a soldier tell of a dream in which Israel symbolically destroys the Midianites. Full of grateful worship, he hurried back to camp to carry out the Lord’s orders for a miraculous rout of the enemy.

The inspiring thing about Gideon is that, even though he had the same lack of self-esteem as many of us do, and even though he met—at each stage—fear and doubt, he didn’t consider that a good excuse to stop. He said, “God, please work with me on this fear, so I can put my trust in you and take the next step.”

Have we ever considered our inadequacies greater than God’s power? Have we ever thought that surely a task could not be for us if it causes anxiety or discomfort? God sees us as “well able” (Numbers 13:30 KJV). Will we determine to agree, and follow; and keep agreeing and following, as Gideon did?
This is an excerpt from Streams of Living Water: A Daily Devotional Guide to Meditation on God's Word by F. Burleigh Willard Sr. and Celia Willard Milslagle (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2007).

Thursday, June 5, 2008

In Over Our Heads!

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man,"dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid” (Rev. 1:12-17a).

“Do not be afraid.” How often did Jesus say this? One can understand his need to assure us that he will keep the natural changes, challenges, and calamities of life from overwhelming us if we will trust in him. For example, when he revealed to his disciples that he was about to leave them and return to the Father, it was necessary for him to strengthen their dismayed hearts by saying,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

But in this passage from Revelation, he has to say “Do not be afraid” for a different reason. It is because, in following him, we will not only encounter the normal challenges of life, but we will also find ourselves in extraordinary places that he has put us in--places that are way over our heads, way too glorious, way too daring. Those who—like John and the other disciples—chose not to fear but to continue to pursue . . . well, it is a matter of history what triumphs and influence—and joy—became theirs.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Delighted to Be Here

"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands . . .” (Rev. 2:1).

Although he is the mighty, resurrected Christ, enthroned at the Father’s right hand, Jesus “walks among” the seven churches. In current terminology—no irreverence intended--he “hangs out” with those who believe on him.

We can spend much time considering how to become closer to God. We can speculate endlessly about whether he hears us when we pray. In the light of this verse, these concerns are unnecessary! He is right beside us, ready to interact with us.

Am I jumping to a warm, fuzzy conclusion based on one phrase from one verse? No. Consider these statements that the Lord made to Moses:

'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. . . .’ (Ex. 19:4).

[Did he say, “brought you out of slavery”? No, he said, “brought you to myself.”]

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8 NKJV).

[Did he want them to make him a sanctuary so that they could come and worship him? No, he wanted a sanctuary so that he could dwell among them. Does that sound like “walks among the seven churches”?]

Then God went so far as to enter fully into our world:

The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us" (Matt. 1:23).

For 3 years, Jesus literally "made his dwelling with" and "walked among" 12 disciples. After many miles and many experiences with a fairly motley crew of men who often tried his patience, it is said of him, at the time of the Last Supper,

Having loved his own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (John 13:1 NKJV).

Does God love us from a distance? No, close up. Does he become disillusioned and weary of us at such close range? Apparently not. When he said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (Heb. 13:5) was it just because he is trustworthy and caring? Or is it also because he cannot get us out of his heart, and delights to be there with us and for us?

Will we hang back, saying, “Oh this can’t be true. We are so unworthy.” Or will we allow his love to transform us?

"Your gentleness has made me great" (Psa. 18:35c NKJV).