“In that day men will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made.” - Isaiah 17:7-8 I’m almost 30 now, and I’m beginning to understand how similar our bodies are to cars. Eventually, they all break down. One of the areas I’m noticing this the most is in my eyesight. Particularly as the sun begins to set and at night, my vision is not what it used to be. I’ve had this truth hammered into me twice in the last week as I’ve been outside with my dogs around 8pm, giving them their final play in the backyard before it’s time to come in for the evening. Before we actually start running around I’ll wait awhile for them to do their business, then I’ll get the pooper scooper and clean things up. These last two times, though, I’ve tried to make a good mental note of where they’ve made their deposits, but each time my vision, not my memory has betrayed me. Each time I have carefully approached the spot where their present was left; looking intently at the ground so as to avoid desecrating my footwear. Each time I have walked right to the place they have gone, only to be left to how the poop has magically disappeared. Each time I have found myself standing right in it. One day, we all will realize whether our eyes have betrayed us or not. We will all see whether we have sought after the truth or after lies. It may take a several months or several years, and for some of us it won’t come until we die. If we have put our hope in romantic relationships, one day they will fail us miserably. If we have put our hope in financial success, one day it will show itself to be an empty pursuit. If we have put our hope in being a good enough person, one day our self-made standard will be shown far inferior to the One true standard. One day comes for all of us. May look to our Maker today, and humbly ask Him to give us eyes to distinguish between His path of life, and the many deceptive roads that lead to slow decay. May He also give us the courage and faith to choose wisely.
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.” – Isaiah 11:1-3 For a long time, I had a poor understanding of the phrase, “The fear of the Lord.” I thought that it had something to do with being afraid of God because He can and probably should annihilate me at any time for all of my sins. We see this mentality play out when someone curses in church, and everyone backs away from that person in expectation of an impending lightning strike. To help give a bit of clarity as to what it means to have a Biblical fear of God, here are some passages from Scripture: “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. – Psalm 34:11-14 The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. – Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. – Psalm 33:18-19 In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. – Proverbs 14:26-27 May the Holy Spirit help us develop a fear of the Lord that we may walk in confidence, and be a fountain of life to those we encounter.
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” – Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 I’m definitely one who’s been known to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. Whether it’s telling God, “I’ll never go…,” or telling others, “I’ll never be addicted to…,” I’ve got a knack for speaking impulsive words that should have never crossed my lips. Many times when we say words we shouldn’t, it is due to anxiety. One can frequently observe this phenomenon in times of communal prayer. Someone is asked to pray and they immediately begin jabbering on about this and that, using colloquial, pseudo-biblical phrases and regurgitating words they’ve heard other religious people pray. Then the next person’s hand is squeezed and the process repeats itself over and over; each new person making sure not to let any awkward silences take place. Another popular style of prayer is by taking several lines out of different passages of Scripture, then blending them together to form our own “Biblically based” prayers. It is subtly taught that God MUST obey this kind of prayer since we are only praying His Word back to Him; the Word He promised will never return void, but will accomplish what it is meant to do. I can’t help but think these anxious and prideful types of prayer do not please God. One is not thoughtful and the other is manipulative. One is based out of a fear of man, and the other is based out of a desire to control God. Both of them assume we know best what we should be praying for. James chapter 1 tells us that if anyone lacks wisdom he should ask God for it, for God will graciously give it to those who ask without doubting. One of the first examples of someone growing in wisdom is that they recognize their need for more of it. Romans chapter 8 tells us that when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit of God will intercede for us. These two passages, along with Ecclesiastes 5 reveal that the best approach toward prayer is to first ask God how to pray, and then patiently wait for Him to guide us in His will. May we be like Jesus’ disciples who humbly asked Him to teach them to pray.
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” - Ecclesiastes 4:12 About two weeks ago my friend’s mother died. Just yesterday another friend of mine had an aunt who died of a massive heart attack while playing Yahtzee. Death is not something we like to talk about, but it is something that we all must deal with throughout our lives. Many psychologists believe that we are always in the process of grieving, for we all encounter various forms of loss throughout our lives. One of the most common responses we have when we experience a loss is to withdraw into isolation. Obviously there are many reasons why people isolate themselves, but grief is certainly a prime catalyst for this coping device. Though isolating ourselves following a loss is a normal reaction, it can also prove to be quite dangerous. We are most vulnerable to Satan’s attacks when we are outside of community. God told Adam in Genesis 2:18 that it is not good for us to be alone. We need the strength that Christian community provides to enable us from falling prey to our enemy’s schemes. United we stand, but divided we fall. We must be careful, though, to not mistake being in the presence of others with true community. One can be in a room full of people and still be very much alone. True community requires honesty, vulnerability and accountability. In the small group that I lead on Sunday nights, one of the last things we do is share accountability requests. This is very different from standard Baptist prayer requests when we ask that prayer be given for our cousin who is in need of a job. Accountability requests involve confession of the dark, sinful places in our hearts where we are preventing the Spirit from having full control of our lives. We each share a couple of these requests, and then we immediately intercede for each other. We do this each week, and it is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever been a part of. Our group is becoming very tight, and very driven to honor God with all that we are. Whether we are grieving over a loss or not, may we be intentional in moving out of both physical and spiritual isolation, and into the community that we have been created to thrive in.
“Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of men.” - Proverbs 27:20 I watched a YouTube video of Derek Webb the other day, and now I want to buy a 12 string guitar. I went to a concert of sorts last week, and I started wanting to play in a full band again. I listened to some of Jon Foreman’s solo material and wanted to immediately begin to make a stripped down CD even though my current one is barely over a half year old. I want to be taller, tanner, wealthier, and funnier. Envy is like a black hole; it always sucks. It deceptively tells us that THIS is what will make us feel whole. Many times, whatever THIS is eludes our grasp, but even when we get it we’re never satisfied with it. Soon enough we’re on the hunt again. Envy rejects God’s goodness toward us. It rejects God’s love for us. Envy is the clay complaining to the Potter, “What have You done?!?” Even for Christians, envy is a subtle and often unconscious rejection of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Thom Rainer writes, “Through the sacrificial death of Christ, believers are one with God. Theologians call it the atonement. It is the miracle of salvation. A holy God and sinful man united.” Envy claims that there is something better than being one with God, that our time, energy and resources are better used pursuing something else. The only thing large enough to fill this black hole is an intense yearning for God. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” May we be people who move past a hunger to know about God, to people who hunger and thirst to know Him personally and deeply.
“A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” - Proverbs 15:5 I had a great lunch today with my dad. We’ve established a tradition of sorts, where we have lunch every Thursday. It’s become one of the things I most look forward to each week. But if you would’ve told me 15 years ago that my dad would become one of my best friends within the next 15 years, I would’ve told you that you were crazy. You see, my dad and I didn’t have the best relationship when I was a teenager. There were times I remember telling him that I hated him, and definitely many occasions when I cursed at him. I was not a fan of my father’s disciplinary tactics, felt like he held me to an unreasonably high standard. Looking back, though, I’d now say that I had and have one of the best fathers a kid can hope for. He came to all of my baseball and basketball games, all of my concerts, always bought us new clothes for school, we always had good meals to eat, and he frequently told me he loved me. I’m well aware that there aren’t many guys who can say that about their dads. A few years ago I realized that my dad really did love me tremendously. He disciplined me as he knew best because he loved me and wanted the best for me. I’m glad that he did. And I’m also very thankful that he still offers me wise counsel, and actually wants to meet with me every week. The amazing thing is that as much as my dad loves me, and has proven time and time again that love, my Heavenly Father loves me infinitely more and has proven His love in that while I was a sinner, His enemy, He sent His son to die for me and be the atoning sacrifice for my sins. My Heavenly Father also demonstrated His love in that He has sent His Holy Spirit to dwell inside me to be a Wonderful Counselor that is on call 24/7. May we be children who love our Father’s discipline and heed His loving correction.
How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” - Proverbs 6:9-11 I love naps. I’ve always loved naps. I can take a nap just about anywhere, and at just about anytime. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with this favorite pastime of mine. For one, an afternoon nap can make it pretty difficult to sleep at night. Then I’m forced to take Tylenol PM or an equivalent to finally get some shut-eye. Unfortunately, these sleep-aids often make me just as tired in the morning as if I was only able to get a few hours sleep. Napping used to be my main coping device. Stressed out? Nap. Received a terrible report card? Nap. Mom and Dad are fighting? Nap. Feeling lonely and worthless? Nap. Really scared to obey what God is telling me to do? Nap. The danger with this approach is that napping doesn’t make it all go away. Things either stay the same or get worse. In fact, given enough time, it will always get worse if napping is my solution. We spiritually nap when we stay comfortable in our faith. It is so easy to go to church on Sundays and maybe Wednesdays as well, come home and then do whatever we want to do for the rest of the week. It is so easy to put on our happy face, know all the right answers, and maybe even teach a Sunday school lesson, when on the inside our lives are full of idolatry, greed, envy and deceit. It is so easy to ostensibly religious, and to fool everyone, including ourselves, into believing that we are actually followers of Jesus. It’s also so much easier to be confessional than it is to be repentant. It is to Christians who are in this type of spiritual slumber that Paul writes, “Wake up O sleeper. Arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you. Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:14-15.” May we wake up as well, and wisely make the most of every opportunity to know our Lord Jesus Christ better, and make Him known to others!
“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. – Proverbs 3:9-10 They say money can’t buy happiness. I say they’re wrong. Money absolutely can buy that temporary feeling of pleasure and delight, and a momentary escape from one’s problems. On the other hand, money cannot buy peace; especially the kind of peace the Bible talks about. The word is ‘Shalom’, and it is a blessing of more than experiencing freedom from worry or anxiety, but instead speaks to a wholeness or completeness of life as a result of coming into a right relationship with God. Money can never purchase shalom because shalom is something imparted upon someone by God. It is impossible for man in his own strength to attain something only God is capable of producing. It may sound strange, but this is one of the main reasons God instituted tithing. A true tithe is taking the first and best of your crops, or for us, 10% of our paychecks before we’ve spent a dime on ourselves, and giving it to God. If you’ve never done this before or had this practice modeled for you, tithing can seem quite ridiculous, or a greed-driven institution of the church. The call to tithe will almost always produce a Golum-like response in us, because our precious money holds a very dear place in our hearts. It is mine…mine…mine to do whatever I want with. Mine to give me security. Mine to give me peace. Mine to give me happiness. Mine to impress others with. Mine to cure my boredom. Mine to help my self-esteem. Mine to make me a big ball of worry. The awesome thing about tithing is that it makes our barns overflow and our vats brim over with new wine. Now, just because you tithe, your wallet may not suddenly begin to actually overflow with Benjamins. But you will begin to feel like it is. Tithing produces a peace and feeling of security that we could never achieve through our own means. It helps us to know that God is greater than what we often feel is our greatest need. It helps release our white-knuckled grip on our lives, and helps us believe that Jesus is not just a spiritual Savior, but a material one as well. May we be faithful in tithing, and come to know God the way David did. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I will never be in need (Psalm 23:1).”
“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain.” - Psalm 127:1 I am a wuss. I spent about an hour-and-a-half playing outside with some kids yesterday, and all I wanted to do when it was over was take a nap. Some of you may be thinking, “Phil, you really need to cut yourself some slack; it’s really hot outside.” If you concur with those sentiments, I appreciate your pity. I really do. But I still feel like a wuss. As soon as I pulled in my driveway I was reminded of my wussiness, for across the street were the same eight or so builders of a new house that have been working almost 12 hour days, 6 days a week for the last 3 weeks. Outside. In the midst of admiring their work and dedication, my mind began to wander back to a sign I’ve been driving past every day on I-45: HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE. BE PREPARED. Now my heart was truly going out to these workers. It is possible that a massive storm could come next week and completely demolish the near-finished house. Though we acknowledge those thoughts to be true, generally we don’t let them sink deep into us. Everything we have today can be gone tomorrow. In fact, one day we will lose everything we have. Eventually, everyone we’ve ever known will die. Everyone, including you and me. If our hope and confidence is mostly placed in any of these things, one day our hope and confidence will be utterly crushed. The good news is that Hebrews 12:25-29 tells us that there is one thing that cannot be shaken by the hurricanes and earthquakes of life; the Kingdom of God. May we be people who build our lives upon the only unshakable foundation, who place our hope and confidence and value in the only Kingdom that will remain.
"Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice. Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever. He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD." - Psalm 112:5-7 Several years ago I used to tease my dad constantly about having to get colonoscopies. I mean, what guy isn’t going to take advantage of several bodily function jokes lying there at his disposal? A few months ago I was told I needed my first colonoscopy. I don’t tease my dad about that anymore. There is one principle in our universe that almost everyone believes in. Some call it karma. Some say, “What goes around comes back around, I thought I told ya…” The Bible says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:7-9). From this passage in Galatians we can glean a few truths about the law of sowing and reaping. First, the Force helping to maintain justice is not impersonal, for God is a personal God who cares deeply and passionately about all of His creation (see the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, particularly in Matthew ch. 5-7). Second, whatever kind of seed we plant in the ground is what will grow up out of the ground. If we plant lies and deception, we will receive the lies and deception of others. Third, the harvest never happens immediately after the seed is sown. It may take a while. And until then it may seem as if the law doesn’t apply to us, but do not be fooled; eventually we all will reap what we sow. Today, may we be generous, lend freely, and conduct our affairs with justice. As God has been merciful and gracious to us, may we do the same to others.