Month: April 2015

Tuesday Devotional: Jonah 1

Read Jonah 1bible

The pride of man is continuously fed by man’s ability and man’s accomplishments. The more success we have through our own effort, the more we believe “I can” and the less we are willing to hear “You can’t.” This foundation of pride grows in strength alongside us and, although unreasonable or perhaps ridiculous to those around us, in our mind and heart we begin to possess more faith in ourselves than anything else in the entire world. The only way to break this foundation is for us to repeatedly collide head-on with defeat or limitation. For some, the foundation of pride is cracked after only one violent collision. However, for others, this crack only appears after years of repeated collisions. While these collisions are painful, once this foundation is cracked the desire to build a stronger one ultimately emerges. In this moment, God is revealed not as a force bent on destruction but one built on construction.

The purpose of these collisions is not for God to establish himself as simply superior to us. The purpose of these collisions is for us to realize that our ways are futile against the ways of a creator God. The will of God is immovable and unshakable, and when confronted with this power we can finally come into a place where we begin to believe. Without the collisions, we find no need or no place for a power stronger than our own. Without the collisions we still have faith in our ways, and hope that our desires will lead us to the satisfaction we so deeply desire. Following these collisions, we are not left with the impression that we merely crashed and were subsequently injured, at a loss. Following these Godly collisions, we can see clearly that it was our feet on the gas and our refusal to deviate from the course we committed to which caused the collision, and that God and only God is willing to assist in our recovery. From these moments we can finally understand the concept of “Fearing God.” It is not simply his ability to prevent or circumvent us that instills an the fear of God. Rather, the fear of God inspires awe for a God who can and does forgive the destructive pride of the human heart to defy him.  It inspires the most heartfelt change, to be loved by him and to truly love the one that saves us from our own collisions. The fear of God is defined by awe, and the awe is built on the power of His love.

ASK: 2 Samuel 7

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This update is from a recent meeting of ASK Daegu. Each member contributed something to the message that follows. We pray that our group encourages you in the same way that it encouraged all of us.

READ 2 SAMUEL 7

The glorification of self is so strong within us that arriving at a place where we can simply worship and glorify God without considering ourselves is perceived as the place in which we have finally arrived. The fight against sin is so intense that to finally be at peace and find joy giving to the Lord more than receiving is often celebrated and in many cases should be. But it is possible to find joy in giving without finding joy in God.

With so much focus placed on worship, we often overlook the danger of it. With sin ever present in our hearts, regardless of our transformation, we are all one step away from committing our lives to yet another idol other than God Himself. This idol can often appear in the form of worship. Although it seems contradictory to be giving our everything to God while simultaneously holding back what he truly desires, this is a common trajectory of the human heart if it is not checked, reset and rechecked by the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus.

Becoming transformed in the image of Jesus will naturally produce a more selfless and generous heart toward God, however, we must never forget His deepest desire. We must never forget that glorifying God in this world must not be rooted in the things of this world. What good is a cathedral that radiates the glory of God in its architectural and artistic magnificence, that will ultimately collapse over time, yet lacks the gospel of Jesus in the lives of its congregants, who are designed for eternity?

While God is worthy of all the splendor of this world we must never forget that as His children from the beginning, he simply desires our homecoming, made possible through faith in His son Jesus. Nothing else. A large financial offering might result from a life transformed by Jesus Christ, but a large financial offering is not the sign of a life transformed by Jesus Christ.

Our greatest offering to God is to desire His vision to see beyond this world, and to desire His heart to be undeterred by the temptations of it. The strength of our offering is measured by our understanding of His strength, not our own. Once we understand His role in our lives and begin to fathom the depth of the Gospel of Jesus, daily committing to His will becomes an offering of more worth than gold. We become the offering, and in this way, we become the delight of the Father and the splendor of his eternal glory.

Candles, Cakes, and Prayers: Believing what is Spoken

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Wishful thinking is at the heart of why we make a wish and blow out the candles on a birthday cake.  We wish as some might wish on a star or when an eyelash comes loose.  There is no foundation to any of these rituals that give us any believable hope in the wish actually coming true.  We take part in these traditions because they are amusing.  We do them with a smile and a laugh but with no actual hope invested in them.  These traditions are carefree and trivial.  With no genuine expectation of fulfillment, we are left rather indifferent to the success or failure of any of these wishes.  We expect them not to come true, but would love to be surprised by the random chance that they did.  But since we didn’t REALLY believe, we protect ourselves from being REALLY disappointed when nothing happens as a result. 

The difference, however, between birthday cakes and God is that the Bible promises that these prayers are not only heard but can be answered.  However, when prayers are unanswered, we experience the bitterness we discussed earlier in this series, the bitterness of prayers we assume to be unheard.  The absence of answers can be difficult to understand and harder to find any peace with, but as we learn more about how Jesus talked about prayer, we find that unanswered prayers do not necessarily mean prayers not heard, or the absence of care or love.

Belief in prayer is a two-fold understanding.  Belief in prayer does not simply mean that one believes that the prayers can be answered.  Believing in prayer means that there is a clear understanding that God hears our prayers, and plans to carry out his response with our best interests in mind. A believer’s prayer comes with faith that the prayer at hand can be answered.  However, this faith does not come out of a record of consistently answered prayers.

On the contrary, most people who pray throughout their lifetime will be left with a longer list of prayers left unanswered as opposed to the ones that were. Faith in prayer comes from an understanding of the one to whom we pray and his character: the character of God himself.  Understanding the one we send our prayers to is absolutely necessary for any faith in the prayer process to emerge and grow.  We people are limited creatures and cannot achieve everything.  But if we approach God in the same manner, ascribing a limited nature to Him, we will naturally doubt the prayers being made to begin with.  If there is no belief that God is exactly who he says he is then there is absolutely no hope whatsoever that anything close to impossible could become reality.  If the God of the Bible is a myth and a legend there is absolutely no difference praying at the bedside with hands clasped together than praying over a birthday cake while dawning a birthday hat.  The God of the Bible, who hears and desires to answer prayer, can only be revealed by the Spirit who testifies to the truth.  It is therefore open for everyone to experience, but not everyone is open in turn to the experience.

Upon finding confidence in the ability of God, one must understand how he desires to use his ability.  Many who have found faith in the God of the miraculous have ultimately been disappointed by God, due to a fundamental misunderstanding of his nature and approach to our prayers.  Many take a black-or-white approach to prayer.  For example, if I am suffering and I pray for the suffering to stop, I might suppose that if God is powerful enough to stop it he will, and if he cares for me enough, he will.  We found our understanding of prayer on a tight rope, allowing God just enough room to walk without losing his balance and falling.  From this perspective, suffering is merely “bad” and, therefore, the presence of a “good” and “loving” God who allows suffering to persist implies the complete absence of goodness and thus the absence of God. While the why and when of suffering will often be a mystery, the conclusion that God does not care is unjustifiable from the perspective of scripture.

Throughout the entire Bible, and specifically in the life and teachings of Jesus, God reaches out to people and cares for them in ways that define rationality.  There are many instances where Jesus heals an individual before they even ask for it or even imply belief in him, such as Luke 7:11-17, when Jesus raises the son of a widow from death to life. As the stories of Jesus’ healing are so numerous, this particular story is easily overlooked,especially due to the popularity of the resurrection of Lazarus. This smaller, but no less significant, display of Jesus’ power over death is passed over rather easily.

The miracle of Jesus overpowering even death is worthy of praise all on its own.  However, the more amazing aspect of this story is the lack of dialogue between the mother and Jesus.  We find no evidence that the mother spoke with Jesus, let alone placed faith in him at all.  What we do see is that Jesus felt compassion for the widow, and his heart “went out to her.”  It was out of this compassion that Jesus not only restored her son to life but simultaneously restored the life of this poor woman.  Upon reading this passage, we cannot conclude that Jesus came into the world simply to display power. The only remaining conclusion is that Jesus came into our world, with healing power, simply because he cared.

Tuesday Devotional: Obadiah 1

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Read Obadiah

We have built into our hearts an unhealthy and disillusioned view of what we have or what we don’t have. There is a perpetual belief in the human heart that what we have is either not good enough or what we have is better than it is.

Originating in our childhood and developing into our adulthood there tends to be this condition of the human heart that makes it nearly impossible for us to simply accept where we are for exactly what we are and to find contentment in that state of being. When most of us have little, it is far too easy for us to dream of having more than we do while entirely overlooking the blessings that surround us at that moment in time. When most of us have been blessed with the privilege of plenty, it is far too easy for us to distort or corrupt this abundance into an impression of inflated strength.

It is this unwillingness to be content or this unwillingness to be realistic that causes most of the stress in our daily lives. Our dissatisfaction in little robs us of the joy that God has truly blessed us with. Whereas, the pride in much separates us from the blessings that God desires for us to receive. Thus, it is no surprise that the one overwhelming promise that Jesus repeatedly makes to his disciples is “peace.” It is fitting for a God that knows our hearts better than we do to promise the thing that we most deeply need. Receiving the peace of God is not a life free of struggle or strife. The challenges of this world will never cease as long as we live. Receiving the peace of God goes much deeper than that. The peace of God is knowing that with Him and in Him we are precisely where we need to be and have exactly what we need. From this place, the contentment is in God and for God. This peace does not crave more and it does not imagine more. It is what it is because He is who He is. He is the great “I am” which means that He is ever in the present and choosing to live in the present without the burdens of past or future allows us to finally be at peace where “we are.”

Candles, Cakes, and Prayers: Heard Before Spoken

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The act of prayer is always attached to the need for something. Praying to God firmly establishes the foundation that we are in need or in want of something that we cannot attain on our own.  This means that prayer is often “option B,” where we toss our desires into the hands of someone who might, possibly, achieve the impossible.  When we pray we are praying for miracles that are clearly beyond our reach.

When we think of miracles as beyond our experience, our faith in the impossible becoming possible is limited.  Likewise, our understanding of our prayer life is limited.

We see it around us every day: in the world, impossibility is limitless.  We expect the expected and doubt the unexpected.  When we take inventory of the problems we decide to pray about, we see numerous problems with very few answers.  We see limitless obstacles with limited solutions.  With this outlook, when we do pray, we find only enough faith or hope to pray for one or two things at one given moment.  Although God claims to be the healer of the broken and the achiever of the impossible, we buy into the idea that only a few impossible things are possible even for him.  Thus, our prayers, and what we feel the need to pray for, are limited along with everything else.  We might be completely aware of something that needs healing, however, our limited view of possible solutions limits our petitions and we withhold our request.

The Gospels display certain characteristics of the healing nature of Jesus.  While grace and love are constant, we must also consider the foreknowledge he always possessed of the problems he faced.  Jesus always desired more healing than any one person expected, and always thought ahead of the person requesting help.  Even before meeting a particular person face to face, Jesus had already set in motion a chain of healing events that would line up perfectly with one particular person.  Jesus always desired more. When he healed he always achieved more than people expected.  Even more than the person asking for help, Jesus always saw where the healing was most needed and how to maximize that healing in the person’s life, and in the lives of those around them, in ways they would have never expected themselves.  It is then no surprise that this desire of Jesus is a constant trait in the character of God from the beginning.  Being the creator God that he claims to be, he has more knowledge and understanding of our situations than we could ever attain.  This larger effect of healing is similar to the way medication works its way through the body.  As the medication enters the bloodstream and rapidly flows throughout the body there emerges a widespread sense of “healing,” not only restricted to the particular area of pain, but throughout the entire body.

God wants to work in a similar fashion.  We might have one prayer that we most desperately wish to be answered, but God has twenty more that he desires to answer, if only we would have faith and simply trust that he in fact does desire for us to be completely and thoroughly healed.

Our culture makes it easy to take on a limited view of prayer.  While this attitude is understandable, it is not scriptural.  The scriptures do not portray a world of limitless problems and limited solutions.  On the contrary, the scriptures describe a God that came into our world to eradicate the “problems” we face, bringing us into a life of limitless healing.

Tuesday Devotional: Amos 3

bibleRead Amos 3

“Ignorance is bliss.”  Why?  Pleading ignorance allows us to be free of responsibility and consequence.  Being free of these things allows us to escape two things that daily burden us, allowing for happiness in the “now,” not regret in the “then” or fear of the “later.”

Perhaps ignorance can provide freedom of a kind. However, the faith of a believer in ignorance is futile.  The truth is, none of us can be truly ignorant of the responsibilities or consequences that rest at our feet every morning.  We were created to think and we were created to know.  By using the mind God has given each of us, we can find wisdom, and wisdom promises to never mislead.  Pleading ignorance essentially negates what makes each of us so wonderfully made.  It is a resignation to think, a forfeiture of the grace and understanding of others when a mistake or transgression is made.

But the grace and love of God for the people he made has not yet run out.  While his patience has been tested and stretched to limits unfathomable to our minds, and his rebukes have stunned and stung, his grace still remains and his promise to wait still persists.  It is not the easiest task, to listen to others.  It is not the easiest task to change behavior at the insistence of others.  It is not the easiest task to think before acting.  But to be human is to think, and to think is the first step in truly functioning as we were made to. From this sacred and holy ground, bliss is knowing that ignorance is never an option.