Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Timeline to the Day of the Lord

The Day of the LORD in the Hebrew is literally yom YHWH. The Bible speaks of the Day of the Lord often.

Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!   Isaiah 13:6

Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.   Isaiah 13:9

That day is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance, to avenge Himself on His foes.
Jeremiah 46:10a

For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.  Ezekiel 30:3

For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.   Obadiah 1:15

Sometimes people ask, “When, Rick? When is the Day of the Lord going to happen?” Literally, only God knows. Jesus, when He was walking this planet, said that even He didn’t know.

But this we do know. The Day of the Lord is coming. Today is one day closer. You now have one day less to get ready than you did yesterday. And you have one day less to tell others about how they can have the Lord as their refuge.

This reminds us to be on mission.

To spur yourself on to greater holiness and fruitfulness, why not come up with ways to remind yourself much more often that the Day of the Lord is coming.

So that your friends and family are ready to face the Lord on that day without Him as their refuge, pray for them and speak with them about making Jesus Savior and Lord.

Be more burdened to help people to be ready for the Day of the Lord. Explore what it might mean for you to be a fulltime, vocational Christian worker, pastor, or missionary.

Be ready for the Day of the Lord. If you haven’t already, receive Jesus as your refuge and stronghold (your Lord and Savior) today.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Lord Delivers His People

Joel 3:16 has two parts. 1) He delivers His people. How? By 2) defeating His foes. Look at the first part of verse 16:

The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake…   Joel 3:16a (ESV)

Wow. The Lord decisively defeats His enemies.

You say, “Well, I’m not an enemy of God’s people. I go to church, man! I’m not God’s enemy. I’m just normal. I’m just human. I admit I’m lukewarm and little indifferent. But I never hurt anybody. I’m not an enemy.”

Jesus said, “If you aren’t for Me, you’re against Me. If you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of My mouth.” The Bible says that we are all naturally drawn to self-preservation and self-satisfaction. We are part of the problem. (I am my own worst problem.) We pursue our own agendas and not God’s. It’s why the Bible says that apart from the transforming power of Christ, we are God’s enemies.

The issue isn’t: Did you not hurt anybody? Passive people are part of the problem. The issue is: Has my heart been so changed that I am a positive force in this world? Do I help? Do I serve? Do I love? Am I really His? Am I really a follower of Christ?

The Day of the Lord is a dangerous day for people whose self-centered passivity marks them as enemies.

This coming Day of the Lord ought to stir in us a reverence, a respect, a fear of God so that we run. Not from Him, but to Him. And why should we run to Him? Look at the last part of Joel 3:16.

But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.  Joel 3:16b (ESV)

God is a safe place for His people. The Day of the Lord is a good day for His people.

The Lord won’t execute His justice when we want and how we want. But He will be our refuge and stronghold in His time and in His way. We have to trust. We don’t see as He sees. We don’t know what He knows. Delayed justice doesn’t mean denied justice.

Is God a bad God because He defeats His enemies and delivers His people? Think of the books, the stories, and the movies we love the most! The heroes after an epic struggle come to the rescue. We want to cheer for the heroes when justice prevails. We breathe a sigh of relief when the defenseless and the powerless get to live in safety and peace. It brings tears of joy to our eyes.

That’s what’s happening here.

Again some people don’t like this view of God. They say, “The Bible presents God as some kind of narrow-minded, prejudiced, bigoted, tribal God who only cares about a small slice of humanity – the Jews or the Christians. I just can’t worship a God like that!”

It does say here that He is a refuge to His people, a stronghold to Israel. But think with me. Who can be His people? Who can be Israel? I love what Joel says at the end of chapter 2.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.  Joel 2:32 (ESV)

Everyone. Whoever. Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Whosoever will may come!

Jews. Gentiles. Slave. Free. Male. Female. Any and all “whoevers” can be His person. Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, agnostics. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is invited to have the Lord as a refuge. It’s why we send missionaries. Asians. Africans. Europeans. North and South Americans. Antarcticans!

The Lord will deliver any and all who come to Him. God will turn any enemy into a friend if they will just come to Him. If we repent He relents. And He will decide for us and not against us. He delivers.

Living missionally

8/30/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

Jesus.. said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."
John 20:19-23

Observe

What a missional challenge! The resurrected Christ appears before His followers and commissions them. Matthew's commission in Matthew 28:18-20 is surely the more famous commission. But this just might be my favorite.

In sending His followers, Jesus says...

1. Know peace (v. 19). The past persecution of Jesus made the disciples fearful for themselves. The  commission Jesus was giving them was going to require boldness in the face of grave opposition. So, Jesus gives them peace that the world can't know. Know peace.

2. Be glad (v. 20). Jesus shows His wounds. In effect, He is saying, "Yes, I was killed, but look at Me now. My resurrection guarantees yours. It's going to be OK. We win! Be glad."

3. Go serve (v. 21). The Father sent Jesus. Now Jesus sends us. Heal the sick. Visit the prisoner. Cloth the needy. Feed the hungry. Help the weak. Bring about justice. Show mercy. Do good deeds. With passion. Go serve.

4. Get strength ( v. 22). It is impossible for us to live missionally on our own. We need strength from God's Spirit. So, Jesus breaths on them. It's a prophetic symbol of what is to come on Pentecost in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came with power to the church. We must be filled and empowered by God's Spirit to live missionally. Get strength.

5. Preach grace (v.22). We can't, of course, forgive sins. But we can speak of the One who can and does forgive. And we can say that everyone who believes in Him is forgiven. We preach His words, His message, His good news. We can say, "If you are not trusting Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are not forgiven. If you are trusting Christ, then you are forgiven." Preach grace.

Value 

Take the commission of Christ personally. Know peace. Be glad. Go serve. Get strength. Preach grace.

Express

Jesus, Your mission is amazing. You give meaning and purpose to my life. Thank You. Praise You. You are the risen Lord who conquered sin, death, and the grave. I do worship You. Cleanse me from living as through Your mission is not mine. I selfishly get peace and joy from You and want to keep it for myself rather than give it away to others. Help me. And help me help others live on mission, too. Give me Your strength through the power of Your Spirit today. Give me grace to serve and words to speak for You. May I often pray, "At least one, Lord. Give each CVCer at least one soul this school year, O Lord Jesus." In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Lord Decides Against the Nations

Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.   Joel 3:12 (ESV)

Jehoshaphat was the 4th king of Judah. His name means “God judges.” So, the Valley of Jehoshaphat may be a symbolic name for the place God where judges the nations. Some scholars would say that it’s where the great last battle, the battle of Armageddon, takes place.

The word “Armageddon” comes from a Hebrew word Har-Magedone, which means “Mount Megiddo” or “The Hill of Megdiddo.” Hills surround a valley called the plain of Meggido. It’s about sixty miles north of Jerusalem. More than two hundred battles have been fought in that region. Revelation 16 talks about a great battle there.

Demonic spirits… go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty… They assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
Revelation 16:14, 16 (ESV)

So, is the Valley of Jehoshaphat Armageddon? Is this the site of a future conflict when the nations gather to come against God’s people? It very well could be. Some would say it’s symbolic for the final place of judgment because all people of all time of all nations cannot fit into any one valley anywhere on the earth.

The exact location isn’t the point. But we have to understand that there will be a place where God will defend His people and then judge His enemies. He decides. He judges those who have mistreated the people of God, those who abuse the oppressed, those who live for self, those who see the suffering and look the other way.

The world is filled with people who choose to live according to their own agenda and not God’s agenda. One day, the Lord will say, “Enough!”

Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.   Joel 3:13 (ESV)

Selfishness, abuse, violence, oppression in all its forms are not something that God will let go on forever. “The harvest is ripe” here means that the wickedness in this world has grown to the place where God must wield His sickle. “The winepress is full” here means that the injustice in this world has reached its limit and now God is ready to tread down His enemies. The evil is so great that it’s overflowing. The Lord says, “Enough! The Day of the Lord has come!”

Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.  Joel 3:14 (ESV)

The valley of decision is the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the Valley of judgment, Verdict Valley! Perhaps it’s the plain of Megiddo, Armageddon.

The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.   Joel 3:15 (ESV)

Is this literal? That somehow the sun is burning out and the moon then grows dim? Have dust from this great battle and smoke from wartime fires created such a haze that the sun and the moon grow dark? Has there been an atmospheric disturbance – a volcanic eruption – so that the lights in the sky are covered? Or is this a figure of speech and the Lord is saying that His enemies are not going to experience His common grace anymore – that light to them will be dark? You decide. Bottom line? This is not good news for God’s enemies.

Now, go back to verse 14.

Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.  Joel 3:14 (ESV)

According to my study of this verse, it’s not the people making a decision about God. It’s God making the decision about people! “Multitudes, multitudes.” This is a Hebrew way of saying “Mega multitudes will be judged.”

That’s difficult to imagine. “Mega multitudes” not with the Lord but against the Lord. I don’t want to think about more people being away from the presence of God than enjoying the presence of God. But it is consistent with what Jesus said in Matthew 7, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14,(ESV). This is what Joel means when he says, “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.”

God has with Him His army. He quickly defeats His foes. How? He’s God. We’re not. He just wins! And then judgment takes place. The Lord decides.

And you want to be on the upside of that decision, not the downside. Jesus talked a lot about this decision time at the end time. He’s looking for evidence that we are one of His, that we know Christ, that we really are followers of Jesus. Here’s one place Jesus His decision: Matthew 25.

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.   Matthew 25:31-33 (ESV)

Jesus goes on to say that some saw the hungry and gave them food. And some didn’t. Some saw the thirsty and gave them drink. And some didn’t. Some saw strangers and welcomed them. And some didn’t. Some saw the naked and clothed them. And some didn’t. Some saw the sick and visited them. And some didn’t. Some saw the prisoners and came to them. And some didn’t.

He’s looking for evidence. Are you with Me or against Me? Are you a follower or a fraud? Do you know Me or not? Do you have a faith that works or a faith that’s phony?

The Lord decides. He says, “When you did it to the least of these, You did it to Me. And when you failed to do these things for the least of these, you failed to do it to Me.”

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Matthew 25:43, 41 (ESV)

Questions:
1) Where will you be placed on decision day, to His right or to His left? Are you OK with that?
2) Where will the people you encounter day-after-day be placed on decision day, to His right or to his left? Are you OK with that? O that God would give to each person at CVC one person to lead to Christ this year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Lord Defends His People

Earlier in Joel 3, we see why God challenges the nations, “The nations have scattered My people. They have divided My land. They have abused My children. And enough is enough.” He says, “You mess with My people, you mess with Me.” So, He says, “It’s time for war. Bring on your mightiest men. Let’s fight! If you are going to go on hurting My people – if you insist on being unjust to the oppressed, if it’s all about you and your agenda, if your attitude is “I’m going to make sure I get mine,” then let’s fight.”

Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up.  Joel 3:9 (ESV)

Who are these enemies? It’s a secular, humanistic, materialistic, a “what’s-in-it-for-me,” anti-holy, anti-Church, anti-Israel, anti-Christian, anti-God of the Bible crowd. They’ve mistreated Israel. And, today, they mistreat not only Israel, but the Church.

Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, "I am a warrior."  Joel 3:10 (ESV)

When the full and final Kingdom of God is here – in the new heavens and the new earth – it’s time to beat the swords into plows and the spears into pruning hooks. And the nations won’t war anymore. That’s Isaiah 2:4.

But here in Joel, in the Day of the Lord, God is inviting all oppressors, all the greedy, all the selfish, and all the enemies to make as many weapons as they can. He says, “Take your farm tools and make them into weapons of war.” He says, “Come on. Give Me your best shot. Train even your weakest to be warriors!”

Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there...   Joel 3:11a (ESV)

God says, “Hurry up. It’s time. The Day of the Lord means that I am coming to defend My people. If you are an enemy, then this is not only, ‘Come if you dare,’ but ‘You shall come’ because there is no escaping the justice of God.

Some of you are God’s people and you have suffered great abuse, great hurt, great misfortune, great injustice. This is good news for you. God says, “You will now quickly see Me restore what’s broken. This is that Day you’ve been waiting for.” He’s calling for you to live with hope today, not despair. And that’s the way for you to live today to prepare for the last day. Live in hope because He defends.

It’s the business of every day to prepare for the last day.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Advice to an evangelical student at a secular university

A young man left our church this past week to go to a major university. He was one of many teens who will be stepping on a college campus as a student for the very first time.

Before he left town, I met with him to encourage him in his faith and to encourage him to find some good Christian fellowship. He's working on it.

He wrote an email to me today. He is looking for prayer support. He wrote, "A prayer request that I have is that I'll keep a clear mind in the Hebrew Bible class which I start tomorrow..."

Below is part of my response.

***

Thanks for your prompt reply. At CVC, we prayed for you by name today at our 6 AM prayer meeting.
I am glad you are checking out various campus groups. Fantastic. Let me know how it goes.
I hope you can connect with a church next weekend.

Regarding the Hebrew Bible class, here is a link to a great website overall that has a specific article dealing with something you will likely face, the JEDP theory or the documentary hypothesis.

When you have questions, fire away. I would love to see your syllabus for that class to see what they are asking you to read.

Remember, I majored in Religious Studies at a secular university. So, I know at least some of what you’re going to be taught. There are reasonable, scholarly answers to many of the issues that, no doubt, will be raised that might cause you to wonder about the trustworthiness of the Bible. Just know that in your class, the supernatural (the miraculous) will likely be thrown out from the get-go. They will likely be giving you the idea that the miracle stories are myths like the stories about Zeus, etc. Expect that the idea of an ex-nihilo creation will come under attack. Evolution will be presented as the only option for any reasonable, intelligent person.

To help you with defending the faith, you might want to access these sites:


You might want to consider creating favorites folders on your computer for these apologetics sites and others that you will find over the years.

Remember that your university is a liberal arts institution. That means that conservative, evangelical ideas ought to be valued as an important and credible part of the discussion. (But, honestly, evangelical ideas may not be seen as viable by the intelligentsia there.) So, you will have to seek to understand the professor’s point of view. Treat his or her ideas with class and dignity. Be able to articulate his or her point of view. But you don’t have to buy what he or she is selling! When you write your papers, you can find articulate, well-reasoned arguments to defend traditional Biblical views.

Keep me posted. If you are feeling lonesome academically as a believer, don’t hesitate to call me.

God is going to do great things for and with you.

For Him,

Pastor Rick

***

Bottom line? Pray for and support our Christ-following college kids. They are in strategic places. And they are vulnerable to the enemy's academic attacks on their souls.

God Throws Down the Gauntlet

God through the prophet, Joel, issues a challenge. He “throws down the gauntlet.”

Have you ever wondered what throwing down the gauntlet means? To "throw down the gauntlet" is to issue a challenge. A gauntlet is an armored-covered glove. In the middle ages, a knight would challenge an enemy to a duel by throwing one of his gauntlets on the ground. The opponent would pick up the gauntlet to accept the challenge.

God throws down the gauntlet here to the nations – to His enemies. When He does, we find a sober warning and some encouraging hope.

Joel is an Old Testament prophet who spoke to God’s people at a time when they had wandered far from God. In chapter 1, we learn that God sent a locust plague to discipline His people. He corrects His people to connect His people to Him.

In chapter 2, we see the threat of another invasion with a call for His people to repent. And why should His people repent? God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting over disaster. If God’s people repent, then God will relent.

Later in chapter 2, we see God restoring His people. He restores the years that the locusts have eaten. In His time and in His way, He makes things better than ever. He pours out His Spirit on His people.

In Chapter 3, the book of Joel takes a turn. God not only deals with His people, but also the nations. The nations have come against His people, Israel. What is God going to do about that?

God disciplines His people and then He defends them against His enemies.

9 Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, "I am a warrior."
11 Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD.
12Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.
13 Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.
14Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.
16 The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.
Joel 3:9-16 (ESV)

Some of us don’t like this view of God as a judge. I’ve heard people say, “My God is a loving God. He’s not a fighter. He’s a lover. This God who comes against the nations, who commands His people to destroy His enemies, who judges and then sends people to hell is not a God I want to follow. Count me out.”

But think with me. Chad taught us a weekends back that a good father protects His kids. A good husband protects His wife. If you hurt my wife or my children and I stood by and did nothing, then you would think that something is wrong with me. A good husband (and a good father) protects his family. And the Lord is a better husband and father than any of us.

So, when God comes against the enemies of His people – when He protects the powerless, when He brings about justice – it’s not that He’s some kind of mean, arbitrary, vindictive, ticked-off, tribal god. No! His justice is a function of His love!

It would be unloving of God to allow injustice to go unchallenged. It would be unloving of God to allow the powerless to go on being oppressed. It would be unloving of God not to war against the enemies of His people. His judgment is a function of not only His holiness, but His love.

The mission to "the others"

8/24/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
John 10:16

Observe

Jesus is speaking to Jewish people here in John 10. He is saying that His other sheep are the Gentiles. The mission of Jesus is a worldwide mission. God so loved that He sent His Son not only to the Jews, but to the world (John 3:16).

Jesus promises to win Jews and others - the Asians, the Hispanics, the Anglos, the Europeans, the Arabs, the Australians, the Africans, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Muslims, the atheists, the agnostics, the secular humanists, and everybody in between. This is very consistent with Old Testament prophecy. "The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, 'I will gather yet others to Him besides those already gathered'" (Isaiah 56:8).

Jesus says that the others must be reached. They will hear His voice. They will follow Him. He will be their shepherd. We will be in one flock. Forever. Wow. 

Therefore, we can ask ourselves, "How am I leveraging my life to reach the others Jesus wants to reach? In my neighborhood? In my career? In my circle of family and friends? In the world? What can I do today to reach the others who are not yet in His fold that Jesus wants to shepherd? How can I join Jesus on His mission - a mission that surely will not fail? How can I line up my life with His priorities to reach the others?"

The encouraging thing about this is that John 10:16 is a promise. The others WILL listen. The others WILL be in His one flock. If we will just keep reaching out, the others WILL come to Jesus as their shepherd. How encouraging! 

Value

Ask God to help you reach out to one of the others today - that you will be used by Jesus to help one of the others move one step closer to being part of His flock.

Express

Jesus, I praise You for being the Good Shepherd. You gave Your life for Your sheep. And then You rose from the dead. You are even now giving to, guarding, and guiding Your lambs. That means me! Thank You. Praise You! Often, I think only about my own benefits from having You as my shepherd. I try to manipulate You to better care for me. How narrow and selfish I am. Thank You for dying and rising to forgive my sin. Help me grow more and more to join You in Your mission to reach the others You want in Your fold. Show me who You must bring, who will listen to Your voice, and who will be in Your flock. Help me be a blessed lamb in Your care who invites others to know You as their the Good Shepherd, too. Use me in this year to reach at least one of the others for you. Amen.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Missional living in deed and in truth

8/23/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
John 8:12

Observe

Notice in John 8 that Jesus handles His missional opportunities differently. He wants everyone - the irreligious and the religious - to follow Him, to live in His light. 

With the woman caught in adultery, He gives her light by giving her grace and mercy. "Where are your accusers? Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." He gives her the good news of forgiveness and sets her free from slavery to sin. She sees His uniqueness when He gives her the grace the religious leaders fail to give her. No doubt she follows Him and lives in His light. 

With the religious leaders, He gives them light by giving them truth about Himself. "I know where I come from and where I am going. I and the Father who sent Me judge. If you knew Me, you would know My Father also. You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. He who sent Me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from Him. I do nothing on My own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Me." Jesus gives the religious leaders truths about Himself so they can see His uniqueness. Many religious leaders fail to see Him as He is and do not follow and remain in the dark. Some, though, as we see in Acts, did believe later.

Jesus handled different opportunities differently. He was a Man of few words with the woman. He was a Man of many words with the religious leaders. He loved in deed and in truth. We need both to be light-bearers in a dark world.

Value
 
When it comes to living missionally, it's not a "one-size-fits-all" approach. Sometimes, just give people grace and love them in deed. Sometimes, it's time to press the point and give them the truth by making rational arguments about the uniqueness of Jesus and the gospel. Either way, the goal is the same. Show off the uniqueness of Jesus and the light of the world so everyone can walk in His light.

Express

Lord Jesus, You are perfect in Your approach to everyone. You give grace and truth. You love in deed and truth. No one is like You. I talk when I should simply love in practical ways. Then I  clam up when it's time to talk. Cleanse me of failing to speak when I should speak out. Cleanse me of speaking when I should just love. And use me to point people - religious and irreligious alike - to the light of the world. Amen.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Feed the body, feed the soul

8/22/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.
John 6:11

Observe

Here we see missional living in action. Admittedly, it's miraculous missional living. No one but Jesus can take 5 loaves and 2 fish and feed 5,000. Don't miss the fact, though, that the miracle is missional. 

Jesus cares about the hungry and feeds them. Then, He uses that missional ministry as a platform for sharing spiritual truth about Himself.

Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you" (John 6:26-27). Later, He says, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6:36). 

We are foolish when we try to feed ourselves spiritually with anything or anyone other than Jesus. He alone satisfies. Feeding on anything else, even if it's feeding on the feeling you get when you do good to others, is idolatry. 

Notice that Jesus feeds their bodies first and then He feeds their souls. Once again, the good deeds (feeding the 5,000) creates good will which results in His sharing the good news about Himself.

What good deed will you do today? (Not out of a pride that says, "I am better than those who don't do good deeds." And not out of a fear that says, "God will condemn me if I don't do this good deed." Do a good deed because a good deed was freely and graciously done to you and for you. You have eaten of the Bread of life - Bread that you did not deserve, but was freely given.) And when you sense that good will has been created as a result of your good deeds, then share the good news - that the Bread of life is offered freely to all who will believe and eat.

Value

Freely eat of the Bread of life. Then, out of God's gracious gift to you, freely do good. And ask God for the grace to point others to the same Bread of life that feeds you. Jesus!

Express

You, Lord, are the only One who truly satisfies our hunger. I know that I often feed on things other than You. Cleanse me of my foolish, idolatrous hunger. Let my hunger drive me to You. And as You satisfy, then move me to feed others - to do good deeds - that will point them to You as their Source of satisfaction, too. Amen.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How good deeds cause curiosity

8/20/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him."
John 3:2

Observe

Nicodemus, a religious leader, has come to speak with Jesus. Why? Well, Jesus certainly had developed a reputation as a teacher. But it was His words with His deeds that captured everyones' imaginations. 

John 2:23 tells us that people believed in Jesus because of His signs. What were those signs? He turned water into wine. He cleansed the temple. He did some amazing attention-grabbing feats. Miracles, even. 

But an often overlooked fact that gave Jesus such a reputation that caused a man like Nicodemus to want to visit Him is that Jesus "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). This doing good was part of the signs that caused people to take note. Jesus was a "do-gooder," seeking to minister grace and peace to the poor, the sick, the neglected, the outcast, the sinner. He helped people in tangible ways. 

Nicodemus Came to Jesus. Why? The signs. His doing good to others caused people to know that Jesus had come from God and that God was with Him. And Nicodemus wanted to know more.

Good deeds resulted in good will. And what will Jesus do with that good will? That's when Jesus gave the good news. He gave Nicodemus the gospel. 

1) The need for regeneration: You must be born again (3:3). 
2) The miracle of the incarnation : The Son of Man descended from heaven (3:13). 
3) The necessity of the crucifixion: the Son of Man must be lifted up (3:14). 
4) The possibility of condemnation: Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (3:18). 
5) The gift of salvation: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (3:16).

Don't forget that this message was able to be given because Jesus did signs. Nicodemus was curious because Jesus went about doing good. The good deeds were evidence that Jesus was from God and that God was with Him. 

Doing good deeds is foundational for sharing good news.

Value

Do good deeds so well that others can see that God is with you, become curious, and ask questions. When they ask, share the gospel boldly and clearly.

Express

Lord Jesus, You were intentional and strategic about doing good. You lived a life perfectly in harmony with justice and mercy. I praise You for Your compassion. Too often, I fail to do the signs to show others that I am from God and that God is with me. I fail to show forth Your compassion. Cleanse me of my sin, O Lord. And fill me with the Spirit of Jesus so I will have the power to be kind and compassionate as He was and is. May others see Your justice and mercy in me so much that they will want to know more and ask questions. Give me the courage to give them the good news, to show them how they, too, can have eternal life by believing in the Son. Amen.

On mission when you're tired, thirsty, and hungry

8/21/2011 Loving God Journal

Learn

Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
John 4:6

Observe

Jesus and His disciples are passing through Samaria. The Jews usually by-passed Samaria because they didn't want to associated with the Samaritans, with people who were  part Jew and part Gentile. Jesus, however, spent time with the neglected, the despised, the disenfranchised. He is a true missionary at heart.

Jesus is exhausted. He sends His disciples into town for some food while He waits at a well. A woman shows up. Not only is she a Samaritan, but she is a woman who has to come to the well at an odd time when the other women weren't there. Why? She is an outcast even among her own people. She has been married 5 times. She is living with yet another man outside marriage. 

Jesus reaches out to her. He engages her in conversation. He asks her to give Him some water. He doesn't condemn her. He points out how she can find true satisfaction - living water - in Him. She does. She shares His words in her own community. And many others believe in Jesus, too. A whole community is transformed.

Jesus is weary. He is tired, thirsty, and hungry. But He still sees Himself as a missionary. He is a missionary cleverly disguised as a tired, thirsty, hungry man. He has every excuse not to be on mission. But He stays on task, on mission.

His followers come back from the town with the food. They don't understand why Jesus is more focused on the mission than in the meal. Jesus says to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work" (John 4:34).

Jesus finds energy - sustenance - in doing the will of God, in living on mission 24/7/365 to reach out to the one everyone else rejects. 

Value

Be available for mission work at all times. Look for opportunities to engage the neglected and the hurting even when you may be tired. You will find this to be food and fuel for your body and soul.

Express

Lord Jesus, You are full of grace and truth. We see this so clearly in Your encounter with the woman at the well. You showed us how to perfectly obey Your Father's will and do His work even when You were tired. Praise is due Your name, O Lord. I am to unlike You. I am  man who is too focused on meeting my own needs. Therefore, I have missed many opportunities for missionary work over and over. Cleanse me from my selfishness. Change me to be like Jesus - on mission 24/7/365. Amen.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Jesus, the Missionary

8/19/2011 Loving God Journal

Jesus, the missionary

Learn

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

Observe

Jesus, God the Son - the Word - from eternity past, emptied Himself of divine privileges, left heaven, and was clothed in our humanity. He was fully divine, yet became flesh. He willingly chose to be fully human without losing His nature of also being fully divine. 

He didn't think equality with God was a thing to be grasped, so He dwelt among us here on this earth. He set up His tent among us. He camped out in our neighborhood. He hung out with us. He lived among us. He identified with us. 

This is what missionaries do. They leave comfort and ease behind. They go to live with those who need help, who need friendship, who need salvation.

Therefore, Jesus is a missionary. And as the Father has sent Him, so He sends us.

Now, we don't want people to see and focus on us. No. We want them to see the Son's glory in us. We want them to behold the glory of the Son from the Father through us as His children. 

And this glory that we point people to is full. It's full of grace and truth. Grace without truth is antinomianism. Truth without grace is legalism. But a life filled with both grace and truth is Jesus. We live the Jesus way and we encourage others to live His way, too. He is full of grace and truth. It's why His mission changed the world. It's the way we have to live and teach, too. When we do, we can join Him in changing the world.

Value

Find some fresh ways to leave comfort and ease behind. Go to live with and minister to those who need help, who need friendship, who need salvation. And as you do, give out the grace and truth of Jesus. 

Express

Dear Lord Jesus, truly You are worthy of worhsip. No one left heaven behind and became one of us but You. What heights of worship You enjoyed and deserved! And what depths of humility You displayed when You came to live with us! No one is like You. No one else is full of perfect grace and perfect truth like You. So, I worship You, Lord. I am a sinner who flip-flops from grace to truth and back depending on what will meet my selfish needs at the moment. I am a sinner who loves comfort and ease and, therefore, fails to identify with the needy and hurting and lost. Thanks for You grace on the cross that washed away my sin. Now, help me live like Jesus, emptying myself and going to people with Your grace and truth. Use me today, Lord, to bring someone to see the glory of Jesus Christ and to follow Him. Amen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Promise of Restoration

When God's people repent, the Lord promises to remove our enemies, strengthen our confidence, revive our joy, restore our fortunes, and satisfy our desires   (Joel 2:18-27).

These promises were partly fulfilled in Joel’s day. They were partly fulfilled in Acts 2 at Pentecost. God will bring little “d” days of the Lord, days of restoration to us, too, while we wait for the full and final restoration of all things. One day there will be the big “D” day of the Lord, a Day of restoration – a full and final restoration.

Christ is coming. He will be seen by all as Lord of Lords and King of Kings. And on the big “D” Day of the Lord – which will be a day of judgment for some and restoration for others – Jesus will restore all things for all who connected to Him.

Imagine the best thing that God can do for you and then expect Him to do better.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)

You will never, ever be embarrassed if you put all your hope in our great God.

I can imagine that some of you want to say, “Not me. It may happen for him or her, but not me. I’ve returned. I’ve prayed. I’ve done all I know how to do. But He hasn’t restored anything for me. Either something’s wrong with God or something’s wrong with these verses. I lost a relationship due to some mistakes and God did not bring him back.”

Think about this: Our interpretation of what restoration actually looks like might be flawed.

We can make the assumption that means things will return the way they are. That isn't always the case. Sometimes consequences from our actions remain and relationships may stay broken.

Restoration often looks different than we think. Sometimes those relationships can be repaired. Sometimes it means we find a peace, hope and closeness with God in spite of the difficult circumstances. Maybe our relationship with God improves or our relationships with other people improve as we learn. Restoration doesn't always remain physical or relational repair here on earth.

The Lord restores in His way and in His time. He says, “Wait and see what I will do.” He says, “You don't know the last chapter. You don’t know the next chapter.”

We’ve seen what God did for these people then. Remember, these are promises to a specific group of people at a specific point in time.

We don’t know what God will do for us. We can’t act like these are “can’t-fail/can’t-miss” promises for us. But we can see the nature and character of God here. And we can say, “Lord, You did for them then. Based on who You are and how You deal with Your people, will You do this for me – for us – now?”

You might be thinking, “This is one of the best things I could hear: That the Lord restores to us what the locusts have eaten.”

Maybe you have had lots of hard times lately. And maybe the difficulty has come because God is disciplining you for your sin. Now, your heart is crying out, “Bring Your blessings on us. We repent. Satisfy my heart. Restore me, O God.”

Or maybe you are thinking, “Well, my life is not totally devoid of blessing.” Maybe that’s true. But as the old song says, “Mercy drops round us are falling. But for the showers we plead.” So, you, too, can pray, “Bring Your blessings on us. We repent. Satisfy my heart. Restore me, O God.”

These verses give me hope that God will do this for me, for my family, for this church. These verses give me hope that God will do this for you, for your family, for your career and ministry. But we can't expect it unless we are willing to come back to the Lord, to alter our course. He corrects us to connect us to Him.

In His time and in His way, the Lord makes things better than ever.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

He Satisfies Our Desires

These next two verses show what God was really after in disciplining and then restoring His people.

"You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.   Joel 2:26

Look hard at those words “satisfied” and “praise.” The two are connected. Out of our satisfaction, we praise His name. And what is the chief purpose of man? To glorify God (that’s praise) and enjoy Him forever (that’s satisfaction). The Lord says, “I will satisfy your heart so you will praise Me.” As Pastor John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.  Joel 2:27

The purpose for the devastation and the restoration is for the people to know God is in our midst. He corrects us to connect us to Him. He restores us to connect us to Him.

Come back to the Lord. Be satisfied in Him. Praise Him. Know that God is God. Connect with Him. When someone does something good for us, we think we need to do something in return. “We need to have you over, too.” We live with a payback mentality. “You've done much. I will do much for You.” It’s not that way with God. We can't pay God back.

What does God want? Satisfaction. Praise. Worship. This is the greatest expression of gratitude.

The ultimate aim of God in sending the locusts against His people and then to restore them is to secure their undivided allegiance: "You shall know that I, Yahweh, am your God, and there is no one else." God is looking for wholehearted worship, not half-hearted allegiance. He wants all our hearts all the time.

Maybe you have been backsliding. It’s an old fashioned term for something that happens today. You don’t remember now how it began. It was just a little compromise at first. But you cut corners spiritually, fell back, compromised, failed, sinned, and became pre-occupied with things other than God. You failed the Lord. You failed others, You failed yourself. You cannot reclaim it – but God can restore it.

In His time and in His way, the Lord makes things better than ever.

When God's people repent, the Lord promises to satisfy our desires.

Social justice and verbal witness

"For socialism is not merely the labor question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism today, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth." Fyodor Dostoyevsky, from The Brothers Karamazov

Social justice without verbal witness (without evangelism) fails miserably. Good deeds without the good news are ultimately futile. Why? Social justice without verbal witness fails to take eternity into account. Social justice, in and of itself, cannot bring heaven to earth and it certainly cannot take earth to heaven.

This is why social secular service programs are good, but not good enough. Atheistic, secular, and non-worshipping do-gooders fail to take into account the divine spark that prompts their desire to do good to others. As a result, they also fail to see the the ultimate aim of the good we are to do is to connect the recipients of the good with the One who has prompted the good to be done. This connection is to be an eternal one in heaven.

Why do good? We all have been created in the image of the One who is the Source of all moral goodness, who hates evil and injustice, and who even now is working to restore all things to our pre-fall status.

The Bible says that Jesus went about doing good. But even a cursory reading of the NT reveals that Jesus did more than just doing good. He talked about eternal things more than virtually anything else. 

Jesus often spoke of heaven and hell. He came to die to secure everlasting life for His people. So, we conclude that His good deeds were done with an ultimate (not ulterior) motive. He wanted the recipients of the good deeds to hear the good news of the gospel so they would repent, believe, receive the gift of eternal life, and thereby, glorify God, the One who did them everlasting good by saving them, who did for them what they could not do for themselves.

So, to follow the example of Jesus, all efforts by believers in the social justice arena must be accompanied by  efforts to share a verbal witness. 

Social justice without verbal witness can be, unwittingly, an effort to set up a kind of heaven on earth without Christ. And since all things will not be permanently and fully restored apart from His Second Coming, attempting to create heaven on earth apart from Christ is an effort doomed to fail. 

Yes. Jesus will set up heaven on earth after He returns to restore all things. And for all eternity, we will see that it was not our effort that restored all things in a full and final way. True social justice has been, is, and will always be the work of our Triune God. 

Through the prompting and the power of His Spirit, God does use the hearts, hands, and the help of His people to accomplish His social justice. Doing good deeds is one of the ways we demonstrate that we really are His. But we never do these deeds in an ill-advised, human effort to try to bring heaven to earth. God alone can and will do that.

We do good deeds to create good will so we can share the good news, so we can "populate heaven." We seek to go to heaven and take as many people with us as we possible can. 

We want to help as many people as possible mount up to heaven from earth and then join our great God and King, Jesus Christ, as He sets up His Kingdom in the new heavens and on the new earth.

Social justice without verbal witness is futile. There will be no old Babel built without God by us. But social justice with verbal witness is fruitful. There will be a new Jerusalem built by God for us. 

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. 

Meanwhile, let do the good deeds to create the good will to share the good news.

Friday, August 05, 2011

He Restores Our Fortunes

Think about your lost hours, your wasted days, your empty weeks, months, and years. We know what it is to waste the time, the talent, and the treasure God has given us.

But I love verse 25.

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.   Joe 2:25

Because He loves us, the Lord brings little “d” days of the Lord, days of discipline into our lives. And we lose His hand of blessing. He brings calamity. He corrects us to connect us… to Him. But this same God who brings the devastation also brings the restoration. The NIV and the NLT say it this way:

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…   Joel 2:25a (NIV)

The LORD says, “I will give you back what you lost…  Joel 2:25a (NLT)

I can remember those early years of parenting our sons. I remember the times when they disobeyed, when they didn’t get along so well with each other, when they didn’t follow through on some chore. I remember having to take away a favorite toy or some play time. That was never fun. For them or for me. What was fun, though, was giving them back what they lost. It makes a dad happy to repay, to restore, to give the toy back.

If it makes an earthly father happy to restore, how much more do you think it makes our heavenly Father happy to restore?

Luke 15 gives us a picture of God as our Father. When the prodigal son returned, the father more than made up all he had lost. The son got a robe and a ring and shoes and a party.

See, God looks at His people and says, "You know the years you've committed some of the worst acts of your life, wasted years, sinful years, wandering, doing your own thing? Those years are the ones I will restore for you."

Should we feel sadness about what we could have done for God, but didn’t? Yes. Should we feel despair? No. God restores.

God is in the business of restoring His children into beautiful works of His holiness.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes…  Jeremiah 29:11-14a (ESV)

But how? How does God restore?

On a hot summer day in July, 2011, I made my way down to Martin Luther King High School. One of our own CVCers, Tony Madalone, helped organized 400 volunteers to work for 24 hours to restore that school. I was in a classroom cleaning up some of the work that some messy painters left behind. I was in a hidden corner and thought to myself, “I bet this corner hasn’t been cleaned like this for years.” And as I was working to help restore that building, it dawned on me that one way God restores the years the locusts have eaten is through us, through our ministry to one another, through our care for each other.

Who and what will you seek to restore? It is in seeking to be used by God to restore others that we are restored ourselves.

Think about the pains of your past, the heartaches from your broken relationships, the struggles from your defeats, and the frustrations of your life. If you've felt broken beyond repair, God has promised to restore. The Lord erases the blame and removes the shame. It's not that what happened didn't happen but we no longer have to see ourselves in the light of who we were or what we did but in the light of what the Lord has done for us and who we are becoming in light of His love.

In His time and in His way, the Lord makes things better than ever.

When God's people repent, the Lord promises to restore our fortunes.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

He Revives Our Joy

First, in Joel 2:21 the land has reason to rejoice, then in Joel 2:22 the beasts have reason to rejoice. And now, the people have reason to rejoice.

"Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before."
Joel 2:23

In Israel, the “early rain” is actually the rain in the fall from October to December. This is when the grain sprouts. The “latter rain” is the rain in the spring from March to April that causes the grain to mature before harvest-time.

God is saying, “You’ll get all the rain you need – at just the right time.” So, what happens? A full harvest.

"The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil."  Joel 2:24

When everything has wasted away, we are tempted to ask, “Can these dry bones live? Can this dry land be fruitful again?” Yes! With God all things are possible.

It’s why verse 23 says, “Be glad and rejoice!”

Maybe for a long, long time, you’ve been depressed and sour Christian. Maybe you’ve been angry with God because of the discipline He’s sent your way. But our God is in control. And if we will return to Him, we can watch Him do something amazing. We can be the most joyful people in the whole world.

In His time and in His way, the Lord makes things better than ever.

When God's people repent, the Lord promises to revive our joy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

He Strengthens Our Confidence

When tough times have come, we are always looking over our shoulder. “What’s next? What’s going to go wrong this time?” God's people in the OT book of Joel had experienced a drought. Their heart would fear. “What if it happens again?”

We don't have to let our pain from the past steal our hope for the future. It’s easy to live with fear. But look at what the Lord says.

"Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!   Joel 2:21

The enemies, the locusts, had done great things, great harm. Now, the Lord is going to do great things, great good.

Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and vine give their full yield.   Joel 2:22

See the word “green” in verse 22? The root Hebrew word is dasha’. It’s in the Bible only one other time. Genesis 1. Some scholars say that God wants His people to think about the Garden of Eden – that the restoration of the land will be like the Garden of Eden (see Joel 2:3). That’s big-time restoration.

Don’t fear. Rejoice!

Maybe you’ve gone through the pain of divorce. Your marriage started with hope and life and joy. But it’s over now. Yes, your ex messed up. But so did you. And discipline has come from the Lord. Now, you’ve altered your course. You’ve returned to the Lord. But you’re still afraid. You don’t want to get hurt again. You won’t trust. You can’t trust. God says, “Fear not. I am going to do great things. The dry, parched wilderness will turn green.” You may always have the scars, the consequences of sin. But something deeper may happen. Something better.

In His time and in His way, the Lord makes things better than ever.

When God's people repent, the Lord promises to strengthen our confidence.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

He Removes Our Enemies

When God's people repent, the Lord promises to remove our enemies.

"I will remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land, his vanguard into the eastern sea, and his rear guard into the western sea; the stench and foul smell of him will rise, for he has done great things."   Joel 2:20

Evidently, the locust plague came from the north. So, the Lord removes the “northerners.” This locust army from the north had done “great things” – had done great, great harm to the land and the people.

The locusts made the land depressing and now God will drive them into depressing places. The locusts were driven into the eastern sea – the Dead Sea, east of Judea – and the western sea – the Mediterranean Sea, west of Israel. Then when these millions and millions of insects washed up on the beach, things didn’t smell so good.

Over and over in the history of Israel, God brought enemies against His people to discipline them. The good news is that God then often dealt with the enemies themselves.

Some of us have known lots of relationship conflict lately. No matter how hard you try, relationships just get hard. You’re in conflict at home. Conflict at work. Conflict in your neighborhood. Conflict at church. And deep down inside, you know why. It’s discipline from the Lord. He’s sent enemies – relationship troubles – your way because of sin in your life. He’s waiting. He’s waiting on you to alter your course, to repent. The Bible says in Proverbs, “When a man’s way is pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies be at peace with him.” When you repent, God relents. He removes our enemies.

In His time and in His way, the Lord makes things better than ever.

When God's people repent, the Lord promises to remove our enemies.

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