God Remembers

Reflect:
Acts 10:1-11:18

“The angel answered, ‘Cornelius, your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.’” (Acts 10:4)

No one knows how long Cornelius had faithfully prayed to God and regularly demonstrated kindness to people before he experienced this dramatic moment of divine visitation. The flavor of the story seems to indicate that day after day Cornelius simply offered up a life of quiet piety with no real or visible acknowledgement from God.

Maybe that is your story. It could be that you have faithfully trusted God, consistently served his cause and patiently waited for his favor over the years with seemingly nothing to show for it. Perhaps you are wondering if you really matter to God or if he even notices your faithful life.

It is not uncommon at times for Christians to feel as if their prayers are nothing more than an exercise in futility and their acts of kindness simply go unnoticed. Honestly, there have been times where we all have felt that our faithfulness just doesn’t matter. According to this verse, however, and others like it, every act of faith, whether reaching out to God in prayer or touching someone with the love of God, matters greatly to a watching Heavenly Father.

According to Revelation 5:8, every prayer you offer in faith to God rises up to heaven and is offered as precious and pleasing incense before his very throne:

“The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

And according to Hebrews 6:10, your every act of kindness toward people counts in God’s book, and will one day result in his kindness being turned back to you.

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

Cornelius simply, consistently, faithfully set his course for a long obedience in the same direction, and one day there was a spiritual breakthrough. He didn’t know it would happen that day—but the God who watches and remembers had other plans.

This may or may not be your day of spiritual breakthrough—you just don’t know. But here is what you do know: God is watching, he remembers, and he has plans for you!

“The reward of being ‘faithful over a few things’ is just the same as being ‘faithful over many things’; for the emphasis falls upon the same word; it is the ‘faithful’ who will enter ‘into the joy of their Lord.’” ~Charles S. Robinson

Reflect and Apply: Ask the Lord to strengthen you today for a long, consistent, determined and practical faithfulness. Perhaps this day will be the day of breakthrough into a deeper realm of God’s favor for you—you just never know when, not if, but when it will happen.

The Last Supper-For Now

Reflect:
Luke 22:1-46

“Jesus said, ‘I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.’” (Luke 22:15-16)

From the moment Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, Christians have regularly celebrated communion in memory of his death. Some church traditions celebrate it every Sunday, others celebrate it monthly—as does my church on the first Sunday of every month—and still others have their own tradition as to the frequency and practice of communion.

When we receive communion, we mostly focus on the Lord’s death and our redemption that was purchased at the moment of his sacrifice. And what a sweet time of remembrance it is. Nothing is more moving than coming to the Lord’s Table.

Yet it is not only about remembering, communion also calls us to look forward. Twice, as Jesus instituted this holy sacrament, he spoke to his disciples of a time in the future where he, himself, would again participate in this celebration. He was referring to his second coming. He was issuing a promise that he would come again, and each time they, and by extension, we, receive Holy Communion, partakers were to be reminded of that promise and rejoice in its future fulfillment.

The next time you receive Holy Communion, I want to challenge you to not only look back in gratitude for the Lord’s death, but look forward in hope to the Lord’s coming. When you eat the bread and drink the wine, you are declaring his death, as the Apostle Paul said, “til he comes.”

Holy Communion means a promise. It is one of God’s best promises to you. And he has never broken a promise—not one. Jesus sealed the promise of his return by his death, and he guaranteed it by his resurrection. He will make good on it—perhaps sooner than you expect. And as you come to the Table, remember, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (I Corinthians 11:26)

“Death stung himself to death when he stung Christ.” —William Romaine

Reflect and Apply: The next time you receive communion, deliberately and gratefully remember the promise he made to you of his return.

The Seduction of Celebrity

Reflect:
Joshua 5:13-15, 6:1-27

“So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.” ~Joshua 6:27

With the advent of television—and all the media technologies that followed—came the rise of the celebrity preacher. Never in the history of Christianity have we had so many famous pastors—and those wanting to become famous—as we do now. If you’re a spiritual leader and you aren’t hawking several books you’ve authored, beaming your mug to adoring congregants in a multi-site campus, tweeting to your six-figure Twitter followers and getting quoted by the media on the issue du jour, you ain’t all that much.

Of course, media technologies now allow us to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world in unprecedented ways—and that’s a great thing. But inherent in this ability to communicate to the masses is the danger of showcasing ourselves. The god of fame is lurking; the seduction of celebrity has never being stronger in the Christian world than it is right now—and that’s not a great thing!

First and foremost, the real job of the spiritual leader is to make Jesus famous! And if Jesus wants to make the leader famous, well, that’s Jesus’ business. Joshua was a leader that God decided to make famous.

“The Lord told Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to make you a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites. They will know that I am with you, just as I was with Moses.’” (Joshua 3:7, The Message)

“God made Joshua great that day in the sight of all Israel. They were in awe of him just as they had been in awe of Moses all his life.” (Joshua 4:14, The Message)

“God was with Joshua. He became famous all over the land.” (Joshua 6:27, The Message)

What makes a leader great and opens the door to his or her fame? Some would say charisma is the key. Others might say it’s a combination of skill, intellect and the ability to inspire others to accomplish a compelling mission. Then there are those who would argue that not only are charisma and persuasion necessary, but it’s also a matter of being the right person in the right place at the right time.

I wouldn’t argue with any of those ideas. But above all else I would argue that what makes a leader a great and fame-worthy leader is simply God’s touch upon his or her life. Where God makes a man or woman great in the eyes of the people, there you have the makings of a leader who is one for the ages. Joshua was just such a leader.

In Joshua, you find true success! Not that he leveraged his considerable talents, sharp intellect, political capital and magnanimous personality to lead the people to victory, but that God made him great in the eyes of the people. Never did Joshua take any credit for himself in the victories and miracles that God performed. As Moses had been a humble leader, so too was Joshua. Like his predecessor, he was a true servant of God and of the Israelites. He served at God’s pleasure and recognized that his success came only by God’s power and grace. And it was God who made Joshua great before all Israel.

That’s the kind of leader I want to be. I want to be a great leader because of the touch of God on my life; because of the work that he does in, for and through me. If there is anything that makes me worth following, may it be because of what God has done. What I do through my own gifts, personality and personal determination will, at best, quickly fade. But what God does through me will last for all eternity, and best of all, bring all the glory to the God who has equipped me to lead.

What about you? Do you desire to be a leader—a person of influence in your home, school, business or some other arena? You might feel unqualified and unworthy. Part of you may want to let someone else lead; someone more qualified, smarter, holier, better than you. But it could be that God has placed in you the kinds of gifts, talents, brainpower and favor that he wants to use in leading people to extend his Kingdom in this world.

If God is calling you to leadership, submit your life to him. Then, if he chooses, let God make you great in the eyes of those you would lead.

“Worldly fame is but a breath of wind that blows now this way, and now that, and changes name as it changes direction.” ~Dante Alighieri

Reflect and Apply: When you think of the advancement of God’s kingdom over the millennia, it is amazing how many times this saying has been true of its leaders: “God didn’t call the qualified; He qualified the called.” Maybe he is wanting to qualify you to spread his fame!

 

 

Knowing God

Reflect:
Exodus 32:1-34:35

“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” ~Exodus 33:11

If I could choose in advance the epitaph that would describe me at the end of my life, it would be this: “The Lord would speak to Ray Noah face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”

Is that really possible for a human being? It was for Moses! If anyone ever really knew God, if a human being ever experienced an extraordinarily intimate revelation of God, if a man ever truly had a close personal friendship with God, it was Moses.

But Moses didn’t always have this kind of relationship with God. If you were to review Moses’ life, you would be reminded that in his first forty years, Moses knew a lot about God. He was born to Hebrew parents, but raised in the lap of luxury in the Egyptian palace as one of Pharaoh’s sons—he was a prince of Egypt. Moses knew about God through his heritage, but there is no indication of a walk with God characterized by love and obedience. In fact, it appears Moses was somewhat indifferent to God.

But then Moses tried to play God and killed an Egyptian, and he had to flee the palace to the backside of the Sinai Desert, where he lived as a fugitive for the next forty years until he met God at the burning bush. And during these four decades, Moses unlearned everything he knew about God in the first forty years. It was a desert experience—literally and spiritually—where Moses knew nothing but the silence of God. God had enrolled Moses in the University of the Desert—the Graduate School of Sinai—where he trained Moses in the curricula of solitude, monotony and failure.

But then came the burning bush, which marked the beginning of the final forty years of Moses’ life. And in this period, he came to know and experience God the way we want to know and experience him: In his power and glory. Moses, unlike any other man, experienced first hand every attribute of God a human being could possibly experience: God’s omnipotence—that he is all-powerful; his omniscience—that he is all-wise and knowing; his omnipresence—that he is everywhere at all times; his Divine nature—that is, his justice, righteousness, holiness, and incomparable greatness.

What more could a human want? Yet that wasn’t enough. Moses didn’t just want to know about God, he wasn’t satisfied with seeing the evidence of God’s activity. He wanted more:

“If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you…Now show me your glory.” (Exodus 33:13,18)

You’ve got to admire Moses’ boldness, audacity and greediness for God! Here is what he’s really asking: “God, I want to know you…your character…your nature…what makes you tick. I want to enter into the deepest dimension of intimacy with the Almighty that’s possible for one human being.”

Amazingly, God obliged this big, audacious request—he revealed himself fully to Moses. (Exodus 33:14-23) Now this doesn’t simply tell us something about Moses, it mostly reveals something vitally important about God:

God wants us to know how much he wants to be known.

He has made himself knowable. He is not some unapproachable deity way out there in a galaxy far, far away. He is the God who is there, the God who is near, the God who will reveal himself to those who long to know him.

“What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him.” (Deuteronomy 4:7)

God want us to know that he is near and that he is knowable: “I will cause my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.” (Exodus 33:19) In other words, I’ll let you know me.

To ask to know him is a request that pleases the heart of God! You see, that’s what we were made for: To know God. That’s what he desires from us. God himself says in Hosea 6:6, “I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me.” And that should be our chief aim in life—to know God—because that is truly the sweetest nectar of life. Jeremiah 9:23-24 says,

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man gloat in his wisdom, or the mighty man in his might, or the rich man in his riches. Let them boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who is just and righteous, whose love is unfailing, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken!”

Knowing God is the best thing in life. In fact, it is eternal life. Jesus said in John 17:3, “This is eternal life: That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

God has offered to let you know him—really know him. It’s the best offer you’ll ever get! I would take him up on it if I were you.

“Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.” ~J.I. Packer

Reflect and Apply: Not only does God want to be known, God has made himself available. He doesn’t want you just to know about him, he wants you to intimately know his person. God is knowable and personable. Exodus 33:11 tells us that Moses knew God as a friend, and that he “would speak to Moses face-to-face.” Exodus 33:14 God tells Moses, “My presence will go with you…” Exodus 33:19 says that God “caused his goodness to pass in front of him and proclaimed his name in Moses’ presence.” God said he would let Moses see the after-effects of his glory in Exodus 33:22. What is God saying? “I want you to know me, and I will make myself available to you. And now you will not only know about me, you will see and experience my very nature and personhood.” That’s quite an invitation! Have you taken God up on his offer?

Don’t Miss The Point

Reflect:
Exodus 19:1-20:21

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

~Exodus 19:4-6

This is the stuff Hollywood loves: Smoke covering the mountain, peels of thunder, flashes of lightening, God’s voice booming from the thick cloud, Moses reappearing from the fog carrying the Ten Commands. It is hard not to get caught up in the special effects and the sheer drama of this scene.

But don’t miss the bigger picture in the finer details of these two chapters. There are some unforgettable and enduring truths here that we New Testament Christians tend to set aside because of the new covenant we now live under in Jesus Christ, who was the perfect fulfillment of this law delivered in these chapters.

The first point is this: God wants us to be his very own people, set aside for his holy purposes. Just as he told Israel that he had selected them out of all the peoples on the planet to be his—and with it, if they honored him, unbelievable and unending blessings—so he has chosen followers of his Son to be his new community.

I was just reading a book by Brennan Manning in which he suggested that wherever you come across the word “Israel” in the Old Testament, you should substitute your own name there and personalize that passage to yourself. In general, that’s not a bad way to read the Bible. The point is, God is still searching for a covenantal people—the job is still open, and you are fully qualified.

The second point is this: God is holy and he demands holiness in us if we are to be his very own people. One of the unmistakable themes in this passage (and throughout the Bible) is the holiness of God and the requirement of holiness from us if we are to be in relationship with him; if we are going to live within his favor. When God told Moses he was going to appear and give Israel his law, he warned them first to purify themselves:

“Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” (Exodus 19:10-11)

Hebrews 12:14 says, “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” For sure, we are judged positionally holy before God when we are redeemed. But then we are called to give great effort to progressive holiness along the way between our salvation and our eternal home. Don’t ever forget: God is still holy, and he still desires holiness among his people—and that includes you.

The final point is this: God’s justice is far outweighed by his mercy. Did you catch that stunning statement within the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:5-6? Most people get stuck on the first part and miss the second half; the world dips their quill from the ink of the former clause to write God into a corner without considering the outrageous grace and beauty of the latter.

“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Yes, God is holy and demands purity among his people. Yes, God is just and therefore must punish sin. For sure, sin has far reaching consequences—even jumping generations, sadly affecting children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. But don’t miss it—God is a forgiving God. In fact, that is his name: Forgiveness. (Exodus 34:5-7) And his forgiveness freely flows to thousands upon thousands of generations. Forgiveness—God is just dying to give it. In fact, in Christ, he did!

God’s justice is far outweighed by his mercy. Yes, God is holy and demands purity among his people. Yes, God is just and therefore must punish sin. For sure, sin has far reaching consequences—even jumping generations, sadly affecting children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. But don’t miss it—God is a forgiving God whose forgiveness freely flows to thousands upon thousands of generations.

For sure, there is not a more dramatic section in all of Scripture. But don’t lose sight of the big picture amidst the drama of the details. It makes the story all the more dramatic—irresistibly so!

“How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.” ~C.S. Lewis

Reflect and Apply: Re-read the Ten Commandments, this time, focusing not from a rule orientation, but from a perspective of relationship. That is the whole point of God’s Law: He is looking for a people he can love, and who will love him.

Everyone Wants A Testimony, Until…

Reflect:
Exodus 14:10-11

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?”

So you want a testimony, do you? I do too! But are you willing to go through the circumstances that precede the testimony? Are you willing to have your back against the wall, to know that unless God comes through you’ll go down in flames, to despair even of life? Those are the conditions out of which great testimonies are born.

Joseph had to spend some time in the pit before God lifted him up as the “prince” of Egypt—next to Pharaoh, second most powerful figure in all of Egypt. David had to actually go out onto the battlefield and stand before Goliath before he became a giant-slayer. Daniel had to literally get tossed into a den full of protein-loving lions for the angel of the Lord to come and clamp their canines. Paul had to cruise into the midst of a deadly storm in order to survive an otherwise deadly shipwreck. Jesus had to go through the ordeal of the cross in order to overcome the grave.

img_0851You get the point, don’t you? Sadly, too many Christians don’t! They want the testimony without the trial. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You cannot separate the crown from the cross. In the Christian faith, the road to glory is along the path of suffering. Now I realize that is not the greatest slogan for a recruitment campaign, but it’s true. Not because God is some kind of celestial masochist, but the reality is this present world is under the dominion of sin. And the Bible clearly warns that it takes warfare to bring it back and put it under the dominion of its rightful Ruler—and along the way, soldiers will get wounded.

Though it doesn’t make for an attractive recruitment campaign to Christianity, there is no testimony without a trial. The Bible clearly promises that the path to the crown is by way of the cross. However, it also promises that whatever discomfort, discouragement and pain Christians experience for the sake of their faith will pale in comparison to the story they receive and the glory God receives.

The children of Israel desperately wanted God to deliver them from their bondage in Egypt, but they complained bitterly when it caused them discomfort. On more than one occasion they whined at Moses and complained about God because they weren’t consulted about the Divine deliverance plan.

Now God graciously put up with their moaning, but he came really close to losing his cool on occasion. Ultimately God delivered them, in spite of their bellyaching, and they ended up with a terrific testimony. But they were forever tagged with the whiner label.

Here’s the deal: Don’t be that way! If you want a testimony—and I think you do—trust God to bring it to you in anyway he sees fit. Just trust, don’t complain—even with the not-so-pleasant stuff that precedes the testimony. Later on, whatever discomfort, discouragement and pain you experienced will pale in comparison to the story you end up with—and the glory that goes to God. As Charles Spurgeon rightly observed,

 “Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.

Prayer… Sovereign God, thank you for every difficult, disappointment and delay you have allowed in my life. In your love, grace and wisdom you have used those very trials to shape me for greater things and eternal usefulness. 

Thou Shalt Remember!

Reflect:
Exodus 12:1-42

“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.” ~Exodus 12:14’”

I have always been intrigued with the number of times throughout Scripture that God called his people to remember his mighty acts of deliverance by prescribing for them various kinds of memorial observances. In some cases, the memorial came in the form of an altar of remembrance (Joshua 4:1-7), at other times it involved the symbolism of the priestly garments (Exodus 28:12), while some of the time it was to happen through a regular sacrifice (Leviticus 2:16), a festival (Numbers 10:10), or a high, holy day (Exodus 12:14). Most importantly, for the New Testament community, the regular observance of Holy Communion (I Corinthians 11:23-26) replaced all other official observances that were mnemonically related.

Apparently, God was concerned that his people would remember who he is, what he had done for them, and why he had called them to specific acts of remembrance. So why such concern?  We’ve got a memory problem, that’s why!  We tend to get fuzzy on the important things we ought to be very clear about. People forget the covenant promise to be faithful to their spouse and begin to drift in their marriage. Parents forget how much their kids need both a mom and a dad, and instead follow their selfish desires by pursuing divorce…at a horrible cost to their children. We get sidetracked from our primary purposes in life because we fail to remember our core values.  We drift spiritually because we get busy with spiritual-sounding activities, but forget to love the Lord.

That’s why Jesus said : “Remember your first love…remember the heights from which you have fallen and return…remember, every time you do this, my blood, my body. Remember.” Over and over the Bible calls us to remember lest we forget. You can’t read too far into God’s Word before noticing that a strong theology of remembrance is woven into the fabric of the chosen community.

God understood the power of memory and how visible representations would evoke powerful emotions that would reconnect us to defining events in our lives.  He knew how symbols of memory could arrest our tendency to drift spiritually and refocus us on the core experience of loving him. That is exactly why he instituted the Passover in the Old Testament and replaced it with Holy Communion in the New. God doesn’t want us to forget him.

Perhaps that should be the Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Remember!

“As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.”  ~Henry B. Eyring

Reflect and Apply: The next time you partake of the Lord’s Table with your spiritual community, make a special and strategic effort to remember what the communion represents: the mightiest act of God ever expressed—the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. Call to mind God’s grace and mercy, and express heartfelt gratitude for his gift.  And then consider what such wondrous love now demands of you. And don’t forget!