The Rock

Reflect:
Psalm 18:2

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

William Gurnall wrote, “Hope fills the afflicted soul with such inward joy and consolation, that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath; it is called ‘the rejoicing of hope.’”

Rejoicing in hope—that is what David did even as Saul was closing in on him with murderous intent, as we learn from the title of Psalm 18. As David stared death in the eye, he could sing and laugh and cry and sigh all at the same time. He could gladly declare, “I love the Lord… The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior,” (Psalm 18:1,46) because he knew Somebody greater than him and bigger than Saul was watching out for him:

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:16-19)

Rejoicing in hope—that is what you can do when the Lord is your Rock! Aren’t you glad for that? I am so thankful that my trust is in the Lord. He is indeed a Fortress and a Deliverer. Not that I have been kept from all hardship and tragedy—neither have you. We’ve had our share, and perhaps will experience more in the future. As Jesus said, the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. But we know to Whom we can run when it’s raining—our loving Shield. We know where to go in times of trouble—our great Refuge.

That is one of the things I love most about the faith that I’ve placed in Jesus Christ as my Savior. No matter what, I win! When trouble hits, I win because God delivers me from all of my troubles. (Psalm 34:17, Psalm 41:1) Even when I or a loved-one goes through the tragedy of terminal illness, relational heartbreak, economic disaster, or premature death, I belong to a God who

  • Holds my hand … “never will I leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Provides my daily bread … “My God will supply all my needs.” (Philippians 4:19)
  • Turns my tragedy to triumph … “In all things he works for the good” (Romans 8:28)
  • Trumps death with eternal life … “He who believes in me, even though he dies, will live again.” (John 11:24-26)
  • And one day will permanently turn my tears to joy and make everything new … “He will wipe away every tear.” (Revelation 21:4)

Even though life doesn’t always turn out as we have planned, we can rejoice in the Hope of our Rock. He has a track record of faithfulness and goodness going all the way back to the beginning. So determine now to trust him at all times, and when the tough times come around, don’t abandon the only one who will never abandon you. Make your plans now to run to the Rock!

“There is nothing more precious to God than our praise during affliction. Not praise for what the devil has done, but praise for the redeeming power of our loving heavenly Father. What He does not protect us from, He will perfect us through. There is indeed a special blessing for those who do not become offended in God during adversity. Furthermore, we become a special blessing to Him!” ~Robert C. Frost

Reflect and Apply: God troubles? Don’t focus on the size of your problem, focus on the greatness of your Rock.

Working For The Man

Reflect:
Colossians 3:23-24

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

What if you did everything for one week as if you were doing it for Jesus? What do you think would happen? Do you think your life, and the lives of people who interact with you, would be different? Better? Changed for the good?

I want to suggest a seven-day experiment, starting from the moment you read these words: For one full week, treat everyone you meet as if you were meeting Jesus. Speak to them, work for them, lead them, serve them, think about them just like they were Jesus himself. Do that, no matter how you feel or how they respond to you, and see what happens.

If you are married, love your husband like you would if your spouse were Jesus. Serve your wife like you would if Jesus were your bride. Parent your children like Jesus were your child. If you are under someone’s authority—a parent, teacher, a policeman who pulls you over, a supervisor who knows less about the job than you do, or the owner of the company—treat them with the kind of respect you would give Jesus if he were in their place. If you are in authority, lead like Jesus would—treat those under you with love and respect.

And do your work like you were working for the man, because really, Paul says, you are working for “the man”! If it is cooking breakfast and cleaning house, or doing homework and working on some project, or if it is keeping the books and ringing up a customer, do it as if you were doing it for Jesus himself.

Try it—because in fact, it is the Lord Christ you are serving.

What if you did that? What if…?

“It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, but why he does it.” ~A.W. Tozer

Reflect and Apply: “Whatever you do” … that is a pretty comprehensive list. Your goal this week is to do those things out of unconditional love, with unrestrained joy, full of Christ’s peace, exhibiting absolute patience, with complete kindness, in God-hearted gentleness, out of Spirit-led goodness, with unimpeachable faithfulness along with unflappable self-control. That’s how Jesus would do it.

The Circle Of Saving Faith

Reflect:
I John 5:1

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.”

What makes a Christian a Christian? Is it the fact that a person says so? Should we just take their word for it and leave it at that? A lot of people in our society claim Christianity, but both their language and lifestyle represent a gulf between what they claim and living in full surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Likewise, does going to church make someone a follower of Jesus? Again many people attend worship services on a regular basis, but the trail of evidence as to the Lordship of Jesus in their lives stops at the doors of their church.

How do we know when a person is expressing authentic faith? The Apostle John gives a pretty comprehensive answer to that question in his first letter. He says true Christianity begins with belief: “Every person who believes that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, is God-begotten.” (I John 5:1, Message)

Believing is the starting point. That echoes what John taught in his Gospel: “To all who received Jesus, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) But saving belief is not mere intellectual acknowledgement alone. James, the brother of Jesus, would say of that, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:19)

No, belief that saves is demonstrated in action. John goes on to say, “and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” (I John 5:2) Saving faith might begin with belief, but it is carried along by love—love for God and love for God’s other children, which Jesus referred to as the first and second great commandments. (Matthew 22:36-40)

Just as it is true of saving belief, saving love has to be more than just an idea. Love is not love until it becomes a verb, and the verb that authenticates Biblical love is obedience:

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (I John 5:2-3)

Jesus once confronted those who wished to make love only an idea by drawing this line in the sand: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? …If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (Luke 6:46, John 14:15)

Saving faith begins with belief that it is carried along by love that is demonstrated in obedience. But the kind of saving obedience that Jesus and John were talking about was not simply rote observance of religious ritual. No, they were asking for a deep-seated conviction that led to a relentless choosing of the way of faith over the enticement of this present world. John went on to say, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (I John 5:4)

And there you have it, the cycle of saving faith: Belief in Jesus that is rooted in love for God and God’s people, which is demonstrated in joyful obedience to God’s commands that expresses itself in a faith that overcomes the world. Where you find that, faith has come full circle and you find someone who is truly a Christian:

“Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:1)

Belief…love…obedience…victorious saving faith…one who believes that Jesus is the Messiah of God. That is what makes a Christian a Christian—or so John would say.

“Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a living presence.” ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Reflect and Apply: Is your Christianity a theory…or is it belief in Jesus that is being fleshed out in loving, obedient, overcoming faith? Your honest response to that question is the most important answer you’ll ever give.

Constant Companionship

Reflect:
John 14:26

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

According to pollster George Barna, a recent survey indicated that 61% of protestant Christians in America hold the view that the Holy Spirit is NOT a person or living entity, but only a symbol of God’s presence.

Of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Spirit—the third Person of the Triune God, the Holy Spirit, is more misunderstood than the Father and the Son. That is why there is so much ignorance and fear and neglect on the one hand, and abuse on the other.

So to better understand and fully appreciate Jesus’ promise of the Divine Advocate to come alongside you to help, comfort, teach and guide you in your spiritual journey, let’s start with this essential truth: The Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal, symbolic “it”!

Jesus said as much in John 14:16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever…” The background for that statement was the Lord’s devastating announcement that he was going away and would leave his disciples’ physical presence. And they were understandably alarmed. But Jesus told them not to be alarmed.

Why would they not need to be afraid? Because another Comforter would be coming. The Greek word for comforter is parakleton. In John 14:26, the same Greek word translated “advocate” is used. Likewise, and interestingly, in I John 2:1 (NASB) that word, parakleton is used of Jesus:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

The word means “one called along-side” for protection or counsel. Jesus is one who stands alongside you!

Now Jesus promised his disciples, and by extension, you and me, that the Holy Spirit would take his place in our lives as that parakleton to not only be alongside us, as Jesus was, but to be “in us” continually as our protector, counselor, guide and comfort. Jesus said the Father would give us “another paraketon”. The word “another” means another of the same kind rather than another of a different kind. Jesus was one advocate—and what an advocate he was. The Holy Spirit was another advocate, another of the same kind—and what an advocate he is.

God the Father wants you to have an intimate, vital, day-to-day companionship with the Holy Spirit. That is his gift and his promise to you. John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus would baptize you with the promised Holy Spirit. (Matthew 3:11) Jesus affirmed that prophetic promise throughout his teaching. He promised that the Holy Spirit would not only be with you but in you as the Father’s gift. (John 14:17)

Are you enjoying that kind of constant companionship with God the Holy Spirit? If not, the promised gift is still on the table!

Some souls think that the Holy Spirit is very far away, far, far, up above. Actually he is, we might say, the divine Person who is most closely present to the creature. He accompanies him everywhere. He penetrates him with himself. He calls him, he protects him. He makes of him his living temple. He defends him. He helps him. He guards him from all his enemies. He is closer to him than his own soul. All the good a soul accomplishes, it carries out under his inspiration, in his light, by his grace and his help.” ~Concepcion Cabrera de Armida

Reflect and Apply: How do you enter into a constant companionship with the Holy Spirit? Simply ask! Jesus said in Luke 11:13 (Message), “If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”

Settled Assurance

Reflect:
Philippians 4:6-7

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I like how Dallas Willard, an influential Christian thinker, defines the peace that the Apostle Paul promises as the fruit of prayer and petition:

The peace of Christ is the settled assurance that because of God’s care and God’s competence, this world is a perfectly safe place for me…even though it doesn’t always seem so.

When you and I come to trust that God cares for us, and is competent to do so, we can live confidently—we will experience the transcendent peace of God guarding our hearts and minds. And when we live in the settled assurance of that promise, all of life will change for us.

That’s the kind of settled assurance that Jesus lived in. Author John Ortberg describes it in this helpful way—which I will summarize:

In Matthew 8, Jesus and his disciples are in a boat in the middle of a storm. The disciples are frantic, but Matthew reports that Jesus is sleeping! Why does Matthew include that detail? He wanted us to know what Jesus knew about life in the Father’s hands: That given God’s care and competence, the world was a perfectly safe place—even in the midst of raging storm! So he sleeps right through it. Now in their frantic state, the disciples went to Jesus since they trusted he’d do something to help them. They had faith in Jesus, but they didn’t have the faith of Jesus.

Wouldn’t you love to have not only faith in Jesus, but the faith of Jesus? What would that look like for you? In your financial life you would be more generous and less focused on yourself. The me-centeredness and materialism that robs you of joy and energy and freedom would take a back seat to calm and contentment and compassion. In your emotional life, there would be a whole lot less anxiety, guilt, insecurity and frenzied living. There would be inner calm and poise even under the most intense pressure. In your relational life there would be less hostility. You would be much better at resolving conflict. You would not be so caught up in who likes you…or doesn’t. People would die to be near you because of your confidence.

When you live in the settled assurance that God cares for you—and will take care of you—your whole life will change. Oh, your circumstances may not change, but you will change. You will become an oasis of calm in a world of conflict and chaos. You will think more clearly, pray more gratefully, love more unguardedly and serve more energetically. You will not only have faith in Jesus, you will begin to operate in the faith of Jesus. Your life will be characterized by the truest of kingdom fruit: righteousness, peace and joy. That is the upside of trusting in God and his promises. So settle it now: God cares for you!

So choose to live in the settled assurance of God’s care and competence, and watch your life change, watch God’s peace settle over you. The peace of God that will God your heart and mind—that is what God promises to give you when you exchange your anxiety for his peace through prayer. Thankful prayer is simply the practice of reflecting back to God an acknowledgment of his careful and competent involvement in your life.

Exchanging of your anxiety for God’s peace That sounds like a pretty favorable exchange, I’d say!

You can tell the size of your God by looking at the size of your worry list. The longer your list, the smaller your God.

Reflect and Apply: Anxiety is your cue to pray. Your anxious feelings may or may not subside right away, but just do it. If you will begin to lift thankful prayer, you will experience what God guarantees: The peace of God—no matter what!

 

 

 

 

 

Others

Reflect:
Philippians 2:3-4

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

To this day, my all-time favorite football player is Gale Sayers, the “Kansas Comet”. Gale not only was a star running back for the University of Kansas, in the early 1970’s he ran circles around defenses as a pro playing for the Chicago Bears—literally. If you ever get a chance to watch film of Gale, do it! It’s as if the man could run in two directions as the same time. Gale was also an incredible human being, whose life philosophy was captured by the title of his autobiography, “I Am Third”.

What is the “I Am Third” philosophy of life? Simply this: God is first, my family and friends are second and I am third. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Jesus, in the Great Commandment, said as much:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Not only did Jesus issue that as a commandment for his followers, he modeled it as a way of life. Philippians 3:1-11 is a short but stunning description of the “I Am Third” principle on display in the life of Jesus. That was fundamentally how Jesus lived, it was at the core of who Jesus was, it is how Jesus is now presented to the world through the lives of his followers—or at least, should be. Simply put, Jesus’ life and ministry was characterized by “I Am Third”. His orientation was others!

What about you? Is that your life-philosophy, too? Not just in theory, but in practice—are you “others” orientated?? I hope so! I hope that for me as well. It is not a philosophy that is easy to pull off because of the gravitational pull of our selfish nature, but we have been given the Holy Spirit to boost us beyond our sinful atmosphere into the orbit of “I Am Third” living.

Others—that is the Christian orientation.“I Am Third—that is the fundamental philosophy of the authentic Christ-follower. God first, others second, me third—from heaven’s perspective, that is the most powerful use of a human being’s life.

“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” ~William Penn

Reflect & Apply: C.S. Lewis wrote, “Our prayers for others flow more easily than those for ourselves. This shows we are made to live by charity.” That is true. Though we’ve been corrupted by sin, God’s original design had us oriented toward others, not ourselves. As you seek to return to his design today, with his help, of course, you will discover the descent to serve will lead you to the summit of exaltation. (Philippians 2:9, James 4:10, Luke 6:38) Enjoy the view!

Proof Of Love

Reflect:
Romans 5:8

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8 is one of the standard verses included in most Scripture memory systems. And what a verse it is! It conveys one of the most incredible truths in the entire Bible. But, like all popular verses that we tend to memorize apart from the larger context in which they are found, this one deserve to be understood in it’s broader story—which we find in Romans 5:1-11. In this passage, Paul, like a skilled lawyer, makes a powerful and persuasive theological argument, which in a nutshell, is described in Romans 5:1-2:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

What Paul is arguing is that we have peace with God, not just inner calm and serenity, but literally, the mutual hostility between God and man has ended because of God’s grace, his unmerited favor. That peace was unilaterally brokered through God’s love, which justified us—a once-and-for-all legal settlement—by Christ’s sacrificial death. And all we did was to accept God’s offer of peace through faith!

Now that was a mouthful. Maybe it seemed a little clunky and convoluted. Perhaps it was a little much to wrap you mind around. But after reading and reflecting on it over and over, I find that it is quite funny. Not funny in the sense of ridiculous—although getting credited with righteousness before God through Christ’s account is a pretty ridiculous equation. Not just funny in the sense of foolish—although the idea of being right with God apart from good works and human effort is the height of foolishness to the human mind. And not just funny in the sense of odd—although it is certainly odd that God would go to such great links to prove his love by loving that which was completely unlovable—as Romans 5:8 declares.

No, I’m talking funny in the sense that what God has done for you and me is so undeserved, and we are such unlikely candidates for his grace, that the only response we can rightly offer in return is to fall on our knees, undone by love, overflowing with gratitude and giddy with joy!

These first eleven verses are so amazingly profound that no commentary I or anyone else can offer will really do them justice. So I want to recommend that you simply read and re-read them until the Spirit who inspired them illuminates them to you in a fresh way and brings you into a true and deeper understanding of what it took to justify you, and what it means for you to stand in peace and grace in God’s presence.

I have a sense that when you really begin to understand this—although I’m not sure you will ever really and fully “get” what God has done for us—you will probably fall on your knees in inexplicable laughter, or dumbfounded silence or unrestrained tears—because all those responses are appropriate when you grasp even to the slightest degree the amazing grace and the deep love of God for you—and the incredible, ridiculous lengths he went to prove it.

If you are ever in one of those moments where you need proof of God’s love, just go back and look at the cross. I think you’ll find all the proof you need.

“Mercy for the sinner, help in the hardest place, everything for nothing, that is grace!” ~C.C. Beatty

Reflect & Apply: Meditate on Romans 5:1-11 once a day for the next seven days (you might want to use different versions on different days). Ask God to give you a fresh understanding of the richness of these verses.