WHAT DOES GOD DESIRE FROM ME?

PSALMS 40:6-8: “You have not desired sacrifice and meal offering; You have opened my ears; You have not required burnt offering and sin offering. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; It is written of me in the scroll of the book. “I delight to do Your will, my God; Your Law is within my heart.” NASB
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OBSERVATION: What does God desire from me? This is an important question to consider because it will determine how I approach my life of faith and my relationship with the Lord. Another way to word this question is,

Does God desire my service or my heart?

Do you know what a “Sunday School” answer is? It is the answer we give but it is not the answer we live. I will never forget one young boy in my last church. Whenever I was with the children he would be the first to raise his hand to answer a question. He would always give me the perfect Sunday School answer but his behavior never matched his answer. (He has since discovered the difference and has grown up to be a wonderful man of God!)

We all know the correct answer is – God desires my heart. Yet, in all honesty, we live as if the answer was God desires my service. Saved by grace through faith, without any effort and merit on our part, we begin to try and please God through our service and oftentimes begin to ignore the true condition of our hearts.

God is always much more interested in what we are becoming than in what we are doing.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time you have learned to “fake it.” We know how to put a smile on our faces, grab our Bible, go to church, sing songs, pray, and hide our true heart condition behind Christian speak – “Praise the Lord!”, “God is good, all the time!”, “I am blessed and highly favored by the Lord!”, “Just walking by faith and not by sight!”. This may fool others, and often fool ourselves, but Jesus knows the true condition of our heart.

The writer of Hebrews quotes this text in relationship to Jesus Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant. Here is that section from the book of Hebrews.

  • “Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “You have not desired sacrifice and offering, But You have prepared a body for Me; You have not taken pleasure in whole burnt offerings and offerings for sin. “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (It is written of Me in the scroll of the book) To do Your will, O God.’ ” After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and offerings for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.” Hebrews‬ ‭10‬:‭5‬-‭10‬ ‭NASB

Jesus did not come to abolish God’s law. Jesus came to fulfill it. Yet, He came to do so by sacrificing Himself and by fully obeying the will of God the Father in His life. Imagine where we would be if Jesus had simply come to earth to teach us how to properly offer sacrifices and continue the service of the Temple. He would have left us in the same place that He found us – with a broken sinful heart and completely dependent upon our service to please God. In no time we would have slipped back into the legalistic bondage He found us in.

Jesus did not come to teach us how to offer sacrifices. He came to give Himself as the final living sacrifice for our sins. He did not simply pay an installment against our debt of sin. Jesus completely wiped out our debt and ended the need for sacrifices and offerings to please God. It was Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of God’s Word and will that opened the door for us to enter into a relationship with the Father by grace through faith. Jesus provided both the provision and the pattern for our life of faith!

  • “Then I said, “Behold, I have come; It is written of me in the scroll of the book. “I delight to do Your will, my God; Your Law is within my heart.”

God desires our hearts! I am no longer called to offer my service as a means of pleasing God or gaining His favor. Jesus has paid the full price for my redemption and there is nothing more that I can add to this. Yet, what I can do is allow the Holy Spirit to continually transform my heart. I can hide God’s Word in my heart. I can surrender to the leading of the Holy Spirit each day. I can focus on loving obedience rather than outward acts of sacrifice.

  • “The one who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him…If anyone loves Me, he will follow My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our dwelling with him.” John‬ ‭14‬:‭21‬, ‭23‬ ‭NASB

God desires my heart. He calls me into fellowship with Himself, not based on my outward performance or service, but based on the love that Jesus freely gave on the cross and the love that we receive through faith. As I am transformed by His love it will naturally transform my actions. Obedience to His Word will become the natural response of my heart and life, not how I obtain God’s acceptance and approval. I will no longer be hiding the condition of my heart behind what I do. I will naturally begin to live out in life who I am becoming!

We give God our hearts when we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. We do not bring to the altar what we have done. We bring to the altar everything we are. This is the sacrifice God desires. This is the sacrifice I need to bring. Lord, give me the grace to follow the pattern of Jesus and offer everything I am to you as an expression of my love and worship!

  • “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭1‬-‭2‬ ‭NASB

In Jesus’ Name!

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HOW DO I RESPOND WHEN I AM FALSELY ACCUSED?

PSALM 35:11-16: “Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about. They repay me evil for good. I am sick with despair. Yet when they were ill, I grieved for them. I denied myself by fasting for them, but my prayers returned unanswered. I was sad, as though they were my friends or family, as if I were grieving for my own mother. But they are glad now that I am in trouble; they gleefully join together against me. I am attacked by people I don’t even know; they slander me constantly. They mock me and call me names; they snarl at me.” NLT
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OBSERVATION: Have you ever been falsely accused? Has anyone ever called you intolerant, racist, judgmental, or unloving? Have you been ridiculed for your beliefs? In this culture, these can be a regular occurrence if we boldly proclaim what we believe. When this happens, how do I respond?

What is my attitude toward those who have falsely accused me?

This is not a hypothetical musing for me. Over the past several years I have been accused of all the above simply for sharing my faith or using God’s Word to comment on the cultural shifts in our nation. On social media, I have been attacked, unfollowed, and unfriended by both family members and friends. In all of this, I needed to guard my heart. How would I respond?

Now, someone casually reading this may think – “Boy, you must really be a jerk and not even know it!” To be honest, I have wondered about this at times. Am I really a jerk? Am I the things I have been called? In every case, I have asked the Lord to search and know my heart. I am willing to repent to God and others if I have truly done something insensitive.

Yet, I am not willing to repent for speaking the truth in love.

Let me share one example. I connected with a friend on Facebook whom I knew from grade school. We were good friends during this time. We use to stay over at each other’s house, go on long bike ride adventures, and we were good friends. I was excited to reconnect with him after so many years. Then it started to happen. I was not even in conversation with this friend. He was simply reading my posts. like what I am currently writing, and he began to attack me for my narrow-minded views.

I would always try to lovingly share my beliefs with him. We were both raised in the church and the grade school we went to was a parochial school. Yet, something had happened over the years. This once close friend saw the Bible as an enemy. And, by association, my proclamation of Biblical truths made me an enemy. The attacks kept coming and I kept trying to share my faith until – without notice, he defriended me.

When this happened I had a choice to make in my heart. How would I feel toward this friend? How would I allow this experience to affect my heart? How would I respond to others in the future? The words of this Psalm were a great comfort and encouragement to me during this time. I have kept its words close to my heart whenever I have experienced something like this.

  • “Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about. They repay me evil for good. I am sick with despair. Yet when they were ill, I grieved for them. I denied myself by fasting for them, but my prayers returned unanswered. I was sad, as though they were my friends or family as if I were grieving for my own mother.”

When we are attacked by others for sharing Jesus or proclaiming the truth in love, we have a choice to make. If we allow ourselves to take up an offense against this person – we lose! The very thing that we are responding against becomes that which infects us. Yet, if we return insult and attack with blessing and prayer we not only benefit the one who has attacked us by asking for God’s mercy in their life, but we also protect our hearts from being infected by anger and unforgiveness.

Jesus taught, in His Sermon on the Mount,

  • “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭43‬-‭48‬ ‭NLT‬

When we are being attacked by others for sharing our faith or the truth of God’s Word, our first natural response is to try and defend ourselves. If we take this route we are positioning our hearts to become hurt, angered, embittered, and filled with unforgiveness. Yet, if we do the opposite of our initial response, if we hear the words of the Psalmist, if we practice the teaching of Jesus, we can live in the fullness of His grace, mercy, and love. And, we can become God’s instrument of intercession to continue praying for the salvation and healing of our friends and family!

An angry heart is not an interceding heart.

The enemy wants to keep us off our knees by enticing us to take on offenses. With the advent of social media, we are much more prone to this than ever before. God is calling me to humble myself and allow the Holy Spirit to heal me, empower me, and use me as an instrument of reconciliation and forgiveness. It is not always easy, and it is not always what I want to do, but it is the call of God for my life and the best thing I can do for others, my heart, and the Kingdom of God!

Lord, this morning I ask you to search and know my heart. If I have spoken a word in haste or with a lack of truth in love, please forgive me and cleanse me. Give me the grace to repent and be reconciled to those I may have offended. And, if I have been attacked by others for simply sharing Jesus or the truth of God’s Word, give me the grace to pray, forgive, and bless them – so that they may come to know Jesus and experience the freedom of His forgiveness and love!

Jesus – give me the heart of an intercessor!

In Jesus’ Name!

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GROWING IN OBEDIENCE…

PSALMS 32:8-11: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will advise you with My eye upon you. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you. The sorrows of the wicked are many, But the one who trusts in the Lord, goodness will surround him. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.” NASB

OBSERVATION: What is the most important area in my life? Is it to grow in knowledge and wisdom? It is to show compassion and mercy? Is it to stand up for truth and justice? Is it to grow in godly character?

All of these are important. However, all of these are dependent upon one thing. They are dependent upon my obedience. I can gain all the knowledge and wisdom the world has to offer but without obedience, I will not know how to use them. Without obedience, my best efforts to show love, compassion, and mercy will be misguided. And, without obedience, I will not be able to discern the truth and I will confuse God’s justice.

Jesus likened the Kingdom of God to the faith of a small child. He said,

  • “…Allow the children to come to Me, and do not forbid them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” Luke‬ ‭18‬:‭16‬-‭17‬ ‭NASB

What are the characteristics of a small child? First, they believe. Their faith is simple and sincere. They have a heart filled with trust and are willing to believe and receive. A small child is also obedient. When their father or mother asks them to do something they are eager and quick to respond. However, the older they get the more they begin to question, doubt and resist.

Jesus welcomed the small children and then He was approached by a rich young adult. This young man was a ruler among the people. He asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus listed several of the commandments and the rich young ruler gladly responded that he had kept these from his youth. Yet, Jesus knew that this young man was bound by covetousness. So, Jesus challenged him,

  • “…One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Luke‬ ‭18‬:‭22‬ ‭NASB

What would the young ruler do? Would he obey Jesus’ command or would he walk away? This young man did not lack in his interest. However, the one thing he did lack was in his obedience! In fact, it was his lack of obedience that kept him from the Kingdom of God!

  • “But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely wealthy. And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” Luke‬ ‭18‬:‭23‬-‭24‬ ‭NASB

The Psalmist reminds us of the importance of obedience. God does not call us to blind obedience. He is not expecting us to obey without understanding. He promises to teach us, advise us, and watch over us each step of the way.

  • “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will advise you with My eye upon you.”

Yet, we are called to guard our hearts. The rich young ruler’s heart was filled with covetousness and this kept him from responding in obedience. God is looking for those who will respond with childlike hearts that are willing to obey Him freely, joyfully, and fully. Therefore, the Psalmist warns us,

  • “Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you.”

You have heard the expression – “He’s as stubborn as a mule!” Try guiding a mule without bit and bridle. I guarantee you that you will have a fight on your hands. How many times are we like an unruly mule? God will never force us to obey Him. He will always invite us and provide the grace we need to respond in obedience. He wants His children to obey Him freely, joyfully, and fully!

I believe that if the rich young ruler would have cried out – “Jesus, help me, I want to obey you, but I don’t have the strength to, have mercy on me!” – the whole story would have ended differently. Yet, this young man was like a stubborn mule. He heard the call of Jesus to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and follow Him, and he walked away disobedient.

Choosing to obey is not always easy. Yet, it is always the best choice that lies before us. To obey God’s Word in our life is to align our lives with the best expression of God’s love and provision. It is to walk into the will of God and discover our destiny. It is to live in the continual flow of His Spirit, grace, and forgiveness. The Psalmist closes these thoughts with a contrast and a promise.

  • “The sorrows of the wicked are many, But the one who trusts in the Lord, goodness will surround him. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.”

Here are the choices. Disobedience will bring sorrow. Obedience will bring God’s goodness and favor. Everything we are hungering for and looking for in life will be found as we live in the Kingdom of God like a humble, trusting, and obedient child.

Lord, I desire to grow in my obedience to Your Word and the still small voice of Your Holy Spirit. I repent that much of my life has resembled the stubbornness of a mule. Grant me the grace I need to live like a child and to embrace the Kingdom of God with all my heart, my soul, my mind, and my obedience!

In Jesus’ Name!

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DON’T LET YOUR LIGHT GO OUT…

MATTHEW 25:6-10: “But at midnight there finally was a shout: ‘Behold, the groom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. But the foolish virgins said to the prudent ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ However, the prudent ones answered, ‘No, there most certainly would not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the groom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.” NASB
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OBSERVATION: There is a difference between Biblical interpretation and personal application. Many times, if we are not careful, we will confuse the two. Biblical interpretation is the discipline of understanding the text from the viewpoint of the original author, cultural setting, and the intended recipient. When we read the parables of Jesus it is important to understand what Jesus originally intended to say to those He was speaking to and not confuse this with what we hear in our current culture or from our personal perspective.

However, that being said, as we read the Bible, as we study to understand the original intent of the author, many times the Holy Spirit will give us a personal application from the text. This application does not change the interpretation. However, it is an insight from the text that has a present-day application to our life at the moment. This is what I experienced this morning while reading this familiar parable of the ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom to arrive.

The context of this parable is Jesus answering the question asked of Him by the disciples.

  • “And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” ‭Matthew‬ ‭24‬:‭3‬ ‭NASB

In the verses that follow in Matthew 24, and in the parables of Matthew 25, Jesus is addressing these specific questions. The interpretation is focused on the nation of Israel and its condition when Christ returns at the end of the age. These parables are not about the church, the rapture, or the events in heaven as outlined in Revelation chapter 19.

When Jesus returns to set up His Millenial Kingdom there will be those who have made it through the great tribulation among the nation of Israel and those who have come to faith during this tumultuous time. Yet, much like today, there will be true believers and false believers. Oil in the Bible represents the Holy Spirit. Those whose lamps (hearts) were filled with the Holy Spirit will be ushered into Christ’s Kingdom. Those without will be separated from the Lord for all eternity. The key to this parable is Jesus warning to be ready and watching for His return.

  • “But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ Be on the alert then, because you do not know the day nor the hour.” Matthew‬ ‭25‬:‭12‬-‭13‬ ‭NASB

Paul calls us in his epistles to be filled with the Spirit.

  • “So then, be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, in which there is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,”. Ephesians‬ ‭5‬:‭15‬-‭18‬ ‭NASB

Notice the context of Paul’s exhortation. He is calling us to be filled with the Holy Spirit because the days in which we live are evil. In these evil days, it is important to understand what the will of the Lord is. If we are going to walk in God’s wisdom and understanding in these dark and tumultuous times our lamps need to be burning bright. In other words, we better make sure we have enough oil so that…

OUR LAMPS DO NOT GO OUT!

The application I received today is focused on the 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting we are participating in, in our local church and larger church family. This time is focused on spending more time with the Lord in prayer and reflection. As I have been endeavoring to do this I have sensed that my lamp (heart) has been running low on oil. Just as a real lamp needs to be continually filled with oil to keep burning, so my heart needs to keep being filled with God’s Word and the Holy Spirit for my faith to burn brightly.

When my car is low on fuel I need to intentionally drive it to a gas station, stop my car, turn off the engine, and fill the tank with fuel. It would be foolish to think that my tank would be filled as I flew by the gas station at 45 miles per hour. This is also true with my spiritual life. I cannot expect to be filled with the Holy Spirit if I am merely running through life and never intentionally stopping to spend quality time in God’s Word, to pray, to worship, to join with my church family when the doors are open, and to share my faith as God gives me the opportunity!

My lamp can go out if I am not intentional about staying close to the source of oil. God has graciously given us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Yet, much like the gas station on the corner, we must intentionally stop, turn off our engines, and allow the Holy Spirit to fill our tank through God’s Word, prayer, worship, and His presence.

While I rejoice in the fact that I am confident in my eternal salvation, I am also aware that in my daily life, my light can go out in the daily business and struggles of life. My desire is to be filled with the Holy Spirit to overflow so that my light can continue to shine and so that I can lead others to the source of God’s eternal light – Jesus Christ my Lord!

Heavenly Father, change my heart and give me a deeper hunger for Your Word. Jesus, fill me anew with the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit, open my eyes and let my light shine brightly so that I can be a witness and a blessing to others.

As I wait for Your return – don’t let my light go out!

In Jesus” Name!

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THE LAST WILL BE FIRST (A call to faithfulness)

MATTHEW 20:8-16: “Now when evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, starting with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. And so when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day’s work and the scorching heat.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go; but I want to give to this last person the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I want with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ So the last shall be first, and the first, last.” NASB
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OBSERVATION: Am I focused on faithfulness when it comes to serving the Lord? Do I view my call to discipleship like a job or is it a stewardship of His grace that has been freely given to me? When I observe others being blessed do I rejoice or do I respond like the ones in Jesus’ parable who were hired at the beginning of the day?

Grace is never tied to our works. God’s goodness is freely given out of His love and the rewards of discipleship are not based on the number of our accomplishments but on our faithfulness to His calling. The world does not understand this principle of the Kingdom. This is why the laborers who were hired at the beginning of the day were upset when those hired in the 11th hour received the same wages.

This parable speaks both of our salvation and our eternal rewards. We are all saved by grace through faith and not by our works or merit. Therefore, it is easier for us to understand that the gift of eternal life is given to all those who believe – whether they believe for a lifetime or receive Christ in the closing moments of life, as did the thief on the cross. Yet, when it comes to our eternal rewards our thinking is not the same.

We tend to think of God’s blessings and rewards as something we earn from our efforts and hard work. The more we do, the more we accomplish, and the greater the reward. This is the way the world works and we bring that into our Kingdom thinking. Yet, if we are saved by grace through faith, do we fulfill our calling in Christ by works? Paul speaks to this in his epistle to the Galatians.

  • “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” ‭Galatians‬ ‭3‬:‭3‬-‭5‬ ‭NASB

Paul concludes that everything in life that we receive from the Lord or accomplish in our lives is the result of the hearing of faith. God does not look at us as a man looks. He is not measuring us by our productivity or accomplishments. God is measuring us by how we steward the grace that He has given to us.

  • “However, since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to use them properly…”. Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭6‬ ‭NASB
  • “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” I Corinthians‬ ‭4‬:‭1‬-‭2‬ ‭NKJV‬

When I look at my life I am always tempted to measure it by what I have accomplished. The pitfall that we all face is, in doing so, we measure what we have accomplished against someone else. If we have accomplished more we can feel like the laborers who were hired at the beginning of the day. Surely we deserve a greater reward. If we have accomplished little we tend to dismiss our lives as insignificant.

Yet, the reality is that God never measures us against someone else. Our calling in life is unique. We are gifted by His grace to accomplish something that only we can do. It may be seen on the world stage or it may be hidden from all. The key is not how it can be measured outwardly. The key is whether we are faithful to our calling before the Lord. Most of us will not be Billy Graham or Sister Theresa. Yet, God is not expecting us to be like them. He is calling us to be faithful to who He has created us to be and what He has called us to do.

There was a time in my life when I thought I would never have the opportunity to pastor a church again. I had been the senior pastor of three churches and now I was working full-time for a food distributing company and my opportunities to preach and teach were very few. Frustrated at the closed doors before me I began to complain to the Lord. It was then that I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart –

“Be faithful!”

Be faithful? Lord, do you mean I am going to be stuck in this job for the rest of my life? What about my call to ministry? What about all the years I faithfully served you? You know I am not using my gifts where I am at! What do you want me to do?

“Be faithful!”

These were the two most humbling words I ever heard. I had to realize that my heart attitude was all wrong. I was one of the laborers complaining about my reward. My heart and attitude needed to change. I will never forget when I prayed –

“Lord, if my calling in life is to work at this job, and that is all my calling is, then help me to be faithful. Help me to seek You and serve You, not for what You will do for me, but because of who You are. Let my life and my devotion be pleasing in Your sight.”

Something happened when I prayed this prayer. I found a new joy in my work. I grew in my devotion to the Lord. God’s Word started to come alive in my heart. All the frustration that I was carrying washed away and I was content with my station in life. I discovered the truth that God does not desire our accomplishments he desires our hearts!

To some degree, we are all the laborers who were hired at the first hour and also those hired at the eleventh hour. Our call is to focus on faithfulness and to guard our hearts against envy which comes from comparing ourselves to others. The Lord did allow me to pastor again. I spent the last 15 years of my pastoral ministry in a church planting with the most wonderful people anyone could have ever asked to serve.

Now, I am in a season where I need to be reminded of my calling to be faithful. At the end of our lives, it will not be how many talents we have gained but what we have done with the talents we were given. This is the call to stewardship and faithfulness. If we have been laboring in the same field for 12 hours – be faithful. If we are called at the end of the day and there is not much time left to work – be faithful.

Lord, help me to be a grateful and humble steward of the things you have placed in my hands. Keep me from presumptuous sins and from the pitfall of comparing myself to others. Grant me the grace to run the race that is set before me with faithfulness and gratitude. Let me labor faithfully until I hear the words,

  • “…Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.” Matthew‬ ‭25‬:‭21‬ ‭NASB

In Jesus’ Name!

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DON’T FORGET YOUR KEYS! (A reflection on prayer)

MATTHEW 16:17-20: “And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Then He gave the disciples strict orders that they were to tell no one that He was the Christ.” NASB

OBSERVATION: Have you ever run out the door, with a to-do list in your hand, ready to tackle the day, and…

YOU FORGOT YOUR KEYS!

Or worse…

YOU LOST YOUR KEYS!

Suddenly you realize – “I am not going to accomplish very much unless I have my keys.” If this is true in everyday life, how much more is it true in our spiritual lives? Yet, we rarely think about the keys that we have been given by Jesus.

The Keys of the Kingdom are the most important set of keys that we have in this life!

Understanding the Keys of the Kingdom is the difference between living a meaningful, purposeful, and fruitful life – and simply existing. It is the difference between fulfilling God’s call for our life and continually missing the mark. It is a life filled with power or a continual struggle with defeat.

The Keys of the Kingdom change everything.

So what are the Keys of the Kingdom? This is where it is easy to get off on the wrong road. Some treat the Keys of the Kingdom as the ability to write your own ticket with God. This not only disagrees with the whole counsel of God’s Word, but it is also dangerous. It is like putting car keys into the hands of a 6-year-old and trusting him to drive.

Most of the misunderstandings regarding the Keys of the Kingdom center around the English translation. The verses regarding these keys are taken in the present.

  • “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew‬ ‭16‬:‭19‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

The New American Standard Bible corrects this with its translation. The proper translation is in the past tense.

  • “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

The Keys of the Kingdom is the wonderful gift of partnering with Jesus in the work of the Kingdom of God. It is not doing what we want to do but agreeing with what He has already done. We do this as we proclaim the Gospel and as we pray.

Prayer is our on-the-job training for using the Keys of the Kingdom for the purposes of God.

The context of Jesus’ teaching on the Keys of the Kingdom is His Lordship. After asking His disciples who men were saying He was, He asks them – “But who do you yourselves say that I am?” Peter steps forward with his great confession.

  • “…You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭16‬:‭16‬ ‭

Jesus affirms Peter’s confession as a revelation from the Father. Jesus goes on to show Peter and the disciples that this confession, the understanding of Jesus’ Lordship is the very foundation on which the church will be built. And, it is the very foundation on which the Kingdom of God will be established!

  • “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

It is then, and only then, that Jesus introduces the Keys of the Kingdom. It is His call to all believers in Christ to continue His ministry by proclaiming the Gospel and through prayer. We do that as we proclaim what Jesus has already bound and loosed. We do this as we learn to pray – “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” We do this as we discover God’s will on our knees in prayer and proclaim His will to others!

All of Jesus’ Lordship, all of His authority, is entrusted in the Keys of the Kingdom!

  • “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭28‬:‭18‬-‭20‬ ‭NASB
  • “So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be to you; just as the Father has sent Me, I also send 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, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” John‬ ‭20‬:‭21‬-‭23‬ ‭NASB

Jesus did not call these keys – the keys of blessing. They are not the keys to our desires. They are not even the keys of the church. They are the Keys of the Kingdom. They unlock the mysteries of the ages through the preaching of the Gospel and intercessory prayer. They proclaim both freedom for those who believe and judgment for those who reject the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They do not create new doors…

THEY UNLOCK THE DOORS THAT JESUS HAS ALREADY OPENED AND PROCLAIM THE DOORS THAT HE HAS ALREADY LOCKED!

Each time I think of the Keys of the Kingdom I am drawn to the Lord’s Prayer. This model prayer shows us how much our life of prayer is to be about fulfilling the Great Commission and how little it is about me and my needs. Each segment is important to rightly handling the Keys of the Kingdom. It focuses on God’s holiness, His perfect will, His Kingdom, and then the things that can keep me from partnering with Him each day – unmet physical needs, temptation, and an improper focus and understanding of His kingdom, power, and glory!

I can think of no better way of ending these thoughts than by praying the Lord’s Prayer. Heavenly Father, teach me how to use the Keys of the Kingdom!

“In this manner, therefore, pray:
– Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.
– Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.
– Give us this day our daily bread.
– And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.
– And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.
– For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
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Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭9‬-‭13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

In Jesus’ Name!

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WHAT IS ON THE INSIDE?

MATTHEW 15:15-20: “Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” Jesus said, “Are you also still lacking in understanding? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and those things defile the person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, acts of adultery, other immoral sexual acts, thefts, false testimonies, and slanderous statements. These are the things that defile the person; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the person.” NASB

OBSERVATION: Have I been hoodwinked by religion? Have I been a part of the church so long that I have forgotten what is important? How do I view myself? Do I see myself as superior to others? Do I take comfort in the things I do rather than honestly dealing with the reality of who I am?

Religion is a trap if we are not careful. Christianity was never meant to be a religion but in many circles that is what it has become. What is the definition of religion? It is interesting to see how this word has changed in its meaning over the years. Here are two different definitions from the same source, yet almost 100 years apart.

  • Religion: godliness or real piety in practice, consisting in the performance of all known duties to God and our fellow men, in obedience to divine command, or from love to God and his law. (Webster’s 1828 English Dictionary)
  • Religion: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. a(1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural. (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance. (Websters 2022 English Dictionary)

The difference may seem slight to some but it is rather profound. The older definition focuses on faith in practice that is motivated by love for God and His law. The newer definition focuses on the institutional system and its practices. To put it another way, the older definition focused on the internals of faith. The newer definition focuses on the externals of faith.

Religion always leads to a focus on the externals rather than the internals of faith. This is what Judaism had become in the time of Jesus. The religious of the day were more worried about whether someone was eating with unwashed hands than they were about the true conditions of their own heart. They were judging the outside of the cup while ignoring the condition of the inside of the cup.

Jesus made it very clear. It is the inside that counts. It is not what we do but rather – who we are inside. As one wise farmer once said – you can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig! And, so, I need to hear the words of Jesus with an open and honest heart. Has my relationship with Jesus become mere religion? Am I focusing on what I do and what other people see more than who I really am? What is the true condition of my heart?

  • “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, acts of adultery, other immoral sexual acts, thefts, false testimonies, and slanderous statements. These are the things that defile the person; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the person.”

We all struggle with wrong thoughts. Yet, if we simply try to hide them they can become wrong actions. When I have failed in my life it wasn’t because I woke up one morning and said – “It’s time to fail today!” No! It was because I began ignoring the warning signs in my heart. I began to trust more in my outward appearance than my true inward condition. It did not happen overnight. It happened over a period of time and neglect.

Whenever I think of this I am drawn to the words of Jesus to the Church of Laodecia.

  • “Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have no need of anything,” and you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to apply to your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” Revelation 3:17-19 NASB

The Apostle Paul understood the pitfalls of religion. This is why he said – “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he falls!” Religion is filled with spiritual pride. Relationship is marked by a heart of humility, brokenness, and repentance. The Church of Laodecia was lukewarm. Jesus calls them to be zealous (on fire). The way He calls them to do this is through repentance.

Jesus calls me to focus on the inside – the condition of my heart!

I can hide sin in my heart with the guise of religion and feigned piety. I can sing songs, quote Bible verses, and volunteer my time. Yet all these things will not change my heart. Only Jesus can change my heart. Only His blood can wash me clean from my sin. Only His righteousness can clothe me so that I can stand before the Father. Only His Word, hidden in my heart, can set me free from my sin and self and open my eyes to truly see.

Lord, forgive me for the times when I have fallen away from relationship to an outward trust in religion. Transform me from the inside out. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Let the words of my lips and my actions be more than an outward adorning. Let them be the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit flowing from my heart to You and others.

`In Jesus’ Name!

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WHO YOU GONNA TRUST?

PSALM 12:6: “The words of the Lord are pure words; Like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, filtered seven times.” NASB
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OBSERVATION: In these days of uncertainty – “Who you gonna trust?” When you feel backed up into a corner – “Who you gonna trust?” When you need some solid advice – “Who you gonna trust?” When you are searching for the truth, the reality of life, the answers to the questions of eternity…

“WHO YOU GONNA TRUST?”

When everything starts falling apart all around you, take a moment and think of your normal response. What do you do? Your initial response will tell an awful lot about the source of your trust. Do you sit down and make a pros and cons list? Do you call your best friend? Do you talk to your pastor? Do you start a spreadsheet and work on a plan?

Or – do you take time to pray and open God’s Word?

We are only a few days into 2023 and already I have encountered numerous challenges in my personal life and the lives of my family members. Life doesn’t take a day off while we put away the Christmas decorations and hope for a better year. Life comes screaming forward – full steam ahead. I began this year by asking the Lord for a word for the New Year. And, I must remember that I need to do that every day going forward.

The words of the Psalmist came to my heart today in my moment of prayer and meditation as I pondered over God’s Word.

  • “The words of the Lord are pure words; Like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, filtered seven times.”

God’s Word, His wisdom, counsel, and understanding, are unlike any other that we might receive. They are pure words. The Psalmist goes on to say that they are like silver that is refined in the furnace – seven times. Refining takes out the impurities in the metal. The more refined, the more valuable the metal. In the Bible seven is the number of God, the number of perfection. The silver that is refined seven times is complete without any impurity.

What does this mean practically? Any advice that I might give, or that someone might give me, is always tainted with some impurities. This does not mean that it is intended to be faulty advice. Rather, it is the reality of one broken sinner advising another broken sinner. My understanding and perception of a problem are limited. God’s is unlimited. He sees our beginning from our end. His words are true, holy, pure, and for our benefit.

The only counsel that I can give or receive that is free from impurities is the pure Word of God. In the reality of life when everything is weighed out and tested, the only thing that will endure is the unchangeable, unalterable, unfailing, pure Word of God!

  • “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah‬ ‭40‬:‭8‬ ‭NASB

So – “Who am I gonna trust?” I am going to trust in the pure words of the Lord, like silver refined in a furnace seven times. I am going to make it my first step when I face trials and adversities in life to stop, pray, and seek God’s Word. I am going to stop asking people – “What do you think?” and start asking them,

“Do you have any insight from God’s Word that will speak to my situation?”

Lord, grant me the grace to slow down. Help me to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to action. Let me hear the still small voice of Your Spirit, speaking through Your Word – “This is the way, walk in it!” Help me live my life in the pathway of Your pure words.”

In Jesus’ Name!

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “CONFESS” CHRIST?

MATTHEW 10-32-33: “Therefore, everyone who confesses Me before people, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before people, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” NASB

OBSERVATION: What does it mean to “Confess” Christ? Is it simply to say – “I believe in Jesus.”? Or, is it something more? When you read these two verses from the Gospel of Matthew, one thing is sure.

Whatever it means – it is a matter of eternal significance!

We are familiar with the general meaning of the word confess. When we hear this word our initial thoughts are of one owning up to a sin or a failure. Yet, the word confess also has another meaning. The English definition from Webster’s Dictionary of 1828 includes the verses in question in one of its definitions of the word confess.

“…To own, avow or acknowledge; publicly to declare a belief in and adherence to.
Whoever shall confess me before men. Mat 10.

…To own and acknowledge, as true disciples, friends, or children.
Him will I confess before my father who is heaven.”

So, this brings me back to my original question. Have I fulfilled the requirements of this Scripture by merely saying – “I believe in Jesus.”?

As always, when we try to answer a question in Scripture, context is of utmost importance. Let’s look at the context of these two verses. Jesus was speaking to His disciples about their call to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom, and the ensuing persecution that they would face as a result. The context of verses 32-33 is that of proclaiming the Gospel to all nations, not simply saying – “I believe in Jesus.”

This brings us to another observation from the text. The Greek word that is translated as “confess” has some insight into what Jesus was saying. The Greek word is a compound word. It is “homo-logeo.” The first word “homo” means the same. We are familiar with the phrase homogenous which means – “of the same.” The second word is “logos” which is translated word but also connotes the Word of God. John 1:1 even refers to Jesus Christ as the “Logos”, the Eternal Word.

Now we are starting to get at the meaning of what it means to confess Jesus Christ before men. I can say, “I believe in Jesus,” and hardly cause a ripple in the pond. Yet, when I begin to proclaim the teachings of Jesus and the whole counsel of His Logos (Word) – all hell can break loose! This is why Jesus tells His disciples,

  • “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he may become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they insult the members of his household!” Matthew 10:24-25 NASB

Jesus goes on to warn His disciples that even members of their own families will turn against them if they confess Him before men. Our confession is not merely telling someone, “I believe in Jesus.” It is also standing in agreement with and proclaiming His truth to a world that is lost in darkness. It is boldly proclaiming Jesus and everything He has revealed in His Eternal Word!

The Kingdom of God does not have any covert agents (Secret Christians). We are not called to hide our light so that we avoid persecution. We are called to let our light shine before men. We are called to proclaim the Gospel to all nations. We are called to proclaim the truth, call sinners to repentance, and make disciples of all nations. This is the work that Jesus began. This is the reason He died and rose again. And, this is our call until we take our last breath.

So, in this context, let’s hear these words from Jesus one more time.

  • “Therefore, everyone who confesses Me before people, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before people, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”

And, also these words.

  • “And He summoned the crowd together with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it benefit a person to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what could a person give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38 NASB

Lord, fill me anew with the power of Your Holy Spirit. Grant me the boldness and the courage to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to take a stand for the truth of Your Word, and to unashamedly confess You before men! Let my life, my words, and my actions, be in agreement and harmony with Your Word – “homo-logeo.”

In Jesus’ Name!

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A WORD FOR THE NEW YEAR…

GENESIS 18:11-15: “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, am I to have pleasure, my Lord being old also?” But the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I actually give birth to a child, when I am so old?’ Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah denied it, however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.” NASB

OBSERVATION: It is a New Year (2023)! The Holiday celebrations are almost over. The decorations and trimming will soon be in boxes stored for the next 10-11 months. The past year is behind us and a fresh clean slate lies ahead. As I was contemplating the New Year over the past few days I asked the Lord,

“Please give me a word for this year?!”

Without a word from the Lord, we can find ourselves like a sailboat without any wind in her sails. It is not that we don’t believe. It is just that we cannot see the sunshine past the clouds of the previous year. Have you ever noticed how everything looks worse on a cloudy day? Yet, when the sun breaks through our entire perspective changes.

Over the past few years, I have had my share of cloudy days. Ironically, New Year’s Eve was a dismal cloudy day as we approached this New Year. New Year’s Day is not much different. There are clouds in the sky and I woke up with a cold and feel lousy. So, when I began my time in God’s Word today I was not expecting much. And, then, I was humbled once again as…

God gave me a word!

I can really identify with Sarah. She had hopes and dreams in her life that had not come to pass. Sarah was barren and unable to give her husband Abraham a rightful heir. Taking things into her own hands she tried to fix the situation by giving her maid, Hagar, to Abraham, and Hagar conceived and bore a son named Ishmael. This did not solve Sarah’s problem but only made it worse.

Whenever we try to make things happen in our own strength we always fumble the ball!

Then something unexpected happened. One day three men came to visit Abraham. One of them was the Lord. The Lord previously had appeared to Abraham and told Abraham that he would be the father of a multitude of nations. Abraham was 99 years old. How could this be possible at this advanced age? Abraham responded as most of us would.

  • “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man a hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth to a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” Genesis 17:17-19 NASB

Now, once again, the Lord comes to tell Abraham that Sarah will conceive and bear him a son. This time Sarah is standing at the door of the tent and hears the Lord speaking to Abraham. I don’t know if it was nervous laughter or the laughter of disbelief. Yet, just like Abraham had previously done, Sarah laughs to herself and says,

  • “After I have become old, am I to have pleasure, my Lord being old also?”

Why was this such a stretch for Sarah to believe? It was not just that she was far past the years of childbearing at the age of 90. Abraham and Sarah had long since stopped having normal relations as husband and wife. She could not even think of the possibility of marital pleasure at her age, let alone the ability to conceive and bear a son!

Now what happens next is amazing. The Lord knows when our hearts are filled with faith and expectation and when they are struggling with doubt and unbelief. The Lord, speaking with Abraham, asks him a question that takes Abraham by surprise.

  • “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I actually give birth to a child, when I am so old?’”

Abraham did not hear Sarah laugh or say anything. Sarah had simply laughed and thought to herself. Yet, I am sure that when the Lord questioned Abraham, he remembered the time that he laughed at what the Lord had said. The Lord continued to question Abraham.

  • “Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah denied it, however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

This phrase – “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?,” is a well-known promise from the Bible. I have read these verses hundreds of times. Yet, the word that I heard the Spirit speaking to my heart was not this familiar verse. It was the following.

WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH MY WORD?

Like Abraham and Sarah, I have a choice with what I will do with God’s promises. I can walk by faith or I can allow doubt and unbelief to cloud over God’s Word in my life. Abraham and Sarah did not magically conceive. There is only one miraculous conception. Abraham and Sarah, past the years of passion, past the years of the ability to squire children, needed to act on the promise of God and resume marital relations trusting that God was able!

It is not enough to know that there is nothing too difficult for the Lord. We must begin to act on His promises and calling for our lives. It may appear that everything before us is a closed door or a dead opportunity. Yet, if the Lord has given us a promise, a vision, or a dream, we need to continue to follow this with faith that is evidenced by our actions. Abraham and Sarah had to act on God’s promise and so do we.

And, so, on this New Year’s Day, I hear the Holy Spirit knocking at the door of my heart and asking,

WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH MY WORD?

Lord, forgive me for the many times that I have been sidelined by the cloudy days in my heart and life. Open my eyes to see that there is nothing that I face, nothing that I have been called to, nothing that I have prayed and wept over – that is too difficult for You! Let my faith be a response to Your promise and not to my limitations. I know that all Your plans for my life are for good and not for evil. They are leading me to Your destined future and hope for my life.

Lord, by the power of Your grace, let me live each day like I believe this!

In Jesus’ Name!

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