Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Ultimate "Scratch and Sniff" Experience

It is completely delightful to observe Camden’s exploratory mind these days. He is extremely inquisitive and he just wants to touch and feel everything, look in all the cupboards, explore any and everything. He is also at the stage where he is beginning to “walk” (with the help of my two hands, of course), and so this is all he wants to do. He will go from one room to the other, stopping to grab this or feel that. I am sure that anyone who has a child knows exactly what I mean.

And it’s this precise attitude and inquisitive mind that seems to be what we as Christians are called to emulate. “Unless you are converted and become as little children,” Jesus said, “you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). There is such wonder and awe in the mind of a child. Everything is new, exciting, and interesting.

Many of us have, sadly, lost that sense of awe and wonder when it comes to our Christian faith. Perhaps we have been tithe-paying, church-attending members for many years but our religion is dry, boring, and stale. It has been a long time since we approached our faith with the curiosity, humility, and innocence of a little child.

It is to us that the apostle John points to the ultimate “scratch and sniff” experience. He begins his first epistle by writing, “We proclaim to you the One who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw Him with our own eyes and touched Him with our own hands. He is the Word of life” (1 John 1:1, NLT). Do you see it? Do you feel it? Do you know Whom he is speaking of?

He goes on to write, “This One who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen Him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that He is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then He was revealed to us” (v. 2). The very One that John and the other apostles had seen, heard, touched and encountered is the very One whom John is now trying to reveal to us. And, indeed, all of scripture is pointing us to Him as well—so that we, too, can touch and feel and see and hear and experience Him for ourselves.

He is the remedy to our cold and lifeless religious experience. It is when we explore the depths of His character of love—when we touch Him with our hands and see Him with our eyes—that we will be filled with the awe and wonder that only a little child experiences. Indeed, Christ has promised that if He is lifted up before our eyes so that we can see Him, He will “draw all” of us unto Himself (John 12:32).

So let us explore with all the amazement and wonder and awe of a nine-month-old.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Let . . . "

One of the most beautiful words in the English language that shows up in our versions of the Bible is the word, “Let.” And yet, it’s a little bit of an elusive word because it is not really a translation of any particular Greek or Hebrew word. It is a translation of an idea, however.

We see it pop up in some key verses that I have always appreciated. Paul, writing to the Philippian believers, says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Elsewhere, Jesus, Himself, is quoted as saying it in His Sermon on the Mount, when He said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Again, He also said to His disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

So what is going on here, and why am I so excited about the word “let”? In English, the word “let” simply means to “allow” or “permit,” or “to allow to pass, go, or come.” What it implies is that the person who “lets” is simply permitting an action that is already in motion to continue to be in motion.

Thus, if I “let” my light shine before men, it’s not that I am trying to produce a light in my life and heart, or that I am trying to set this light in motion. Jesus’ words imply that an external Source has lit a light in our hearts and we are simply supposed to “allow” it to happen.

The same is true of having the mind of Christ. Christ is trying to place His mind in our heads and we are to “let” or “allow” Him to do so. We are not trying to get Christ’s mind by our own efforts. Long before we ever thought about it Christ was trying to give us His mind.

Ellen White, in Christ’s Object Lesson, picked up on this concept as well. In speaking of letting our lets shine, she wrote, “Christ does not bid His followers strive to shine. He says, Let your light shine. If you have received the grace of God, the light is in you. Remove the obstructions, and the Lord's glory will be revealed. The light will shine forth to penetrate and dispel the darkness. You cannot help shining within the range of your influence” (Christ’s Object Lesson, p. 420). The first time I read that my heart was made glad. Not only did it confirm what I had already noticed in scripture, but I view it as good news.

We are not called to manufacture such things. We are not called to manufacture good works, Christ’s mind, lights to shine. We are called to simply “let” Christ do these things in our hearts, minds, and lives. We are to take Him at His word and move forward in faith.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pure Delight

Is it possible that there could actually come a time when you and I shout along with David, “I delight to do your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8)? Could it happen? Soon?

And we’re not just talking about the Ten Commandments here—at least not in their basic sense. Not murdering, not stealing, not committing adultery—all of these things we are pretty good at, if, for no other reason than to keep us out of jail. But this word for “will” to which David refers literally speaks of God’s desires, that which He delights in, that which is pleasing to Him. It’s as if David is saying, “I get really excited about doing that which gets You really excited. I love pleasing You.”

Interestingly, there are a number of other places in the book of Psalms that use this same word for “delight” and apply it to similar pursuits. The righteous “delight” in the law of the Lord and meditate upon it day and night, according to Psalm 1. And Psalm 112:1 says that “blessed is the man who . . . delights greatly in [the Lord’s] commandments,” while Psalm 119:35 echoes this with a humble prayer that says, “Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it.”

Could it be, friends, that there will come a time in our experience that we will actually delight and take pleasure in doing God’s will, in pleasing Him? Could it be that we will eventually find, along with the apostle John, that God’s “commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3)? Could it be that we will actually enjoy not getting angry at our spouse, not gossiping about another church member, not throwing a temper tantrum because we didn’t get our way? Could it be?

Yes, yes. The answer is yes—at least according to David. And at least if we allow the Lord to “teach us to do His will” (Psalm 143:10).

But here’s the key: the reason David and John and any other biblical author could say that they delighted to please God and to do His will and to keep His law was because they saw something about the law that you and I probably do not understand. Fortunately, David spells it out for us in Psalm 19 when he declares that God’s law, His precepts, His commandments, His judgments—all of these things—are “more desirable than gold” and “sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). Why would a person not desire and delight in devouring something that is “sweeter than honey”? It’s as if someone has walked up to David and said, “You can either eat mud or eat honey. Which do you prefer?”

And it should be a “no-brainer” to us as well. God wants to help us understand that participating in His law is the most delightful, the most exciting, the most joyous thing in the world. Yes, even sweeter than honey.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Word in Season

Have you ever had someone say just the right thing to you at just the right time? Maybe you were discouraged or sad. Maybe a little frustrated or down on your luck. I had such an experience recently where I was a little discouraged and I happened to be talking to someone on the phone about something else, but he ended up giving me great hope and encouragement. Such an experience is a breath of fresh air!

Interestingly, Christ seemed—and still seems—to have a knack for this type of ministry. He always seems to have the right word at the right time for the right people. The “woman at the well” is one example of this.

But it wasn’t simply by happenstance that Christ engaged in this ministry. In a Messianic prophecy in Isaiah, notice what is true of Christ’s experience (and can be true of ours): “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary” (Isaiah 50:4).

What a wonderful blessing! Christ had the “tongue of the learned” so that He was able to know just what to say to those who were “weary.” And He did it in the right “season.” When someone was down, He had a word of encouragement. When someone was sad, He had a word of cheer. When someone was confused, He had a word of clarification.

And all this can be our experience as well! Thus receiving a word “in season” from Christ, we can pay that forward and share it with someone else who needs to receive the same.

But there’s a little secret to Christ’s experience. Isaiah said that He was given the “tongue of the learned.” But how did He receive that tongue? Isaiah goes on to explain, “He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned.” Notice: the Father was waking Jesus up every morning so that the two of them could have fellowship. The Father, no doubt, encouraged Jesus, and thus Jesus could pay it forward to others.

It bears mentioning, of course, that it was the Father’s initiative that woke Jesus up. It wasn’t as if Christ set His alarm clock, hit the snooze button a few times, and then finally crawled out of bed, eyes glazed over. His Father’s beautiful and melodious voice was His alarm clock and Christ responded to that cheerfully. As Isaiah goes on to write, “The Lord God has opened My ear; and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away.”

What about you? Will you respond to Christ’s voice each morning so that you can receive a word of encouragement from Him—thereby equipping yourself to be able to pass along that same word of encouragement to those who are “weary”?

We have two choices: we can either respond to Christ’s initiative or we can be rebellious. Oh, what joy is in store for us if we do respond to that voice “morning by morning.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Promise

What may seem like a dry and lifeless biblical prophecy actually thrills the soul. In the heart of the apocalyptic book of Daniel, we read one of the most beautiful predictions and assurances of the Gospel anywhere. “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city,” the angel Gabriel declares to Daniel (9:24), “To finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.”

And then, in amazing accuracy, Gabriel pinpoints the exact year that Christ would begin His ministry on earth: “Know . . . that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem, until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.” Interestingly, there is only one place in all of the Bible that gives any date to anything in Christ’s life, and that is when He is baptized and effectively begins his ministry (see Luke 3:1). And, amazingly, that this date seems to have been in AD 27—some 483 years after the “command” went forth to rebuild Jerusalem.

But then there’s more: Gabriel says that the Messiah would confirm the covenant with His people for one week (seven years), and that in the middle of that week (or three and a half years), he would bring an “end to sacrifice and offering.” And, sure enough, after three and a half years of ministry on earth, Christ brought an end to the sacrifices by sacrificing Himself. And then the veil of the temple was torn in two, showing that the temple sacrifices were no longer valid.

So what’s the point? Isn’t this just an academic exercise?

Well, two things. First, it confirms our belief that the Bible is more than a typical book. Indeed, it is a supernatural book. I have heard of many people who have come to Christ because of fulfilled prophecy—and this prophecy in Daniel 9 is one of the most faith-affirming/confirming prophecies there is. And because it is a supernatural book we can have confidence in it.

Second: it also shows us that Christ and Him crucified is at the very center of prophecy. Indeed, Christ and Him crucified is at the very center of our hope and joy and faith. He is the answer to our problems, fears, and anxieties. This prophecy was given to a bunch of people in exile. And their only hope was the coming Messiah.

So, too, with us.

And maybe we will ponder this more tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The "Tenting" God

One of the most beautiful passages in scripture has to be John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” This text is pregnant with meaning.

To begin with, John tells us that that “Word,” which existed from the very beginning, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word that is used for “dwelt” here literally means to “tabernacle” or “tent” among us. This shows us that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament sanctuary and its services. All the sacrifices and festivals culminated in His life.

But it also tells us that Jesus was eager to be among His people—so much so that He pitched a tent and camped among us. As one version puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Interestingly, as you may recall, the tabernacle in the Old Testament was in the very center of the camp among the Children of Israel. God didn’t want to be on the outskirts of town. He wanted to be in the very center of the “action.”

And the same was true of Jesus, of course. For 33 years He “camped” among His people, eager for fellowship and initiating relationships.

What may come as a further surprise for us is that it was in this tabernacle-ing that “we beheld His glory.” Usually we think of glory as being something very powerful. God thumps His chest and exerts His sovereign authority. He dazzles us with His might and power. This, to us, is glory. But God’s definition of glory is almost the complete opposite of ours. His glory consists—not of wealth, strength, and brute force—but of humility, love, and drawing closer to His people. It consists of “grace and truth,” of giving, rather than taking.

So here’s the question: does such a picture of God draw your heart to His?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that far too often in our lives we are unsatisfied and unfulfilled. We try to fill our lives with things that we think will give us fulfillment and joy—plasma TVs, clothes, more money, relationships. On and on the list goes. And yet, no matter how much we acquire, attain, or pursue, there is still an emptiness that exists.

Fortunately for us, the Lord, in His mercy, is trying to call our attention to the fact that He has the answer for us. In fact, He is the answer. And what He is desperately trying to do in our lives is fulfill this promise that He inspired Jeremiah to write: “And My people,” He declared, “shall be satisfied with My goodness” (Jeremiah 31:14).

And there it is! The Lord is trying to find a way into our lives so that we can feast upon His goodness and find joy and satisfaction in Him. And this is a promise to us which is surely to be fulfilled if we let Him. He is working overtime to accomplish this in our experience.

“But what is my job?” we wonder. It is simply to “taste.” That’s what David encourages us to do. “Oh, taste and see,” he says. But what is it that we are supposed to “taste and see”? “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Have you ever sat down at the table, only to see the most delicious-looking food in front of you? Maybe it’s an exquisite fruit platter, or maybe even a home-made apple pie. I bet that your mouth begins to salivate and you cannot wait to simply “taste.” In fact, I bet you want to do more than simply “taste.” You want to dig in and not stop until your stomach is full.

Well, Christ has invited us to “sup” with Him (see Revelation 3:20). And placed before our very eyes is the most delicious-looking spread we could ever imagine: It’s His goodness, His love, His compassion and mercy. And all He invites us to do is to simply “taste.”

Does that sound “hard”?

And when we have simply “tasted,” we will want more. And thus, God’s promise will be fulfilled, just as He declared, “And My people will be satisfied with My goodness.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

"The sins of my youth"

When I was at my parents’ house yesterday, I decided it was time for me to gather some of my belongings from their attic that had been sitting there for many years. I have a bunch of boxes up there from my college and high school days. Unfortunately, I was only able to bring one shoebox home this time because of limited time and space.

But as I rummaged through that box last night after I got home and read some of its contents, I was reminded all too acutely of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child.” The box contained a few tests that I had taken in Algebra and Chemistry—and let’s just say that they were well south of A’s!

But more than my immaturity in my study habits, it was sobering to realize how little I thought of God when I was in high school. As I’ve said before, even though most people looked at me as being a “good kid,” I spent so much time worrying about silly and immature things—sports, music, movies, girls! And I couldn’t help but think to myself, “It is a miracle that I am a pastor today.”

For some people who have known me for a long time, this may seem like a funny thing to write because many people often say that they always knew I would go into the ministry and be a pastor. I seemed to be spiritually inclined in those days. Yet reflecting upon my true thoughts and affections from those days does lead me to conclude that it is only by God’s grace that I am anywhere near the person God wants me to be. Not that I’ve “arrived,” but I hope I have put away “childish things.”

And there is also great comfort in David’s words in the book of Psalms. David experienced his fair share of folly in his day (even on into adulthood). Yet his prayer to God was one that is on my heart as well—and hopefully on yours: “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways,” (Psalm 25:7, NIV) he wrote, “According to Your love remember me, for You are good, O Lord.”

All of us, no matter where we are in life or what we did in our youth, can take comfort that this is one prayer that God does answer. Indeed, as Micah reminds us, God casts all of our sins “into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). We need not worry whether God will overlook our folly, our silliness, or immaturity, indeed, our sin. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (see 1 John 1:9).

So what about you? Do you look back on your youth and shudder? Have tremendous guilt from when you thought and spoke and acted as a child? Christ went to Calvary for us—so that such foolishness could be forgiven and cast into the depths of the sea.

So why not take Him at His word?