Wednesday, January 23, 2013

All Your Heart

“Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and he will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”  So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the Lord alone” (1 Samuel 7:3-4).

Do you find it difficult to devote all of your heart to God?  The people of God in the time of Samuel certainly did.  If doesn’t appear that they left God totally out of their devotions.  The problem was that they reserved parts of their heart for devotion to other gods as well.  One part of the heart for God, one part for Ashtaroth, and one part for Baal.  It seems like a fair way to handle it, doesn’t it?  All the bases are covered, right?

But God isn’t content to share His throne.  He shouldn’t have to compete for our loyalty.  He won’t be happy to be majority shareholder in your heart.  Jesus stated the principle succinctly when being tempted by Satan: “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only’” (Matthew 4:10).  According to the Savior, the greatest commandment of all is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

Periodically, I need to examine my heart to see if it is wholly devoted to God.  Just because I don’t have a god of wood, stone, or metal in my living room doesn’t mean I do not worship any idols.  I could be worshipping my checkbook, my possessions, my career, or my hobbies.  All of those things are important in their proper place.  But they must never be allowed to steal a piece of my heart that rightfully belongs to God alone.  “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

God loves you!

Daily Faith

“Of all the gifts God gives us, surely the most precious is the gift of time.  Seconds, minutes, years are all life-parts, assembled and ready for our use in his service.  The sand of our lives is running through the hourglass -- fast, steady, precious.  It is so precious that when we give it back to God, it sets the angels at alleluias.  Yet we cannot give our entire lives to God at one time and have it done with for all time.  We must surrender second by second” (Calvin Miller, Disciplined Life).

Imagine for a moment that a group of terrorists storm into the building where your church family is assembled one Sunday morning.  They line you and all of the other Christians up along a wall of the auditorium and demand that you renounce your faith in Christ or be put to death.  With a rifle aimed at your head, what would you do?  One big decision of faith.  One chance to make or break it.  Would faith triumph over fear?  Perhaps it would be tougher than you may think.

But as difficult as it may be to be faithful in the one big moment, I suspect it takes even more courage to face the day-to-day grind of being faithful to Christ -- the “surrender second by second” as Miller puts it.  The Christian faces numerous situations each day that require decisions that either affirm our faith or deny our faith in Christ.  Will I speak truthfully or tell a life?  Will I forgive or hold a grudge?  Will I keep a confidence or spread gossip?  Will I seek unity or be divisive?  The list of daily choices of faith we make is endless.  And just  because a gun isn’t pointed at our heads doesn’t make them any less important.  If anything, the lack of an immediate consequence or threat could make it even more difficult over the long haul than in the do-or-die situations.

Could that be why Jesus calls us to take up our cross DAILY and follow HIm (Luke 9:23)?

God loves you!

Where Is Your Faith?

“Why have faith in God when you have faith in yourself?  Why trust God when you have all your bases covered?  Why pray when you have everything under control?  Why ask for your daily bread when you own the bakery?  Self-sufficiency is the great enemy of faith and prayer, which are the heartbeat of the Christian life” (Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, p. 50).

Faith is best cultivated in the times of our lives when circumstances are beyond our control.  It’s a principle that even the apostle Paul had to learn.  Notice carefully his words in 2 Corinthians as he speaks of a difficult stretch in his life: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came
to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:8–11 NAS95).

Paul viewed the out-of-control times in his life as opportunities build his faith in God.  As difficult as such times were, he learned that the tendency to trust in himself could only be defeated when he had run out of his own resources.  I struggle to learn the same lesson.  I desire to be a person of faith but I want it on MY terms instead of GOD’S terms.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Faith in GOD only flourishes when I begin to surrender faith in MYSELF.

God loves you!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cracked Pots

          God often works in very mysterious ways.  That lesson was impressed on a man named Gideon.  God had called him to deliver his fellow Israelites from Midianite oppression (Judges 6:14).  It took some convincing, but Gideon was finally persuaded to do it.  The opposing army was large (Judges 7:12), but perhaps it could be done.  That’s when the odd things began to happen.
          Gideon assembles an army of 32,000 fighting men.  Not much by comparison, but with God’s help, who knows?  But then God allows those who are fearful to go home and 22,000 take him up on the offer (Judges 7:3).  Now Gideon is down to 10,000 soldiers.  But God still isn’t done.  After another test, only 300 fighting men are left (Judges 7:4-8).  By this time, maybe Gideon is wishing he could revisit his decision to take on the mission.  But God promises victory, so they forge ahead.
But how do you win such a battle against incredible odds?  Apparently not by conventional wisdom or means.  Gideon divides his small army into 3 groups and gives them trumpets and clay pots with torches inside of them (Judges 7:16).  They surround the enemy camp at night.  At Gideon’s signal, they blow their trumpets and smash the pitchers in their hands, revealing the torches (Judges 7:18-20).  The Midianites believe they are surrounded by a large army.  In the ensuing confusion, they turn on each other and run away in fear.
What hope can I have from the fact that God often uses odd ways to accomplish his purposes?  If God can use the cracked pots of Israel to defeat Midian, then just maybe he can use a cracked pot like me as well.  While I am just an earthen vessel with its share of nicks, scrapes, and cracks, God still uses me (and you) to carry his precious treasure to a needy world (2 Corinthians 4:7).  And like the pitchers of Gideon, I may need to be broken to let the full measure of the treasure of God shine forth.

God loves you!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


“Years ago, the professional golfer Arnold Palmer played a series of exhibition matches in Saudi Arabia.  When he finished, the king was so impressed with Palmer’s expertise that he desired to give Palmer a gift.  Palmer, a multi-millionaire in his own right, demurred: “It isn’t really necessary.  I just enjoyed meeting your people and playing in your country.”  The king indicated his extreme displeasure at not being able to give the golf pro a gift.  Palmer wisely reconsidered and said, “Well, how about a golf club?  A golf club would be a wonderful memento of my visit here.”  The king was pleased.  The following day, a messenger delivered to Palmer’s hotel room the title to a golf club -- thirty six holes, trees, lakes, buildings.  The moral of this story?  In the presence of the king, don’t ask for small gifts” (Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God, p. 110).
Sometimes I wonder if I am asking too little of my heavenly King.  Am I afraid of bankrupting the One who owns it all?  Am I assuming that He has more important matters clamoring for His attention?  Am I fearful of appearing to be too self-indulgent when others have greater needs than my own?  Could it be that the smallness of my requests says something about the size of my God?  I’m not sure.
But I do know that God is able to do more than I can even imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  I do know that God invites his children to test his ability to bless them (Malachi 3:10).  I do know that when God gives, he gives lavishly and generously (Ephesians 1:8; James 1:5).  But is my knowledge of God reflected in my requests of God?  Am I willing to pray extravagantly to the King who can answer extravagantly?
Father, may I never presume upon your generosity.  Help me to be grateful for however you choose to answer my prayers.  But help me to never be hesitant to ask for BIG gifts!

God loves you!