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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Blessings of God...Why?

Why does God bless us?  I was meditating on the following passage and wanted to share what I found.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. [Deuteronomy 6:10-13]

The land was promised by God: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land...” – no “ifs”, just “when.” The gift of a new homeland was settled hundreds of years before with Abraham just as the declaration that the people would be slaves for 400 years. God knew.  God also knew something else: the Hebrews would be going into a land flowing with milk and honey, taking houses that they didn’t have to build, vineyards they didn’t have to plant, wells they didn’t have to dig, and, the temptation to begin to take it all for granted would be as close as their next breath.

The warning was clear and the danger anticipated: “then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Day after day, month after month, the Israelites ate and slept, living in the amazing blessings of God. How were they to be able to avoid succumbing to the temptation to forget? God’s answer to the dilemma as straightforward:   Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. But what exactly did that mean?

In “fearing God” they would have an awesome reverence for Who God was, a reverence that would lead to serving only Him, in total dependence on Him. God had led them through the wilderness for 40 years, providing for their every need and protecting them from harm; He was worthy of their respect and worthy of their service. Another way of considering the command might have been that God was calling them to remember what their purpose for being here was.

When God made the covenant with Abraham, He declared “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” [Gen. 12:2-3] From the very beginning, God’s blessing would have a purpose beyond self-enrichment, but to share the blessing of God to others. Later, God clarifies, even more, what that the blessing would include the land as an inheritance: “Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward, they will go out with many possessions.  But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age.  In the fourth generation, they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. [Gen. 15:13-16] 

Years later speaking to Moses, God says: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” [Ex. 19:5-6] God clarified further what being a blessing would be: a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Centuries later this passage is used by Peter: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” [1 Peter 2:9-10] Those whom Christ had redeemed by His blood have now become the people of God, and as God’s chosen people, they assume the role of the royal priesthood. The role of the priest was to be God’s representative to the people, to minister to the people and to God. As the people of God, we now have the privilege to share the news of that blessing He has given in His Son, – the restored relationship with God through Christ, and to minister to others in obedience to Him. We are not to just enjoy the blessings of salvation, or assume that we deserve the richness of His grace; the blessing is the eternal relationship with Christ and to remember that the purpose to become bearers of that good news to others.

After years of being surrounded by God’s provision and grace, we need to take to heart the warning God gave the Israelites in Deuteronomy: not to take the blessings of God for granted, nor to believe that we were entitled to them. We need to be ever grateful and remember the purposes for which they were given.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Servant-Leader Professor: How to Recognize One...

Over the years I have had and observed many professors and the most outstanding reflected the character of Christ in real and visible ways in and out of the classroom. One of these observations was the “professor as a servant leader.”  Although much more could and should be said, here are a few summary statements:

1. The servant-leader professor sees the student is a gift from God to whom God calls professors to come alongside and to join in what God is doing in their lives in an area of ministry for God’s glory.
2. The servant-leader professor’s task is not to impress the student with how much knowledge the professor has, but aid in the development hunger to grow and learn and to model how the character of Christ is lived out in everyday life in and out of the classroom.
3.  The servant-leader professor understands that the student does not exist to make the professor look good, but rather to seek to develop the student to his or her full potential.
4.  The servant-leader professor understands that his or her worth as a professor is not so dependent in how well the student’s performance makes the professor look, but in how well the student reflects the character of Christ.
5.  The servant-leader professor understands that the true worth of the student and professor is rooted in what God through Christ has done in their lives.
6.  The servant-leader professor understands that respect is earned, not demanded and is mutually given.
7. The servant-leader professor does not lead in such a way that the students fear the professor,  but follow out of love and mutual respect.

Lord, work in my life to become a servant-leader professor.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

I was obedient, and then things got worse...

Following God’s leadership is not a vaccine from problems or difficulties.  We can be sincerely following what we believe is God’s will and design, and to our surprise and disappointment [even confusion about who God is and His plan for us], the situation can become worst. Over the years I have known several men and women in full-time ministry who have been wrongly accused by others in attempts to discredit the direction they sensed God leading them, and some by other ministers whose colleague was attempting to get rid of them in order to take their place!

The devastation, hurt, and deep offense wasn’t limited to the husband and wife, unfortunately, the children suffered under the trauma as well. Yes, our obedience can mean that those we love might suffer for our following the leadership of the Spirit.  A crisis point in our faith can occur if we are not careful. Fortunately, God’s Word gives us insight when we find ourselves in these difficult situations.

Last week I was reading in Exodus 6 and came across the account of Moses and Aaron confronting Pharaoh. I had made some notes on the side of the margin and spent some time meditating on what God was telling me through His Word.  Here is a summary of those thoughts:

In the book of the Exodus, Moses obeys God’s command and goes to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go, resulting in having to make bricks without straw provided. The people blame Moses and Moses goes back to God.

The people of Israel were already suffering under the hands of the Egyptians, and through being obedient things only got worse. What can we learn from this? What does God do?

6:1.  Now you will see...    Sometimes the situation will get worse before God chooses to act.
6:3.  I am the LORD...      God reminds Moses of WHO He is,  His nature, His character
6:5.  I have heard ... I have remembered...  God reminded Moses that He knew their need and that He is faithful to His promise
6:6  God tells Moses to remind the Israelites Who He is and of His promise.
6:9.  The people did not listen “because of their discouragement
6:12  Moses returns to God thinking Pharaoh nor the Israelites will listen
7:1-5. God repeats Who He is and that “I will multiply my signs” “I will reach into Egypt and bring    out my people”
7:6 Moses and Aaron obey.

Points to ponder...
1. Obedience to God can bring difficulties, it is not a vaccine against trouble.
2. Sometimes the situation must get worse before God chooses to act.
3. In the midst of the difficulty, God will take us back to Who He is.
4. God reminds us that He knows the situation, the need, and His promise to be with us.
5. Discouragement can make us close our ears to when God speaks.
6. If we are not careful, the discouragement of others becomes ours and we forget Who God is.
7. God reminds us again who He is and that it is He working, it is not left up to us.
8. Our response must be obedience, regardless of the comments of others, trusting God is in control.

Monday, September 9, 2019

“Spiritual Bullies and Worship Leadership”

Here are just a few thoughts that I am sharing with my students this semester about Servant Leadership. [For this commentary, let’s call Worship Leaders, Servant Worshipers.]

Spiritual Bullies look at those “under” and around them as objects to control;
Servant Worshipers see those around them as someone for whom Christ died, and desire to know what God is doing in their life and to come alongside what God is doing.

Spiritual Bullies are more concerned with how those with whom they work will affect the reputation as a leader;
Servant Worshipers give their reputations over to God, knowing that God’s evaluation of their actions is of greater importance.

Spiritual Bullies gain their sense of self-worth from their ability to perform;
Servant Worshipers realize that their self worth comes from what God has done in them through Christ.

Spiritual Bullies use people for their own advancement, playing favorites with those who can do the most for that goal;
Servant Worshipers focus on the growth of those within their realm of responsibility, regardless of how much they might be able to advance their position or prestige.

Spiritual Bullies focus on the amount of knowledge they acquire;
Servant Worshipers focus on being able to apply what they know and share what they have learned in a manner that is modeled and understandable.

My prayer is that the influence we have on others reflects the nature and character of Jesus Christ.  Just a few thoughts... 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Your wife has... cancer.

Not the words we wanted to hear and certainly not in our plans for the summer. We live in a fallen world that is racked with disease and Christians are not exempt from them. Still, in the back of our minds, cancer is what happens to others, not to us. Suddenly our lives were filled with doctor appointments, lab tests, etc., and notebooks of what has to be done and what not do. Moments of frustration and hurt watching the one you love suffer as a result of the chemicals pumped in her body to eliminate that which would kill her. The pain is still pain and we have only begun the journey.  Overwhelming, yet God’s grace has been there through it all. We have even seen how He had been preparing us and providing for us long before we received the news.

Not surprisingly, Scripture and my devotional time have become more meaningful and critical to the day to day confronting of the new realities in our lives. Today as I was reading in I Corinthians 11, I was reminded of all that Paul had gone through as he sought to be obedient to God’s calling in his life. In the context, Paul is defending his apostleship to the church at Corinth against the “super-apostles” whose boasting and domineering leadership were causing trouble for the church. Rather than boast of all the miracles that had been a part of his ministry and the great expansion of the Gospel because of what he had done, his focus was on his difficulty and suffering. 

For Paul, living in obedience was not a denial of the hardships, pain, and suffering that accompanies following Christ, but the acceptance that these things would be a part of developing the character of Christ in his life.  In “living in the victory of Christ,” Paul showed complete transparency of the trouble and hardships he had and was facing. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 1:8 he stated: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”  Strong words from the same man who said that he could “do all things through Christ.”

Rather than base his apostleship on a false philosophy that says “a loving God would never allow His loved ones to suffer,” or “following Christ means going from victory to victory in power,” Paul chooses to reveal the truth that even Jesus suffered and we should expect no less.  In 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul shared “We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. [2] ... you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out." [14-15] Obviously, part of the instruction Paul gave to new believers was the reality of suffering for the cause of Christ. 

Not all suffering is a result of following Christ, however, as we follow Christ we must anticipate that suffering will be a part of the journey. Sickness is real. Pain really does hurt. Going through times of suffering does not mean that God is far away; on the contrary, His presence may be even nearer. We lean not on false or trumped up emotions, but on the promise of God’s Word that the Spirit of God lives in us and He is with us until the end of time. Our focus must be on giving Him glory and relying on Who He Is. The pain will remain, our understanding that God is still in control, that He loves us and that He has a plan for our lives and can help us trust Him that, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” [Job 13:15]