Sweet and Sour

As we approach Christmas, we’re reminded once again that we’ve been blessed with an amazing message to share. The Son of God has become a human being just like you and me. It’s a sweet message of forgiveness, grace, hope and salvation through that Babe of Bethlehem.

The gospel message is meant to be taken in and fully digested. And for those who are hurting, or those who struggle with habits that have them locked into a downward spiral, or those who have hang-ups in their lives that are deeply frustrating right now, the message of Jesus Christ tastes like pure, sweet honey.

But, let’s face it, for those of us who love Jesus Christ and deeply trust the gospel as pure truth, we soon discover that our new gospel-centered “worldview” is not compatible with the false philosophies and theologies of the world around us. The spiritual lies of Satan, often informing the majority view in our culture, make our message sound foolish and alien to the ears of the world.

And that is not a sweet experience, but frequently quite a bitter one. We go out into our world with its different peoples, nations, languages and kings and we find we are often at odds with the beliefs and views we encounter. Like the apostle John, the author of the book of Revelation, we can expect opposition to our message, even hatred.

Yet, our great mission in the world remains the same, despite what pushback we might encounter because the gospel sours our relationships with the people of the world. In response to Jesus’ great love for us, we have the joy and the great honor of being God’s spokesmen in our world — to declare the message that Jesus is the Savior of all nations.

As the angel declared to the shepherds so long ago, we also say to our neighbors, friends and family members, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11, NIV).

“So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, ‘Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’ I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings'” (Revelation 10:9-11, NIV).

Lord, thank you for the sweet gospel message that assures me of forgiveness, new life and salvation through Jesus Christ. I know that while there is nothing sweeter to my soul, this message will also bring bitter experiences at times. Ready my heart so that I continue to share the beautiful message of the cross and the empty tomb with those whom God has placed around me.

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 18, is Ezra 2:68 – 4:5, Revelation 9:13 – 10:11 and Proverbs 30:24-33.

Header image based on "Honey" by Siona Karen, CC By 2.0

Our Focus, Our Worship

What made David’s heart sing for joy?

More than anything, God did. The Lord had rescued him many, many times over. David had repeatedly experienced the kinds of victories that only God can grant (think about Goliath, for one).

David was intentional about his worshipful attitude. It would have been easy to dwell on the constant attacks, the enemies, the people who lied about him and backstabbed him. But David focused the spotlight of his attention on the blessings instead.

This is truly the way to live. There will always be “negatives” to think about. We are sinful. And we live in a sinful, fallen world.

So when events, circumstances and people aren’t conspiring to bring us down, our own sinful flesh is all too willing to cooperate with the devil. The end result is our own pride, greed, selfishness, anger, lust, or depression bring us down (David knew all about that, too).

The way to avoid this fall — this failure of faith, peace and joy — is the worshipful life. The worshipful life comes from acknowledging our sin transparently, being transparent about our anger and worry over the attacks of others, but doing this without constantly dwelling there. The worshipful life is sustained when we, like David, turn our focus spotlight back to the goodness of God, and the blessings he has showered on us.

Take a moment and read Psalm 144. You’ll see that David does just this. First, he acknowledges how undeserving he is, and how frightening the attacks are. Then he launches into a soliloquy about God’s grace to him. God’s deliverance from attack, his care for David’s sons and daughters, his filling of David’s barns, his increasing of David’s flocks, his protection of David’s city — these were all in the spotlight of David’s focus.

Worship, gratitude and joy were the inevitable result of that focus.

Do not try this on your own. You need Jesus’ forgiveness. And you need Jesus’ help. But with that help, accessed in his gospel promises to you, and with the Holy Spirit’s boost, you can control your “spotlight of focus.”And it’s one of the most powerful spiritual strengths you will ever develop!

Because our focus produces our thoughts. And our thoughts will control the attitude of our heart.

I will sing a new song to you, my God;
    on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you,
to the One who gives victory to kings,
    who delivers his servant David…

Blessed is the people of whom this is true;
    blessed is the people whose God is the Lord (Psalm 144:9-10, 15, NIV).

Lord, my mind and heart are prone to focus themselves on the negatives: my sin, my guilt, my shame, my anger, my hurt, my depression. Help me to cling to your gracious promises of love and redemption through Christ, and to turn — in your Spirit’s strength — my spotlight of focus to your goodness, grace, help and protection. Help me to remember that I dwell among the blessed people.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, December 17, is Ezra 1:1 – 2:67, Revelation 8:1 – 9:12 and Psalm 144:9-15.

Header image based on "spotlight" by Fred Faulkner, CC By 2.0

Battles

Let’s face it. It’s war out there. And the battlefields multiply. They are everywhere you turn.

There are battles in our schools, battles in our workplaces, battles on our roadways, and battles in our own homes.

There are battles with our parents, battles with our spouse, battles with our children, and battles with our boss.

There are battles with our health, battles with our finances, battles with our careers, and battles with our relationships.

And most deadly of all, we have battles with the devil, battles with the world, and battles with our own sinful flesh.

But we also have a God — a Savior, Jesus — who gives us a solid place to plant our feet for all these battles. He trains us for life’s battles through the teaching of his word. He provides us a safe fortress to run to, a stronghold in which to hide. He is our shield, our refuge and our deliverer.

He is our confidence, our courage, our hope and our ultimate victory.

No matter what the current battle might be.

“Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
    who trains my hands for war,
    my fingers for battle.
He is my loving God and my fortress,
    my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
    who subdues peoples under me” (Psalm 144:1-2, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I have many battles going on in my life. But with you at my side, I am confident of victory. You train my hands. You provide me a place of refuge. You are my shield and my deliverer. Thank you for all your love, mercy and forgiveness. Grant me especially to obtain victory over the devil, the world and my own sinful flesh.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 16, is Malachi 2:17 – 4:6, Revelation 7:1-17 and Psalm 144:1-8.

Header image based on "Think He Got The Point" by Paul Kitchener, CC By 2.0

Crucial Decisions

Right, or left? Go on, or turn back? Take a stand, or give ground?

Sometimes in life we face decisions like this. And it’s not always easy to know the correct answer.

It may be that we feel like we lack the information we need, or the wisdom required, to make such a decision. And sometimes we worry that our emotions are getting in the way of a rational decision (or is it, instead, that our our head is getting in the way of where our heart wants to lead us?).

David was under constant pressure from his rivals and enemies. He was also quite aware of his own sin and how undeserving he was for the position he’d been given as king of Israel.

Many scholars believe that David wrote Psalm 143 in his desolation after he had been driven from Jerusalem by his own son, Absalom. David knew that he had to deal first with his own sins, and then determine how to respond to this crisis in his leadership.

Not an easy decision when your own son is creating the crisis!

When big, crucial decisions loom, the place to go is to your knees. Seek God in prayer. Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer wrote: “A man can say to his God, ‘Behold, take my heart, and lead me according to your will. I surrender myself completely to you.'”

This is what David said to God as he was facing his crucial decision. And this is what we can still by grace say to our Lord, when we face crucial decisions in our own lives.

Jesus, our Savior, makes such prayers possible. But even more, he guarantees that our Father’s ears are wide open to our pleas for forgiveness and guidance.

As David promises us, he will show you the way you should go. He will lead you onto level ground.

Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
    for no one living is righteous before you…

Answer me quickly, Lord;
    my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
    or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
    for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
    lead me on level ground (Psalm 143:1-2, 7-10, NIV).

Prayer: Pray Psalm 143.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 15, is Malachi 1:1 – 2:16, Revelation 6:1-17 and Psalm 143:1-12.

Header image based on "decisions" by Martin Fisch, CC By-SA 2.0

Worship, Our Present and Our Future

In the apostle John’s vision that he is given on the island of Patmos, he sees people from every nation singing praises to Christ. This is a picture of what it will be like in heaven. God’s message of salvation through faith in Christ is not limited by race, ethnicity, culture or national origin. What a beautiful picture of eternal life!

All these people are singing to praise the work of Jesus. He was killed so that he could pay a ransom for our souls with his own blood. He gathered us into a kingdom. He turned all of us into priests who serve him. And one day we will reign with him in the new heavens and the new earth.

Worship is a beautiful privilege. It’s something we get to enjoy now, and by God’s grace, something we will enjoy forever in heaven.

Jesus makes all of that possible. More than that, actually. Jesus makes it all a present and future reality.

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10, NIV).

Lord, thank you for redeeming me and giving me every reason in the world to thank and praise you. I will worship you now, and eternally, for all that you have done for me.

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 14, is Esther 9:1 – 10:3, Revelation 5:1-14 and Proverbs 30:11-23.

Header image based on "Worship" by Ashley Campbell, CC By 2.0

Cornered

Have you ever felt cornered? It’s not a comfortable feeling. There’s no way forward. There’s no way back.

When we’re cornered, it’s a very overwhelming sensation. And that can lead to desperation.

David must have felt that desperation when he was backed against the wall, hiding from King Saul. Saul wanted his life. David and his men were forced to hide in the caves and crags — their “prison,” as David calls it.

David’s response was not to try and solve the problem himself. After all, David may have been the Lord’s anointed, but Saul was currently God’s chosen king of Israel. In no way was David going to rebel against the king that God himself had put in place.

Instead, David gave the unsolvable, overwhelming problem back to God. “Here, God, you take it,” David effectively said. “I look to you to solve this. And until you do, I’ll just be here with my back up against the wall in this dark cave.”

David cried out to the Lord. He wasn’t in the least reluctant to complain to him. He felt alone and helpless. The need was overwhelming. His desperation was rising.

Yet he still said to himself, and to God, “Waiting. And praying. That’s my job. Your job, God, is working it all out.”

When he didn’t know where to turn, he turned to God. When he felt downtrodden and ignored, he made his complaints to the Lord. When he sensed that he was alone and helpless, the Lord was his companion and his refuge. The Lord had the key to set him free from his prison.

You know what? That’s still not a bad approach for us today, when we feel cornered in life.

After all, isn’t that just what Jesus did for us when he was “cornered” in the Garden of Gethsemane?

“This sorrow is crushing my life out,” he told his disciples. “Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

Then he prayed, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. Do what you want, what you know is best.”

And that led to his eternal victory (and ours), didn’t it?

I cry aloud to the Lord;
    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

When my spirit grows faint within me,
    it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
    people have hidden a snare for me.
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
    no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
    no one cares for my life.

I cry to you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.”

Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
    for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me. (Psalm 142:1-7, NIV)

Prayer: Recite Psalm 142.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 13, is Esther 6:1 – 8:17, Revelation 4:1-11 and Psalm 142:1-7.

Header image based on "Woman reaching out" by Helmuts Guigo, CC By-SA 2.0

Jesus’ Long-Range Vision

Jesus has a vision for you. Did you know that? Right now today, he sees you sometime in the future seated next to him on his heavenly throne. You and I may not always be able to keep that vision — that long-range victory — in mind.

But it never leaves Jesus’ mind.

First of all, it never leaves Jesus’ mind because he himself experienced the thrill of that victory. Following the agony of the cross, God the Father raised his Son from the dead and seated him at this right hand on his throne.

Jesus wants you and me to experience that same eternal thrill. That’s why he is unafraid to do whatever it takes to keep us on track to receive our crown of victory. If it means rebuking and disciplining us, well, that’s OK. If it means calling us out, and urging us to make a U-Turn, that’s what he’ll do.

Jesus is the very best of coaches. He is outside the door of our heart, knocking and wanting to be invited in. He can’t do anything for us as long as we keep the door locked and barred. But if we hear his voice, the good news he speaks to us will transform our hearts and remold our minds. And it will impel us to open the door to him.

That good news of the cross and the empty tomb is the power for our salvation from sin, death and the power of the devil. His voice — the gospel — is the power to fully restore our sin-broken relationship with God. Through Jesus, our connection will be so thoroughly restored, so completely reconciled, that we will sit down and eat dinner with Jesus.

So if you feel like you may be under God’s discipline right now, rejoice! It means God loves you. It means he wants to eat with you at the heavenly banquet. It means he wants you to sit next to him on his throne, and share his power and authority forever.

That’s his vision. And he is not about to give up on it. Or give up on you.

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:19-22, NIV).

Lord, I want to receive the victory you’ve envisioned for me. Grant me a repentant heart, and faith in your redemptive authority. By nature, I have no power or desire to open the door of my heart to you. So, please change me. Transform my cold, dead heart into a heart of flesh, so that I may trust you as my Savior, and one day take my seat alongside you in heaven.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 12, is Esther 2:19 – 5:14, Revelation 3:7-22 and Psalm 141:1-10.

Header image based on "Twyfelfontein Binoculars" by Santiago Medem, CC By-SA 2.0