Trapped, or Taken Hold Of

The worst kind of trap is the one you never saw coming. The pain of being caught in the trap is compounded by the huge element of surprise and the question, “How did I get here?”

When I was 13, I was riding my bike over to a friend’s house and came out into a road from behind a fence. I had pulled this maneuver a thousand times. But on this particular day, there was a car coming on the road. At first, I thought I could beat it by passing in front of it. But the bumper caught the rear tire of my bike, spinning me off and mangling the back wheel pretty good. I had some pretty good scrapes and bruises that I got out of it as well.

I got caught. And I got caught by surprise. It was not fun telling my Mom what had happened.

That’s what Paul is instructing Timothy to warn his people about. Only the subject is not bicycle riding. It’s the love of money.

Paul points out that so many people pursue financial gain, thinking that it will give them peace of mind and fill up the hole in their heart. Others pursue wealth because it’s the “measuring stick” they use for determining their identity and self-worth.

There’s another way. Faith in Jesus can give us true peace and contentment. Faith in Jesus establishes our identity and self-worth as a blood-bought child of God, redeemed and adopted through the power of the cross and the empty tomb.

Pursue wealth as the source of our peace, the missing piece in our lives, the foundation of our identity and self-worth and we will find ourselves in the trap. We’ll discover we’re in the path of oncoming ruin and destruction. We’ll realize that our love of money just spun our heads around. We didn’t see what was around the fence, so only too late did we realize we were being foolish and our desires were harmful.

Love and seek money as our ultimate thing, and in place of peace, we’ll find ourselves pierced.

Instead, Paul says, pursue what God holds out to us. Seek the thing that Jesus is already placing into our hands. His righteousness, won via a lifetime of perfect obedience — and now his gift to us. Jesus sends us the gift of the Holy Spirit, who grants us faith, inspires us to love, spurs us on to endurance, and helps us to deal with situations in life with gentle restraint.

In other words, instead of seeking what you don’t have, pursue and battle for what Jesus has already given you. Take hold of that which has taken hold of you.

Ironic, isn’t it? The very best, most valuable things that you could ever fight to get are really already yours in Christ — and by faith they will be yours for eternity!

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭6:6-12‬, ‭NIV‬‬).

Lord Jesus, take hold of me, of my entire heart and mind. And lead me by the power of your Spirit to take hold of you, and all the blessings of godliness you have in store for me. Help me to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Strengthen me to fight the good fight of faith and to find peace, joy and contentment in all that you have given me.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 21, is Jeremiah 46:1 – 47:7, 1 Timothy 6:3-21 and Psalm 119:73-80.

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When Needy is A Good Thing

David presents an interesting character study. In many ways, he seems so much like he had his act together.

He was a man of great courage and stood up to the giant Goliath. He was a man of great influence. He gathered other men around him and led them to feats of glory. He was a man with great willpower, able to endure extreme hardship and difficulty as he was chased by King Saul.

Yet, when we read David’s inner thoughts in the Psalms, we also see that he was a man with many fears. He was a leader constantly worried and wondering about losing the upper hand over his enemies. He considered himself weak-willed. And he certainly could be. The story of his downfall sin with Bathsheba is one of the foremost cautionary tales in all of the Bible about a lack of willpower.

The more one gets to know David, the more we come to understand that whatever courage, influence or willpower he possessed did not originate with him. They originated with God, and by faith, were God’s gift to him.

David declares himself needy. Then he bursts out in thanksgiving and worship, because his life has taught him that God is extremely close to the needy — he stands immediately at their right hand.

The more I get to know myself (or perhaps, it’s the more honest and real I get with myself), the more I come to understand that whatever courage, influence or willpower I have all comes from God. It’s his gift to me. And that goes along with whatever peace, or whatever joy, or whatever contentment, or whatever love, or whatever… all that I have and all that I am comes from God.

Put simply, I am a person in need. Without God, I really have nothing. But he is always at my right hand to provide for me, to save my life from danger, and to give me the grace I need to overcome the condemnation I deserve.

That’s the way David saw it. And that’s the way I see it too. Without Jesus, I will never have my act together. But with Jesus, my act comes together very nicely.

You see, needy can be a good thing if, by needy, we really mean humility.

“With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lordin the great throng of worshipers I will praise him. For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them” (Psalm 109:30-31, NIV).

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You (“Lord, I Need You”, By Matt Maher).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, September 22, is Isaiah 51:17 – 54:17, Ephesians 1:1-23 and Psalm 109:21-31.

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Seeking and Working: Opposites that Attract

Hezekiah was a 25 year old young man when he became king of Judah. And his father Ahaz had not been a good king. Not even close. Let’s just say that Hezekiah’s father was best known for shutting the temple down, while simultaneously setting up altars to false gods on every street corner in Jerusalem. They were like Circle K’s, they were so prevalent.

From the very beginning of his reign in Jerusalem, Hezekiah set out to do the right thing in God’s eyes. Hezekiah’s hero, the man he sought to emulate was not his father, but his ancestor David. He wanted to have the heart and mind of the king who was “a man after God’s own heart.”

What I love about the description of Hezekiah is the dual nature of how Hezekiah lived out his relationship with God in everyday, practical terms. From this depiction of Hezekiah, we get a sense of what his relationship with God actually looked like.

So, what did it look like? If we had been someone serving under King Hezekiah, or a personal friend or family member, or even one of his enemies, what would we have noticed about him?

I think the answer to this question boils down to two things.

First, we would have observed that Hezekiah was a man of prayer. He looked to God instead of to himself for answers. He did not make a move without first consulting God for guidance.

And second, we would have been amazed at Hezekiah’s passion and work ethic. We would have seen a mission-minded, vision-focused individual, who nevertheless had his feet planted firmly on the ground, and his hands always moving and prepared to get dirty.

How about you? How often do you step aside, create some space, and push the world away for a little while so that you can consult with God in prayer, and ask God for direction and guidance?

And then, how ready are you to plant your feet firmly on the ground, and say to yourself, “Ready, Set, Go!”? How prepared are you to get your hands dirty doing whatever the kingdom requires, serving God wholeheartedly?

I think you can see from Hezekiah’s life that the Lord responds to such bold inquiry through prayer, and to such readiness to work passionately for the kingdom. Just see how God watched over Hezekiah, and all the people that faithful Hezekiah led, and took care of them “on every side!”

These two — seeking and working — on the surface of things, might look like opposites. One is quiet and meditative, the other active and busy.

But these are two opposites that definitely attract God’s attention!

“This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered… So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. He took care of them on every side” (2 Chronicles 31:20-21, 32:22, NIV).

Heavenly Father, thank you that you show us people like Hezekiah, who walked faithfully with you in faith. Help me by your Spirit’s power to emulate his heart, his mind, and his actions. I want to become a person of fervent prayer, and learn to seek your guidance always. I want to become a person of action, ready to serve you and your kingdom with passion, energy and joy!

Our Bible reading for Friday, August 28, is 2 Chronicles 31:2 – 33:20, 2 Corinthians 1:23 – 2:11 and Proverbs 21:5-16.

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Don’t Lose Sight of the Benefits

There are a total of 150 Psalms. And this is one of the most beautiful of them. For me, it ranks right up there with the 23rd Psalm.

The key verse is verse 2: Praise the LORD, and do not forget all his benefits.

With God there is always a reason for gratitude and applause. Why? Because with God there’s continually one blessing after another.

And here David takes inventory of those blessings. He calls them benefits. Man, are there ever a lot of those benefits! And like David says, we don’t ever want to lose sight of them.

See for yourself. And take some time today to pause and really meditate on this Psalm. There’s so much here.

Healing. Redemption. Compassion. Grace. Forgiveness.

That’s how great God’s love is!

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:1-12, NIV)

Lord, your healing, redemption, compassion, love, grace and forgiveness are truly amazing. Help me remember all these benefits (and more!) you grant me every day, and praise you for them. Truly, you are worthy of my worship.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, August 26, is 2 Chronicles 26:1 – 28:27, 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and Psalm 103:1-12.

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The God Who Is Generous

David was nearing the end of his life. But he still had an unfulfilled dream. He desperately wanted to build a place of worship for the Lord, a home for the Ark of the Covenant.

He laid out careful plans for a temple to be built on the former site of the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. He began the process of collecting the materials needed.

But God said that David was not to be the one to build the temple. Instead, God told him, his son Solomon would come to the throne after him, and he would be the one to construct the temple.

As one of his last official acts, David made a large offering from his own wealth to help fund the temple. This gift became an inspiration to other leaders among the Israelites. They too immediately stepped forward to offer gifts for the construction of the temple.

With their gifts added in, the amount donated for the building of the temple more than doubled. And it all happened very, very quickly. No long campaigns. No passing of the offering plate multiple times. It was one generous gift from David, followed up by one question from David: “Now, who is willing to consecrate themselves to the Lord today?” (1 Chronicles 29:5b, NIV).

What happens next is even more amazing. David does not hold himself up as any great example of generosity. Nor does he begin by praising the Israelite leaders’ open-handedness.

No, he recognizes instead that everything needed to fulfill his dream of building a temple was coming from the hand of God. He and the leaders were merely conduits for the resources. They were not the ultimate owners of the wealth that had been donated.

God was. Because God is the generous, open-handed owner of everything in heaven and on earth. So David’s praise was reserved for him. David’s thanks went to the Lord. His acknowledgment was of the Lord’s greatness, power, glory and majesty.

Our God, David assures every one us, is a generous God! Generous with his heart. And generous with his resources.

Should we be surprised? How could we be when we know that this is the very same God who was generous with his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. This is the same God who is generous with his love, generous with his forgiveness, and generous with his power.

“David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,

‘Praise be to you, Lord,
    the God of our father Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting.
Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
    and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
    for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
    you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
    you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
    to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks,
    and praise your glorious name'” (1 Chronicles 29:10-13, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, August 9, is 1 Chronicles 28:1 – 29:30, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 and Psalm 93:1-5.

Lord, I thank you that you are such an amazingly generous God. You have been generous toward me personally with your love, your forgiveness, and with your power. Most of all you have generously supplied me with a Savior from my sins. Graciously provide me with all I need for this life, and for the life to come.

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A Blessed Person!

Are you a learner? A curious person?

That’s what Solomon was. He loved getting new information. When God offered to bless him in any way he wanted, Solomon asked for greater wisdom.

The Bible tells us that instruction is good, and it is especially good when it is filtered through trust in the Lord. Trust in God, with a steady flow of instruction, will lead to a healthier faith in God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” Solomon stated as he began to write the book of Proverbs (1:7).

That’s why we constantly encourage people to keep reading their Bibles and be instructed in the truths of the Scriptures. Solomon also wrote, “Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20, NIV).

Intriguingly, many years later, the apostle Paul finds this Proverbs passage confirmed by his own experience. He too was a curious man — loving to learn.

As a Pharisee who did not believe in Jesus, he put his knowledge to work persecuting Christ-followers. But once Paul had been confronted by Jesus, and became a Christ-follower himself, he put his knowledge to work for a new purpose: sharing Christ with his fellow Jews, and especially with Gentiles.

As a result of this, persecution began to come his way.

But through it all, Paul feels blessed. He has had God’s help all along. And despite what might befall him, he is absolutely confident that he has devoted his life to the right purpose.

I hope for you that your life is filled with the same sense of purpose as Paul’s. Through faith in Jesus Christ, you are a blessed person. Because to be a person who blesses others is to be a blessed person yourself!

“First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:20-23, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, July 7, is 2 Kings 14:23 – 15:38, Acts 25:23 – 26:23 and Proverbs 16:18-27.

Father, thank you for rescuing me from the dominion of darkness, and bringing me into the kingdom of the Son you love. Help me to devote my life to bringing others into that same kingdom, and to be blessed by blessing others.

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When Planning, Pray!

It’s fun to dream. It’s exciting to create a vision for the future.

Maybe it’s a business plan you’re writing. Or maybe it’s a life-plan that covers a number of areas in your personal life.

Read a few books and you’ll discover all kinds of ways to make plans. There are even more methods for insuring that you actually carry out the plans you’ve made. We live in a fast-paced, information-economy world today. Systems to make and keep plans abound!

But there is only one absolutely critical thing to do when making your plans (or when trying to fulfill them). Ironically, this thing is almost always missing in the books and systems the world produces.

Fortunately, Solomon tells us what that one critical thing is. He tells us in the Bible. And it’s amazingly simple.

Pray.

In your prayers, commit your daily actions and your plans to the Lord. And he will help you progress forward with those plans.

All the great men of the Bible did this — from Abraham, to Joseph, to David, to Isaiah, and finally, to Jesus, to Peter and to Paul.

What gets us away from this is our bias toward action. We often feel nothing productive is happening unless we’re doing something. We feel like we have to be drawing up the plans, or charting the progress, or taking the next step.

But Solomon reminds us that for our plans to succeed, it’s actually far more important for God to take action!

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans” (Proverbs 16:3, NIV).

Lord, I commit my actions today to you. And I ask you to take action, and to bless and establish my plans.

Our Bible reading for Monday, June 19, is 1 Kings 22:1-53, Acts 19:14-41 and Proverbs 15:31 – 16:7.

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