Saturday, January 31, 2009


What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The chief end of man is to glorify God. That is why God created humankind. Our very purpose for existence is to bring glory to God. Is there any possibility that God’s purpose for man may not be fulfilled? What about the wicked? What about those who refuse to acknowledge that our Lord is God? Is God’s purpose frustrated in them?

In Exodus 9 God is in the midst of bringing a slew of plagues upon Egypt. Pharaoh alternately says the people can go and worship the Lord in the desert and then changes his mind and hardens his heart. Even the officials of Egypt say to Pharaoh, “Can’t you see that Egypt is ruined?” But what does God say? See Exodus 9:15, 16; For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. God was going to be glorified even through the wickedness of Pharaoh. What God does is not for the sake of Pharaoh or even for the sake of Israel. It was for his own name’s sake!

God wants Pharaoh to see his sovereignty. Before the last plague, the slaying of the firstborn sons, God instructs Moses to say to Pharaoh, Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. It is God who makes the distinction. The distinction is not found in the people of Egypt or the people of Israel. The distinction comes from the mind of God himself. It is a matter of his own choice. Israel could take no credit for being the chosen people. They didn’t choose themselves and they certainly didn’t deserve to be chosen. It is God who made the distinction. And so it is with us. We belong to God because God chose to make us his own. He is the one who makes the distinction between his children and those who are not.

One more evidence of this God-glorifying truth. Exodus 11:9, 10. God spoke to Moses saying, Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt. Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart… To demonstrate his sovereign power and the fact that he can do as he chooses to bring glory to himself, God ensures that all his power will be demonstrated to both Egypt and Israel by hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

How can we fail to recognize that the Bible is God’s story, not man’s? It is all about him and he created us to glorify his name. He will glorify himself through both the wicked and the righteous.

Friday, January 30, 2009


God called Moses out of the land of Midian to return to Egypt. He was to tell the Hebrews that I AM had met with him and the LORD was going to lead them out of bondage and into a spacious land flowing with milk and honey. Moses was to go to Pharaoh and ask him to allow the Hebrews to go out into the desert to worship God. And God also told Moses that Pharaoh would not listen.

In fact, Pharaoh was so angered he decreed that the Hebrews would have to gather their own straw for the bricks they were making and they would have to make the same number of bricks as they were making when they were provided with straw. Of course this embittered the Hebrews and they took their anger out on Moses and Aaron.

When Moses went to the Lord with this problem the Lord told him, Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country. (Exodus 6:1)

In the eyes of the Hebrews, Moses and Aaron failed when they went before Pharaoh. Not only had Pharaoh not released the Hebrews, he made their bondage worse than it was before. Clearly Moses and Aaron were not men in whom they could put their trust. And I think that was the point! Had Moses and Aaron succeeded in securing the release of the Hebrews, all the attention would have gone to them. Our God is a jealous God who will not share his glory with anyone else. All the glory and praise had to belong solely to him. Pharaoh would go on to demonstrate just how stubborn he could be. God would do miracle after miracle and Pharaoh would harden his heart again and again. It would become clear to the Hebrews that no man could deliver them from such an obstinate ruler. Only God could lead them to freedom!

Here in Shafter, CA we are involved in planting a new church. It is not easy. We are still trying to figure out how God wants us to go about this task. It is becoming more and more apparent to all the others involved that I don’t have all the answers. In fact, none of us has all the answers! Not even all of us put together can come up with very many answers at all! It is slow going. We are trying to understand and reach into the Hispanic culture here in Shafter and we don’t know how to do it.

And that’s good! I am convinced that God has called us to do this ministry. We will pray and seek God’s direction. I believe God will bless us and show us what he wants us to do. It may well take quite awhile. People may begin to wonder if they called the right guy to lead this ministry. It may become very uncomfortable. But when it happens, only God will receive the praise and glory for the church he alone can build. He is a jealous God and will not share his glory with another!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Matthew 16 is one of the most controversial chapters in the Bible. The Church has debated the meaning of Jesus’ words for centuries. Jesus asks the disciples who people are saying he is. They answer, Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Then Peter makes his great confession, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus goes on to bless Peter and say, On this rock I will build my church.

The next paragraph says that from that time on Jesus began to explain to the disciples what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem. This was obviously very difficult for them to comprehend. It just didn’t fit with what they understood about the Messiah. Peter thought to straighten out Jesus and rebuked him. Jesus turned on Peter and said, Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.

Then come the well-known words, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.

I don’t want to get caught up in what Jesus meant by his first words to Peter; whether Peter was the rock upon which the church would be built or if his confession is the rock. And I don’t want to discuss the keys of the kingdom of heaven or what binding and loosing means.

I do want to observe how easily Peter went from a brilliant confession of faith to being the instrument of Satan. Those of us in Christian ministry, actually all Christians, need to recognize that in a moment of carelessness we can go from doing great service for the kingdom to being stumbling blocks. Our hearts are so deceitful that we might never see it coming!

It is so hard for us to deny ourselves. Again, the deceitful heart! No matter how hard we might try to deny ourselves there is so much still in our hearts that we don’t know! Sometimes the Holy Spirit makes me aware of this in my own heart. It is my great desire to serve the Lord by helping to plant New Hope Church. I am willing to work hard and make many sacrifices to see it grow and bring glory to God’s name. But at the same time I am aware of the little creeping desire to save my life. Not physically, but memorially! (My computer tells me that isn’t a word!) In other words, every once in awhile I become aware I want to leave a mark in this world. I’ll never write a book that anyone will read. I’ll never be a popular speaker at conferences. I probably won’t be a famous martyr. How will anyone know that I was here? Perhaps I will be remembered for helping plant this church. Then I have to repent and confess that I still struggle with denying myself and having a desire to save my own life, to live on after I’m gone.

I hear what Jesus said to Peter, You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men. May God deliver us from ourselves!

Monday, January 26, 2009


Matthew 15:29-16:12. I love the juxtaposition of “the people” with “the Pharisees and Sadducees” in this passage. It begins with “the people” in 15:30, Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. Then Jesus feeds the 4,000.

Chapter 16:1ff, The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but note will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”

Then, as Jesus and the disciples crossed the lake by boat, the disciples were confused when Jesus warned them about the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They thought he was rebuking them for forgetting to bring bread for their crossing. In effect, Jesus tells them, “You ought to know by now that I am not talking to you about natural things like bread but spiritual things.” Jesus wanted them to avoid falling into the same trap that the Jewish leaders had already fallen into.

“The people” were perceptive enough to recognize that Jesus was from God. They praised the God of Israel when they saw the signs and wonders he was performing. The Jewish leaders missed all that. Oh, they were there! They saw the signs. But they did not perceive the spiritual nature of what Jesus was doing.

We need to pay heed to Jesus’ warning about the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. God is constantly at work around us and if we have eyes to see and ears to hear we will grasp the spiritual significance of what he is about in our world. We don’t need to ask for signs. He’s already given us all the signs we need and he is still working every day all around us. May the Holy Spirit make us sensitive so we will be able to have “God sightings” each day! And may the Holy Spirit enable us to jump in and serve God’s kingdom when we see his hand at work among us!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


The famine that brought the brothers of Joseph to Egypt to buy grain continued. Joseph invited his brothers to retrieve their father and their families and come to live in Egypt. Even though the famine would extend for several more years, Joseph would see to their welfare and make sure they had enough to eat. In Genesis 46 we find the list of the sons and grandsons of Jacob who went down to live in Egypt. Verse 27 tells us that there were seventy in all.

Many years later, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt there would be a host of them. Estimates of the number of Israelites in the exodus vary from hundreds of thousands to over a million. As we discover in the book of Exodus, God had his hand upon Israel and they multiplied greatly in spite of the efforts of Pharaoh to crush them through slavery.

Why did God send Israel into Egypt in the first place? The fact that God sent them is indisputable. Genesis 46:3, 4, God spoke to Jacob saying, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again.”

Could not God have made a great nation out of Jacob while he was living in Canaan? Perhaps some would argue that the Canaanites would destroy them when they saw them multiplying. But surely God could have protected them from the Canaanites. He had promised the land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There were too few of them to occupy the entire land. That is no problem. Again, God could have kept his hand upon them until they filled the land entirely. There was a famine in Canaan and they would have starved to death! God could have fed them. But God did not want them to intermarry with the Canaanites. They had already taken Canaanite women as wives. None of these arguments explains why God sent Israel into Egypt.

I believe God was creating a situation in which he would foreshadow redemption and salvation. The Israelites would ultimately be forced into bondage and their lives would become bitter. God would send them a deliverer in the form of Moses. Through many miracles God would free them from their slavery and bring them into the land of promise, with God as their king. He would reveal himself to an entire nation through his law. He would be their God and they would be his people.

Apart from Christ we are all in bondage to sin. We are hopelessly enslaved, unable to free ourselves from the hold of our Enemy. Only through the second Moses, Christ himself, are we wondrously set free. The miracle of redemption, the sacrifice of Jesus’ life, buys our freedom from slavery. God reveals himself to us through his grace and makes us his people and takes his place as our Heavenly Father. We are the children of God, the citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

The Israelites who were born into slavery in Egypt and died in slavery in Egypt were not aware of the marvelous picture God was painting. They labored and suffered without understanding why. But God was at work. It was his picture, not theirs. We cannot understand the mind of God. We do not know the tapestry God is weaving with our lives. And we may never know. But we profess to believe that God is sovereign and he is in control of the lives of all men, just as he was in control of Pharaoh’s life. We can be confident that he is painting a picture of redemption that will bring glory to his name!

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Our God is a self-revealing God. When we say that, we mean that all we can know about him is what he reveals to us. We also understand that he desires to reveal himself to us because he gains glory by doing so. God is so great that he is beyond human comprehension. We cannot know all there is to know about God. Thus, theologians frequently use the word inscrutable to describe God. We cannot find out things about God on our own and with our own strength. He must reveal what he wants us to understand about him.

However, we should be careful about saying too easily, “That is beyond our understanding. We just can’t understand God!” The Bible reveals things to us about God that make us uncomfortable and we seek to avoid the discomfort by running to the “God is inscrutable” comments. I have encountered these situations many, many times.

Recently, we were in a Bible study and we stumbled into the problem of evil. Now that’s a subject I usually like to avoid at all costs. It is difficult! It is complex! It does bring about a level of discomfort. The questions about the problem of evil set our skin crawling. “Is God sovereign over sin?” “Does God ordain sin or just allow it?” “Is there a difference between God knowing we are going to sin and God’s will?” “Did God plan for Adam to sin?” Whew! Discomfort is flashing all over my computer screen!

Genesis 45 and the story of Joseph and his brothers. When all is said and done and Joseph reveals himself to his brothers he says, Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Genesis 45:5, 7, 8)

Joseph understands that what his brothers did to him was God’s plan for saving lives and preserving a remnant. The brothers did not send him to Egypt. God did! Selling Joseph into slavery was part of God’s plan! Putting Joseph into Egypt was God’s will!

Did the brothers sin against Joseph? Yes, without a doubt. Are they personally responsible for their sin? Yes. Does God hate sin? Yes. Did God plan for the brothers to sin against Joseph and against him in order to bring about his own glory? It sure looks that way! Does that mean God sinned or forced the brothers to sin? Absolutely not.

I come to this conclusion: God ordains the sin of men in order to bring glory to himself. (Don’t forget that God ordained the sin of those who crucified Jesus! Acts 4:27, 28) At the same time, God remains perfectly holy. Men are still held accountable for their sin. We don’t have to run to “inscrutable.” These things are all clearly taught in the Bible as I read it.

Now, how God manages his sovereignty and our responsibility does seem inscrutable to me!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I’m starting to discover a pattern in what God is showing me as I read through the Bible this year. Perhaps it is a pattern that reflects the condition of my heart. Perhaps it is something God is giving me in order to prepare me. Perhaps it is a pattern of the Christian life that I just never saw before. Consider….

A couple of weeks ago I posted on the Beatitudes. And my friend, Don Sands, also posted on Matthew 5:11, 12. (See “No Cross, No Crown” Here are the verses, Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Unjust persecution. Rejoice. Be glad. Great is your reward.

Then just the other day I posted thoughts about Jacob and wrestling with God. God gets close and life gets painful and I grab on and hold on for dear life, demanding that God bless me if I am going to hurt like this.

Now I come to Joseph. Genesis 39-41. We all know the story. Sold into slavery by vengeful brothers. He was blessed and became a blessing in the house of Potiphar. Until the wife fails to seduce him and lies to her husband about Joseph. Joseph ends up imprisoned where he is blessed and becomes a blessing. He correctly interprets dreams for the cupbearer and the baker of Pharaoh. The surviving cupbearer fails to remember Joseph and Joseph continues to languish in prison. Until Pharaoh has a dream and the cupbearer’s memory is jogged. Joseph comes out and correctly interprets Pharaoh’s dreams. A story of repeated injustice, suffering, pain, grief, and, blessing.

I am very impressed with Joseph. He is loyal and faithful. He seems very patient. He is the ultimate example of a slave rising to success, power, and blessing. But what he has to go through is unimaginable to me! How does he do it?

Joseph has faith that God’s hand is upon him and so he does that which God puts into his hand. He serves Potiphar to the best of his ability because he knows God is in control of his situation. Do I know beyond any shadow of doubt that God is in control of my situation?

Joseph knows that any sin he commits is against God. Sure, he doesn’t want to betray his master, Potiphar, by messing around with his wife. But do you see what reason he gave her? How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God? (Genesis 39:10) We deal lightly with sin in our Christian culture. How would it change my attitude if I kept before my eyes the fact that all sin is sin against God, not just other people or myself?

When confronted by the baker and cupbearer Joseph steps out in faith and offers to interpret their dreams. Do not interpretations belong to God? (Genesis 40:8) What difficult task lies before me? What impossible thing has God put into my hands? It’s not up to me. It’s up to God. Step out in faith. Does not success belong to God?

Finally, when Pharaoh calls Joseph to interpret his dreams he says, I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it. Joseph responds, I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires. (Genesis 41:15, 16) He gives God all the glory. And that is what God desires!

Joseph sees opportunities to glorify God even when God has put him in situations that are unjust and painful. Perhaps Joseph wrestled with God every night. We don’t know. But the fact of the matter is that he still sought God’s glory in the midst of his suffering and sorrow. That is why he was both a blessing and blessed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Matthew 12:1, 2 Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

Jesus responded by citing the account of David and his companions eating the consecrated bread. He pointed out that the priests in the temple work on the Sabbath. Then he said the convicting words, If you had known what these words mean, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the innocent.

There is no need to go into great detail describing how the Pharisees were legalists who thought more about keeping every jot and tittle of the law. It is obvious that they believed they could gain the good graces of their God by doing good works. And it is also clear that they thought they were in a position to judge the activities of everyone else around them.

But the thing that is crushingly weighty is what Jesus said to them. The thing that condemned them was that they did not realize the meaning of the scriptures that said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The law of God is fulfilled by loving God and loving one’s neighbor. The Pharisees did not love God. They did not keep the law out of love but out of a desire to earn their righteousness. They did not love their neighbors. They consistently pointed out every failure of their neighbors in an effort to magnify their own righteousness. God did not need their sacrifices. He wanted them to show mercy.

What is our church going to be like? What will New Hope Community Church be? Will it be made up of people who show mercy to those around us? Or will it be a place that legalistically keeps the Sabbath and goes through the motions of doing church? I think there is something important for us here. God wants us to show mercy. If we insist on merely having church every Sunday and expect people to respond to our invitations to come and do church with us, we won’t be showing mercy and we won’t be doing what God has called us to do. We need to get out of the building and work to show mercy, God’s mercy, to the people of our community!

Does that mean we should no longer have worship on Sundays? No, not at all. But if we want people to come and hear the gospel message and worship God with us I suspect we will first have to go to them and show mercy. It would be very wise for us to find out what mercy might look like to our neighbors!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


In Genesis 32 Jacob wrestles with God. Although he seems to hold his own throughout the night, he cannot win. God dislocates Jacob’s hip and wins the match. But amazingly, even though he was in incredible pain, Jacob maintains his grip and will not release it until God blesses him. The blessing he receives is a change of name. He will no longer be Jacob the Usurper or Jacob the Deceiver, he will be the man who “struggled with God and with men” and overcame.

I was raised to never argue with God. It was wrong. It was rebellious. It was sinful. So I learned not to fight with God. No matter what happened I learned to bite my tongue, keep my silence, and think, “It must be God’s will.” Even when it made no sense. Even when it hurt like crazy.

Then my very young wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Not just any brain tumor. A brain tumor that returned over and over and over again until it turned into cancer and she died after 18 years of fighting. I alternated between fighting with God and falling on my face and begging. That’s when I realized that God would rather have me wrestle with him than pretend to be all right with everything that was going on in my life.

With that freedom I began to wrestle with God more often. There have been a number of things in the last nine years that have pushed me out onto the mat with God. Like Jacob, I’ve never won. But also like Jacob, I have been blessed over and over again.

Perhaps that’s the point. God’s people were named after Jacob. They were the people who struggled with God and overcame. The church is the “new Israel.” We are the people who struggle with God. I realized that people who are drawn close to God are almost forced to wrestle with him. He is so God and we are not. His ways are not our ways. His wisdom and power are so far above and beyond our own. How can we not struggle with him? I’m almost at the point of thinking that people who don’t wrestle with God will never get to know him the way he wants to be known! They will never receive the blessings that come from the struggle.

Jacob called that place Peniel. “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” That is where I live. Peniel. I saw God face to face and wrestled with him and he still spared my life. What grace and mercy!

Friday, January 16, 2009


I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. Genesis 28:13-15

These are the words God spoke to Jacob in his dream at Bethel.

Jacob, the usurper. Jacob, the stealer of birthrights. Jacob, the deceiver of his father. Jacob, the robber of blessings. Jacob, the con artist. What an unimaginable example of sovereign grace! It is so obvious that Jacob did nothing to deserve these blessings. God did not give him the land because he was a godly man. He did not say the Messiah would come through his line because he was more righteous than Esau. He did not promise his protection because Jacob sought holiness. God sovereignly decided to bless Jacob for his own glory!

God does not judge as man judges. God is not beholden to man’s sense of justice. God does as he pleases and always works his will in the lives of men. We see the hand of God and fall on our faces with our hands over our mouths! Who are we to question the ways of the Almighty?

Praise God for his sovereign grace! Had he left the matter up to me I would never have sought him! If he granted righteousness only to those who pursued it I would never be righteous! I am his only because he chooses people like Jacob and pours out his grace and mercy upon them!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


“The covenant I made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” These are phrases with which we are very familiar. These are the patriarchs of our faith. We know all about Abraham. And perhaps we know even more about Jacob. But what do we know of Isaac?

He was the son of the promise, not Ishmael; the son of Sarah’s miraculous pregnancy.

He was almost sacrificed in God’s test of his father, Abraham.

Abraham’s servant found him a wife, Rebekah, through a number of providences of God.

He lied that Rebekah was his sister just as Abraham lied about Sarah.

He had a number of conflicts with the men of Gerar over wells his men dug.

He made a covenant with Abimelech.

He loved Esau more than Jacob but was deceived and ended up blessing Jacob.

And that’s about it. Not really very much, is it? Why? Why so little? Surely there had to be many more things that could be told about him. He almost comes off as a brief sidebar between his father Abraham and his son Jacob. Very little is said about Isaac that tells us about his faith. So I as again, “Why is this?”

I think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record. As I read through my Bible this year I’m struck with the same thought over and over again. The story of the Bible is about God, not men. God makes his covenant with Isaac for his own sake and for the sake of Abraham. God is faithful to Isaac because of his own name. God blesses Isaac for his own glory. God has a much bigger plan than Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. Little is said about Isaac and I think we are to realize that God is drawing our attention back to himself.

It feels as if the Lord is reminding me repeatedly, “It’s not about you. It’s about me!” Perhaps this is a lesson we all need to learn well!

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I was called out here to Shafter, California to help plant a church; New Hope Community Church. Church planting can be a real challenge, especially when you are in a brand new community and don’t know a single soul. Add to that ignorance the fact that the brand new community is 75% Latino and you have a bizillion cultural things to learn in addition to meeting a ton of new people. How does one go about meeting new people in a new town? How do you walk the cultural lines without offending people? And how do you plant a new church without giving in to all the gimmickry that is going around in church planting circles these days?

The core group that called us out here is completely White. They are wonderful people. We have fallen in love with them and they are working very hard to do all the things necessary to plant a church. I thank God for them just about every day. They are a joy.

We’ve been blessed with several new families, three of whom are Hispanic. That is very exciting for me because I have a deep passion to see Whites and Latinos in one church worshiping together. I’m just not sure I know how to do that. There have been a couple of long conversations with one of the Mexican ladies who has come. She is very doubtful that we will be successful in attracting and keeping many Latinos if the church is perceived as a “White” church. I’m praying that she will see that it is possible and that perhaps the Lord will use her to bring many of her friends and acquaintances into New Hope.

I invite just about everyone I meet to come and see what the Lord is doing at New Hope. Someone (not in our fellowship) actually suggested that we should put an ad in the paper and offer money prizes to the first 25 new people who come to our worship service. I’ve heard of churches offering gas coupons, leather jackets, even a motorcycle! I’m sorry. I just can’t even begin to go there.

These kinds of things are almost always on my mind. I am constantly praying that the Lord will cause me to see what he wants me to do; that he will give me the insights I need to be able to reach out to people with the love of Jesus and bring them in.

Then tonight I read this in Proverbs 3:3-6. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

I think that should about do it! Thank you, Lord!

Friday, January 09, 2009


Chapter 19 of Genesis has to be one of the most tragic chapters in the entire Bible. It tells the story of the grievous fall of Lot. It is horrendous. It is terrifying. It is sickening. And it is a story we should pay very careful attention to because it is a story of warning. It warns us about what can happen to people who make friends with the world.

As long as Lot was with Abram he prospered. Abram was the friend of God. He was salt and light in Lot’s life. But when Lot separated from Abram and chose to move into the plain of the Jordan; when he chose to move close to Sodom; when he chose to move into Sodom and become friends with the astonishingly wicked men of that city he was courting his own destruction.

In 19:1 we are told that Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city of Sodom. Had he become one of the elders of the city? Had he risen to a position of prominence among the Sodomites? Did his leadership make any difference in the morals of the men of Sodom?

Lot took the men (angels) into his home for their own protection but he couldn’t even protect them there. All the men of the city (19:4) came to Lot’s house that night to sexually assault the visitors. Lot went outside to confront the men and he addressed them as his “friends.” He exchanged his companionship with Abram for friendship with these perverted men. And in an effort to placate his “friends,” Lot offered his virgin daughters to them to assault. Who can understand this?

When the angels warned Lot to leave the city because the LORD had sent them to destroy it (19:13), Lot went to warn his sons-in-law to escape and save their lives. What did these young men do? They laughed at Lot! They thought he was joking! (19:14) Lot did not even have a good enough reputation with his sons-in-law to influence them!

When it was time to leave Sodom, Lot hesitated. (19:16) The angels had to seize him by the hand and lead him out. (At this point I pause and thank God for doing the same thing with me! He demonstrated grace toward me and pulled me out of the gutters of sin!) And still Lot has the audacity to plead with the angels to allow him to flee to Zoar instead of the mountains! (19:20)

And finally, Lot drunkenly impregnates his two daughters when they conspire to carry on their family line in the absence of marriageable men. The text carefully says that Lot was so drunk that he didn’t know when they lay down nor when they got up.

A sobering account. How far into sin Lot fell! And what an example of God’s grace! Let us not forget what Peter writes about Lot! “And if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment…” (2 Peter 2:7-9)

Is Lot’s deliverance really all that different from my own?

Thursday, January 08, 2009


In Genesis 13:5ff we have the account of the conflict between Lot’s herdsmen and Abram’s herdsmen. Abram found the quarrelling distasteful and approached Lot with the purpose of finding a way to make peace. By the way, here is a real peacemaker!

I am impressed with Abram’s humility. He is the patriarch. By rights, it was Lot’s responsibility to come to his elder kinsman and try to make things right but it doesn’t seem as if Lot is as concerned about the fighting that was going on. So Abram takes the high road by making himself lower and makes an offer to Lot. One of the most important things about being a peacemaker is being willing to suspend one’s claims to any rights.

Abram suggests that Lot make the choice. Again, Lot should have refused. He should have said, “Oh no, Uncle! You choose! You are God’s man and I just could not choose ahead of you! Surely you know what would be best for us!” But no. Lot raised his eyes and looked at the plain of the Jordan and saw that it was “well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar.” (13:10) “So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan…” (13:11) He chose the whole plain of the Jordan. He didn’t say, “Look, you take the northern part of the plain and I’ll take the southern part of the plain. That way each of us will have plenty of water.” The fact that Lot was arrogant enough to choose in the first place is astonishing; but that he took the whole plain for himself is beyond description!

Abram accepted Lot’s choice without complaint. That’s not to say that he may have felt a tinge of concern as he considered the mountainous desert that was being left to him. They parted company in peace. Another important thing about being a peacemaker is being able to completely trust the Lord to order your steps and provide. I don’t think you can really be a peacemaker if you have your own concerns at heart! It appears that Abram left his lot (no pun intended) entirely up to the Lord and trusted the Lord to do what was best for him in the situation.

We know the outcome of Lot’s choice. Lot pitched his tents near Sodom and before you know it he was living right in the city of wickedness! He and all his people would be carried off in the war of the nine kings and Abram would have to rescue him. His choice didn’t turn out as well as he had hoped. That’s what happens when we make our choices based on what looks good to us! Abram, on the other hand, heard from God shortly after Lot departed from him. God said, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” (13:14, 15, 17)

Blessed are the peacemakers. Abram was blessed by God. He suspended his claim to rights and entrusted his situation to God. He humbled himself and the Lord lifted him up. He gave Abram all the land, including the land Lot had chosen for himself. We should not do the right thing with an eye toward getting a big reward. We should do the right thing with the hope that God will be glorified through the doing of it! Did God receive glory from Abram’s actions? “So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.” (13:18) Abram worshiped. God was glorified!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


There is something about the Beatitudes that has always bothered me. I’ll show you what it is in a minute. I’ve preached through them. I’ve taught them. I’ve translated and exegeted them. I’ve read books written by scholars on them. I’ve read collections of pastors’ sermons on them. I love them. I love their poetry. I love their passion and compassion. I love everything they stand for.

Yet, there is something about the Beatitudes that has always bothered me. In spite of everything I just said in the paragraph above, I’m not sure I understand them well. As I read through them again this evening I had what might well be an epiphany for me. (Quite appropriate following Epiphany Sunday!) I think I may have been interpreting the Beatitudes wrong for a lot of years.

No matter how much I grow in the Lord and in my faith, most of the Beatitudes just don’t describe me very well. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to develop the characteristics of the Beatitudes. And I noticed, they aren’t commands! Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples or us to do anything. He simply makes indicative statements about the characteristics of people who are blessed by God!

I’ve never been very successful in becoming poor in spirit, whatever that really means. Nor is mourning a daily exercise for me, although I have mourned deeply at times in my life. Meek? Not a word people often use to describe me. Hunger and thirst for righteousness. Now that is interesting. I can’t make myself hungry or thirsty for food or water. It just happens when I need them. I begin to wonder, “Is this something the Holy Spirit has to put into me? Maybe only God can make me hunger and thirst for righteousness?” Well, that would make sense because anyone who has a hunger and thirst for righteousness would truly be blessed! Merciful? I’ve seen God produce mercy in me. What did I just say? God produced mercy in me? I know I didn’t produce it myself. There it is again; something God did in me! Pure in heart? Again, God has purified my heart over the years that I have walked with him. Blessed are the peacemakers. (Notice it doesn’t say “peacekeepers.”) Not just anyone can be a peacemaker. He or she must be thrust into a situation in which peace must be made. Again, a God thing. And persecution; I can’t bring about persecution. God must put me into a situation in which I might be persecuted.

This kind of thinking seems to continue in this introductory passage to the Sermon on the Mount. No commands. Simple statements. “You ARE the salt of the earth.” He doesn’t say, “Be sure to BECOME the salt of the earth.” Same thing with “you ARE the light of the world.”

Then comes the closest thing to a command we have so far, “Let your light shine before men.” (Matthew 5:16) But then comes the rest of the verse, the part we often neglect to consider. Once again I learn that it is not about me; it’s all about God. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and PRAISE YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.” So THAT’S what the Beatitudes are really all about! God produces these things in us so he can get the glory! Amen!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


I often find myself in theological discussions. I suppose that is expected of pastors. The thing that comes to my attention most often is the extremely high view people have of themselves. Not necessarily of themselves personally; but a high view of humankind in general. It is as if everything God does is for humans! Humans seem to be the center of God’s attention. It’s all about humans! And this is precisely why so many people have a hard time accepting a lot of what is said in the Bible about the sovereignty of God and his sovereignty over salvation. What we need is a more biblical view of humankind. I ran across a couple of examples this evening.

After the flood, Noah made a sacrifice to God. Genesis 8:21 says, The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” The first thing I notice is that there is no such thing as an “innocent” child. Every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. It says EVERY inclination. And it was because of human beings that God destroyed the earth. Nevertheless, God says he will never again curse the ground or destroy all living creatures. Interesting that he mentions the animals. Almost seems like he elevates their importance. He’ll never again destroy all animals because of the wickedness of human beings. Yes, animal life was destroyed because of the sin of humans and God will never do that to the animals again. Doesn’t seem so much like humans are as important as they tend to think they are!

How great are humans? God has to put a fear and dread into the wild animals so they won’t destroy the humans. Genesis 9:2, The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.

Finally, did you ever notice the covenant God makes after the flood? The one where he promises never to destroy the earth through flood again? The rainbow covenant? With whom did he make that covenant? “With mankind!” we answer. What does Genesis say? Genesis 9:9 I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. We’re wrong again! God made his covenant with man and with every living creature on the earth! God made a covenant with animals? Could animals be important to God? Should animals be a little more important to us? It seems that God considers them important enough to make a covenant with them.

And we thought this was all about us!

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Genesis 7:15, 16 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the LORD shut him in.

God was grieved that he had made man on the earth. Man’s wickedness had grown to such an extent that “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5) So God’s heart was filled with pain and he determined to wipe mankind from the face of the earth.

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. God chose to spare Noah. God decided to pour out grace on Noah and his family while he was pouring out destruction on the rest of mankind. It’s not about Noah. It’s about God. Do we think Noah did something to merit his deliverance? Do we think God was unjust to destroy all the men, women, and children on the face of the earth? Do we dare pass judgment on God? It’s all about God and he is sovereign and free to do as he sees fit! We judge with human judgment and our judgment is corrupted by sin. God alone judges justly.

So God told Noah to build an ark. Noah labored over the massive structure for many, many years. God could have just spoken an ark into existence but he didn’t. He made Noah build it. God brought all the animals to Noah and the animals entered the ark. But God didn’t bring an ark to Noah. Noah had to build it. Why? Noah was participating in the plan of God even though he couldn’t possibly see what his role was. Noah was acting in faith. Noah was being obedient. It is amazing how God chooses to use men to do his will!

But finally, when the rains came, Noah was once again at the mercy of God. He could not close up the ark by himself. God would have to show grace and mercy once again. If God did not intervene, the floodwaters would fill up the ark and all would perish. Even after all the work of Noah, he could not save himself! So God shut Noah up in the ark. Noah built it but Noah couldn’t save himself. This is an act of God’s grace.

No matter how hard I work I cannot save myself. I can do everything God commands me to do and in the end I am saved by God’s grace alone! Nothing I do contributes to my salvation. Sola gratia!

Friday, January 02, 2009


Genesis 1:27, 28 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Man is created in the image of God. He created mankind with gender, male and female. Both men and women are created in the image of God so we know that it is not male only that is created in the image of God.

God blessed the man and the woman and gave them their purpose in life. They were to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” This alone tells me that God did not intend for men to have sex with men or women to have sex with women. God would be glorified by human reproduction and homosexuality cannot reproduce. Homosexuality is rebellion against the purpose for which God created humankind whether or not the participants are conscious of it or not. Homosexuality is not in the image of God!

Adam and Eve were told to “increase in number” and “fill the earth.” Did they do that? I would guess they did. Their sin against God is recorded as eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not failing to increase in number and fill the earth. So I suspect they were obedient and multiplied prodigiously. Eve would not have suffered the ill effects of childbirth after childbirth because the she was not aging and pain in childbirth did not come until the curse after the fall. This would easily answer the question we frequently asked in high school, “Where did the sons of Adam find their wives?” Also the question, “Who was Cain afraid would kill him?” We have no idea how long Adam and Eve lived obediently in the Garden before the fall. It could have been thousands of “earth years.” They could have produced many, many score of children who would also be able to reproduce equally rapidly. I believe Adam and Eve did a great deal to fulfill God’s command to “fill the earth.”