Monday Psalm for January 31, 2011

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
   How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul
   and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him,"
   lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
   my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
   because he has dealt bountifully with me.” – Psalm 13 (ESV)

We all go through painful seasons in life where it feels like God has abandoned us.  Prayers seem to fall on deaf ears.  Adversity doesn’t lift.  Pain doesn’t ease.  Sorrow, frustration, mourning, confusion, uncertainty, anger… they are constant companions. 

Our lives will all be punctuated with difficult moments.  But, take heart.  God never leaves His children.  No matter what you are facing, He is always there.  He will see you through the storms in your life.  Sometimes it is difficult to see or hear God when the winds are howling and the storm raging. 

But notice the words David uses at the end of this psalm: trusted, steadfast, rejoice, salvation, sing, dealt bountifully.  Take a moment to look back at times of trouble you have already been through.  Hindsight is 20/20.  If you think about it, you will find times when God led you through – or pulled you out.  He did it before.  He’ll do it again.

Remember what Paul wrote:  Rejoice!  Rejoice at all times, despite circumstances, for the Lord is near (Philippians 4:4-5).  Trust God and find your joy in Him.  And hang in there.

If you know someone who would be blessed by this message, please feel free to share this with them.  You can find this (and other encouraging articles) on the web at:

You Have A Job To Do, Part 1: Uh-Oh, Panthera Leo Ahead (or the Importance of Being Diligent in Vigilance)

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.  Do everything in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NIV)

It may be presumptuous of me to think anyone cares, but I’m going to share with you – or at least attempt to share – my heart for ministry.  Well… some small part of it.  If I really got into the subject and wrote as deeply as I’d like, you’d be reading a book, not a blog.  And since I find brevity too often to be my enemy, this will be a bit of a struggle. (As you can see, I’m wrestling with the fine art of getting to the point at this very moment.)  So… here we go.

I believe, quite strongly, that I have a job to do.  A God-given task.  And the same goes for you.  Each of us is wired differently – unique gifts, talents, abilities, desires, dreams… I feel my job is, in part, to encourage believers to dare to live out the plan God has placed within them and before them. 

Living the life God plans for us requires four elements (which Paul spells out in the verse at the top of this post):

Be on your guard

In the original text, this phrase is expressed as one Greek word: γρηγορέω (grēgoreō).  It is a warning sign, an exhortation to be diligent in vigilance.  Remember, as Peter so aptly warns us, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV). 

If you are my age, you probably remember watching Wild Kingdom.  While Marlin Perkins was sitting in his wood paneled den, poor Jim Fowler was somewhere in the African jungle.  Marlin would describe the action taking place, explaining what Jim was doing out there in the bush and why.  And then, all of a sudden, you’d hear Marlin say (in an overly calm voice), “Uh-oh, looks like Jim unknowingly stepped on that lion’s tale.  Look at the vice-like jaws on that Panthera leo.  Those teeth can tear a gazelle into lunchmeat in a matter of minutes.  Good thing Jim has life insurance with Mutual of Omaha.”  (Cut to commercial.)

For what it’s worth, Jim never got torn limb from limb on national television.  Why?  He was diligent in vigilance.  He was careful, watchful, mindful of what was going on around.  (Plus, I’ll bet his senses perked and the hair on the back of his neck reflexively stood straight up every time he heard Marlin say, “Uh-oh…”)  Understand this: we have an enemy.  And when we’re doing nothing with our lives, we’re no threat.  But, as soon as we begin doing something good or noble or living out the plan of God for our lives, we become a threat to our enemy, and, thus, a target. 

Know the warning signs.  Understand the danger ahead.  Maybe the problem is pride, or fear, or some temptation that weakens us.  Be very careful not to let your work be undermined.  Don’t give the enemy a toe-hold.  Be alert, be ready, be wise, be on your guard. 

How do we do this?  First – and you will find I always prescribe this first – pray and stay.  Spend time with God every day, praying and staying in His Word.  Have a reading plan, have a notebook.  Don’t just toss out a quick “’Mornin’ Lord, gee thanks, gotta go!”  Take the time – invest the time – to prayerfully seek Him. 

Second, have an accountability partner.  Find someone you trust, someone you can talk to, and make a point of having regular, weekly (at the very least) contact.  Honest contact.  Let them know where your weak points are, and help them with theirs.  Let them be your Marlin Perkins. 

Third, be determined.  Set your mind on doing God’s work God’s way.  Let God’s Word be the standard for your life.  See sin for what it is and avoid it like the plague.  Let God rule your life, as opposed to letting circumstances call the shots.  Be wise.  Be mindful.  Be prayerful.  And when you hear that voice say, “Uh-oh,” be prepared.

Next time: Maintaining a Firm Stance in Our Faith

Stop Running Away

”Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.” – Psalm 139:7-12 (NIV)

My brother and I spent most of our childhood summer days at our grandparents’ farm.  We had a lot of fun, playing in the woods, feeding the chickens and cows… and getting into fights.  And if we messed up, we knew what the consequences would be.  Grandpa had a bad heart, so he was no real threat.  And while our grandma ran a tight ship and put up with no nonsense, we knew where the real punishment would come from.


Oh no… wait until your father gets home.  Oh man…

I remember the feeling.  The trembling nerves, the clenched knot in the pit of the stomach.  The trouble was gonna hit the fan.  We were in for it.  We had definitely had it.  We had sealed our fate.  If tomorrow came for us, we would thank God for sparing us from the horrific punishment that surely faced us when Dad came home.

But, here’s the deal.  We survived every time.  In our minds, Dad was going to get us for whatever we had done.  In fact, the fear of punishment was far greater than anything Dad ever meted out.  He loved us.  He wasn’t abusive or anything.  It was just that, whatever we had done wrong, the fear of punishment made the consequences seem so awful…

Maybe today you are running from your Father – your Heavenly Father.  Maybe you have sinned and think you are beyond saving.  Maybe you are dealing with feelings of shame that keep you from believing you can go to God.  Maybe the pain of guilt is so acute that you cannot imagine the punishment you think is awaiting you.

Listen to me… God is not out to get you.  You are not “in for it.”  God wants you to come to Him.  He wants to forgive you, to restore you.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV).  Today – right this second – stop running from God.  He loves you.  God loves you. 

God loves you.


Get that in your soul.  Read those words over and over until they soak in and become real to you.

Know this: no matter what you have done, you are not going to surprise God.  He is not going to hear your confession, gulp and exclaim, “You did WHAT??!!”  Guess what: God already knows.  Confessing isn’t revealing anything to God.  Confession causes us to be aware of our sin.  It is one think to know when we mess up.  It is another to hear the words come out of our mouths in our own voice. 

You cannot outrun the Lord.  Turn around, run to God, confess your sins and ask for forgiveness.  And receive the forgiveness and restoration of your soul by faith in God through Jesus Christ.  Remember, when God forgives, He truly – thoroughly – forgives.  There is no memory of your sin.  You are cleansed – your record expunged. 

So… today – now – please…. stop running away.  You don’t need to avoid the Lord.  Go to Him.  Ask Him for forgiveness.  Live free of guilt and shame.  Live free in God!!  He is faithful, and He loves you. 

By Faith, Part 1

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” – Romans 1:17 (NIV)

John Lennon once sang, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”  Now, if you are reading this blog, my guess is you probably do not agree with that assessment.  (For the record, I do not believe the ex-Beatle’s theological views were correct.)

Still, I wonder how many people would agree with this lyric – at least in part.  How many believe in a concept of deity as opposed to the God of the Bible?  Now… considering the topic at hand, I am quite mindful of the depths and prayerful that I do not stumble over a cliff here.  If one wants to dig deeply from the theological mine, I would suggest reading Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology or Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology. Both are incredible volumes (in my humble opinion), and both very heavy – in content and physical weight.

Many of us try to figure God out.  We come up with ideas about who He is that make sense to our way of thinking.  But, if we think it through, Christianity is very illogical.  Consider this:  God – the Immense, Immeasurable Creator of the Universe – took the form of a human (Jesus Christ, God Incarnate).  Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a perfectly pure and sinless life and died the horrific death of a common criminal.  On the third day following His crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead, appeared to hundreds of witnesses and, forty days later, ascended into heaven. 

This is not an allegory.  This is no morality tale, no mere story meant to teach us a lesson.  It is a historical event.  It happened.  It is real. 

And, from a human standpoint, it is illogical.

Frankly, I’m thankful that it is illogical.  And you should be, too.  I would be greatly disappointed to discover that the God I worship and serve is no smarter than a mere human and thus bound by our logic.  The idea of a God Whose cognitive abilities are no better than mine is disappointing.  Depressing.  Detrimental to faith.

Faith is the bedrock of the whole thing.  The simple fact of the matter is we – as in humanity – do not possess the powers of cognition to fully “get” God.  We come up with so many theories and ideas and this and that to try to explain what God does / did and how and why… We come up with notions and develop theories, when all we need to know is in Scripture, the Bible, the inerrant (in its original autographs) Word of God. 

Prove it?  That’s just the point.  (And, for some, it is a sticky point at that.)  We need to take it on faith.  There is plenty of evidence to weigh if you need some proof for God’s existence or Scripture’s reliability. (Another big heavy book, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell is a great read).  Frankly, you’d be a fool who’d believe anything to buy into a belief system without some good evidence for its legitimacy.  But, no matter how educated one becomes, at some point everyone will run up against the same wall: it is a heart matter.  It is a faith matter.

There is a reason God didn’t provide all the tangible proof that skeptics feel the need to require.  Quite simply, the Christian life is a matter of faith.  It is about relying on God, not our feeble abilities.  It is about believing in God.  It is about believing not simply that Jesus existed.  Even atheists will tell you a man named Jesus Christ lived in the first century AD.  It is about accepting by faith the forgiveness brought by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, on the cross.  It is about accepting the Bible as the Holy (and wholly) Inspired Word of God.  It is about taking God at His Word, accepting salvation by faith.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I believe theology is important.  I believe whole-heartedly that there is no better study for a person to take part in than the study of God and the Bible.  There is no better way to know God.  Indeed, knowing God is impossible without the Bible.  However, any learning about the Lord must be built on a foundation of faith.  The two work together (faith and reason, that is).

God is no concept.  God is not bound by our ideas and isms.  God is God, and we are His creation.  And, if you think about it, isn’t it quite illogical for the creation to exceed its Creator?

Be Still and Know…

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
   I will be exalted in the earth!” – Psalm 46:10 (ESV)

My friend Satish and I were talking today, and he made a comment that is lodged in my head.  Let me paraphrase his observation: You can tell how well one’s quiet time with God is going by how much that person is struggling.  The better the peaceful one-on-one time with the Lord, the stronger and better equipped we are to face the travels and troubles ahead.

It is a truth that Psalm 46 spells out for us.  Verses 1-9 describe a turbulent walk.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” begins the chapter.  From there, we read about churning, foaming waters and crumbling, quaking mountains.  Nations and wars “rage”, kingdoms collapse, and chariots burn.  Through all of this, God is in control, bringing “desolations” on the earth.  Then, abruptly, as the description of chaos reaches crescendo, God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Be still.  Raphah (still) is a Hebrew word that means “relax,” “refrain,” “abandon,” “leave it alone.”  In other words, let go.  Whatever battle is raging in your life, let it go.  Relax – be still – and recognize God for Who He is.  He is the conqueror of all.  He is the exalted one, over all – everything – there is nothing outside of His reign! 

Grab your Bible, take a minute and read Psalm 46.  Notice something: verse 11 is a repeat of verse 7:

‘”The LORD of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our fortress.

God is our ever-present fortress.  This is really important to understand, so much so that the psalmist repeats the statement.  When you read a statement repeated in Scripture, it is for emphasis.  It means a very important message is being conveyed.  Not only that, both times the statement ends with the word selah.  Whenever you see selah in Scripture, stop.  The word means “pause and ponder this.”  Consider the message – deeply.  Meditate on it. 

When I meditate Psalm 46, here is how it boils down: God is God and I am not.  All the thoughts and ideas and concerns and things that I focus on need to be stripped away, for they all melt away in the presence of our Wonderful, Wondrous God.  God is, and I am His.  He (not my limited insights or comprehensions) defines reality.  He is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.  He is also personal and His Holy Spirit indwells me.  God will bring whole nations to their knees.  Whatever I bring before Him is small potatoes – no problem for God.

As we begin our descent into another busy week, I want to encourage – urge – each of you to take some time (preferably first thing in the morning) and be still before the Lord.  Set aside the busyness, the stress, the troubles.  Relax.  Let go.  And spend time with the Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth, Our Heavenly Father.  Recognize Him for Who He is.  And realize that He is with us – always.  Talk with Our Father, spend time prayerfully in His Word.  Be still, and know that He is God – the Almighty Who loves you beyond comprehension.

Have a blessed week!

Gnawing on that Stinky Dog Bone

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. “ – Philippians 4:7 (NIV)

It is disgusting.  The thing is yellowed and tooth marked.  It reeks of dog breath because she’s spit it out and picked it back up so many times.  Yet, no matter how gross and smelly and slobber-laden, our puppy keeps going back to that nasty chew bone.  And she keeps gnawing it.  And gnawing it.  Really turns my stomach.

For the life of me, I cannot see the attraction of that sticky, stinky dog bone.  But then I think of the stinky dog bones I tend to return to.  We all have them.  For some, it is a past sin they cannot forgive themselves for.  Perhaps a past hurt, a friend or loved one who betrayed, a divorced that scarred, a slight that pierced.  Maybe it was an insult hurled or painful rejection.  Maybe it is simply the feeling of not measuring up to expectations, or an anxiety that just won’t go away. 

Today, I want to ask you – and I ask myself as well – when are you going to quit gnawing on that stinky dog bone?  We just go back out of habit.  We keep returning to the issue and mulling it over in our minds, as if figuring it out will bring relief.  It won’t.  It’ll just get nastier.  It’ll just get stinkier.

The time has come to give up the anxiousness.  Whatever the issue is, give it to God.  Find the joy that comes from knowing Him.  Understand that the peace Christ brings is accepted by faith, not logic.  The reason: to our minds, the love, peace, mercy and grace of Jesus are illogical.  How could someone so perfect possibly love someone so flawed?  He does.

He loves you.

Let today be the day you bury that nasty old dog bone out back.  And don’t go digging it up later.

Shine Your Light

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

Over the years, I have heard stories of pastors and ministers who regularly visit bars and taverns as part of their ministry. There is one story in particular that has stuck with me. This pastor used to frequent a local drinking establishment on a regular basis as part of his ministry. He abstained from alcohol, imbibing only in sodas.

But this pastor went for one reason: to minister to a young woman who frequented there. She was a lonely person who came to the bar for camaraderie, a sense of belonging, a way to fill the void she felt in her life. On her birthday, the pastor threw a party there in her honor. She cried. Nobody else had cared. No one had ever been so kind or shown her such love.

There are those who would hear of a pastor frequenting a bar and immediately begin throwing out negative judgments. But the truth of the matter is, Jesus didn’t exactly hang out with the up-and-coming crowd in Galilee. When He did dine at the home of a Pharisee leader, Jesus wasn’t exactly politically correct in what He said or did (read Luke 14:1-24). But Jesus’ motives were (obviously) far more pure than those of the Pharisees. It was not “pc” to heal a man on the Sabbath. It was even worse to do it in a Jewish ruler’s home.

But Jesus wasn’t merely rebelling against the rules and regs of the religious elite. He was revealing the truth of God through his dinner visit. He was showing that what we do is not nearly as important as why. Here sits Jesus, in the home of a powerful man, surrounded by equally status-rich fellow guests, talking to them about humility, rebuking them to sit not by the guest of honor, but “in the lowest place,” so that others may honor you (as opposed to honoring one’s self). He tells them, when they throw a dinner party, don’t invite the people who will repay you or make you look good. “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14, ESV).

The point is simply this: motive is everything. “Why” trumps “what.” There is no human being who is disqualified to receive the love of God, regardless of their station in life or how checkered their past. Nobody is beyond God’s reach.

We are the light of the world. Light is most effective when it shines in dark places. Where can you light some darkness today?

Hang in There!

It took years.  A lot of years.  I wish I could tell you we were patient and joyful throughout that long period.  The ride was an emotional rollercoaster with more than its fair share of hopes dashed, plans scuttled and doubts expressed.  We almost gave up.  The pain and the stress of it all were more than we could bear.

Then the day finally came.  We prepared her bedroom, slathering on layers of pink paint and hanging dresses in the closet.  Her name was Lily.

Then we got matched.  Surprise!  Our daughter was a boy.  (Pink is easier to paint over than it seems.)

Austin is the perfect match for us, and we for him.  It is as if we share DNA.  He is our son.  It all happened at just the right time, in God’s time.  Had it been any other way, things could have been a disaster.  We couldn’t see it at the time.  All we could see was our heart for a child, the desire to be parents and the anguish of disappointment.

I’m reminded of something David wrote, as he was facing warfare and an enemy he thought was overwhelming: “But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”  My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!  Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!” (Psalm 31:14-16, ESV).  David knew a thing or two about waiting in anguish.  The psalms bear this out in amazing clarity.  David was waiting for God.  He was anguished.  He was frightened. 

But he was faithful.  He never gave up on God.  Even more importantly, God never gave up on David.  The faithfulness of our Lord never ceases to amaze me. 

My point is simply this: hang in there.  Whatever you are waiting on God for, hang in there.  What he has for you may not look anything like what you are anticipating.  But His will is infinitely better than ours.  Whatever you are waiting for, look to God.  Keep your focus on Him.  He will not let you down. 

Do you not know?
   Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
   and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
   and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
   and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
   they will walk and not be faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31 (ESV)

Hang in there!  Wait for the Lord.  All good things come from Him in His good time.

Just Call Me Coho

Every fall, the Coho and Chinook salmon travel up the Grand River to spawn. And, every fall, my dad and his best friend Charlie would make the long trek to the Sixth Street Dam in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, to join the throng of anglers, each trying catch of few of these salmon.

Thinking back, I feel a little sorry for the fish. Some made it to the fish ladders and safely beyond the dam to their destination upriver. But, for those who didn’t… as the old saying goes, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Or, rather, hooking them.

All these poor salmon were doing were trying to fulfill their mission in life: the annual migration they were designed to make. Yet here, halfway into their momentous yearly trip, was a huge barrier. And a bunch of fishermen awaiting them, eager to take advantage of their plight. How frustrating it must have been to be one of the salmon that just couldn’t find its way to the ladders.

There are days when we feel like one of those salmon. We’re just trying to do what we feel God has called us to do, trying to get to our destination, trying to find the ladder.

Sometimes we hit a barrier.

Sometimes our attention is turned by the shiny jig and hook.

Sometimes we get reeled in and filleted.

If this is you today, take heart. You aren’t swimming upstream alone. You have a whole school of fish travelling with you. Most importantly, we have God with us. Remember, Jesus promised: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV).

Can’t find the ladder to safety ahd deliverance? You just might be looking in the wrong direction. Look to Jesus and swim easier.

You’re a Mess!

At least that’s what the enemy wants us to think.  The pastor made a good point this past Sunday, and it is worth remembering: The devil hates you.  He is a “thief (who) comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10, NIV).  He is our “enemy (who) prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).  He is a “murderer” and the “father of lies” (John 8:44).

He’s cunning and crafty.  This is why Peter warns us to “humble (ourselves) before God,” rid ourselves of anxiety and “be alert and sober minded” (1 Peter 5:5-8, NIV).  Sin has us in such a mess that we don’t even know what we should pray.  Have you ever felt like that?  That feeling that life is so hard, so rough, so messed up, and you are hurting so bad that you can’t even put your feelings in words. 

But, for believers in Christ, there is great news.  You don’t have to buy into the lie.  You really aren’t a mess anymore.  Life is not defined by circumstances or past mistakes or sins.  And don’t let the devil tell you otherwise.  You are a child of God.  The enemy may want to steal your life, but fear not, because Christ came “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV). 

God’s got your back.  We may not know exactly what God wants us to pray, but that’s ok.  “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:26-28, NIV).

Today, if you’re feeling accused – not the gentle nudge of conviction but the pounding hammer of accusation – don’t buy it.  You are not a mess – you are a blessed child of God.  Cast off the anxiety and embrace God’s promises.  You cannot sin so big, mess up so bad or run so far away that you are out of God’s reach.  If you need to confess your sins to God, then confess.  He knows them anyway, you know.  Confess, repent and move on.  Don’t let Satan steal your joy.  You are loved – even if you feel like a mess.