Servanthood - Psalm 123

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I lift my eyes to you,
O God, enthroned in heaven.
We keep looking to the Lord
our God for his mercy,
just as servants keep their eyes on their master,
as a slave girl watches her
mistress for the slightest signal.

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy,
for we have had our fill of contempt.
We have had more than our fill of the scoffing of the proud
and the contempt of the arrogant.
-Psalm 123

As we progress in our journey towards God, we learn that we are not only God's children, sons and daughters, in Christ; but we are also called to be God's servants.  It is a paradox that we are called to be both.  To grow, we must be sons or daughters, and servants.

The problem is that some Christians do not want to be servants. They are happy to be saved and served, and they follow the words of Psalms 120, 121, and 122.  They get it, about the lessons contained in the the first three steps.  But, the servant part in the fourth step?  No thanks.

Servants have no rights.  They are at the mercy of their master.  Servants, by definition, must be obedient.  They don't try to negotiate when the orders come or question the command. Servants are expected to obey.

Sons or daughters, in Christ, know that they are loved.  At the same time, they are obedient servants.  A son or daughter who refuses servanthood is like a spoiled child with a sense of entitlement.  That person's view of life is out of alignment.  

If you have not embraced servanthood towards God, as a way of living; as in, "what do you do for a living?", then when trouble strikes, in the world, and you call out to God, you call out as a spoiled son or daughter, saying things like, "why is this happening to me", "I didn't sign up for this", and "God seems like a bad father to let this happen to me".  That person becomes bitter at God.

Servants receive mercy, because they have got the right posture. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).  

If you read the red letter words of Jesus, you will see his call for all his followers to live a consecrated life of obedience.  We cannot separate calling him Lord while not obeying his words. And his words are not a new, impossible legalism; but rather a way of life under grace and freedom.  And we can only live it out through him, which requires our cooperative surrender.  

We have to surrender, or living the life will not work.  This means that we have to take up our crosses (Matt. 16:24).  This means that we must take his yoke upon us (Matt. 11:29).  This means that we must press on, in humility (Phil. 3:14).

The steps of ascent so far:
  1. Calling out to God and getting answers to prayer.
  2. Discovering that God guards or watching over us as we come and go.
  3. Developing a personal and communal desire to worship as a lifestyle.
  4. Consecration to a life of servanthood.

_______________________________________
I found the art above here.

Daily Longing To Connect With God - Psalm 122


A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. 
A psalm of David.

I was glad when they said to me, 
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

And now here we are, standing inside your gates, 
O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a well-built city; 
its seamless walls cannot be breached.
All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people
—make their pilgrimage here.
They come to give thanks to the name of the Lord, 
as the law requires of Israel.
Here stand the thrones where judgment is given, 
the thrones of the dynasty of David.

Pray for peace in Jerusalem. 
May all who love this city prosper.
O Jerusalem, 
may there be peace within your walls and prosperity in your palaces.
For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, 
“May you have peace.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, 
I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem.
-Psalm 122 (NLT)

The person up front got on the microphone and spoke with great exuberance, "Isn't it wonderful to be in the house of the Lord this morning!"  It would be more appropriate, to remark, that it's is great to be with God's people or the body of Christ.

We are glad and rejoice to worship God anywhere and at anytime, in our daily journey.  The people are now the temple or house of God on earth.  Each person, made alive in Christ, is a temple or house of God, all the time; and when we gather together, we are many and one house or temple for God to dwell in and among.

The temple referred to in Psalm 122 was destroyed in A.D. 70 and has been in ruins ever since.  In the new covenant, the people of God, collectively (1 Cor. 3:16, Eph. 3:20), and individually (1 Cor. 6:19), are now the temple of God.

Because we are each portable worship temples, we no longer have to wait for and anticipate worship services.  We live a life of worship.  In our praise to God and continual thankfulness towards the Lord, God is transforming our minds to having the mind of Christ (Rom. 12:1-2, 1 Cor 2:16).

The whole Bible, the whole council of God, is valuable.  But, we must find out the new covenant way of worship, that incorporates the old, but goes beyond it, because of the advent of Christ and his pouring out or baptizing us with the Holy Spirit.

In the new covenant, every Christian is charismatic, in that they have the Holy Spirit in their lives.  This is normative and not optional.  We need to not get hung up on worrying that charismatic means, "swinging from chandeliers", as Christians in England would say.  Being charismatic means, that you have and carry God within you.

Being a Christian means that you have Christ or rather that Christ has you.  Christ in you is more than your nationality, your family, your social standing, or your sex (Gal. 3:28).  Your identity is Christ if you are a Christian.  And Christ in you (Col. 1:27) makes you a worshiper, seven days a week.

So, Psalm 122, for the Christian, is about a desire to worship, especially with others: "I rejoiced when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord."  What is different is that we are the temple and we are completely portable.

Most of the rest of Psalm 122, is taken up with words of adoration for the city of Jerusalem.  In Revelation 21:2, John sees Jerusalem as being the bride of Christ, and earlier as the city of God, in Revelation 3:12.  In Galatians 4:25-6, Paul calls out the Jerusalem on earth as being part of the law, and looks up to a heavenly Jerusalem as being a place of freedom.  This is fascinating and worthy of further study.

When we recite Psalm 122, we are expressing a desire to connect with God, and as Christians, we actually connect with God through other Christians, because God is in them and God is in us.  God is reflected in his people and God ministers through them.  Each Christian is a 24/7 house of worship and when we gather, whether in twos or threes, or in hundreds, there is a synergy of all the little houses together, with our big God.

But the purpose when we gather is not to worship or have what we call worship services.  The church in the new testament is a community of the Spirit, where the whole body is activated. Today we have services, where only a few serve the rest; and we have meetings where we don't meet one another.  Jesus said that he came that we might have life (not meetings), and every snap shot on the church in the NT has words like together and one another and each one.

So, do you know what the purpose, in the New Covenant, is for our gathering together?  You might be surprised that it is not to worship nor to hear preaching or teaching from an individual.  The purpose of gathering is mutual edification.
Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.
-1 Cor. 14:26
That pattern of life in the new covenant is one were we come from worshiping and serving God all week, to our gatherings with other saints.  We come from our lives with God, to edify others, bringing stories to share, and bringing blessings.

Worship in the new covenant is now a life, not an event (John  4).  We don't go to a building to find God.  But, we can go to all sorts of buildings or spaces to meet with people, and God is there.  These people all might carry God in them, so in a sense, when you meet with other folks, you meet with Jesus in them. You will find him in the midst of his people.

Let's look at Hebrews 10:24-25:
"Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near."
Here we have some inspired details about the church meeting. The purpose is to encourage one another.  One another means everybody.  Everyone gets to play.

There is singing in the gathering, but is is to one another (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16).

So, looking back at Psalm 122, I believe that the way that Christians practice the same heart that the psalmist expresses, is in a lifestyle of seeking God, of worshiping God, in their lives. The temple of the Lord is now completely portable.  It is a place we can go to every day.

All of our lives is a pilgrimage towards God and towards heaven. If we take Psalm 122 in the context of the 15 steps of Psalms 120-134, it is the third step of the three vision steps:

  1. We get in touch for our need of God become a person of prayer, finding out that God answers.
  2. We become aware that God is our guardian, watching over us as we come and go.
  3. We develop a personal life of worship in praise and thankfulness that transforms us.
The Psalms were the hymnal of the early church, but the temple, as a physical place to go to, is gone in the new covenant.

__________________________________
The painting above is from here
For further study or encouragement:
The Church As MeetinghouseEnter To Serve, and Why We Must Insist On Every-Member Ministry, by David Alan Black
Living Stones and a Spiritual House, About Mutual Edification, The Role of Leaders in Mutual Edification, and Remembering The Importance of Mutual Edification by Alan Knox

The Lord Watches Over Us - Psalm 121

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. (1)

I look up to the mountains—  does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,  who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!  The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.
-Psalm 121 (NLT)

When God saves us, he does not just give us an invisible ticket to heaven and say, "see you at the end of your life."  No.  The whole package of salvation is that God saves us and blesses us.  The Savior is also the Lord, and The Lord is my shepherd (Ps. 23).  God is the, "I will be with you" God (Ps. 91).  He was not just with Moses and Joshua, but he is with every believer.  That's the blessing.

God promises to watch over us, like a parent or a shepherd.  We walk out, coming and going, and God watches over us.  God guards us.  He is our guardian.  Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11).

As we journey towards God and in life, we are being saved.  Salvation is both an event and a process.  Our savior is also the one who watches over us, as we live out our lives.

We who are believers, begin at some point, and continually learn, a lifestyle of being people who continually look up to God.  And we learn that God helps us.  He is our help.  One of the names for the Holy Spirit is the helper (John 14:26).  That is good news.

We first recognize our need of and desire for God, and we call out to God, who answers and intervenes in our lives.  This is what happens when you experience salvation.  Your eyes open to your need for the free gift of salvation in Christ and you thankfully gave yourself to God.  If you have not become a Christian yet, this is what you have to look forward to.

Or, you may be somebody who went through the door of Christ (John 10:9) some time ago, but today, you are in pain or irritated by something in your life, and you are calling out to God, asking for help.  You try prayer and you find out that it works.  God hears your prayers.  You know this, because you see answers.  You are so happy about this that you tell others and encourage them.  That's Psalm 120.

The next thing, is that we become aware that God not only intervenes, but watches over us or guards us as we come and go in life.  But, we are not always aware of God's presence, and that is why the song or prayer of Psalm 121 is important.  It is there to remind us of, and for us to declare our faith in, our God who is Emmanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23).

The vastness of the ocean or the sky, and the imposing majesty of the mountains, in our view, are small reminders of our all-powerful God, who watches over us.  When you are having a bad day, look up and out at the creation.  You can say, "God made all that, and he is guarding me!"  That is encouraging.

Experiencing God (2) being your guardian, like a shepherd, and like a parent, is part of that whole package of salvation.  His saving you and blessing you are interlocked.  You have a birthright as a child of God to pray and be answered and to be watched over, as you come and go in life.  This gives us faith or confidence to walk in the kingdom of God.


______________________________________________________
Footnotes:  
1. My notes of the Songs for Pilgrims set of Psalms 120-34 is here.
2. Experiencing God is the life message and book by Henry Blackaby, that swept through the Evangelical church in the early 1990's.

Holy Discontent, A Pilgrim Begins - Psalm 120

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. (1)
I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer.

Rescue me, O Lord, from liars and from all deceitful people.  O deceptive tongue, what will God do to you?   How will he increase your punishment? You will be pierced with sharp arrows and burned with glowing coals.

How I suffer in far-off Meshech.  It pains me to live in distant Kedar.  I am tired of living among people who hate peace.  I search for peace; but when I speak of peace, they want war!
-Psalm 120 (NLT)

In his book, The Problem With Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote,
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (p.91). 
Pain turns us to God, if we have wisdom to turn.  There is a saying that, "crisis brings process".  In addiction circles, they say that one must, "hit bottom", in order to turn to God and leave the addiction lifestyle.  Addiction is idolatry.  That is what it is.  But what all addicts, whatever their addiction, do is lie.  Lying is the common denominator.

When you lie, you start lying some more to back up the previous lie, and soon everything becomes a lie and you become captive to your own lies.  The lying also becomes sophisticated in that your lies are simply "spin", or leaving out the significant truths.  Liars are politicians who say what their hearers want to hear for self-aggrandizement.

Lying is the way of the world.  Many of us decided at some point that we do not want to be liars.  Our eyes and ears began to open.  We began to wake up or get unplugged.  Jesus is the deliverer that we all need, from a life of lying.  Jesus calls the devil the father of lies (John 8:44).  Jesus reserves his harshest words for people who misrepresent God, calling them children of the devil.

The beginning of pilgrimage towards God is your felt need.  The beginning of the journey is to take your troubles to God.  We see our problem and we cry out.  We want to see God as our deliverer, as the one who rescues or sustains us.

The pain of life is always an opportunity to turn to God and cry out for help.  This is a basic, 101 lesson.  It is foundational.  If we do not develop a lifestyle of turning to God when we have pain, we will not progress in spiritual maturity.

This is part of a, "practicing the presence of God", lifestyle.  When the pain happens, when people deceive you or draw you into a war of words or murderous intents, turn to God.  Cry out to him.  Do not play on that field of bitterness, guile, and pay-back.

The reality for Christians is that we are sojourners or strangers on earth.  We are on our way to heaven and we are strangers here.  But we are participating in God's Kingdom coming, breaking into the earth realm.

Life is always a battle.  We will continuously come into contact with people who are deceived or are trying to deceive us.  We will come into contact with people who want war, when we are all about wanting peace.  We must cry out to God when liars and deceivers distress us.

Don't be stressed out by people, but take it to the Lord in prayer.

Holy discontent is when God allows pain in our lives and we cry out to him to intervene.  God will pound the enemy, teach people a lesson who are devious towards you, and transform you.  God is after a Christlike people who are humble, yet powerful in their spirits.

A starting point, in our lives of walking with God, is the awareness that we need God.  The Christian life is not a life of just knowing about God and fashioning a life of service to God based on that knowledge.  Because a life centered on knowledge about God is a life where I am still in charge.

The Christian life is a life of knowing God.  It is a life of absolute, unqualified surrender to God.  It is a life filled with grace and freedom and obedience to our beloved.  In that life, we cry out to God, when anything troubles or distresses us, causing us pain.

The Christian life is a life of death, burial, and resurrection.  He was born and lived, so that he could die, be entombed, then rise from the dead to save us.  We get to die daily and fellowship with Jesus in his sufferings, and be completely reliant on our Father in heaven also.  We constantly let things go and plant them in the ground to die and our only hope is God bringing life out of death.

We take our troubles and our 'stressors' to God and ask for help.  And God gives us help.  God helps his children.  He comforts us.  He does the change-up.  When rotten things happen, like people lying to you or deceiving you, pray and look for the gift of grace for you.  God has compensation for you.

Our painful circumstances humble our selves and turn us more and more towards God, from whom we receive grace and power to live the life, becoming reflectors of the glory of Christ to a world in need of him.

_____________________________________
Footnote: 
1. My notes of the Songs for Pilgrims set of Psalms 120-34 is here.

God Carries Us Before Birth and Throughout Life

Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all you who remain in Israel.
I have cared for you since you were born.
Yes, I carried you before you were born.
-Isaiah 46:3(NLT)

I am astonished by this verse, that says that God carries his children from conception and throughout life.  In contrast to a life of idolatry, where you are burdened and oppressed by, and must carry the idols; God carries his people.  That is such good news!

God brings us to conception, God brings us to birth, and God carries us through life (Ps. 139:1-18). God is faithful (2 Tim. 2:13).  What he begins, he will bring to fruition or completion (Phil. 1:6).  We are each a creative work from God that has a purpose he has fashioned us for (Eph. 2:10).

If you are discouraged by not being birthed, figuratively, into your purpose, or walking in it; be encouraged that God is faithful and he is carrying you.  If you have some calling in your life, that is not quite here yet, be encouraged that God will make it happen, because he is faithful (1 Thess. 5:24).

God is intensely personal (1), maternal, and affectionate towards us.  If you have a problem with God being figuratively maternal, consider that God is not a man, but The Father.  Man and woman were created in God's image and the maternal traits are from God.  This is how Apostle Paul could say, "Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I'm going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives." (Gal. 4:19)  Paul also said, "We were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children." (1. Thess 2:7)  Paul was the same person who wrote to, "Act like men", which means being alert, standing firm in the faith, being courageous, and strong (1 Cor. 13:16).

The context of Isaiah 46, is that it was written to the people of God who survived a long captivity in Babylon and who were born there, in exile.  For those living under God's punishment or disciplinary action, brought on by their sins or the sins of their older relatives, comes this word.  And the word is, that God says, "Listen up!  I am carrying you and have been carrying you since before you were born."

You might be astonished to know that God has been carrying you.  God has carried the burden of your life.  God says to us, "I am carrying you and I have been carrying you all along."  Your captivity may be a not-ideal situation.  Your exile may be that you are not where God designed you to be.  God knows that and God is carrying you.  

Sit with that thought.

He's got you and he will carry you through.  God is nurturing and caring.  You may have had a rough life.  God says that he has upheld, carried, and sustained you to this day.  He has borne you along throughout your life.  


_______________________________
The artwork above is from Shibu Cherian
Footnotes:
1. Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66, p. 88


Songs of The Steps, Introduction

A Song of Ascents, A Pilgrim Song, One of the Processional Songs, A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.
-Psalms 120-134, introduction note before verse 1


One time, when we visited a new church, and the worship leader began the time of songs, he began strumming his guitar and said, "here we go!"  This man understood that we were about to go on a journey together towards God.  It was not flippant or irreverent, but a true statement.

Psalms 120 to 134 are a group of Psalms that go together that are called, "Songs for pilgrims", or "Songs of ascents", or "Songs of degrees", or "Songs for those journeying to worship".  Each song builds on the previous one, but each are useful standing alone.  There are fifteen of them and they can also be grouped in threes or five triplets.

Summary labels for the five sections, postulated by Titus Chu are:
  1. Vision
  2. Consecration
  3. Enjoyment
  4. Enlargement
  5. Maturity
First, we need to see God.  Then we give ourselves to God.  Then, we receive from God.  Then, we become enlarged in godliness or Christ-likeness.  Finally, we walk in maturity.

To give yourself to God, you must first see him.  And to receive from God and experience enjoyment from him, you must be surrendered to him.  And when these are in place in your life, then you become enlarged, which entails more seeing, more surrender, and more receiving.   Then, we walk in a mature transformed life; that we are always growing in.

Each step is built on the previous ones.  They are sojourner or pilgrim steps.  They are stages of growth or levels of revelation.

Taps: Day is Done, Safely Rest

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
-Eccl. 3:1

I heard the lullaby on the bugle, called "Taps", the other night.  I thought about what season was ending, has ended, or will end soon.  The call of "Taps" means that something has ended or that day is done.

It also made me think about how everything on earth, except for God, comes to an end at some point.  All that we have that does not ever die is our own faith, hope, and love.  We get credit for our faith, hope, and love; when we die and go to heaven.  These are things that you can take with you.  They remain. 

Life is full of seasons.  Seasons come and go.  Seasons are different.  A season shapes us and blesses us.  Another season tests and tries us.  Sometimes, we get to carry something with us from one season to the next one.  Other times, we need to leave behind something from the last season as we head into the new season.  It takes wisdom and discernment to know.  But God gives wisdom to those who pray and ask (James 1:5).

These are the original lyrics that go with "Taps", and they help us understand what the music is trying to say:

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.
I like "God is nigh".  Whatever the death, whatever we are saying goodbye to, remember that God is nigh.  God is close.  God is near.  In that time within the times, of letting go; and letting go may occur in a moment or as a process, but we do need to let go....  In that time, God is near.

God superintends the death process.  When a person crosses over into death, God is there.  And when you grieve a loss, and when you let something go that might be hard to let go of and that might be a person, God is close to you, next to you, at your side supporting you as you let go.

This is good news.  God makes provision for your grief transitions.  Our job is to procure it and to walk in it.  God offers us the help, but we have to take it.  God designs the lessons and offers to tutor us, but we have to do our home work.  Remember that God comforts us in all our suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

Taps does not only signal the end of a life, but the simple end of a day.  God designed days, so that we are active for about 16 hours, with plenty of breaks, followed by being inactive and completely at rest for 8 hours.  It is good to end each day with putting our stuff to bed.  We need to forgive people.  We need to release or let go of our anger.  We need to cast our cares on the Lord, at the end of each day.

For some of us, it is harder to let go.  It is a discipline to release our cares into the hands of God.  As the sun faithfully rises each morning, God faithfully brings us into the new season or new life, when there has been death.  We are called upon to have faith for God to bring the dawning of a new day.

And God's mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22), no matter how bad your suffering is.

There Is A River

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
-Psalm 46:4 (ESV)

No matter what you are facing, there is always the continual flow of God's grace and God's goodness, that we are the benefactors of.  In the midst of the world going upside down, the living water, from God flows to you and me.  The question is, "will we partake of it?"

There is a place on earth where God dwells.  The people who experience God dwelling there are people who celebrate God, who are continually thankful.  We are glad, for the river of life that we have discovered and now live by.

The secret is to find the river in the midst of life and drink from it and live by it.  And God dwells with those who partake of his goodness, who are blessed by his blessings, and give him glory for it.

There is a river.  It's not, "there was a river", or "there will be a river".  There is a river.  It is here now.  The benefit is here, right there.  Life is there (in).  And those who live by the river, find God with them.  This is good news.

But, we have to enter in to the river.  We have to take a drink.  We have to wade in the water.  To find God, we have to look for him.  Perhaps, you have lost the river and are on a journey to find it.  That is fine, because there is a river.  You just have to find it.

The river is a place of comfort.  The river is a place of hope.  The river is life and life-giving.  The river is a place to hide and be strengthened.  The river is where we find God.  The river is Jesus Christ.
________________________
The art above is The River, by Lisa Lancaster

Wilderness School

John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.
-Luke 1:80 (NLT)

Many people have been and are in God's wilderness school right now.  I want to encourage us that God's school is the best school.  Many of the servants of God that are well known names, in the Bible, spent time in the wilderness.

The wilderness can strengthen us and make us better and godly.  Or we can get bitter and die there, without ever coming into what God has for us.  We can let our dry, barren, and seemingly empty time grow us in a good way.

John grew up and was strengthened, for what God destined for him, in the wilderness.  It is interesting that John's dad was a minister, and it would have been easy and natural for John to follow his dad into the ministry as well.  John might have had access to the best teachers in Israel, but instead, he learned on the outside, in austerity.

I believe that John's wilderness training gave him the strength of character that he was going to need.  I believe that he learned, "God first", in the wilderness.

John was at wilderness seminary until his commissioning.  His calling was more dramatic than probably anyone you will ever meet.  Remember the angel from God's throne that came to his dad, before John's birth.  After his birth, his dad had a special experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit and giving a special prophecy about John becoming a prophet.

We can only imagine what his parents said to him, as they raised him; about his call.  But calling and commissioning are two different things.  The English translations fall a little bit short here.  My NLT says, "until he began his public ministry".  That is true, but what is behind the English here is a the Greek word anadeixis that means "the appointment of a person for a specific role".

We know John was called, from before his birth; but his commissioning is different.  According to Larry Perkins, the Greek term here also means, "to lift up and show".  The same word is used in 2 Maccabees 6:8 in the Greek OT, for "restored"; in that God, "watched over and restored him (Jonah, who was in the whale) to his family.  God lifted Jonah up and displayed him, i.e. rescued him.

In Petersen's The Message paraphrase, he says it this way: "He lived out in the desert until the day he made his prophetic debut in Israel."  When we look at Luke 3, we read that, "At this time a message from God came to John son of Zachariah, who was living in the wilderness." (Luke 3:2b, NLT).  We get it here that God triggered John's commissioning.  It is implemented or inaugurated, by God.

There was a time of preparation for John.  Even with having one of the most dramatic callings, his calling was not his commissioning.  The calling tells you what you are uniquely going to do for God, in this life, it is you destiny.  We are all called in to general ministry and being part of cooperating with the kingdom coming.  But, before you are inaugurated, installed into, or before you are commissioned to, or before you special calling or destiny is implemented; there is a time of preparation.

John was called before birth, but his public ministry started after age 30.  Moses was 80, when he started.  It took about 15 years for Paul, from his call on the road to Damascus, until he could use his apostolic gift with great impact.

So, if you are in the wilderness, be encouraged.  Let God teach you.  Don't waste the time and let the wilderness make you better, not bitter.

________________________________
The photo is from BiblePlaces.com
Bibliography:
The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by Howard Marshall
God's Commissioning, by Larry Perkins



Secret, Private, Good Deeds & Reimbursement From God

Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
-Matt. 6:4 (NLT)

The Christian life is a life lived in Christ.  He gives us a new life that we live through him, all week, 24 hours a day.  The gifts we give, the good deeds we do, and the generosity that we live in - all need to be done in secret, privately, off-stage, and outside the spotlight of the attention of others.

If you do your good deeds, your giving, or your acts of righteousness when no one is looking, but God; then God will reward you.  God will return the favor.  God will pay you back.  God will reimburse you.

If you do good deeds on stage, in the spotlight, and in any way that is in the open, saying, "hey, look what I am doing!", then the attention and admiration you get is your payment.  And, you get nothing from God.  If you do good, only in front of others, showing off, with a desire to been seen; Jesus says, "you have your reward."

There is nothing wrong with being seen doing good and we often can not help being seen, but the point is that if you are doing it purposely in front of others, publicly, or 'on stage'; then your reward is from your audience and not from God.

I believe that Jesus knows that we love affirmation and we do want to look good and be seen as people who do good things.  But, he is warning us that when you represent God, that you have to be very careful not to do good for the affirmation and applause of the people.

Something ugly in us grows as a result of doing good, so that we look good.  We need to be people that do good, because it is the right thing to do, directed by the goodness and the righteousness of God.

The ugliness that we don't want is to be a person that does good, but is only motivated by looking good and not by God's righteousness and goodness.  That ugliness is called self-righteousness.  Where that road leads is that we treat people as extensions of ourselves, becoming users; we draw people to ourselves, instead of to God or Christ; and we build monuments to ourselves.

God is real and authentic.  We, who are Christians and disciples are humans, who are in a transformational process where we are trading our selfish life for the Lord Jesus' life.  We are dying daily and working out what he works in.  We are in a process, saying, "be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet".

If you, as a human Christian, are not in that process; then your carnal, un-dead, self-life will be clashing with the life of Christ, on the playing field of your religion.  In your carnality, you will want to show off and get attention and be self-righteous.  It is just natural for humans to do that, outside of Christ.

On the other hand, the disciple pays attention to Jesus' words, when he says, "watch out!", or "be careful!"  He says, "don't fall into the hypocrisy trap, where you do one thing on stage and another thing in private."  He also says to not call attention to your self or show off when you do good.  Because you will grow in the ugly and not have a reward from God.

Don't you want God's rewards?  Jesus is saying that the religious people of his day, preferred the applause of people rather than God's applause.  This is something so strange, because these people would talk about God all the time, but they were not serving God, but serving themselves.  We do not want to be like that.


Receptivity, Response, and Understanding of The Message

That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore.

He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.” Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, “Why do you use parables when you speak to the crowds?”

Jesus replied, “Because they haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but you have. For those who have will receive more and they will have more than enough. But as for those who don’t have, even the little they have will be taken away from them. This is why I speak to the crowds in parables: although they see, they don’t really see; and although they hear, they don’t really hear or understand. What Isaiah prophesied has become completely true for them:

You will hear, to be sure, but never understand;
and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing.
For this people’s senses have become calloused,
and they’ve become hard of hearing,
and they’ve shut their eyes
so that they won’t see with their eyes
or hear with their ears
or understand with their minds,
and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them.
(Isa. 6:9-10)
“Happy are your eyes because they see. Happy are your ears because they hear. I assure you that many prophets and righteous people wanted to see what you see and hear what you hear, but they didn’t.

“Consider then the parable of the farmer. Whenever people hear the word about the kingdom and don’t understand it, the evil one comes and carries off what was planted in their hearts. This is the seed that was sown on the path. As for the seed that was spread on rocky ground, this refers to people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. As for the seed that was spread among thorny plants, this refers to those who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the false appeal of wealth choke the word, and it bears no fruit.

As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce—in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.”
-Matt. 13:1-23 (CEB)


A brief on the parable of the farmer:

The sower and the seeds, with the various types of soil, illustrates that the Kingdom is here now, in our time, being offered to bring people into the age to come. The mystery of the Kingdom, though, is that it can be resisted and rejected. The kingdom is here and coming, but not yet with irresistible power. This is surprising and mysterious.

God's sovereignty and our choice

The parables on the kingdom in Matthew 13, illustrate the mystery of the kingdom and how we always choose how to and how much to respond to it. There is choice and decision to enter in, and then there are ongoing choices as to how we will or will not live out a kingdom centered life.

Mystery

These are about the mystery of the Kingdom. Mystery in the Bible means something that has been kept secret, about God's redemptive purposes, but has now been disclosed. It is a new truth about the kingdom of God that was revealed by Jesus, during his earthly ministry. The mystery is that the kingdom of God is here, but instead of destroying human sovereignty, it attacks the sovereignty of Satan.

The Kingdom will come (in the future) and displace every human power. But, the mystery revealed is that the King has come now, unobtrusively to men and women, as a gift, to be accepted or rejected. Even though the Kingdom greatly impacts those who receive it, others can now ignore it.

What's happening?

The point of this parable is not the farmer, the seeds, nor the ground. The point is, what happens to the seeds. The seeds are the kingdom and the 'what happens to them' is our lives. There is God's sovereign grace on the one hand, and our personal responsibility on the other hand.

Understanding

You understand the kingdom, or you don't understand it. To gain understanding is to welcome the kingdom and become a disciple. There is no 'discipleship lite'. It has to be 'no holds barred' or it does not work. The call to discipleship is a call to leave everything for him.

Hard ground, hard heart, & the enemy

The first scenario in this story is where there is the message that is sent and received, then quickly stolen. We also find out that there is an enemy of the kingdom who works to steal the message out of peoples hearts, before it takes root.

Now, we find out that there is an enemy of God, that does not want us to receive and understand the message of the kingdom. The enemy wants to steal all the seed, but he is most effective, where it is sown on hard ground, that is not receptive to it.

While the enemy and his role is real, we still bear the responsibility for responding or not responding to the kingdom. Hard hearts are like hard ground that a seed lays on top of. We are responsible for the harness of our own hearts that can not or will not receive the kingdom.

The enemy blinds the minds of unbelievers to the gospel of the kingdom, but each unbeliever is responsible for their own hard hearts. Hearts can change and do change, but this story is a snap shot of what happens when a heart is hard to the message.

Unbelieving believers or belonging but not believing

The second scenario is when the message is well received joyfully, but it dies soon. We are not called to only receive the message and it does not work into our lives when we only receive it. We must understand it. Understand means get it. Understand means to buy into, to come under. It means to open your heart wide and let it be transformed.

This is like when the message of the kingdom is given and someone says, "wasn't that good!" You receive it, you think you believe it, but you don't or can't obey it. So you say you believe, but then you don't follow through and prove you believe, by living or doing what the message called you to.

Jesus is not an add-on, an addition, or a makeover to your life. He gets to take over, or it does not work. The kingdom of God demands that you bow and become a subject. There's a load of benefits awaiting you, but first, you must repent, then live in a life of repentance, for the kingdom to take hold and bear fruit in your life.

The way for the kingdom to take root in your life is through your obedience. Jesus said that the person who hears his words and puts them into practice will be like the house built on the rock that can withstand the storms (Matt. 7:24). It is a delusion to think that you can hear his words and know them, even know them so well that you can teach them. You have them memorized. But knowledge is not the key. Obedience is.

"Christian", in name only, but not a disciple (churchianity)

The third scenario is where the worries of life and the appeal of wealth choke out the word of the kingdom. The worries of life are when we put things and others before Jesus. If other concerns crowd out your seeking of and desiring to follow Jesus, then you will not grow as a disciple and the message of the kingdom will not take root in your life and be lost.

The picture here is of stuff in your life that is sucking up all your energy. Disciples don't worry about things like non-believers do. Disciples are not full of themselves and all about 'me'. They are following Jesus and are all about him. If this shift does not occur, it will not and can not work.

It is still true that money does not bring happiness. Money and wealth are seductive forces that promise enjoyment, but can not deliver. Contentment is a whole other thing. Love of money chokes out the life of discipleship. You can not follow money, then follow the Lord. Follow the Lord first, and then money and wealth are a tool and a blessing you are blessed with to bless others.

Following Jesus, no matter what the cost: a fruitful life

The fourth scenario is where the seed or message lands on good ground and sprouts, resulting in spectacular fruit bearing. The heart that gets it is an understanding heart. The idea of understanding is receptivity and action. The person responds to and begins a changed life, as a disciple, as a result of the gospel of the kingdom.

In the first three scenarios, no fruit resulted. But when the heart is receptive and the person obeys and acts on the word and becomes a disciple, the amount of fruit is large. You get a range of high returns, if you invest your life.  But, if you don't get it or think it's good, but don't seek to live it; or if you are not willing to dethrone your self or a captivation by money, then you get nothing.

Our response to the message: Sovereign grace and our responsibility

The key here is what happens to the message, in you, when it gets to you. How will you respond? The understanding person is responsive. They take action, follow Jesus, and change their lives.

This parable explains why people respond in a variety of ways, which were illustrated in the previous two chapters of Matthew. The word goes out and some people are not able to get it or don't want it, for the variety of reasons we listed, and the enemy is active on the field of battle for souls, as well.

But the good news for the person who follows in Jesus steps and brings his message, is that some people will get it. They are receptive and responsive. They understand, and they will become very fruitful.

This message is primarily about first encounters with the message of the kingdom, but it also applies to those inside the church. Why people are unfruitful in their lives in Christ is spelled out here.


My Times Are God's Times

My times are in your hands.
-Psalm 31:15

"I've got you", said the Lord, when you went from one season to another.  You have had failures or dead ends, and the Lord says, "I've got that".

We are anxious about the future and have regrets about the past.  God has both of these, because he has us.  You might be both excited and dumbfounded about your future and that is fine, because God holds the course of your life and has your destiny in mind.

No matter where you have been or what you have done before now, if you are his today, he says, "I've got this".  He has your future, with him and in him.

Your life has had or will have sorrow, grief, and suffering.  You will be rejected, misunderstood, and betrayed.  That is life in Christ.

You will also experience more joy than you can put into words and find the greatest treasure.  You will experience great sorrow and great joy.  There will be times when you experience heavy grief and rich hope at the same time.  That is life in Christ.

I love the words of Soren Kierkegaard, that, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."  Some times or events in your life might not make sense now, but they might make more sense, when you look back upon them, in the future.

When bad things happen, when you come up short, will you get bitter or better?  You might have caused the mess or you might be innocent.  But, are you in his hands?

Is it well with your soul, even though sorrow grief, and loss have ripped through your life?  I want to tell you that God does "matching grants".  He gives you grace, comfort, joy, peace; to name a few examples; when life bestows the opposite of these upon you.

God redeems our past, and is with us, no matter what happens, so we do not fear.  What if this or that negative thing happens?  The answer is that your times are in his hands, so fear not.  There will be trouble, but he overcomes trouble.  He gives provision.

David could say, "my times are in your hands", because he continually committed himself to those hands (Psalm 31:5), and put his trust in the Lord (31:14).  We have to do that too.  Out of the intimate relationship with God, that we have intentionally placed ourselves in, we can say that, "yes, he has got me and my destiny".

That is good news, but it only works if we participate.  And when we function with our lives and times in his hands, he transfigures whatever happens to us.

What if we practice the presence of God in all our times?  What if we see everything that happens to us, even our blunders, as opportunities for God to give us grace?  What if we see misfortune, loss, betrayal, loneliness, injustice, and mis-timed events or delayed blessings as opportunities to go deeper with our King?


A Breach Birth

Later, when it was time for Tamar(1) to give birth, she was carrying twins in her womb!  While she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand, so the midwife grabbed it and tied something scarlet around his hand, observing, “This one came out first.”

As it was, he withdrew his hand, and then his brother was born. Amazed, the midwife(2) cried out loud, “What’s this? A breach birth?” So that boy(3) was named Perez.(4)  Afterwards, his brother came out, and around his hand was the scarlet. So they named him Zerah.(5)
-Gen. 38:29

A breach (or breech) birth is not ideal.  It is when the baby is turned around, in some other way, rather than head-first, in the birth canal.  Things are birthed in our lives, where they or we, get in a breach position.  The 'baby', or what is being birthed, might need to be turned, so that it (more) safely gets born.

I remember an evangelism course, when the teacher told the story of ministering to a man, who had a very long list of reasons why he was too bad to ever become a Christian.  After hearing all this, the first man had an inspired thought to tell the second man that he was like a breach birth, in coming to the Lord, and God wanted him to turn him.

The second man immediately understood the word picture, because he himself was a nurse.  His faith suddenly increased and he connected to God, and was beautifully born again that day.

When we are seeking to see things come forth in our lives, the birthing of them sometimes gets in a breach position.  Things get turned the wrong way and the birthing slows down and can even be dangerous.

When this happens, we need to 'turn the baby'.  You can only find out in prayer, what that means for you or your situation.  God helps things happen and even brings things about and to birth, from scratch; but it is our job to pray.

Sometimes the baby is not 'turnable' and the baby will be born, but in a more difficult fashion.  This happens about 4% of the time, according to the american pregnancy association.  In spiritual things, we are mid-wives, in prayer.

Sometimes there is a flow and things just seem to happen easily.  But at other times, things only happen with special effort on our part (Matt. 17:21, Mark 9:29).  Some things will not come about, unless we go the extra mile in prayer.

Perez was a breach born baby, in scripture, who had an unusual birth, as a twin, with the help of a attentive midwife.  He was born safely and became a forefather of Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph.



_________________________
1. 38:27 Lit. her
2. 38:29 Lit. Amazed, she
3. 38:29 Lit. So he
4. 38:29 The Heb. name Perez means breach
5. 38:30 The Heb. name Zerah means rising

Don't Ask Me Why

Don't wait for answers
Just take your chances
Don't ask me why
-Billy Joel

I believe that God says to us, "don't ask me why", sometimes.  I believe he says that because it is the wrong question.
Asking childlike questions is normal and good.  Curiosity, as an adult, is a wonderful thing as well. 

You may ask, "why is this happening to me?"  Know that you may never know.  Just live your life.  Faith it.  That means trust God.

You also may reach the wrong conclusion, so stop asking and move forward.  We have an enemy that wants to discourage us, who is the liar.  His job is to immobilize you.  He wants you to reach the wrong conclusions about God, yourself, and others.  He wants you deceived.

If the enemy can embitter you against God or against your self, he has succeeded.  When we judge God, by rejecting his gifts to us, we bring ourselves under a curse.  We can stop the blessings in our lives.  So much of walking in the kingdom is about personal responsibility.  It works if you work it and it does not work if you do not do something.  It's that simple.  God's sovereign grace and your response (ability).

Whatever God allows in your life, he also gives you grace for.  There is grace for salvation and more grace for living the life.  When bad things happen to you, you get to discover grace packages that you did not know you had.  

Children ask why, but in a childlike way.  "Why do cats purr?", or "Why did grandpa die?".  Kids ask all the why questions and parents and others get to try to answer them.

People who have a loss in their lives may also ask, "why?"  A diagnosis, a sudden death, a natural disaster, or crime committed on them or a loved one.  We naturally ask, "why?", when these things happen.

I quoted Billy Joel, at the top, but in the Bible, this topic is covered in the book of Job.  Job asked.  His friends answered wrongly.  Take note, dear reader who has a suffering friend.  Don't be like Job's friends who victimized him with their faulty theories.

And God did not answer.  Did you get that?  We, the readers of the book of Job, know about the Devil's role in Job's suffering.  But, Job and his friends and wife, did not know this.  We find out that God allows the Devil to hit people.  But God is still good and God watched over Job and took care of him.

There is a bogus idea that we have that says that bad things happen to bad people, so if something bad happens, you are being punished and must be bad.  There is another angle where they say that bad things happen to good people not because they are bad, but because God is not all powerful.

These are both wrong.  People approached Jesus with the why question about some people who died terrible deaths, in Luke 13.  He does not answer the question, but says to the questioners that they should repent and get right with God, or they too will die.  Jesus says to look at the bigger picture, and get right with God now, so that you are always ready to die.

We need to move away from the "why?" that cannot be answered.  When we are not in a childlike place, nor in a state of shock, and we continue to press on, "why?", we can be in a dangerous posture of accusing God, as in, "why did you let this happen?"

If we do this, we are out of line.  We are judging God.  We are critiquing.  The enemy smiles when you do this.  The opposite spirit of this is to be like Job, and say, "though he slay me, I will yet trust him."

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  Humble your self, you who are tempted to accuse God.

God wants a people who are the opposite of embittered, who have faith (Luke 18:8).  Faith is, at its core, trusting God.  We do things by faith (trusting God).  When they don't work out or we fail or are rejected, we rely on faith (trusting God) all the more.  Then, we exercise some more faith (trusting God) and try something again.  God rewards faith (Heb. 11:6).

I believe that God wants us to try, in faith, and fail, rather than not try. I have heard people I trust tell how they heard the Lord say to them that he wished they had tried things and failed more.  God loves failures.  He loves it when we try to do something, with a good heart, in faith; but fail.

Being stuck on "why?", is not faith.  Some people say, "just get over it", which sounds insensitive.  God does not say that.  He says, "follow me".