Is your testimony brighter than your life?
Matthew 21: He answered, “Sure, glad to.” But he never went.
Jesus tells us the story of two sons. Both are given the same directions from their father. The first son turns his father down. Then, thinking better of it, does what his father asked. The second son immediately says he’ll obey but then never gets around to it. The key question is “Which of the two sons did what the father asked?” Everyone knows the answer. I fear that people raised in church are in danger of being “easy yes” folks. The very fact that they know what it’s all about, that they know the answers to all the Sunday School questions, and can slip into “church mode” without a thought places them, above others, in danger of playing the role of the second son. For others, there has to be a conscious admission that their first response to God was the wrong one. They have to make a radical change in their lives. However, for “insiders” the seeming “yes” on the surface of their lives blurs spiritual reality for them. I, for one, don’t want to live my life merely giving lip service to God. I want to be committed to him and living in obedience to him at every level. I’d rather that my life shine brighter than my testimony than have things the other way around.
Take Away: Living the Christian life requires more than mere lip service.
My favorite salvation story
Micah 6: Keep all God’s salvation stories fresh and present.
God has been good to them, delivering them from oppression and out of the hand of their enemies. Through the years, though, they’ve let those deliverance stories get dusty and worn. Micah wants them to keep those stories of salvation in the forefront of their thinking; to remember that God has never done them wrong, and, instead, has blessed them again and again. He wants them to clean the dust off and take a fresh look at those stories of deliverance. I need this. I’ve been a Christian a long time and, honestly, my story isn’t an especially thrilling one. Still, I need to be thrilled with it. What the Lord did for me and in me ought to be my favorite story of God’s grace. Micah says I need to revisit it often and keep it fresh in my mind and heart. If I forget where I came from I might never make it to where I’m going.
Take Away: What God did for me and in me ought to be my favorite story of his grace.
Daniel 4: He knows how to turn a proud person into a humble man or woman.
In his mercy the Lord deals with Nebuchadnezzar in a direct and attention getting way. Here’s a man driven by arrogance and drunk with power. The Lord strips all that away from him and sends him out into the wilderness for seven years. That sounds like a long time, but its short compared to the 40 years it takes the Israelites to learn a similar lesson. We don’t know what’s happening inside of Nebuchadnezzar during those long years of insanity, but somehow God is dealing with him and the end result is filled with redemption. In fact, one of the strongest examples of this is the fact that Nebuchadnezzar is allowed to write his own testimony, found here. His words are filled with humble praise and thanksgiving to God. This is a case of strong discipline yielding desirable results. Nebuchadnezzar is made into a new man by the grace of God. Know what? That’s just the kind of stuff God does. The focus here shouldn’t be on seven years of mental illness. The central issue here is that God takes messed up lives and makes them new. The “grass diet” was just the method. The made-new life is the result. Nebuchadnezzar isn’t complaining about the diet, but he certainly thanks the Lord for what he did for him.
Take Away: The Lord takes messed up lives and makes them new.
Speaking God’s Word
Jeremiah 1: I’ve just put my words in your mouth.
Jeremiah isn’t being falsely humble when he hesitates to accept the role of prophet. Frankly, he doesn’t think he’s up to it. After all, what will he say? He feels inadequate for the task. The Lord understands. In fact, the Lord probably agrees that Jeremiah’s an unlikely prophet. However, the Lord isn’t necessarily looking for the most capable person anyway. For reasons known only to him, the Lord chose an unlikely person for a very important job. To encourage Jeremiah, the Lord puts words in his mouth, a demonstration of how it will work. Today, I very much identify with Jeremiah. As a young person I felt God’s call on my life. Growing up in a small, wonderfully supportive church I marched forward with the confidence of youth. It was during my first year in college that I realized I’m, at best, a very average person. One day, as I faced my inadequacies the Lord took mercy on me as he did for Jeremiah in this passage. As I read Matthew 10 these words became a personal promise to me: “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” It seemed to me that the Lord said to me, “If I could give words to the disciples even when they were being abused, I can help you as a preacher to say things I want you to say.” That day was a “Jeremiah 1” day for me. It wasn’t that I now understood all there was to know, but I grasped this promise of God to me. If he called me to the ministry, he would help me do ministry. Almost 40 years later, I can report that the Lord has been faithful to keep that promise.
Take Away: If the Lord calls you to it he will help you do it.
Better for our kids than Disneyland
Psalm 48: Then you can tell the next generation.
This Psalm is one in praise of the City of God, Jerusalem. This, I’m told, is a place where worship abounds, and with good reason. Within its walls is the place of worship, the dwelling place of God on earth. This city is protected by the Lord even when powerful enemies come to destroy it. Every time the song writer looks at Jerusalem, Zion, he’s overwhelmed with the goodness of God. Then he suggests a specific course of action. He says people ought to carefully measure the city and count its towers. He wants them to make careful record of everything about this City of God. Why? So they can recount it all to their children. In other words, it isn’t enough for them to simply rejoice in the here and now in all God has done for them; they’re to record it all and then tell their children and grandchildren about it. We Christians have our own stories of God’s grace in our lives and churches, our families and our nation. It’s good for us to rejoice when God delivers us from some near disaster. However, we need to be more on purpose in passing our stories along. Surely with all the technology available I can make a video or record a mp3 in which I tell the whole story, detail by detail. Of course, beyond that, we need to have such conversations with our kids. For instance maybe on vacation we can make a stop at the church where we attended as children and, there, in the sanctuary, tell our kids about what happened and why. It may not be the same as Disneyland, and it doesn’t have to replace such a destination, but it just might have a greater impact on our kids than we realize.
Take Away: Tell your story to your kids, and tell it often.
Come and see for yourself
2 Chronicles 9: The Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s reputation.
As an example of how God blesses Solomon the writer tells us about the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Israel. Her identity in history is somewhat a mystery, although most believe she’s a ruler of what is now Yemen or Ethiopia. The point of Scripture is that God keeps his word to Solomon and blesses him in every way. In fact, God blesses him to the point that he becomes well known outside his own region and that the stories told about him are so fantastic that this national leader comes to see for herself. We’re told that she isn’t disappointed. The purpose here isn’t so much to elevate Solomon as it is to proclaim God’s faithfulness to him. Through this blessing, God’s Name is made known even in far off Sheba (wherever that actually is.) When God’s people are faithful to him he can lift them to the point that even those outside the direct influence of the Lord will take notice and come to see for themselves. At least that’s our Lord’s take on the story. In Matthew 12 he says that this heathen woman came from a great distance to meet Solomon and that her act will judge those who have every opportunity and reason to come into the presence of the very Son of God but don’t make the effort. A result of God’s blessing is that it gets the attention of the world.
Take Away: The lives of the people of the Lord are a testimony to the greatness of God.
Generation to generation
Judges 2: Eventually that entire generation died…another generation grew up that didn’t know anything of God….
This is a pitiful situation. How foolish! Here are parents who ate manna, had ever-wear shoes, crossed through the Jordan on dry ground, saw the walls of Jericho fall, and won an amazing dominance in Canaan. Somehow, those same parents failed to instill the knowledge of God in their children. What’s wrong with these people? Years earlier Moses warned them that it would be easy to enjoy their success and forget God. Now, a generation has passed and the nightmare scenario he described has come true. Apparently, it’s easier to fail to pass faith from one generation to the next than we might think. My experience with God might be vivid to me but can mean almost nothing to my children. I must assume nothing and take nothing for granted. If those I love are to know God I must be resolutely intentional in instilling that knowledge in their lives. God help us to reach our children.
Take Away: How can I best pass my faith on to those who are dearest to me?
Make a pile of stones
Joshua 4: In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, “What are these stones doing here?” tell your children this: “Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.”
Out in the middle of the Jordan River, way down at the bottom, there are stones. That’s what the people of Israel discover as God opens the way through the river. As the thousands cross over, twelve men are given the assignment of each taking one of those stones and piling them on the bank of the river as a memorial of this momentous event. Then, in future generations, when children ask about the pile of stones, the story will be told. It is the story of God’s deliverance; of how God makes a way when there is no way. It’s a story of God’s grace, patience, and mercy. It’s the story of his unfailing love. Here’s a tip right from God’s Word: build some memorials in your life. Take the kids to the old church, point to the place at the altar and tell them what happened there. Read to them the scripture that got your attention and tell them why. Show them your pile of stones from the Jordan riverbed and in so doing pass your story along to the next generation. Someday, your great-grandchildren, who never met you, will hear their grandpa talk about how his dad came to Christ. Thus, God’s grace will minister through your life from beyond your years on earth.
Take Away: Tell your story to those who are the most precious to you.
Putting Jesus on display
1Peter 2: Treat everyone with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.
Being a Christian in a non-Christian society has its challenges. Sometimes Christians are viewed with suspicion and other times with contempt. Peter says it’s up to us to correct the mistaken views of our faith. We do that, not by standing up for our rights or debating to prove our point or by withdrawing from society. Instead, we take our spiritual lives out to the streets and let our faith be seen by anyone who cares to look. We treat people well, granting them dignity no matter what their station in life. We treat one another well, refusing to sink to petty infighting over minor differences of opinion. We live as people who reverence God, unashamedly putting our high regard for the Lord on display. Finally, we conduct ourselves as good citizens, not using our citizenship of heaven as an excuse for neglecting our duties as citizens of the country in which we live. The result is that people who don’t know much about our religion will come to respect us. That, in turn, will open the door for us to have a real influence for Jesus. We don’t try to win people by beating them over their heads with our Bibles. Rather, we win them by putting the Jesus we serve on display in our lives every day and in every situation.
Take Away: People are drawn to lives that reflect the real Jesus.