OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[July 15]—Livin’ On A. . .Part Eleven: Setting Fire To The Earth

Revelation 8:1-5

            Today we’re finishing up our short study on prayer. We’ve talked about the main aspects (praise, thanksgiving, confession, and petition), when to pray, how to pray, our High Priest who’s our Go-between, etc. But I want to reemphasize something I said at the beginning of this study. The ultimate purpose of this is not to learn more about prayer. It's to help you and encourage you to pray better and more often. To the degree you pray better and more often, I’ve succeeded or failed.
            I feel I need to end this on a note of encouragement. One of my favorite paintings illustrates what I’m trying to get at here. 

Inside the room is a father praying over his son. Nothing special. Happens in millions of homes all over the world. If you were inside that room, you'd hear nothing but whispers and the quiet breathing of a sleeping child. But outside. . . there's a war going on. Something malevolent wants to come in, but there's a guardian over this family, and like Gandalf in front of the Balrog, the Lord's servant is telling the servant of the Enemy "You. . . shall not. . . PASS!!!!" Gives me chills to think about it. 
            The book of Revelation has a lot of purposes, and those who go to it merely (or mostly) to get a schedule on the Apocalypse are really missing out on a lot. More than any other book, it gives us images on how the spiritual realm and the physical realm interact. In fact, they flow together seamlessly. What happens up in heaven immediately affects what happens on the earth.
            But today’s passage is one in which we see something pretty unusual: Things on earth affect what happens in Heaven. An angel takes incense, along with the prayers of God’s people, and offers it up to the Almighty on his throne. Then, at the Lord’s command, the angel “took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” As near as I can tell—and I’m backed up with some good commentators here—the prayers of God’s people instigated the angel’s actions. Heaven sent fire on the earth in response to the prayers of God’s people.
            Now, in the name of theological precision, I have to note here that I thoroughly believe that any true prayer--that God is going to hear--is ultimately instigated by the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to ultimately initiate anything. I don’t want to come up with anything on my own. I want to tap into what my Lord already has planned and jump into the flow of that stream.
            But having said that, prayers are his means of moving the earth, just like he uses other means.
            And that doesn’t negate my point in the slightest. Our prayers affect what happens in the spiritual realm, which will ultimately affect what happens in the physical realm.
            Imagine for a moment a scene like that painting up above. A little girl is praying by her bedside. Being quite young, she struggles with the right words. Her theology might not be completely on the money. Her grammar leaves a lot to be desired. To the naked eye, there’s not a lot going on here, just a little girl mumbling quietly. A fully grown man would seem to be a lot more powerful than anything going on with the little girl. There are countless things in the world of men, such as the meetings of presidents and kings, which would be much more significant, at least to the naked eye.
            But that’s not what’s happening behind the scenes. Angels stand in awe of the Spirit’s work as he guides her prayers from the inside-out and she struggles with the right words. The prayers are brought up to the Savior, where he takes them, makes them acceptable, and presents them before the Father. Heaven is moved, and earth is shaken.
            Your prayers might not seem like much. Maybe you’ve been praying for the same thing for years, perhaps for the salvation of a loved one. You haven’t seen anything happening. Assuming that there’s nothing blocking it (like we talked about a few days ago), then there are things happening. The problem is that you can only see in the physical realm, not the spiritual one. You don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes.
            Please don’t give up, not until you feel the Lord’s leading to do so. That time you make one more effort, that one more prayer might be the one that does what we’re talking about. What you’re sending into the spiritual realm will eventually have an effect that you can see, one way or another. Don’t give up.

Father God, it is an incredible thing to think about what my pitiful, half-selfish, pathetic prayers can do when Jesus takes them. Please give me the patience I need. You have vested me with such responsibility. Please, by your grace, help me to live up to it. 

[July 14]—Livin’ On A. . .Part Ten: Some Thoughts On Perseverance

Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11-12; Matthew 6:5-8

            Here’s a question for you: How long should you pray for something or someone?
            If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you probably know what I’m talking about. Let’s say you have a debilitating illness, or a loved one who doesn’t know Jesus. Or maybe you have a child who’s straying from the godly path you’ve tried to keep them on. Or you’re stuck in a horrible marriage, and it seems to just be getting worse. You’ve prayed, asking God to intervene. And again. And again. And again. And as best as you can tell, nothing has happened.
            You might be familiar with Paul’s thorn in the flesh. No, I don’t know what it specifically was. None of us are sure. But the point is clear: Paul--undoubtedly one of the godliest men of his generation (only God knows if he was closer than Peter or any of the other apostles), the author of a majority of our New Testament--asked the Lord to take it away. Three times. And the Lord told him no. So there’s that.
            But I’d like to draw your attention to a lesser known lesson we can glean from Scripture about prayer. I was tempted to talk about this when we were discussing the prophets, but it really fits better here while we’re on the topic of prayer.
            You know that Jeremiah’s known as the “weeping prophet.” The vast majority of his prophecies were negative: God’s people were sinning egregiously, the Lord was about to judge and punish them, and they could either repent or face destruction. And as his nickname indicates, Jeremiah was far from happy about seeing people suffer and die, even though they would be suffering because they fully deserved it. Inspired by his Lord, he took no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that he turn from his ways and live; he didn’t want anyone to perish, but that everyone come to repentance. There was absolutely not a trace of Schadenfreude in his soul.
            So he prayed for them. He undoubtedly asked that the Lord move their hearts away from sin and towards himself, in his (and Moses’) terms to “circumcise [their] hearts.” Or like Amos, maybe he just asked the Lord to stay his hand of judgment, to not bring on them the judgment they deserved. He tried to stand in the gap between a holy God and a sinful people, representing each one before the other.
            This tells me something about this man. The responses he received from the people ranged all the way from indifference to violent hostility. They laughed at him and threatened him. To our knowledge, after all his preaching and pleading before the people, he successfully gained one convert. His response was to pray for these ungrateful sinners, to plead with God on their behalf.
            And finally, the Lord told him to stop. Not once. Not twice. Three times the Lord specifically ordered his prophet to stop praying for the people of Israel. Apparently they were too far gone, and the Lord would no longer listen to any more pleas on their behalf.
            Now, a huge part of maturity and wisdom is to recognize the danger of extremes and the value of balance. There’s very little in this world which you can’t do too much or too little of. Too much food and you’re overweight. Too little and you starve or at least hurt your health. There’s such a thing as too little and too much sleep, time with friends, time with your spouse, playing, working, etc.
            It's possible to read your Bible too much, I suppose, if it’s to the detriment of other things. If you read it so much that you neglect telling others about Jesus, just to take an extremely hypothetical example.
            And it’s theoretically possible to pray too much for someone. There might come a time, when you’ve prayed for the salvation of someone over and over and over, that that the Lord actually tells you the same thing he told Jeremiah.
            But let me confess something to you, my friend. If that was the greatest fault in my walk with Christ, that I prayed for someone after God told me to quit, I’d be pretty thrilled.
That’s usually not my problem. My problem is the other extreme, that I give up way too easily. I ask him to intervene in someone’s life, don’t see immediate results, and give up.
So how can we tell when enough is enough? What about the reading from the Gospels, where Jesus warns us against “[keeping] on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
Let’s be careful of the context here. Pagans would just keep mumbling things over and over and over, not even thinking about what they were saying. It was a rote prayer; quite frankly, I think there’s a rough equivalent when someone does a certain number of repetitions of the “Lord’s Prayer” or “Hail Mary.” Muslims and others offer rote prayers, and frequently they don’t even know what they’re praying. It might even be in a language they don’t speak.
            No, the example I think of when I think of perseverance on which our Lord smiles is when a child asks something from their parent, and he says “We’ll see.” He doesn’t say “Yes,” or “No.” With our Father, a firm “No” is the end of the discussion. But if he doesn’t say “No,” then I'd take that as an invitation to keep asking.
            Again, I suppose that it’s possible for us to spend too much time pleading for the salvation of others, but it’d be awfully hard to do, and I don’t think that’s my greatest problem.
            I think I can stand to move further in that direction before I run into any type of danger. What about you?

Father God, I spend waaaaaaay too little time before your Throne of Grace, and too much time on things of no eternal significance. Please help reset my priorities. 

[July 12]—Livin’ On A. . .Part Eight: Tawg vs. Off The Cuff

Nehemiah 1; 2:1-5

            The book of Nehemiah is a really great book. To be frank, I sort of avoided it as a kid because there are no public miracles in it like in Exodus or the Gospels. But that was a real lacuna in my Bible study. There’s a lot to take in here.
            And since we’re studying prayer, it’s expected that I’d pull out of it. . . some teachings on prayer! You know me so well!
            Nehemiah’s known for being a great man of God in the Post-Exilic period (after Babylon took everyone into exile). He was a governor, a “secular” public servant—not a priest or prophet. He was a great planner and motivator, and he knew how to handle violent and insidious opposition with incredible skill. But one thing he was which isn’t discussed frequently is how much a man of prayer he was, and there’s one lesson in particular I’d like to glean from his example.
            In the first chapter, he was serving King Artaxerxes of Persia as his “cup bearer,” the one who tested his food and drink in order to prevent poisoning (a position of great trust). Men from Jerusalem came to him and gave him the situation in their homeland. The news was not good: The gates were burned and the wall was in pieces. In other words, there was no order or security for the inhabitants.
            And what did he do? He immediately went to his knees. As we talked about before, he started off with praise and thanksgiving: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” He’s the Lord, the God of heaven.” The word “Lord,” as you can tell from the NIV by the different font, is the covenant Name, his personal name by which his people know him on an intimate level. He’s the One who keeps his covenant of love. That’s important, because I’m about to appeal to that aspect of his nature—the fact that he keeps covenant—in a moment when I come to him with a petition.
            Then he comes to confession, recognizing that his people don’t really deserve anything but judgment. They’ve sinned against him. He gave them instructions thru Moses, and they utterly failed in keeping them.
            Then he comes to the petition: Please remember us and deal with us according to your promises and grace.
            Great pattern for us, don’t you think?
            The passage in the next chapter, however, is what I definitely want to focus on. He's face to face with the king, and the king asks him why his face is sad (which was actually forbidden). Nehemiah says that he “prayed to the God of heaven” and then answered the king. Obviously he didn’t say something like “Pardon me, your majesty, could you hold on for a moment? I need to go up to my room, close the door, and seek God’s wisdom for a few minutes. Don’t worry, this’ll take 5 minutes max.” Um, no. He only had time to think in his head something like “God, please give me wisdom and favor in his eyes.” Just a second, not even noticeable by the king.
            We need both in our prayer life: Time alone with God (which is what TAWG stands for) in a quiet setting, and “off the cuff” prayer as we encounter things during the day. We see an accident in traffic and ask him “Lord, please deal with those people according to your mercy and kindness.” We get called into our boss’s office for some unknown reason, and we pray something like Nehemiah likely prayed.
            But here’s the important thing: Your spontaneous prayer needs to be backed up heavily by your TAWG. Undoubtedly the prayer recorded in chapter one is just a small sampling of what he prayed over the next few days as he agonized over the condition of his beloved people and city. If you want confidence in your spontaneous prayers, you need to be prepared by having spent time with him alone. If something comes up suddenly, you won’t be like the friend who only calls for help in an emergency.
            So how’s your TAWG?

Lord Jesus, this is what I want, what I need right now: A deeper relationship with you. To walk more closely by your side, to hear your voice more clearly. Then when something drops out of the sky, my path to the Throne of Grace will be familiar territory. 

[July 11]—Livin’ On A. . .Part Seven: In The Closet

Matthew 6:5-8

            OK, you knew that I’m not going to talk about homosexuality, right? We’re going to address that topic soon when we get to Romans chapter one.
            No, today we’re going to go over a few basics on private prayer. For anyone reading this who’s already familiar with all this, my apologies. This is undoubtedly the most famous passage on the topic. Let’s look at it, and I’ll share my thoughts on it.
            First and foremost, of course this doesn’t forbid public prayer. Jesus frequently prayed in public. By praying with other believers, we can encourage each other and join together in front of the Throne of Grace. And if you’re praying with someone who A) knows their Bible and knows how to pray its words effectively and B) actually believes that God answers prayer, it can be such a boost to your faith. I’ve been strengthened so many times by the prayers of others as they lift my name up to the Throne, I can’t even begin to count them.
            But today’s passage is a warning. Your public prayer life is only as strong as your private prayer life. My dad used to make fun of people who make a huge show of making long prayers before their meals. He called it “Naming the missionaries,” and he strongly believes that someone who makes such long prayers publicly is probably deficient in their private prayer life. I wouldn’t presume to judge someone by their public prayers, but I would say this: You should spend at least as much time on your knees in your personal “room” as you do in public.
            As our Lord makes clear, if you’re praying in public in order to impress other people, you'd better hope they’re really impressed, because that’s all the reward you’re going to get. Which would you rather have: The respect of people who can’t see past the skin, or the smile of God? You might have both, but you can’t pursue both.
            So what other thoughts do I have about private prayer? Well, there’s no command about how often to do it, nor is there a command about when. But we have the example of our Savior. In his human flesh, as powerful as he was, he felt the need to spend time alone with the Father. I’ve mentioned this before: One of the most convicting verses in the Bible for me is Mark 1:35“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Now, I’m not naturally an early riser. I’m naturally a night owl. When I first get up in the morning, especially in the morning, my brain is mush until I have a cup of coffee, and even then I’m usually less than fully coherent. It doesn’t do me lot of good to try to have an extended prayer session and Bible study time. So what do I do? I try to have a short prayer, something like “Father God, thank you for another day in this world so I can serve you here. Please help me to please you and serve you and obey you in everything I do and say and think today. Please help me turn others towards you and not away from you. And if you would, please give me an opportunity to share the Good News about your Son with someone today. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
            Then, later in the day, I’ll take some time to read God’s word on my own, and then some more with my wife. As of this writing we’re going through the 3-year Bible reading plan and a devotional by John Piper. And I’m soaking my thoughts in the book of Romans in preparation of our discussing it in a couple of weeks. And then I have some prayer time alone. I try to start out with praise, thanksgiving, time of confession, and then start making requests. I pray for my wife, my pastor, my church, my friends, needs in my family, and, yes, for myself. I ask him to make me a better husband, teacher, employee, and all-around witness for Jesus.
Do I spend an hour on my knees? I know I should, but I don’t. I probably spend about 15-20 minutes a day praying for various people at various times, some days more and some days less.
Another thing that’s really important here. I know that I’m talking to people with really crazy schedules: work, kids, errands, housework, etc. But none of that changes this fact: In order for you to have quality time with the Lord, you have to follow his example in at least one regard: Get alone with him. If you wanted an intimate conversation with your spouse or “significant other,” you wouldn’t try to do it in the middle of the highway in rush hour. You’d find a place and time where it’s quiet and you can hear what each other is saying.
Same principle here. You have to, you must, find a place and time to be alone with him. Otherwise, your fellowship with him is going to suffer, just like a marriage would.
Enough reading about this. It’s time to go to Keith’s “inner room,” even if it’s in my head.

Lord Jesus, I so desperately need to bask in your presence and hear what you have to say. And then I can pour out my heart to you. Thank you for listening. 

[July 10]—Livin’ On A . . . Part Six: Some Thoughts On Asking For Stuff

Matt 7:7-12; James 4:1-3; 2 Cor. 12:1-10

            OK, we’ve gone through praise, thanksgiving, and confession. Now we come to the last major aspect of prayer: petition (a theological term for asking for things).
            For some reason, a lot of Christians seem to have some problem or another with this aspect. For what it’s worth, here are some of my thoughts (based on Scripture).Some Christians are actually uncomfortable asking our Father for anything for themselves. They’re really noble souls who like to praise him, thank him, and confess their sins, and they don’t mind praying for others’ needs. Just a reminder: The very word “pray” means “to ask.” But they’re uncomfortable asking for things for themselves. Now of course we want to keep the proper mindset when we’re asking him for something, especially if it’s for ourselves. That’s why I heartily recommend you spend some time praising him and thanking him before you get to any type of petition. In fact, I like to thank him for something related to my petition.
For example, let’s say I’m praying for my wife’s health. I might start out with “Father, I thank you that you are Yahweh Rapha, the God who heals us. I also thank you so much for bringing this wonderful woman into my life. She’s such a blessing and encouragement to me. Could you please bring her back to health, relieve her of this pain, bring her to the other side of this quickly?” You see, before you ask for a thing, take a moment to praise and/or thank him.
            Having said that, apparently it needs to be relayed to some folks: There's nothing intrinsically wrong in asking the Lord for what you need or even want. There’s nothing intrinsically less noble about asking him for things, even for ourselves. And I’m not just talking about asking for spiritual needs, like “Lord, please make me a better follower of Jesus. Please remove the sin in my life and help me be more pleasing and obedient.” Yes, we definitely need that (probably more than the physical stuff). I’m also referring to physical needs and even wants. If you need to, read over the Matthew passage again slowly. He invites us to ask for things. He encourages us to ask for things. He wants us to ask for things.
            Ask, seek, knock. You will receive. You will find. The door will be opened to you.
            But because we’re naturally selfish and sinful and unwise, there are three caveats we need to go over.
            First off, if you read the passage again, you might notice that the latter part is talking about asking him for things we need, not necessarily things we want. The son in his example is asking for bread and fish, in other words, the necessities of life. There’s nothing in this passage about asking him for steak and caviar.
            But is it wrong to ask? Well, it’s not intrinsically sinful. There’s nothing in Scripture that forbids asking him for even the finer things in life. But I think to ask him for luxuries betrays a sort of shallowness, a poor perspective on life.
            Think about it for a moment.  This isn’t rocket surgery, even if you’re not a parent. What type of parent gives his child everything the child asks for? A pretty poor one. Our Father is perfect, so he’s not going to give us anything which'll harm us, which would include hindering our relationship with Christ. He'll always give us what we need. But just like with children, our definition of “need” and his definition of “need” aren’t necessarily the same.
            When we pray, we’re not uttering a magical formula that manipulates impersonal forces to do what we desire. That is the definition of magic. We're asking a Person for something, Someone who knows perfectly what we need, and loves us enough to say “no” when that’s the right answer.
            And then there’s James’s discourse on this, which brings us to the second caveat. He tells us that there are two possible reasons why we don’t receive from God. First, it might be because you don’t ask. But second, and more germane to what I’m getting at, he says that even if we do ask, “[We] do not receive, because [we] ask with wrong motives, that [we] may spend what [we] get on [our] pleasures.” Why are you asking for X? Is it just so you can spend what you get on your pleasure? If so, James says that’s a great reason why our loving Father doesn’t give you what you’re asking for.
            That brings us to the third reason why he doesn’t give us what we ask for. The apostle Paul asked the Lord to take away his “thorn” (whatever that was). Satan sent it, but apparently the Lord in his mysterious plan ordained it behind the scenes. Paul—remember, this is the apostle Paul here—asked the Lord three times to take it away. And the Lord said no. No specific reason given, other than “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, I’m going to use this to grow you by having you rely on my strength while you’re going through this.
            But let’s not all these asterisks dilute the wonderful truth here. Yes, he does answer prayer. And he loves to say “yes.” I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:

Thou are coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.


Father, I don’t want to be presumptuous, and I don’t want to be timid. Guide me here, please, by your Spirit. 

[July 09]—Livin’ On A. . . Part Five: Anything Else?

Matt. 18:21-35

            I know, we've discussed this passage a couple years ago when we walked thru the Gospel of Matthew. But I think this is so important in our prayer life.
I’m a big fan of murder mysteries and police detective shows like CSI, and I think it’s a great illustration to help our prayer lifeLet’s say a body’s discovered, and no one knows who committed the murder. First, we have to get a list of suspects, and start narrowing them down. We start with the most obvious ones, and then either eliminate each ope as a suspect or investigate them further if we've reason to.
It’s the same principle in your prayer life. You’re praying, either in your alone time or in a group setting, and you sense that something’s wrong. It feels like you might as well be talking to a brick wall. You have no sense of God’s presence. You have no peace, no sense of his smile on your words as you pour out your heart to him. Just like the detectives on CSI, you pull up a list of suspects, start with and eliminate the most likely ones, and work your way down. When this happens, your first candidate should be unconfessed sin, like we talked about a couple of days ago. Related to that is how you treat your spouse or other family members (but especially spouse).
            Also related to this on your suspect list is a broken relationship between you and a sibling in Christ. If we’re forgiven, just on principle we have no right to hold onto unforgiveness regarding another believer. You'll never be called upon to forgive even a tiny percentage of what God has forgiven you. But on a purely selfish level, even if that wasn’t so, you should forgive for your own sake. The unmerciful servant was locked away by the “jailers” to be “tortured” until he paid back everything he owed.
Again, based on what the rest of Scripture teaches, I don’t believe this is talking about losing your salvation. But if you harbor resentment and unforgiveness towards another, your fellowship with the Savior is hindered and blocked. Of course, part of this is because he’s commanded us to forgive, and failure to do so is disobedience, and any sin will block our sweet communion with him. But I think a fissure in our relationship with other believers especially wounds him. Just think—what hurts a parent’s heart more than children who can’t get along with each other?
This applies if someone has hurt us, and of course we should be on the lookout for how we’ve hurt others as well. Jesus put it this way: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” There’s no point in trying to worship the Lord and make any offerings, including an offering of praise, as long as you know that you have reconciling to do.
            This raises a question that I’ve heard before, and John MacArthur changed my mind on the answer. What if the person doesn’t ask for forgiveness? What if he’s hurt me and doesn’t even acknowledge it? Well, if you can just let it go (which I'd venture to say would cover a lot of situations), then do so. But if it still hurts you, then you need to deal with it. Now, I used to think that if the offender doesn’t ask for forgiveness, then you’re not obligated to forgive them.
There’s at least one good reason to think so: That’s how God treats us, right? He doesn’t forgive until we ask for it. He doesn’t forgive unrepentant sinners. But here’s the passage MacArthur pointed out, again straight from the Savior’s mouth: “[When] you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Don’t wait for them to come to you and ask for it. Just go ahead and forgive them.
Again, I know quite well that there are some reading this who have some pretty serious offenses to forgive. Not “He dented my car,” but “He took away my childhood” or “He murdered my family.” Of course, most of the offenses in life are waaaaay down the scale, close to “He called me a bad name.” But for those who've had something precious taken from them, I can’t soften what Jesus said. He calls on us to forgive. In his strength and power, given time, you can. But the question is “Do you want to forgive? Are you holding onto your anger because you want to?” If you want to forgive, then ask for his help to do it. And he will. Don’t wait.

Father God, I’ve never been severely hurt by anyone on that level, but you have. You had to watch as your own Son was betrayed, arrested, tortured, slandered, and murdered. And you forgave. For anyone reading this who’s holding onto their anger and hatred, please draw them into your love and mercy and power. 


[July 08]—Livin’ On A. . . Part Four: What Else Might Be Blocking It?

1 Peter 3:7

            Yesterday we discussed one of the biggest hindrances of prayer. If you’re trying to commune with your Father, and it feels like your prayers are just hitting the ceiling, you need to act like a detective on CSI. You start out with a list of suspects, and you work through the list, starting with the prime suspect and then working your way down. Your prime suspect in what’s hindering your prayers should be unconfessed sin.
            Let me make a quick caveat here, though. If your prayers are supposedly not being heard, if God feels like he’s a million miles away, then it might be unconfessed sin. In fact, I’d venture to guess it’s probably unconfessed sin. But it might not be. For whatever reason, the Lord might be bringing you through a time of testing, and that might include withdrawing the sense of his presence. This is a very important point. If you really belong to Christ, then he’s promised never to leave you or forsake you. But he might withdraw the empowering, comforting, encouraging sense of his presence inside and around you. He feels like he’s gone, like he either doesn’t know or care what’s going on in your life. Of course the best example of this would be Job. The Lord withdrew the sense of his presence, and Job felt abandoned by God and alone in his sufferings, and this was not because of any specific sin in his life.
            Today’s topic sort of falls under the category of yesterday, but I think it bears a closer look. Maybe you’re trying to talk with your Father, and it feels like nothing is reaching his throne. You feel like you’re talking to a wall. Taking my advice, you ask him “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” or “Father, is there some unconfessed sin that I’ve committed? Something that’s hurt you? If so, please point it out to me so that we can deal with it.”
            And he does. Again, the Spirit points something out to you, and you hear in your spirit “Do you remember how you spoke to your wife last night?” Or maybe he says “You promised her you’d wash the dishes last night, and you watched TV instead.” Or even worse—“What about that web site you looked at last night after she went to bed? Was that appropriate?”
            What am I getting at? If you’re a husband, then the Lord takes how you treat your wife very seriously. So seriously that Peter here gives a specific warning. You're suppose to treat her a certain way, and if you don’t your prayers might be hindered.
            She’s not your slave, or if she is, then you’re her’s just as much as she’s yours.  Peter says that you’re supposed to be considerate of her and treat her with respect because A) She’s the “weaker” partner (I think it’s talking about emotional fragility), and B) She’s your fellow heir in Christ. As far as intrinsic worth before the throne, you’re totally equal. She’s not a “second class citizen” in the Kingdom, because there’s no such thing in his economy. And how you speak to her, cherish her, and serve her should reflect that.
            If it doesn’t, if you don’t treat her as you’re expected to (no matter how she’s acting), then your prayers will be hindered. It doesn’t matter what else you pray, because until you confess and repent, you’re wasting your time and breath.
            And something else I think is necessary? Go and confess to her and ask her forgiveness. I don’t think it does any good to confess to God when you’ve also offended and sinned against her. Under the Torah, if someone stole from someone else, they couldn’t just offer a sacrifice and restore the relationship with God. Unless and until they made recompense with the human party they’d hurt and stolen from (paying back 120% of what they stole), the Lord wouldn’t consider them to have repented. If you’ve sinned against a person, you need to try to make it up to them if possible. Unless and until you’ve done that, your relationship with the Lord will still be hindered.
            Now, Peter is directly addressing this to husbands. Does it apply to wives as well? I think so. Wives can sin against their husbands as much as vice-versa. I’d also apply it to our relations with siblings in Christ, which we’ll discuss in more detail tomorrow.
            Of course, this all falls under the heading of “If the Spirit points out a sin to you, confess and renounce it, and try to restore the relationship with the offended party if possible.” It’s just here that he’s being specific in order to emphasize how important this is.

Father, is there some area in which I’ve failed as a husband, as a church member, as a friend? If so, please forgive me, and give me the guts to go ask the forgiveness of those I’ve hurt. Thank you so much for your promise—When I confess, you forgive. 

[July 07]—Livin’ On A. . . Part Three: Examination and Confession

Psalm 66:18-20; 139:23-24; 1 John 1:8-10

            So we’ve looked at praise and thanksgiving. I highly recommend that you start your prayers out this way before you get to any requests or complaints. It helps keep things in perspective, no?
            But before we get to talking about asking him for things, there’s one more aspect of prayer which we really need to address, as you can guess from the title.
            The first passage in Psalm 66 is pretty sobering. The Psalmist was calling on his fellow believers to praise the Lord, but starting in verse 16 he gives a personal testimony about how God has treated him. He had apparently hit some trouble in his life, and had called upon his Lord to intervene and save him. The Psalmist tells us very directly that if he had “cherished sin in [his] heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
            What's this talking about? Let’s say, for example, I’m driving along and see a pretty girl who’s scantily dressed. Noticing a beautiful girl is not a problem, but I linger. I specifically focus on certain parts of her body. I think about what I’d like to do to her if I ever got the chance. A clear violation of Matt. 5:27-28. And I might even forget about my transgression. I don’t even think about it as I go forward into my day.
            So what’s the problem? The problem is that even though I’ve forgotten it, my Lord hasn’t. He takes thoughts seriously, as the above passage from Matthew shows. And if I start praying to him, either alone or with others, my prayer won’t be effective. If we have unconfessed sin, if we “cherish” or “harbor” (in other translations) sin in our hearts, the Lord won’t listen to anything else we have to say. Once I sin, the very next prayer that the Lord is going to respond to will be a prayer of confession and repentance.
            That’s why the Psalm 139 passage is so very important. It’s a great prayer. Now, I don’t believe in “formula” prayers. We’re dealing with a Person in our prayers, not a force like electricity. It’s not an issue of saying the “right” prayer with the “right” words. That’s magic. But it’s a great pattern. I try to remember to pray something like it every time I pray. Again, if I have unconfessed sin, then my relationship with the Lord is severely hindered.
            I’ve used this illustration before (I think), so please forgive me, but it’s the best one I have. Let’s say that I’m the son of Bill Gates. He and I have a screaming match argument, and I end up saying “Forget you, dad! I’m outta here!” and storm out of the mansion. Not having any immediately marketable skills, I take a job waiting tables in a greasy spoon diner and living in a firetrap apartment where I have to fight off the rats and roaches. Am I still Bill Gates’s son? If you took blood out of me and blood out of him and sent the samples to a lab, the obvious answer is would be “Yes.” But I’m not living like a son of Bill Gates should live. I should be dining on steak and lobster every night if I want. I should be working in an air-conditioned office. But because of our stupid argument, I’m not living like a son of Bill Gates should be living.
            Have you prayed to your Father and feel like your prayers are hitting the ceiling? If so, praying something like the 139th Psalm passage should be the very next thing you say. Ask him something like “Father, is there some unconfessed sin in my heart, some way in which I’ve disappointed or disobeyed you?” If he points out something specific (the Holy Spirit convicts of specific sin, while the Enemy accuses you in order to condemn), then confess it (agree with God that it’s wrong) and ask for his help in stopping it and not doing it again. Make a commitment that—by his grace—you’re going to stop doing it. I pray something like “Father, I’m so sorry I did X. I know it was wrong. There’s no excuse for what I did. Please forgive me, and please help me not to do that again.” For more on this, see the postings here.
            And here’s the good news after the bad news from the passage in 1 John. If we confess, he promises to A) Forgive us for whatever we’ve done or not done, and B) Cleanse us from all wickedness. He not only forgives but also removes the stain. Permanently. Never to be brought up again.
            Once we’ve dealt with any unconfessed sin, then we can move on to other things.

Father, it’s obvious what I need to do here. I desperately need you to please examine me from top to bottom, inside-out. Whatever you find there that’s not pleasing, please point it out, and give me the resolve and strength and whatever else I need to deal with it decisively. 

[July 06]—Livin’ On A. . . Part Two: Thanksgiving

            Yesterday we talked about praise. This is where you acknowledge and meditate on what he is or what he’s done in general. This is in contrast to thanksgiving, where you talk about and think about what he is and has done for you personally.
            To talk about that, there’s no better passage I can think of than today’s reading. Quite frankly, this is one of my favorite Psalms, and one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible (I know, I know, it’s all great to you, isn’t it, Keith?).
            I know that the NIV translates it as “praise the Lord,”--and I’m not knocking the translation—but the verses immediately following it would fit into my definition of “thanksgiving” than “praise.” Anyway, literally it says to “bless the Lord,” (which is why the NASB renders it as such), but the NIV translators (along with translators of other versions) decided to try to capture the meaning instead of just the literal words.
            This is what the Lord has done for me. If you’re a believer in Christ, then quite frankly there should be no room for “pity parties.” Here are my notes:

·         ·         I’m sorry for repeating myself, but it’s just too great a reminder: I recall once when I saw a Preacher on TV speaking about this Psalm, and this was his point regarding vs. 2 (“forget not all his benefits”):      
            “Don’t forget all the things he’s done for you. Of course, there’s no way that you can remember all his benefits, but at least don’t forget all of them.” If I just started listing all his benefits, I’d do nothing else. In fact, I’d venture to guess that’s going to be one of our main occupations in Glory.

·         Please note that first and foremost in his mind is that glorious truth that the Lord has forgiven all our sins. If you’ve been a believer for a while, maybe you've forgotten this benefit. Hopefully the Lord’s been making progress in your life concerning being like Christ. You should think more, act more, and talk more like Jesus than you did a year ago. If you’re not making any progress, that’s a sign that something’s seriously wrong. But maybe the wonderful (and necessary) truth of our progress in godliness has an inherit danger. We’re no longer involved in blatant and egregious sins like drunkenness or adultery or hatred of other believers. But I guarantee you that there’s still sin that he’s dealing with in your life. Here’s a clarifying thought: You deserve Hell no less right now than the moment before you received Christ. If we really want to get into the topic of what you deserve, he still owes you nothing but judgment. Anything other than you screaming in the Lake of Fire is pure grace. And he’s forgiven all of it. He’s given you the righteousness of Christ. He'll never ever ever bring your sins up again. Ever.

·         Of course, we still live in a fallen world, and Christians get sick and die just like anyone else. But he will heal all your diseases, one way or another. If you do struggle with sickness or infirmity in this world, keep in mind that he’s not finished the work of redemption yet. He’s already redeemed your soul. But the day will come when the Lord Jesus redeems your body, and sickness and weakness will only be a fading memory, a bad dream from which you’ve woken up.

·         He’s not only pulled you from the pit of darkness, death, the power of Satan, etc. That’d be wonderful enough, considering the pit was one that we jumped into. But he’s pulled us out of the pit, cleaned us up inside and out, and has crowned us with glory and honor. We’re the co-heirs of Christ. Everything that Jesus is as a human being, we will be.

·         And in the here and now, he satisfies our soul with good things. First, he satisfies us like no one and nothing can. And he's satisfied us with good things, only good things. Even the best father in the world can’t claim that. I don’t know about you, but I have some pretty goofy ideas at times about what’s really “good” for me. But being the perfect Father he is, we can trust him to give us what we really need for our good and his glory (which are perfectly congruous).

·         As the years pass and I’m getting older, I’m starting to appreciate passages like the last part of vs. 5: “so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Think about an eagle soaring majestically among the clouds. While we walk with him, he lifts our spirits, which can even translate into a “spring into our step” as we make it thru this dark fallen world which is passing away. And of course just like the reference above to healing all our diseases, this will be completely fulfilled in Glory at the renewal of all things, especially the renewal of our bodies to be like Christ’s.

Once again, I urge you to take this passage and personalize it, something like “Lord Jesus, you truly have forgiven all my sins, redeemed my life from the pit and crowned me with glory and honor. The phrase “thank you” has never seemed so inadequate.

[July 05]—Livin’ On A. . . Part One: Praise

Psalm 113

            I know, I know. People have told me I write fairly well, but titles are definitely not my  forte. I’m not a big Bon Jovi fan (some of his lyrics are really inappropriate), but this particular song has been a favorite of mine for some time, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with the lyrics here.
            Anyway, this is a subject I’ve wanted to address for some time now, so we’re going to spend a few days looking at the subject of prayer. I could be wrong, but it seems like this is the last big topic which we haven’t covered, so we’re going to do it before we dive into an overview of the New Testament Epistles.
            First there’s a caution to note here. It’s easy—at least for me—to delve into a subject like this and examine it like an esoteric topic of study without putting into practice what we’ve learned. In other words, the purpose of this is for us (you and me) to pray better and more often. To clarify, if you end up knowing more about prayer but aren’t praying better and more often, I’ve failed in my task.
            Another thing to note. We’re going to look at different aspects of prayer over the next few days: Praise, thanksgiving, petition, etc. Most of the time, each prayer is going to have a mixture. It’s not often that you’ll offer a prayer of pure praise, for example. We’ve gone into this before, but it’s worth remembering: Most of the Psalms are not pure praise. Today’s reading is an exception. The vast majority of them have some element of complaint.  Our Father wants us to be honest with him; just mouthing words of praise without doing it from the heart is no good. But even in the midst of hardship in which we cry out to the Lord for relief, we can still praise him for what we know.
            Again, if I’m getting into territory you’re familiar with, I apologize, because I’m going to go into some stuff I learned as a kid in Sunday School. When we praise him, we’re recognizing things which he is. He’s the Creator of all things seen and unseen. He’s the sovereign Lord who controls all things and sustains all things just by his powerful word. He works all things out for his ultimate purposes, and nothing can thwart his plans, neither man nor the most powerful demon.
Of course, the best example of that last point was the Passion of Christ. To all observers both in the physical and spiritual realm, it’d look like Satan was the ultimate victor here and Christ the one who was losing it all. Jesus was betrayed, abandoned by his followers, falsely accused (with no defenders), beaten, tortured, mocked, and finally publicly executed. All of this is exactly what Satan wanted, and he was undoubtedly thrilled to see it and bring it about. Even Jesus himself said this was the hour when “darkness [reigned].”
            But lo and behold, this was the Father’s plan to destroy the Enemy’s work once and for all. Because of this “defeat,” the Lord Jesus now has triumphed over sin, death, Hell and (especially) the Devil.
            Pointing out things like this is considered praise. It refers to things which affect you as a believer, but only tangentially. The fact that my Father is sovereign is a great source of comfort to me personally, but even if I didn’t benefit from that at all, he'd still deserve praise for it.
            Now let’s look briefly at the reading for today, if you’re looking for a Psalm of praise, this is probably the best one. My thoughts:
  • The Psalmist calls for his audience to join him in praising the Lord. Who needs to be praising him? Everyone. The last verse of the 150th Psalm says that everything that has breath should be praising him.
  • And where should he be praised? “From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.” In other words, everywhere.
  • He is exalted over everything and everyone. The greatest kings and presidents and prime ministers and absolute dictators are under his authority, and they breathe at his pleasure. In poetic language, he has to “stoop down” to even look at these so-called powers-that-be.
  • But in a wonderful contrast, he does something specific while he’s “stooping.” He lifts up the downtrodden, the “down and outs” and “nobodies” and seats them with princes. He takes the childless woman (on the bottom of the totem pole in that society) and brings her into a wonderful family. This is a pattern you see often in the Psalms and elsewhere, what you might call the “Great Reversal.” This demonstrates his sovereignty: he intercedes into a situation as only he can, and reverses things according to his pleasure and plan. Despite man’s greatest efforts and plans (and working thru them), he reverses the order of things, making the rich poor and the poor rich, bringing down the exalted and exalting the lowly.
Why is this so important? Doesn’t God want us to make this personal? Doesn’t he want us to point out the things he’s done for us personally? Of course he does.  But before we get to thanking him for things he’s done and been for us, we should keep our perspective by meditating on who and what he is in himself. As pointed out before, even if I never personally benefited from his actions, he'd still deserve praise just for who he is and what he’s done.
I think that’s a great place to start in our prayer life, don’t you?

And for your edification and enjoyment, here's "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" by Rich Mullins (and notice the Bridge?):

For today, read the passage again, slowly, taking each phrase and turning into a word of praise. For example, “I praise you, Father God, because you're exalted over all the nations, your glory above the heavens.” Meditate in praise for a moment. 

[July 04]—Final Warning And Promise

Malachi 4:4-6

            So here we come to the final words of God in the Old Testament. Of course, Malachi wasn’t the final prophet under the Old Covenant. According to Jesus, “[All] the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” But for about 400 years, the Lord was silent towards the nation of Israel.
            Just a quick note here: In the traditional Hebrew texts, the book of Malachi only has three chapters, not four. We mentioned this yesterday, but it bears repeating and emphasizing: The entirety of chapter 4 is really a continuation of the thought in chapter 3. Chapters 3 and 4 (or just a long chapter 3 to the Jews) are all about the Day of the Lord. Right then it looked like the arrogant evildoers were ignoring the Lord, doing things their own way, and wrecking others’ lives while they were doing it. It seemed like God’s people were getting trampled while evil people were prospering. But contrary to how it looked, he was watching and would one day separate those who belong to him from those who don’t, and those two groups will head towards two very different destinies.
            We’ve discussed this before, but let me just summarize for a moment about who this “Elijah” is who Malachi mentions before he wraps it up. Is this referring to John the Baptist? Well, yes and no. When John was specifically asked by the if he was Elijah, he emphatically denied it. But when Jesus was asked about him, the Lord enigmatically said that “[If] you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” The best explanation is that when the religious leaders were asking John, they were thinking in terms of him being the literal, physical return of Elijah (who'd never died). This is what John was denying. But John came in the spirit and power of Elijah: dressing like him, talking like him, living an austere lifestyle like him. And it seems that Jesus was saying that John was the fulfillment of today’s passage if Israel accepted John’s message (i.e., about Jesus being the Messiah).
            So what can we learn from this?
            In verse 4, just before he closes this book, he reminds them to hold onto the teachings of Moses. Until the Messiah came, they were to hold onto the last instructions he'd given them. Tough times were ahead. The Greeks and the Romans, in a very few years, would invade and persecute the nation. A lot of people would die. The temple they'd worked so hard on would be desecrated by pagans. For many, hope would flicker and they’d be tempted to give up.
            “Elijah” would come before the Lord initiated the end of all things. This prophet would “turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents.” In other words, the social order that God instituted at the beginning would come back into place. I think that this sign of order coming out of chaos is a sign of widespread repentance. The issue, as always, is each person’s relationship with the Lord. Once that’s taken care, a good sign that it’s taking place is that family relationships are restored as well.
            By the way, there’s an alternative translation of vs. 6: The NET Bible—with good translation reason—renders it as “He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me.” In other words, all generations will be united in coming back to the Lord. Quite frankly, this makes a bit more sense to me. That would fit in with the theme of the rest of the Bible: Restoration of the “vertical” relationship with the Lord is both necessary and sufficient for restoration of “horizontal” relationships of family, society, etc.
            However you translate and interpret the first part of verse 6, it’s important to hear his final warning. If we don’t listen to God’s first messenger(s), then the Lord will “speak” to us in ways which are much harsher. He will strike the earth with a “curse” (which is how it's traditionally translated). This is the same word Moses used when referring to giving something completely over to the Lord by burning/destroying it completely, hence the way the new NIV translates it.
            The image—and the choice—is rather stark. In dark days, God still expects faithfulness from his people. When it looks like the evil are winning, that’s when you must hold onto his truth even tighter than ever. Wait for his promises to be fulfilled. Wait for his coming. When he does, you’ll be vindicated for every ounce of trust you’ve put in him. It’ll be worth it.

Father God, it gets really hard waiting sometimes. If not for your grace, I would've fallen long ago into apathy or even worse. Please renew my trust, my faith, my obedience. Lord Jesus, may you find me faithful when you come. 

[July 03]—Day of the Lord

Malachi 4:1-3

            Here’s something to keep in mind when you’re reading the Bible. This is very important: The verse and chapter divisions are not inspired. The original scrolls on which the prophecies of Malachi would be written wouldn’t have anything but the words all strung together, often with no divisions even between words. That’s why in the NIV the note on 4:1 says that in the traditional Hebrew text the passage above is just a continuation of 3:13-18. Even though the prophet doesn’t use the term “Day of the Lord” in vs. 18, it’s obvious that this is what he’s talking about. On that Day, the Lord will make a great separation—in Jesus’ terms he’ll divide the “sheep” from the “goats.” The Lord already knows who belongs to him and who doesn’t, but on that Day it’ll be public.
            So today we get a few details that the Spirit-inspired prophet wants to share with us. The word that sticks in my mind here: “Heat.” Both the righteous and the wicked will experience heat on that day.
            To the lost, those who refused to do things God’s way, this heat will be like a blasting furnace. Think the flaming furnace which Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced was hot? It was so hot that the soldiers who threw them in burned to death. What the “arrogant” will face that day will make that furnace seem like a breeze off the ocean by comparison. Normally in a drought or extreme heat, plants’ branches will wither on the vine. That’s common. But for the roots to dry up and die---that’s heat. Everything will be turned to ashes, from top to bottom. Nothing will be spared.
            But here’s the irony. Remember, this is the mystery of heat: The same heat has different effects on the different substances it strikes. It softens wax and hardens clay. It consumes dross and purifies gold. For those who arrogantly reject the Lord, that Day will consume them like stubble. But for those of us who belong to him, those who revere his Name, the “Sun of Righteousness” will rise for us. Of course, it’s pretty obvious who this “Sun of Righteousness” is: Zechariah (father of John the Baptist) said that his son John would prepare the way for “the rising sun [who] will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
            For those of us who belong to him, this heat which consumes the arrogant will be like a warm summer’s day after a freezing winter which seemed like it would never end. The image is that of a young calf who’s been cooped up in a stall for waaaaaay too long. Maybe the poor little guy has had to stay inside a cramped little shelter because of the harsh winter. But then—finally!—the sun comes out, melts the snow, and the door is opened. The calf steps out, stretches its legs, and then starts. . . skipping. And frolicking. And leaping. And running. As Lewis put it in The Last Battle, “The [school] term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
            And those who’ve persecuted God’s people? Who’ve trampled on the humble? Turnabout will truly be fair play, as his people trample on the ones who’ve hurt them. That incredible heat which Malachi described in verse one will have burned them to ashes, so verse three is only the final culmination of the victory God’s already claimed over them.
            Once again, the prophet’s presenting a choice to us. When this Day comes, which side will you be found on? If you’re not sure, please read this.
            And if you’re on the right side of all this, then this should motivate you to share the Good News with someone who needs it. Right?

Lord Jesus, I am so looking forward to that Day. By your grace, help me to bring just as many people into your Kingdom as I can. And help me to be ready.