Saturday, May 18, 2013
In the darkness
strong winds blow
the waters are rough
Who is he
coming on the water?
In the darkness
strong winds blow
the waters are rough
coming on the water
it is you
do not be afraid
Strong winds blow
the waters are rough
in the darkness
come into my boat
coming on the water
we reach the shore.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
This morning I would like to write to you about joy. In his last hours with his disciples, Jesus said to them:
If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:10-11 NIV)
I don’t know about you, but when I read the first sentence (v.10), the words are so familiar to me that I don’t notice them anymore beyond their obvious meaning:
If you want the kind of loving relationship with me that I enjoy with my Father, you should obey my commands just as I have obeyed his (my paraphrase).
But this morning I was struck by Jesus’ statement in verse 11, in which he explains to his disciples why he is bothering to teach them about obedience. He states,
“I have told you this so that…my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
We see here that Jesus’ joy must be received (“in you”), and that our joy must be made “complete” (full, consummated, brought to realization).
Jesus’ joy is already complete because he has perfectly obeyed his Father’s commands – and in a few short hours the world will forever know the full extent of his love, even unto death on a cross. But Jesus’ joy at completing his Father’s commands is not for him alone; he wants his joy to be “in us” and in all who will believe in his Name.
In one sense, we receive the joy of Jesus in us when we accept by faith his completed obedience (death on the cross) for us and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. His love for us is consummated as we receive the fruit of his obedient love for the Father.
In another sense, our joy is consummated or made complete in us through our obedience to his command to love one another by the power of the Holy Spirit in us.
We see then that joy is a fruit of God's Holy Spirit which flows out of obedient love, first out of Jesus’ obedience to the Father – which we receive by faith, and secondly out of our obedience to Jesus – which we carry out by loving one another in word and deed.
As we receive by faith the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus’ completed obedience, a “love tank” for godly joy is created in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. But that tank needs regular filling. The Holy Spirit fills it up in us as we walk as Jesus walked, in the power of the Holy Spirit, loving one another and our neighbor as ourselves in word (verbal testimony of Jesus) and deed (living testimony of Jesus).
Please pray with me: “Jesus, it’s so clear to me that my joy is incomplete. I believe in your Name and what you have done for me, but my joy is still inconsistent and lacking. I have not equated the level of joy in my life with how I love others. I confess that my love for others has been inconsistent and lacking, which I now realize is directly related to the level of joy in my life. Lord God, set a right heart within me, that the motivation of my obedience to you would be inspired by your obedience to the Father, and that the motivation of my love for others would be inspired by your love for me. Thank you for loving me so completely. Thank you for designing me to be dissatisfied when I am not walking in step with you in regard to loving other people. Lord, help me by your Holy Spirit to love you by loving others, just as you loved your Father by loving us. In your Name I ask these things, Amen.”
Sunday, July 12, 2009
I give thanks today for the goodness of genuine brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. My wife and I have several times been impacted by the verse from Philippians 4:13 which reminds us of the source of our strength in good times and bad, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
Yet this morning for the first time I was impacted by the combination of that verse with the verse following, which says, "Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles." How good and pleasing it is to Jesus when his children share in one another's troubles. They are the tangible body of Jesus to us in our troubles. They remind us that God is not a God of affirmation alone but of concrete support and encouragement.
Yesterday a group of people came from one of our house churches and cleaned our home for us. They got on their hands and knees and scrubbed the floors, gave us support, food and money, and did everything in their power to love us.
In this time of distress for our family, as we go through cancer together with my wife, we are grateful for the love of God who gives us the strength to do everything by his Spirit, and we are moved and humbled by the the willingness of so many to share in our troubles.
"Jesus, thank you for coming to our home yesterday. Thank you for cleaning and setting things in order. Thank you for building a little table and chairs for our girls so Liz doesn't have to lift them. Thank you for being willing to get dirty for us, to do unpleasant, menial tasks. Thank you for loving us so completely through our brothers and sisters - for washing our home as you washed your disciples' feet.
Jesus, change our hearts today. Help us to be willing servants as we go on our way. Help us to respond to your call to be your hands and arms and legs to the weary. Give us the words and actions to strengthen the hearts of those who are suffering and in distress. Jesus, you are beautiful in all your ways. Thank you. Thank you. Amen."
Your brother Jonathan
Monday, September 22, 2008
Are you barely holding yourself together as your life seems to fall apart before your eyes, or do you know someone in this situation?
At times like these we feel powerless to change circumstances. So what do we do?
In Acts 12 we read that when Peter, that impetuous disciple of Jesus, found himself in prison yet again – this time in what surely must have seemed like his final death sentence – he simply fell asleep.
That’s right. Asleep. On the night before his big trial! What’s the lesson for us here? Surely anyone can fall asleep. We don’t know if he fell asleep out of fearful exhaustion or trust, all we know is that he “was asleep.” My guess is that he fell asleep out of exhaustion – thinking to himself, "Surely tomorrow I die."
Well, the good news is not what Peter did. It's what God did through the prayers of Peter's church family. It was the church that kept vigil for Peter during his imprisonment:
But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him. (Acts 12:5) (NLT)
Are you plugged into a body of believers that is willing to “pray very earnestly" for you when you are in your time of trial? Are you a willing member of a body who is willing to “pray very earnestly” for others in their time of trial?
One of the things I love about my parents is that they really know how to walk with people through difficult times. They keep praying and checking in until the situation is resolved. It’s such an enveloping sense of care.
That’s what the church is meant to be, like family that cries out to God for you when you’re all cried out – or when you’re so emotionally exhausted that all you can do is fall asleep.
Peter and the church got the shock of their lives when God actually did bust him out of prison! Both Peter and the servant girl thought they were dreaming at first!
Are you ready for God to start busting people loose in your church and setting people free?
I’d like to challenge you to call someone up this week and cry out to God with that person on behalf of someone else in the church who’s struggling. Imagine how encouraged you'd be if you found out that two brothers or sisters in Christ spent 30 minutes on the phone crying out to God for you? What a gift that would be! Are you willing to give that gift to your church? Are you willing to help make your church a place where that becomes the norm, simply because you're willing to step out in faith and see God move in power?
Let’s direct our answers to God in prayer: “Father God, we call out to you right now. Would you touch our hard hearts. Would you renew our desire to lift up our brothers and sisters as we step out in faith to pray for them with others in the church. Would you help our church to be a praying church that falls down on its knees before you as we bring one another boldly to your throne of grace. Lord, would you help me to take part in this ministry of prayer. I have your Spirit, but my flesh has not been willing. Forgive me for my apathy and unbelief. Help me to step out in faith this week to begin a new movement of God's grace in the church. In the Name of the Risen Lord Jesus we pray, Amen.”
Love and grace,
Your brother Jonathan
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
As I was reading in 2 Kings 7 last night, I came across a powerful passage which I would like to share with you. The context of the passage is a severe famine in the city, which caused food prices to rise so dramatically that some mothers even began to eat their own children. Convinced that the famine was from the Lord, the king of Israel became so frustrated and angry that he went with one of his officers to kill the Lord's prophet, Elisha. Below is Elisha's response to the king and to the king's officer.
1 Elisha said, "Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria."
2 The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, "Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?"
"You will see it with your own eyes," answered Elisha, "but you will not eat any of it!"
The sin of unbelief is a bitter root which can destabilize and cause hopelessness in even the most committed Christian. It is better to protect ourselves from the sin of unbelief than to have a mindset that "must know" why God is not doing a certain work in our lives in the timing that we find acceptable.
The second impact of this passage comes from the realization that the officer of the king represents me! When I am in a desperate situation, I sometimes say or think, "Could this happen? Could God really change this desperate situation I'm in?"
Elisha's response to the officer is shocking: "You will see it (God's provision) with your own eyes, but you will not eat any of it!" Literally, the next day, the officer of the king saw the provision of God yet was trampled to death by people running to get it! This is shocking and frightening because we are also in danger of letting our circumstances lead us into unbelief and an inability to receive the Lord's provision when it comes.
We can walk in step with the Spirit of God by being a people who continually preach to ourselves against our hardness of heart. Pray with me now: "O Lord, my heart is so hard. I have made so many excuses to myself about why you have delayed the provision that I am waiting for. In my heart of hearts, I have doubted your power.
Forgive my unbelief Lord Jesus. Forgive my unbelief. I yield to you and give up my need to know how you are at work and when you will answer me - only do not let me miss out on tasting of your provision when it comes. I want to persevere with you to the end, believing that at any moment you can radically transform my situation. O Lord, even if you choose to keep my situation as it is - for purposes greater than I can see - cause my heart to soften and to rejoice in your great power! Let my heart sing your praises just as king David did in the depths of his despair. O Lord, How Great Thou Art! How Great Thou Art."
Let your soul sing in the Lord Jesus,
Friday, June 1, 2007
I have always loved to read. When I read, I become so engrossed that I literally “tune out” the world around me. Even as a young student in school, I would become so engrossed in my reading that I would neither see nor hear the entire class line up for lunchtime. Their favorite strategy was to repeatedly shout, “Earth to Jonathan, Earth to Jonathan,” until I tuned back into my surroundings.
Many of us do the same thing in our everyday lives. We become so engrossed in “our story” that we cannot see or hear anything else. We rise and fall in tune with our own characters and events – until our hope in life is completely dependent on the outcome of our story.
But this kind of hope always disappoints us in the end. People die, jobs are lost, relationships are destroyed, children grow up and start their own families, and friends move away. Even the best stories come to an end.
There’s a much bigger story, however, that God wants us to pay attention to – and it’s unfolding all around us. In this story, the hero and the enemy are clear, and there is only one hope which burns bright – and you and I are the bearers of that bright light to a dark and hopeless world.
In this greater story of creation, fall, redemption, judgment and glory, the only hope which does not disappoint is the hope of eternal salvation through faith in the saving work of Jesus the Christ. To hold this hope and this hope alone as the foundation of all of our stories is to experience a deep, abiding and unshakable joy and confidence in the One who loves us.
But such hope does not come cheaply. It comes first through the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross, and it comes secondly through our suffering – used by God to open our eyes and ears to the better hope he offers through Jesus Christ. Paul describes this hope in Romans 5:4-5:
4And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. 5Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 Amplified Bible)
Keep in mind that Paul is writing to believers. Sometimes we confuse the outcome of our hope – which is certain – with the holding of hope – which is developed through suffering, perseverance and character formation. There is often no other way than suffering to shake us loose from “our story” and into "God's story."
Once we understand the role of suffering in our lives – that God is calling us into a better hope – in which we will experience the love of God being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit – we will be able to regard our suffering with the mindset Paul describes in verse 3:
3Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.
With this new mindset, we can re-enter our story with a looser grip on the outcome and a better hope in the One who has already written the final chapter.
Let’s pray together:
“Lord Jesus, thank you for the suffering that you endured for me – for all of us – on the cross. Thank you for giving your Holy Spirit as the deposit and guarantor of our hope in you for eternal salvation.
Lord, we need your help. I need your help. My hope is too often shaken because I keep basing it in my story – so I have become disappointed, hurt, and sometimes bitter.
Please forgive me for getting lost in my story. O Lord, use this present suffering in my life – use whatever you need to use – to open my eyes and ears to the joyful and confident hope that is found in you alone. Amen.”
With a better hope,
Thursday, May 10, 2007
What are your exact thoughts as you read this verse?
Mine include disbelief and despair; disbelief that this kind of attitude is possible, and despair that I fall so short of the standard. I desire to face my trials with an attitude of pure joy, but mostly I’m just trying to “get through.”
This verse cuts through our self-deceptions and exposes the gaps in our faith. It brings us to confession: “Lord, forgive me for seeking my own way out of trials – for trying to close the gaps by myself; I always fall short. Show me how you desire to close the gaps in my faith and life.”
3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
My wife and I spend a lot of time teaching our daughter to persevere. She doesn’t like it, but she is learning to grasp the freedom that perseverance brings. When we cut short the lessons, she misses opportunities to grow in maturity and completeness. The gap remains.
God loves you and me so much more than we love our own children. His fatherly desire is to move us into maturity and wholeness, so that we do not lack any good thing. He leads us through trials because he wants to give us more of himself, not less.
God is a giver. He demonstrated that in sending Jesus the Christ to be our righteousness – to forever close the gap of eternity of between us and the Father. We face our trials with fear and despair because our fundamental perception of God is flawed. We view trials as God’s way of punishing us because he’s angry with us, but James faced trials with joy because he saw them as God-given opportunities to make us more complete in God’s love and grace - to make us whole.
As we move through our trials, we preach to ourselves, and the God of love moves us deeper into pure joy: “Lord, my perception of you is as a taker, not a giver. I have heard of your great love for me, but in practice I take my trials as signs of your displeasure with me – not as signs of your desire to give me more of yourself and to make me whole. Teach me to receive your work in my life with joy. Teach me to receive you as a good father. Drive out the fear in my life with your perfect love.”
In the Father’s love,