Holy, Holy, Holy

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!
Isaiah 6:3b

God appears to the prophet Isaiah in a vision.  Isaiah sees the Lord on his throne, high and exalted.  Seraphim are singing God’s praises, calling out:  

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory! 

These two lines could be the motto for the entire Old Testament.  

We often think of holiness as referring to purity, sinlessness.  But that’s only part of the meaning.  The essence of the word holy is that God is separate, not just from sin, but from everything.  He is separate from all creation, different than all creation, transcendent over all creation.  

He is so far above everything and everyone that nothing can even be compared to God.  God is incomparable!  He is the incomparable God!  That’s what it means to say God is holy.  

Holiness is not just one attribute of God.  More precisely, it is the sum of all God’s attributes.  Because God is infinite, sovereign, eternal, omniscient and much more, he is different.  He is holy.  

Holiness refers to the “God-ness” of God.  All that makes him God and not human is involved in his holiness.  

So holiness refers to God being separate from us, different from us, far above us.  God’s holiness is so important because it is the sum of all God’s attributes, all that makes God, God.  

No wonder the seraphim cry out!  We cry out with them!  

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!

Waters Cannot Quench Love

Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.
Song of Solomon 8:7

Song of Solomon is the love song above all love songs, for it is the love song inspired by God to give us his perspective on love and romance, on courtship and marriage.  Near the end of the story, we read these words spoken by Shulammite, the bride of young King Solomon:  

Set me as a seal upon your heart, 
as a seal upon your arm, 
for love is strong as death, 
jealousy is fierce as the grave. 
Its flashes are flashes of fire, 
the very flame of the Lord. 
Many waters cannot quench love, 
neither can floods drown it. 
If a man offered for love 
all the wealth of his house, 
he would be utterly despised. 

Love is not only exclusive, strong and passionate (verse 6), it is also invincible and priceless.  

In verse 7 we see that true love endures.  It is invincible.  “Many waters cannot quench love;    neither can floods drown it.”  

When I was a little boy, my parents moved my four sisters and me to Niagara Falls, New York.  There, for the first time, I saw snow and I learned that I spoke with an accent and I saw the stunning Niagara Falls.  Niagara Falls is so powerful – an avalanche of water!  Yet the Bible says that all the water in the world cannot quench love.  

Because love never ends.  It’s invincible.  It endures to the end of time.  There will be challenges in marriage.  But be undeterred, unflagging, unmovable!  Tenacious!  No matter what, refuse to throw in the towel.  

There is a story from World War II that I especially like.  The Queen of England was asked if she planned to evacuate her children from London, because the bombing of the city was so severe.  She replied, “The children won’t leave unless I leave.  I won’t leave unless the King leaves.  And the King won’t leave under any circumstances whatsoever.”  

That’s the way to think of marriage: I won’t leave under any circumstances whatsoever.  True love is invincible.  

True love is not only invincible, it is also priceless beyond compare.  “If a man offered for love     all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.”  

Is that not true?  Is love not invaluable?  Is it not a gift of God to treasure beyond the greatest Rembrandt masterpiece?  

There is a classic passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13.  It describes the glory and beauty and supremacy of love and then closes with these immortal words:  “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  

Love is simply the greatest thing in the world.  And of all human loves, the crown jewel is marital love, a love that is exclusive, strong, passionate, invincible and priceless beyond measure.  That’s real love.  

This is the kind of love that God wants for every married couple.  Pursue it!  Pursue this love with all your heart!  Settle for nothing less!

A Seal on Your Heart

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the Lord.
Song of Solomon 8:6

Only one book of the Bible is devoted exclusively to courtship and romance, to love and marriage.  That book is called Song of Solomon, which is a fitting title because love has inspired countless love songs over the centuries.  But this song is the Love Song and this book is the Book of Romance.  It is the story of young King Solomon and his chosen bride, the beautiful Shulammite.  Encapsulated in this love story, we see God’s delight in marital love and romance.  

Near the end of the book we see several traits of romantic love.  First of all, it is exclusive.  

“Set me as a seal upon your heart.”  In the ancient world, a person’s seal signified ownership.  “This belongs to me.”  Shulammite is saying to Solomon, “I am the seal on your heart.  You belong to me and I belong to you.  We belong to each other.”  The wedding ring is a symbol for us of this idea.  It means:  “I am taken.  I belong to another.”  True love is exclusive.  It is for one man and one woman only.  

Secondly, love is strong and constant.  

“For love is strong as death.”  Love is strong, unyielding, powerful.  It survives the tough times that accompany every life and every marriage.  But how can we make love last?  Throughout the western United States, forest fires are common.  Most forests in the West don’t last so long.  But there is one region, the Pacific Northwest, where there are old growth forests, hundreds of years old.  They are beautiful, with towering Douglas firs and massive redwoods, and the ferns grow everywhere on the forest floor.  

The reason these trees survive without fires is because the ground is saturated with rainfall much of the year.  Gentle, continual rainfall.  In the same way saturate your marriage with God’s love – gentle, continual love.  Then you too can withstand the fires of life, and your love will grow strong and powerful, like the redwoods.  Each day, drink in God’s love for you.  Then you will find a wellspring of love inside.  True love is strong and powerful.  

Thirdly, love is passionate.  

“Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.”  True love is passionate, intense!  Put all your heart into it!  Too often this happens during courtship but no tafter the wedding.  The couple gets busy with life and careers, maybe a new house, maybe children, and they slowly drift apart, often not even aware of it until it’s too late.  

Whenever a couple takes their marriage for granted, love begins to die.  So be on your guard.  Give each other priority attention.  Give marriage your best energy.  Be fervent in loving one another.  

The Notebook was a good movie built on a great book.  Nicholas Sparks based the story on the love of his wife’s grandparents.  At the start of the book the husband, looking back on his life, says:  

I am nothing special, of this I am sure.  I am a common man with common thoughts.  I’ve led a common life.  There are no monuments dedicated to me, and my name will soon be forgotten.  But I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough.  

When it comes to marriage, love this way, with all your heart and soul.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:17

No one wants to be a dull axe.  We want to be a sharp axe, effective in the hand of God.  

This will not happen apart from people in our lives.  Wise people.  Godly people.  Humble people.  People who care.  

We need people in our lives who love Jesus and who love us.  We need people who will love us enough to challenge us and affirm us and encourage us.  We need people who care enough to listen to us and understand us.  We need people who will pray for us and pray with us.  We need people who will model what it means to passionately pursue Christ.  

For example, if you want to love God more, it helps immensely to be around people who are great lovers of God.  Or, if you want to be a better husband or a better wife, it helps tremendously to spend time with people who are great husbands or wives.  We need to see the life of Christ incarnated in our midst.  It’s just the way God has made us.  

Furthermore, this sharpening does not happen at a distance.  It does not even happen at arm’s length.  It happens when people get close.  It happens when we let people into our lives and into our hearts.  It happens when we take a risk and get real.  It happens when we let people get close enough to see our struggles and our fears.  

Iron doesn’t sharpen iron from a distance!  Iron doesn’t sharpen iron unless there are a few sparks along the way.  It might even get heated at times.  

This is not the easy way.  If you want the easy way, don’t let people get too close.  

But you will never be sharp in the hand of God.  You’ll never be effective for the kingdom.  You won’t be all that God intended you to be.  

So what can you do?  Be intentional.  Let people into your heart.  Care enough to reach out to others.  Join a small group.  Raise the bar in your small group.  Find a mentor.  Find someone to mentor.  Be real.  Open your heart.  Take a risk.  Invite people to speak into your life.  Do life with other people. Love boldly.  

Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another.

The Wounds of a Friend

Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Proverbs 27:5-6

An enemy may tell us what we want to hear.  A real friend will tell us what we need to hear.  

All of us have blind spots.  All of us have flaws, weaknesses, sins.  We need people in our lives who will challenge us.  People who will challenge us gently and lovingly.  People who know us.  People we trust.  

All of us need people like this in our lives.  In fact, if we do not have people like this, we are in trouble.  We might be headed for a disaster.  Certainly, we will never become the man or woman that God intends us to become.  

If you are married, surely your spouse challenges you – hopefully, in a gentle and loving way!  But you need more than your spouse.  You need friends, real friends, who love you enough to confront you.  You need a small group, a group where there is genuine community and not pseudo-community. We all need people like this in our lives. It is simply God’s way of transforming people.  

To challenge someone is an act of love.  It’s never fun.  You don’t do it because it’s fun.  You do it because you care about the person.  That’s why parents have no problem confronting their kids.  They care!  Parents are more concerned to love their kids than to please their kids.  They are lovers, not pleasers, when it comes to their children.  If you are a lover, you confront.  If you are a pleaser, you shrink back in cowardice.  

Two cautions:  

If someone is not open to challenge, not teachable, don’t go to them. “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8).  

Go directly to the person.  If you go to someone who is not part of the problem or part of the solution, that’s gossip not love. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15).  

Don’t get carried away with challenging people!  God has not given you the spiritual gift of criticism!  

But if you love someone, there will be times to challenge.  Perhaps a pride problem, or an honesty problem, or a drinking problem, or the way they treat their spouse.  

When these occasions arise, then go.  Lovingly, gently, humbly, go.  For their sake.  Because you care.  

Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

The Power of the Tongue

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21

Larry Nettles is a close friend.  We went to college together at Rice University.  He once told me this story.

When I was growing up I desperately wanted to be an athlete.  My dad played basketball at the University of Texas.  But I was terrible at sports.  I was horrible at football, basketball, baseball.  

When I got to high school, my dad encouraged me to try cross country.  I did.  After a time, the coach, Coach Dunlap, said to me:  “I think you are going to be good.”  

I was astounded.  No one had ever said that to me.  So I asked him, “Why do you say that?”  “Because you have rhythm when you run.  You have mental toughness.  You have self-discipline.”  

I thought to myself, “I could be good!”  I doubled my mental toughness and self-discipline.  I worked hard.  I rose to the expectations.  I got better and better.  I set school records.  I became one of the best runners in Texas.  I got a full athletic scholarship to Rice University.  

Then, Larry paused and looked intently into my eyes.  “Those words changed my life in more ways than you can imagine.”  

He went on to tell me that Coach Dunlap’s words gave him confidence in every area of his life.  He began to see himself differently.  He said it changed the path of his life.  

The proverb says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”  With our words, we can breathe life into people.  And with our words we can bring death into people.  

Wise is the man, wise is the woman, who speaks words that breathe life and build up and encourage and affirm.  Wise is the person who is forever alert to speak words of life – to a child, a spouse, a friend, a student, a neighbor, a co-worker, a stranger, a clerk at Wal-Mart, someone who looks troubled.  

Life-giving words!  We can change lives forever!  

Words like these:  I love you.  I respect you.  I believe in you.  I am so proud of you!  You can do this!  You are so good at painting!  I love the way you shared your toys with your brother.  Could I pray for you right now?  You are going to get through this, for God will see you through.  I have been praying for you every day.  I am so sorry; will you forgive me?  Thank you so much for that gift.  

When words like these are spoken from the heart, they breathe life into people.  

You can make such a difference with your words.

The Haughty and the Humble

Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty,
but humility comes before honor.
Proverbs 18:12

God exalts the humble.  God humbles the haughty.  

He blesses the humble.  He opposes the haughty.  

Who are the haughty?  What do they look like?  

They are self-reliant.  
They are self-preoccupied.  
They are self-righteous.  
They refuse to submit to God.  
They don’t have a broken and contrite heart.  
They draw attention to themselves.  
They are not servants.  
They incessantly talk about themselves.  
They flout God’s Word.  
They are overly critical of others.  
They are not thankful people.  
They need no one.  

Who are the humble?  What do they look like?  

They are worshippers.  
They are Jesus-preoccupied.  
They don’t focus on themselves.  
They are self-forgetful.  
They depend upon the Lord.  
They surrender to the Lord.  
They obey the Lord.  
They don’t look down on others.  
They are not self-righteous.  
They don’t draw attention to self.  
They are grateful people.  
They don’t care who gets the credit.  
They know they need God.  

The first group:  God will humble them.  He is able to do it.  

The second group:  God will save them, bless them, honor them.

The Test of Friendship

A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity.
Proverbs 17:17

The greatest test of friendship is loyalty.  

A friend loves at all times.  No matter what happens, in the best of times and in the worst of times, through thick and thin, a friend will be there for you.  The word is loyalty.  Above all else, a friend is loyal.  

A loyal friend will never betray you or undermine you.  A loyal friend will never gossip about you.  For a friend loves at all times.  

If you lose your job and go through all your savings, a real friend will offer to help or anonymously get you money.  For a friend loves at all times.  

If you get a serious disease, your friend will be there.  If you lose your marriage, your friend will be there.  If a loved one dies, your friend will be there.  He will call you, reach out to you, come to be with you.  For a friend loves at all times.  

If you get too big for your britches, if you begin to wander from God, if you have a blind spot that is hurting you, your friend will be the one to confront you and challenge you.  For a friend loves at all times, and your welfare is more important than his comfort.  

If something wonderful happens to you, say a big promotion or a significant raise or a huge bonus, your friend will be glad with you.  Genuinely, deeply glad.  For a friend loves at all times.  

If you are discouraged or worried or hurting, and you need someone who will just listen to you, listen without being judgmental, even if it is 2 a.m., then you know you can call your friend.  For a friend loves at all times.  

This kind of friend, a loyal friend, a friend who loves at all times, is an incredible gift of God.  

The question is not:  Do I have friends like this?  

The question is rather:  Am I a friend like this?

Sober Warning

Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Proverbs 16:18

Strong words!  Sober warning!  

If we live in pride, God warns us: You are headed for destruction.  You are headed for a fall.  

We may not know when or where or how the fall will come.  It may not come fully until we die, but the fall will come.  Sooner or later, we will be humbled.  

But what exactly is pride?  Pride is when we rely upon ourselves rather than God.  When we live for ourselves rather than God.  When we are preoccupied with ourselves rather than God.  

Pride is when we refuse to humble ourselves before God and obey his commands.  When we draw attention to ourselves and promote ourselves.  When we think we are responsible for the good things in our lives.  

Pride is when we strut around and act as if we were God.  

Unfortunately, none of us is immune to pride.  All of us are infected by the insidious plague of pride – an infection that is self-destructive.  For pride inevitably leads to destruction.  

C.S. Lewis once described the sin of pride:  

According to Christian teachers the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison:  it was through pride that the devil became the devil:  pride leads to every other vice:  it is the complete anti-God state of mind.  

Pride is the mother hen under which all other sins are hatched.

Pride is the essence of sin.  Sin is fundamentally self-centeredness.   

Pride keeps more people out of the kingdom of God than anything else.  

The great jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., once remarked:  “The great act of faith is when man decides that he is not God.”  

Well put!  Recognize that you are not God and decide to live your life for the one who is God, Jesus Christ.

A Soft Answer

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1

When you are in a dispute and your frustration is rising, when you feel hurt and angry and you want to lash out, the Bible has a simple, practical principle.  Be gentle. Use soft words.  A soft tone.  Gentle gestures.  For the Bible teaches us, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  

You probably know what that’s like.  Most of us have responded with harsh words.  Some of us have done that more often than we care to admit.  Harsh words don’t help things, do they?  They stir up anger.  Whether you are right or wrong, or some mixture of both, harsh words don’t help the conflict.  

It’s just the way life works.  It’s not just what we say but how we say it.  

Perhaps this principle applies to marriage more than anywhere else.  When you live with someone and seek to merge two lives into one, there will be friction.  There will be conflict.  Oh, how valuable Proverbs 15:1 can be for conflict in marriage.  Every couple ought to adopt this verse as a firm rule of thumb for conflict. We don’t rant and rave.  We don’t shout and yell.  We don’t call names.  We don’t speak harshly.  We obey God.  We speak softly.  It doesn’t matter if my mom yelled or if my dad yelled.  We don’t yell.  We obey God.  For a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  

Marriage may be the prime application, but the Proverbs 15:1 principle applies to all of life.  When you’re upset at your high schooler, or your grade schooler, or your preschooler:  Soft!  When you are in a meeting at work and you feel so disrespected and insulted:  Soft!  When a careless, selfish driver cuts you off on the freeway:  Soft!  When the clerk is a bit rude to you:  Soft!  

In a thousand situations, in all of life, practice the Proverbs 15:1 principle.  “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  

Not by trying hard, but by the power of the Spirit, make this the way you live your life.

Walk With the Wise

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Proverbs 13:20

Pat Morley, the founder of the highly effective men’s ministry, Man in the Mirror, recounted a conversation about friendship.  

Once I boasted to an acquaintance, quite sincerely, that I had hundreds of friends.  Without pause he said, “No you don’t.  You may have met hundreds of people, but there’s no way you can really know more than a handful of people.  You’d be lucky if you had three real friends.”  

At first I was offended that he thought he knew so much about my situation.  But as I reflected on what he said, I realized that I had a thousand acquaintances but, at that moment in time, less than three genuine friends.  I’ve worked on this area of my life, and today I believe I have five real friends including my wife.  

Morley is right.  Friendship is a rare and precious gift.  Friendship can be hard.  It can be frustrating.  It will cost us time and energy, but friendship can be so good.  It can be a source of incredible pleasure and encouragement and comfort.  Friendship is a priceless gift of God.  

But friendship is much more.  We become, to a large extent, like our friends.  This may not be true of acquaintances, but with our friends, we tend to become like them over the years.  We tend to adopt their values, their attitudes, their convictions, their interests.  For good or ill, we will become like our friends.  

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,   
     but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”  

If friendship is so life-shaping, how vital it is that we choose our friends wisely.  (How vital it is that our kids choose their friends wisely!)  

What do you look for in a friend?  What impresses you?  Is it money?  Charismatic personality?  A great sense of humor?  Unusual giftedness?  These are not bad things, but they are not the traits you look for in a friend.  

Rather, the Bible says:  Look for wise friends.  Look for friends with godly wisdom, friends who understand what really matters in life.  Look for friends who know God and walk with God.  

For God tells you, one day you will become like the friends you choose.

Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak

When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
Proverbs 10:19

The more we talk, the more we sin.  That ought to sober us and cause us to slow down our talking, but many of us talk on!  

There was a tombstone in an English churchyard.  The faint etching read:  

Beneath this stone, a lump of clay,
Lies Arabella Young,
Who, on the twenty-fourth of May,
Began to hold her tongue.

Far better if we heed Proverbs 10:19 and begin to hold our tongue while we live!  The Bible says: That’s what wise people do.  They are not incessant talkers.  They talk, of course.  But they are quick to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19).  

Why do we talk too much?  Maybe it’s nervousness.  Maybe insecurity.  A big reason for excessive talking is pride.  We are self-preoccupied, self-centered, self-enamored.  Proverbs 18:2 says:  “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”  

One of my heroes is Theodore Roosevelt.  Roosevelt was a courageous, fearless President with many incredible traits.  But like the rest of us, he was one flawed individual.  Talking too much was one of those flaws.  One biographer, Edmund Morris, comments:  

He delights like a schoolboy in parading his knowledge, and does so loudly, and at such length, that less vigorous talkers lapse into weary silence.  John Hay once calculated that in a two-hour dinner at the White House, Roosevelt’s guests were responsible for only four and a half minutes of conversation; the rest was supplied by the President himself.  

OK, maybe you’re not that bad!  I hope not!  But Theodore Roosevelt is not the standard!  God calls us to be careful, to hold back, to go slow when it comes to talking.  Be slow to speak, quick to listen.  Most of us get that backwards:  We are quick to speak, slow to listen.  

Words are a great resource.  We can do so much good with life-giving words.  But words can be abused.  One way we abuse words is to talk too much and listen too little.  In a day of cell phones, email and Facebook, perhaps the problem of excessive words is worse than ever.  

Wise people hold their tongues.  How are you doing at this rare discipline?

God's Gift of Sex

Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth.
Proverbs 5:18

Sex is God’s idea.  It is God’s creation.  It is God’s gift.  

The Bible is completely positive about sex in marriage. Consider Proverbs 5:18-19, a passage that is almost embarrassingly candid and expressive:  

Let your fountain be blessed,

   and rejoice in the wife of your youth,

   a lovely deer, a graceful doe.

Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;

   be intoxicated always in her love.  

God is saying to every married couple: Enjoy your sexual relationship!  This is my gift to you!  Have fun!  Husbands, take delight in the playful beauty and gracefulness of your wife’s body!  Be intoxicated, ravished, by her love!  

This may not be the way you thought of God and sex.  But this is the biblical perspective.  Sex is God’s gift.  In itself, sex is completely good.  

Yes, sex can be abused.  It is like fire.  In the fireplace, fire is a good thing, giving warmth and light.  But out of the fireplace, fire can do great damage.  

Sex is that way.  It is completely good in marriage, but outside of marriage, it can do great damage.  Sex needs the context of a loving, committed, trust-filled marriage.  Sex needs this context because it is so powerful.  

For sex is not just the merger of two bodies, but the merger of two hearts, two souls.  Whenever a man and a woman have sex, there is a channel cut between their souls, a channel of emotional intimacy.  A channel of spiritual intimacy.  A channel intended by God to express tender love and deep oneness.  

You cannot do that casually.  You can only do that within the safety and security of lifetime love.  No wonder people get so hurt when they abuse God’s gift of sex!  

Sex is good.  Enjoy it to the hilt in marriage!  But it is for marriage only.  It is simply too powerful for any place other than a committed, loving, secure marriage.

Honor the Lord

Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.
Proverbs 3:9-10

This classic passage on giving says to “honor the Lord” and not just “give to the Lord.”  Yes, we do give to God, but we do so much more.  We honor him.  We worship him.  We bring a heart of deep-felt gratitude to the God who made us and loves us.  This perspective, to honor God with our giving, is everything.  

Precisely because we are honoring the Lord, and not just giving to him, we bring our firstfruits.  We don’t bring leftovers.  We don’t tip God with a token gift.  We don’t begrudgingly give out of obligation.  No, we honor God with our firstfruits.  We give to God first because he is first in our lives.  We don’t wait until the bills are paid.  No, right off the top, before anything and everything else, we worship God with our giving and thereby declare with our actions that God is first in our lives.  

When we honor God this way, God gives us a promise.  He says to us: I will bless you.  I will take care of you.  I will provide for you.  I will pour out abundant blessing on you.   

This may not happen immediately.  But eventually, ultimately, in some way at some time, God will pour out abundant blessing upon you.  

Down through the years and over the centuries, with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, God has proven himself faithful.  This is an adventure to experience, an adventure of faith seeing God come through for you.  Don’t live your life and miss out on the great whitewater adventure of faith!  

Honor the Lord.  Don’t merely give to him. Honor him! Honor the Lord and then watch what God does.

Decide to Trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6

If I could only memorize one verse in the Bible, I might well choose this one.  (OK, it’s actually two verses!)  

This is indeed a verse to learn, a verse to love, a verse to live.  It applies to a thousand situations.  It speaks to every problem, every decision, every fear.  It speaks to all of life.  

Trust in the Lord. The Lord God Almighty, the Sovereign Ruler of heaven and earth, the one who made you and loves you.  He can take care of you.  

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Trust is more of a heart thing than a head thing.  

In all your ways acknowledge him. Exactly what are you acknowledging?  That he is the Lord, the Almighty God, the King.  That he is God and you are not.  That he is worthy of your trust, the Shepherd who cares for you.  You acknowledge all the truths of the Bible about God.  

And he will make straight your paths. Here’s the promise of God:  When we trust him, he will take care of us.  He will bless us and lead us and protect us.  God will see us through.  

So trust him with all your heart.  Trust him when your teenager is wayward.  Trust him when your college student drives back to school at night.  Trust him when the doctor says “cancer.”  Trust him.  

Trust him when you don’t understand why you suffer.  Trust him when you lose your job.  Trust him when your spouse walks out.  Trust him.  

Trust him for your father’s salvation.  Trust him when you cannot get pregnant.  Trust him when you face a major decision at work.  Trust him.  

This is your calling.  This is your mandate.  This is your life.  

In every situation, in every decision, with every problem, you have a choice to make.  Will you or will you not trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding?  Will you acknowledge that God is God and you’re not?  Will you acknowledge that he is in fact the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, and he is still in control of his universe?  

Do it!  Do it today and every day.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Decide to trust in the Lord.

The Fear of the Lord

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7

What does it mean to fear the Lord?  Are we afraid of God?  Is this a cringing fear?   

Psalm 33 helps:

Let all the earth fear the Lord;   
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!   
(vs. 8)   

The Hebrew parallelism makes it clear:  To fear God is to revere God.  The idea is reverence, respect, awe.  This is a reverential fear, not a cringing fear.  This is a healthy and holy fear that obeys God because he is God and he is to be obeyed.  It is our solemn duty and our glad privilege to obey the Lord.     

Abraham obeyed God when God called him to sacrifice his long-awaited son Isaac.  Why did he obey God?  Because he feared the Lord.  If we fear the Lord, then we will obey him.  Genesis 22:12 states that God put a halt to the sacrifice of Isaac:  “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 

If we fear God, we will obey him.  It’s not that we are afraid of God, but that we revere him because he is God.  He is the Almighty, the King, the holy God, and we owe him our allegiance, our reverence, our fidelity.   

Perhaps the idea behind fearing God was captured best in the children’s stories of C.S. Lewis.  Aslan is a golden lion who represents Christ.  When the children enter the fairytale land of Narnia, they learn of Aslan from the beavers.   

“Is he – quite safe?”  Susan said, “I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”  

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”  

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.  

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver.  “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ’Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the king, I tell you.”  

That’s why we fear the Lord.  He’s the King and he is not safe.  But he is good.   

All spiritual knowledge, all knowledge of God, begins right here, with the fear of the Lord, the healthy and holy longing to please him and obey him.

Search Me, O God

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
Psalm 139:23-24

This may not be the safest prayer to pray!  God may make you uncomfortable as he shines a spotlight on the inner recesses of your soul.  

But this is a prayer that we need to pray.  We need God to show us our hidden sins.  We need God to expose our blind spots.  We need God to rescue us from our sinful self-deceptions.  

Confession, honest and humble confession, is powerful.  It is vital to a healthy spiritual life.  When we come to the holy God of the universe with a broken and contrite spirit, God responds.  He draws near.  He hears our prayer.  He goes to work on our soul.  He rescues us and transforms us.  

Never forget:  The holy God of the universe, who wields the razor-sharp scalpel for the soul, is Father.  He’s Papa.  He’s Abba.  And all that he does, he does in love, with a gentle and tender touch.  

We can trust him with our heart.  So pray this prayer.  It is a prayer we need to pray.  We can trust Father on this.  

Search me, O God, and know my heart! 
Try me and know my thoughts! 
And see if there be any grievous way in me, 
and lead me in the way everlasting!

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;

my soul knows it very well.
Psalm 139:14

Have you ever felt like a failure?  

I have.  It doesn’t feel very good.  When I started WoodsEdge Community Church, I had gone through four tough years of ministry.  These were years of struggle, frustration, hard work, personal conflict and more.  I had lost my confidence as a pastor and as a preacher.  I didn’t feel so good about myself.  I felt like a failure.  

Most of us, at one time or another, go through seasons like this, when we feel like a failure, a reject, a nobody.  

At those times, it is vital that we hear God’s voice and not the voice of the enemy.  We must intentionally listen to God’s truths about us, not Satan’s lies about us.  

One of the best places for God’s truths about us is Psalm 139.  There we hear God’s voice to us:  

I know you.  (vs. 1-6)
I am always with you.  (vs. 7-12)
I carefully made you.  (vs. 13-16a)
I have a plan for you.  (vs. 16b-18)  

In other words, you matter to God!  You matter more than you know!  

The centerpiece of the psalm comes in verses 13-14:  

For you formed my inward parts;
   you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
   my soul knows it very well.  

David is filled with awe and wonder and bursts out in praise! Lord, you fashioned me in my mother’s womb.  You intricately, carefully, personally fashioned me.  You made every cell in my body.  I am your handiwork.  Your thumbprint is on me.  Your eye has always been upon me.  Lord, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Lord, I praise you for the way you tenderly made me.  Indeed, I am special to you.  

If ever you feel like a failure, if ever you experience rejection and disappointment, if ever you feel like a nobody, run to Psalm 139 and hear the voice of God.  You matter to God!  You are incredibly special and precious to the God who made you.

Childlike Trust

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great
and too marvelous for me.
Psalm 131:1

David had so much going for him.  He was the King of Israel when Israel was at its zenith.  He was a brilliant general and a courageous warrior.  He was a gifted musician and songwriter.  He was enormously wealthy and powerful.  

And yet David had a profound humility before God.  He had a soul-deep sense of humility and childlike trust before the Lord.  

Part of David’s humility, part of David’s childlike trust, was to admit: Lord, some things are beyond me, above me, too big for me, too hard for me.  Lord, there is so much I do not understand and cannot understand.  Lord, you are so big, so vast, so immense, how could I, a mere mortal, think that I could understand all that you do?  

There is so much that we cannot fully understand about God:  the Trinity, Jesus is fully God and fully man, the sovereignty of God and free will of man, the suffering of children and babies, holy wars in the Old Testament, the reality of hell.  Perhaps even harder to understand is our own pain and suffering in an unfair world.  

It is OK to ask God the hard questions, but we should not assume that we will get answers to all of our questions this side of heaven.  Part of our faith journey is to trust God when we don’t have answers, when we lack understanding.  

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
  and do not lean on your own understanding.  
  (Proverbs 3:5)  

David had enough humility to recognize that God was so vast that he could not possibly understand everything about him.  David had enough humility to admit: God is God and I am not.  David had enough humility to trust God in the face of life’s enigmas and pain.  

What about you?  

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great
 and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
(Psalm 131:1-2)

Fire and Music

Great peace have those who love your law;
nothing can make them stumble.
Psalm 119:165

Great peace.  We want that, don’t we?  In the storms and confusions of life, we desperately want God’s peace to flood our soul.  

We also need protection from stumbling.  We don’t want to stumble in marriage, in parenting, in finances, in friendships, in work, in temptations, in anything!  We need God’s hand of protection.  

God grants peace and protection to those who love his Word.  If you love God’s Word, you will treasure it and read it and learn it and live it.  It will be an endless delight to you.  

In my freshman year at Rice University, I had been a Christian for six months.  During the Christmas holidays I attended a conference for college students, sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ.  

The speaker, Howard Hendricks, challenged us to read the Bible every day.  He exhorted us to make this an unrivaled priority in our lives if we wanted to know God and live for God. 

I decided to accept his challenge.  I thirsted to know God and be all that God wanted me to be.  So in January, 1973, I began to read the Bible every day.  Every morning after breakfast, I would retreat to a lonely place in the basement of my dormitory and I would spend time alone with God, reading the Bible and praying.  

That has been over 45 years ago.  I have continued to meet with God each day, praying and reading his Word.  It has been the privilege of my life.  It has been the foundation of my life.  It has been oxygen to my soul.  It has been a solid rock to stand upon when everything about me crumbled.  It has been light in a dark world, life in a dead world, glory in a dull world.  

I cannot express what the Bible has meant to me.  I cannot imagine it not being in my life.  

It has not been a book of theology to me or a list of religious duties.  It has been the living Word of God.  It has been a draught of living water.  It has been a time for God to meet with me and speak to me and reveal his heart to me.  

In The Sign of Jonas, Thomas Merton once wrote:  “By the reading of Scripture I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed … The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.”  That’s it exactly!  Fire and music and the glory of God!  

All through God’s holy Word.