From cheering to jeering…

As we head into the Palm Sunday weekend, perhaps you, like me have always wondered how the people can go from cheering for Jesus one minute to jeering at him the next.

The answer, as Dr. Doug Bookman explained, is actually in a four-fold process. (1) Jesus claims to be the King. (2) The people receive Him as King. (3) Jesus tests their commitment. (4) The people reject Him.

Jesus claims to be King.

Jesus usually claimed his kingship through Old Testament prophecy (Luke 4:16-21).

This allowed him to get the attention of the Jewish society, and avoid the attention of Rome. The Jews would have seen their Law as from God and honored it as such. The Romans could have cared less. They would have only recognized a King that came with a raised sword and large army to back him up. Jesus came with neither.

When Jesus read the Isaiah prophecy in his home town of Nazareth, he put the scroll down and claimed, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Every Jew within hearing distance would have understood him to be staking his claim as Messiah.

The people receive him as King, though superficially.

The response to Jesus’ claims is usually awe and wonder. Quite frankly, they were appreciative of his healing power, and they loved the free meals. The hope that their King would overthrow Caesar one day also served as a motivator. So the text in Luke says, “All spoke well of him, and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22).

Jesus tests their commitment.

Jesus does not seek the approval of man, so he is unaffected by their superficial reception. It is as if he says, “If you want to claim me as King, will you follow me?” He places this proposition before them by pointing out how God had worked with Gentiles in the Old Testament times, not just Jews. This would have been offensive to those in Nazareth, and their response shows that they weren’t interested in following this King.

But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow [not a Jew] And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” [not a Jew].  When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath (Luke 4:25-28)

One small test: Will you follow me even if I pursue the saving of the Gentiles? Immediately they reject him.

The people reject him.

Through the Gospel record; whenever Jesus presses the issue of following, submitting, and serving him as King, the people rebel.

Not much has changed in 2000 years. Most people are willing to receive Jesus superficially (when there’s something in it for them), but when challenged to follow him sacrificially many struggle and fall away.

That is how you go from cheering for Jesus as he rides a donkey into town; to jeering at him he carries a cross out of town–in six short days.

Call to me and I will answer you

If it isn’t your favorite verse from the Old Testament, it probably ranks in the top ten. Its Jeremiah 33:3. Even the reference is easy to remember.

Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.

I’ve heard it quoted in personal testimonies. Casual conversations. With first time acquaintances. At funerals and weddings.

But looking at the context makes the verse even more meaningful. Where was Jeremiah when he wrote this verse? What was his life like?

The contemporary translation, The Message makes it pretty clear.

Jeremiah was still locked up in jail, a second Message from God was given to him: “This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own’ (Jer. 33:1-3).

Not only was the prophet in jail, but he was still in jail. Inferring he’d been there for a while. If you look back to chapter 32 you’ll find the cause of his jail term: He’d given a message the king didn’t like very much, and the result for Jeremiah was to do some jail time (Jer. 32:1-5).

Are you kidding me? Imprisoned for doing the right things?

And another favorite verse is close to that setting. . . Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).

It was in the setting of injustice that God gave Jeremiah verses of hope. And he offers that same hope to each of us today.

So does your life have some injustices? Were you mistreated by an authority? Misinterpreted by a friend? Do you feel trapped in your present situation? Does it seem like you are still in the same situation you’ve always been in?

Sounds like a good time to call to the Lord and he will answer you. He’s wanting to show you great and mighty things that you did not know.

Getting victory over anxiety – Part 4

This final principle may be the most essential of all when it comes to gaining victory over anxiety. I like to call Psalm 37 the “don’t worry Psalm.” Three times in Psalm 37 we are told not to worry (37:1, 7, 8).

The New Living Translation captures the opening verses well.

Don’t worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong. For like grass they soon fade away. Like spring flowers they soon wither. Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires (Psalm 37:1-4).

The approach of this Psalm to anxiety is different from any of the passages we had studied previously. The apostle Peter reminded us to focus on the Word not our feelings (1 Peter 5:7). The apostle Paul told us to give greater efforts to how we pray and think (Phil. 4:6, 8). In this Psalm, King David combats worry with one’s ever increasing delight in the Lord (Psa. 37:4).

When we delight in something it consumes our thinking. We find joy simply letting our mind dwell on that person. Yet, the worrier finds that his thoughts and actions are consumed with what he is worrying about, and they don’t bring him joy. He needs something else to delight in.

I have found that most worriers really don’t want to be that way. In fact, often they desire relief from the anxiety. So much so that relief from the anxiety starts to consume their thinking and their conversations; distracting them further from delighting in the Lord.

I articulate this final principle in this way: Desire God more than you desire relief from the anxiety. Don’t simply try to get rid of the anxiety, give your greater effort to loving God well. Delight in him!

The Bible teaches that if we desire anything more than God we are an idolater (Ex. 20:3-4). Perhaps you thought that you needed a figure made of silver and gold to be an idolater. But King Belshazzar didn’t need figurines; he just flat-out worshipped the silver and gold (Dan. 5:4). Ezekiel the prophet pointed out that you didn’t need carved images in your living room to be an idol worshipper; you could actually have idols in your heart (Eze. 14:1-5). Think about that, a hidden desire, tucked away where no one could see it, but God. According to the Bible all you need to be an idolater is a strong desire for something other than God.

If our all-consuming desire has become “relief from anxiety” then it signals an idolatry problem. And the best way to combat an idolatry problem is to delight oneself in the true and living God.

Start with a list of the qualities of God ( Study them. Mediate upon them. Delight in them.

You will discover that it’s difficult to truly dwell upon the goodness of God, while at the same time giving your mind to the things you worry about. Something will have to go. Which will it be?

Getting victory over anxiety — Part 3

There are certain things in this life which we can control, and others which God alone is to handle. For instance, while we are to control how we respond to others, we cannot control how they respond to us (Rom. 12:18).  We are to control how we react to authority, but we can’t control how they react to us (Rom. 13:17).

Those who struggle with worry have a tendency to be anxious about the things they can’t control. In so doing, their attention is often diverted from the things they can (and should) control.

That is why, for the one who is anxious, this second principal is so important. Change your mind, not your circumstances.

God controls your circumstances (Dan. 4:34-35), but he expects you to control your mind (Phil. 4:8). So if you struggle with worry, you will have to change the way you think.

The worrier has a tendency to let his mind run wild. Like a scared child running in a dark forest, every shadow is a potential enemy.  The anxious person tends to believe that if he can think about something in advance he can avoid it. Yet, God controls our circumstances, we need to bring our thoughts captive, and trust him with our future.

I have found one verse to be the most helpful in the retraining of the worrier’s thought patterns.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Phil. 4:8)

Years ago I realized that the 8 qualities within this verse were to set the parameters on my thinking. If something was true, honorable, or right I could dwell on it. If it was not, I should not. This is great help for the one who worries. Most of what we worry about doesn’t actually come to pass, hence it is not true.

Perhaps you are thinking, “But the things I am worrying about actually could come to pass.” Yes, but they haven’t, and the worrier usually thinks about events in the future with certainty not possibility. He tends to think about future things as if they are true, when in fact they have not and quite possibly will not, occur.

I like to imagine that these 8 qualities were intended to form the parameters on my thinking. They are 8 walls within in which I am given complete freedom to think. Within those 8 walls it is impossible to jeopardize my communion with God.  Unfortunately, you and I often desire riskier thinking.

The picture of a stop sign served as a great reminder to control my thinking. It is good when I’m thinking within the parameters. When I am not, it is good to say, “Stop! Think on these things.”

By the way, anxious thoughts cannot occur inside the parameters. So come on now, “Stop! Think on these things.”

For additional thoughts on the subject go to:

Getting victory over anxiety — Part 2

When we choose to battle our anxiety we soon realize that it isn’t simply a battle with anxious feelings, but also with anxious thoughts. You will not see victory over the ingrained habits of worry without addressing the way you think (Phil. 4:8).

I refer to this second principle as: change your mind, not your circumstances. Most of us have very little control over our circumstances. You didn’t determine the family into which you would be born. Whether heart disease or cancer may run in your DNA is something over which you have no control. The downward pressure of the economy on your 401K is something outside of your control. Sometimes an employer’s decision to keep you or release you may not even be tied to your performance.

While you cannot change those circumstances you can change the way you think about them. God encourages us to do so (Phil. 4:6-8).

Here are a few ways you need to change your thinking.

You need to change how you think about worry (Phil. 4:6).

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:5, 6).

The phrase “do not be anxious about anything” is in the imperative mood. Simply put, it is a command. That means we shouldn’t see it as optional. Most of us wouldn’t get up in the morning with the intention of breaking 5 of the 10 commandments. But the command, “do not be anxious about anything” is one we don’t take quite so seriously. We need to.

When we worry, we ought to repent and ask forgiveness from the Lord for it. We need to acknowledge the truth that he had provided a way out, we just chose not to take it (1 Cor. 10:13).

As we think the same thought repeatedly, we develop the habit of thinking it intuitively. It just naturally happens. After a while it begins to feels like it’s something that is happening to us, but really it is just the habitual way we have grown accustomed to thinking about challenges. We worry, as opposed to trust God.

This is so important to understand. We are still responsible for our thoughts when we break God’s command about anxiety. We don’t get a pass, just because they have become habitual.

To gain victory, you will need to change how you think about worry. It wasn’t something that just happened. It was something you chose to do.

You need to change how you think about prayer (Phil 4:6).

When it comes to anxiety, most people see prayer as a last-ditch effort. Usually, we try to handle the difficulty on our own. But, it begins to feel overwhelming. We start to worry. When all else fails…we pray.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:5, 6).

There are three additional words in this verse that shape out the way we should think about prayer: supplication, thanksgiving, and requests.

The word supplication speaks of one’s neediness. We come to the Lord with a spirit of humility that acknowledges our great need. Not just our struggle with the thing we’re worrying about at the moment, but our daily need on the Lord for all things. (Go here for a helpful article on learning to pray with 24/7 dependence

We need God, not just relief from our circumstances.

Thanksgiving means that we express our gratitude to the Lord through prayer. When you only make your prayer about the thing you’re worrying about, you strip out of your prayer a tremendous resource: a grateful heart. If you don’t feel thankful, revisit the end of verse 5. It reminds you the Lord is at hand. God has not left you alone in your struggle. Start by thanking him for that.

Notice that your requests come last in this listing. This is by God’s design. You need to develop more fully your pattern of prayer. Another way to say this is: Prayer should be your pattern, not your panic button.

When you are praying in a more complete way, you will find that prayer becomes your replacement for worry. When you worry, you try to figure life out on your own. When you pray, you invite God’s strength, wisdom, and sovereign love into the equation.

Getting Victory over Anxiety – Part 1

Anxiety. Most of us have felt it at one time or another: the fear of future events that may or may not come to pass. We’re nervous. We’re anxious. We worry.

Jesus spoke about anxiety in his sermon on the mount. Six times he used the word anxious. Each time he encouraged us to trust our heavenly Father (Matt. 6:25-34)

Three other Biblical passages are very helpful when developing a plan to battle anxiety (1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6; Psalm 37: 1-5).

Peter wrote to a group of people who were suffering. They were being persecuted for their faith – even to the point of death. They had every human reason imaginable to be anxious.

Yet, in less than a dozen words he reminds them what to do with their anxiety.

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7)

If you like to fish, the word casting brings an image to mind. You feel the weight of the lure bouncing at the end of the rod. You make the cast, and begin retrieving the lure. That may work for fishing, but it is ineffective with anxiety. You’re not to retrieve the anxiety once you cast it. The Biblical word means to cast away. You’re supposed to give it to the Lord with no strings attached. You don’t retrieve those anxious thoughts so that you may start to worry over them again (I’ll talk about what you should do tomorrow).

There is a principle tucked in this verse that we have a tendency to forget. When it comes to anxiety we need to believe God’s Word over our feelings. When you experience difficulties that lead to anxiety, you might feel like God doesn’t care. Those feelings may be intense. You might feel confused: unable to understand how you can suffer if God really cares.

Yet, God’s unchanging Word stands opposed to what we feel at the time. It explicitly states: “God cares for you.” This isn’t blind faith that cast one’s anxieties on an invisible God; rather, it is reasonable faith to place one’s confidence in the unchanging Word of God instead of one’s ever-changing emotions.

So when feelings of anxiety begin to consume your thinking, learn to cast those anxieties upon the Lord. Remember, he wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t mean it…God cares for you.

What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?

Among the gospel writers only Luke recorded that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. The word he chose was one that communicates abounding, abundant, complete and perfect. The tendency may be to think of this as a unique relationship that the Holy Spirit had with Jesus because of their previous relationship within the Godhead. But Luke used the same terminology in the book of Acts to describe the church’s first martyr, Steven.

God wants us to know that being “full of the Holy Spirit” is something that can happen to those who are fully human. This filling was both true of Jesus and Stephen, and it can be true of us too. To be full of the Holy Spirit is to be under his control. Jesus entered the wilderness under the control of the Spirit (Luke 4:1).

Paul gives an even clearer understanding of the Spirit controlled life in his letter to the Ephesians.

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18 – NLT).

When someone has had too much to drink, we say that they are no longer “in control.” By becoming intoxicated they have chosen to relinquish their control to another substance. This is the meaning behind the word filled. Paul warns the believers not to be “under the control” of the alcohol, but rather be “under the control of the Holy Spirit.”

He carefully formed the word “be filled” to reveal four essential elements about our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Each of these is hidden in the Greek grammar. Among other things, the Greek language communicates the meaning of its verbs through mood, form, voice, and tense.

(1) This isn’t optional.

Be filled is in the imperative mood. The imperative mood is one of command. When our mom gave a command we knew it wasn’t optional.  God wanted us to know that being filled with the Spirit is not optional and so he chose the mood of command.

(2) This is for all of us.

Be filled is in the plural form. Being filled with the Spirit is not simply for a few – the spiritually elite or hyper-religious. It is a command given for each of us. No one is excluded from this command, and so God chose the “all-inclusive” plural form.

(3) This happens to us, not by us.

Be filled is in the passive voice. The active voice is the doer of the action, but the passive voice is the receiver of the action. Imagine I am holding a pitcher filled with water, and you are holding an empty glass. If you wish for your glass to be filled then as I begin pouring the water from the pitcher you don’t fill your glass you simply move your glass so that I can fill it. This isn’t simply true of pitchers and glasses. We need to put our open hearts in close proximity to where the Holy Spirit is active.

(4) This is a repeated event.

Be filled is in the present tense. Some have properly translated it “be being filled.” The present tense reveals a daily, moment by moment repeated event. I remember an old preacher who once said he needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit every day, because he leaked! That’s a good reminder for all of us.

The character of God from A to Z

Several years ago a widow in our church brought to me a Bible study she had been doing. During her darkest hours of doubt and despair she had reflected on the character and attributes of God. She said, “I simply started with A, then went to B, then went to C, and so on. For each letter I would remember something about God I knew to be true.” She later published them in a work with a title a grandmother would give: God’s Rx: Alphabet Soup.

I will often reflect upon her list during my prayer time to express praise to God for who he is. Perhaps you might wish to review key qualities of God during a time of trial or temptation. Or you may wish to start your own list.

A.W. Tozier said

What comes to mind when we think of God is the most important thing about us.

God is: 
Able – 2 Timothy 1:12
All Knowing – Psalm 139:1-6
Almighty – Genesis 17:1
Awesome – Neh. 1:5
Beginning – Rev. 22:13
Comforter – John 15:26
Commander – Joshua 5:15
Conqueror – Romans 8:35-39
Creator – Genesis 1
Defender – Zechariah 9:15
Deliverer – Psalm 18:2
El Elyon: God most high – Daniel 4:34-35
El Olom: Eternal God – Genesis 21:33
El Roi: The God who sees – Genesis 16:13-14
El Shaddai: All sufficient one – Genesis 17:1-8
Eloheim: The creator – Genesis 1:1
Emmanuel: God with us – Matthew 1:23
Everlasting Strength- Is. 9:6
Faithful – 1 Cor. 10:13
Father – Galatians 4:6
Forgiving – Psalm 130:4
Friend – John 15:12-16
Gentle – 2 Cor. 10:1
Glory – Psalm 24:7
God of Hope – Romans 15:13
Good Shepherd – John 10:11
Gracious – Psalm 145:8
Great – Daniel 2:45
Guardian – Philippians 4:7
Guide – Psalm 23:3
Healer – Matthew 8:16
Helper – Psalm 46:1
Hiding Place – Psalm 32:7
Holy – Isaiah 6:3
I am who I am – Exodus 3:14
Immortal – 1 Timothy 1:17
Infinite – Psalm 147:5
Jealous – Exodus 34:14
Jehovah:  Ever existent one – Exodus 3:13-15
Jehovah – Hoseem: Lord our maker – Psalm 95:6
Jehovah Jireh: Lord who provides – Genesis 22:7-8
Jehovah Mekoddishdem: God who sanctifies – Ex. 31:13
Jehovah Nissi: Lord my banner– Ex. 17:10-15
Jehovah Raah: Lord my shepherd – Psalm 23:1
Jehovah Rapha – Lord who heals – Exodus 15:26
Jehovah Sabaoth: Lord of hosts, strong tower – 1 Sm. 1:11
Jehovah Shalom: Lord is peace – John 14:27; 16:33
Jehovah Shammah: Lord is there – Psalm 73:25-26
Jehovah Tsidkenu: Lord our righteousness – Jer.23:5-6
Just – Deuteronomy 32:4
Keeper – Psalm 121:5
King – 1Timothy 1:17
King of Glory – Psalm 24:7-10
King of Kings – Rev. 19:16
Lamb of God – John 1:29
Life – John 14:6
Light – John 8:12
Lion of Judah – Rev. 5:5
Living God – Deut. 5:26
Lord of hosts – Jeremiah 31:35
Lord of lords – Rev. 19:16
Love – Romans 5:8
Majestic – 2 Peter 1:17
Man of sorrows – Isaiah 53:3
Merciful – Psalm 86:15
Messiah – John 1:41
Mighty God – Isaiah 9:6
Mighty in battle – Psalm 24:8
Most high – Daniel 4:17
Name above every name – Philippians 2:9-10
Near – Psalm 145:18-21
Omnipresent – Psalm 139:7,8
Omniscient – Psalm139:1-6
Omnipotent – Job 42:2
Overcomer – John 16:33
Patient – 2 Peter 3:9
Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6
Protector – 2 Thes. 3:3
Provider – Hebrews 11:40
Redeemer – Job 19:25
Refuge – Psalm 46:1
Rock – Psalm 18:1-2
Savior – Luke 2:11
Shelter – Psalm 61:4
Sinless – 2 Corinthians 5:21
Strength – Psalm 28:7
Trustworthy–Psalm 84:10-12
Truth – John 8:32, 14:6
Unchanging – Hebrews 13:8
Unconquerable – Job 42:2
Very present help – Psa. 46:1
Victorious – 1 Cor. 15:57
Wonderful Counselor – Is. 9:6
Worthy – Revelation 5:12

The list was adapted from God’s Rx: Alphabet Soup by Nancy Adels ©2012

A Puritan prayer for victory by looking to the cross

Great was your goodness
    in undertaking my redemption,
    in consenting to be made sin for me,
    in conquering all my foes;

Great was your strength
    in enduring the extremities of divine wrath,
    in taking away the load of my iniquities;

Great was your love
    in manifesting yourself alive,
    in showing your sacred wounds
    that every fear might vanish,
    and every doubt be removed.

Great was your mercy
    in ascending to heaven
    in being crowned and enthroned
        there to intercede for me
        there to assist me in temptation,
        there to open the eternal book
        there to receive me finally to yourself;

Great was your wisdom
    in devising this means of salvation;
Wash my soul in rich consolations
    of your resurrection life;

Great was your grace
    in commanding me to come hand in hand
        with you to the Father,
        to be united to him eternally,
        to discover in him my rest,
        to find in him my peace,
        to behold his glory,
        honour him who alone is worthy;
    in giving me the Spirit as teacher, guide, power,
        that I might live repenting of sin,
        conquer Satan,
        find victory in life.
When you are absent all sorrows are here,
When you are present all blessings are mine.

Taken from The Valley of Vision–A Puritan Book of Prayers

4 Ways God is at work whether you like it or not…

Way #1: God intentionally guides your steps by helping you recognize your ignorance.

If we take the Bible at face value we immediately come to the conclusion that we don’t know as much as God. It was this understanding that caused Job to say he wouldn’t speak in God’s presence, only listen (Job 50:3-5).

When I was a student and I recognized I didn’t know something my hand went up. My curiosity with subjects where I was ignorant had me looking for answers. The one with a teachable spirit comes with a desire to learn. David had this in the 25th Psalm.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the daylong (Psalm 25:4-5).

Way #2: God actively shapes your desires by not giving you what you want.

The writer of Psalm 73 was jealous of the wicked. The wrongdoer had been able to accomplish his objectives even though he took advantage of others to do it. But, surprisingly, something happens towards the end of the Psalm. Because the Psalmist’s selfish desires were not satisfied, his desires changed. He discovered what it was like to desire only God.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25-26).

In a world where Wal-Mart makes everything available at one low price, it’s a little hard to grasp this concept. Yet, when God withholds our earthly desires from us, we have a greater tendency to desire things of eternal value. This is the truth that Christians in third world countries have already grasped – it explains the smiles on their faces when they have so few earthly goods.

Way #3: God purposefully strengthens your faith by allowing you to feel your weaknesses.

No one argues this point as clearly as the apostle Paul. Three times he had asked the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh. After that third request he heard from the Lord. While the answer was not what he had prayed for, he didn’t flee from his weaknesses he embraced them.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Paul is OK with feeling weak; because, it increased his faith in the God who is strong.

Way #4: God graciously fosters your eternal perspective as you live among temporary injustices.

There are things in this world that do not seem fair or just. One man does time for a crime he never committed, and another commits a vile crime and is never brought to justice. Justice will always be imperfect in a fallen world. But while we grieve with those who are victims of injustice, we acknowledge that injustices in this world are temporary and they get us longing for another land and another time. Our attention should be drawn heavenward. There things are right. There justice is true.  

For people…make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…as it is they desire a better country that is a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Heb. 4:14, 16).

It is good to serve a God who can take our ignorance, weaknesses, unfulfilled desires, and perceived injustices, and, using these, make us more like Jesus.