Sunday, June 26, 2011

An Invitation to God

My friend Dr. Steve Forsyth, senior pastor at El Cajon Wesleyan Church in California, preached this morning on the subject of prayer. We were emailing back and forth encouraging each other about our preaching. He made this statement about his message: "Prayer invites God to get involved. It reminds us that our spiritual growth is not a self-help based practice. God's involvement is necessary."

Prayer invites God to get involved. That's a powerful statement! I think many Christians mistakenly assume that God is involved in every arena of their lives. But is that really the case? If we are not surrendered in a particular area, is God really involved? He no doubt wants to be, but is He able to be involved without our invitation? I know some of my Calvinist or Reformed Theology friends would say yes. But I again ask: Is God involved in every area of a life that is not fully yielded to Him?

Romans 12:1-2 says, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this work, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. They you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will." It seems to me that there is a direct correlation between our offering and His transforming. Our offering invites God to be involved.

What about Matthew 16:19? "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." I've always struggled a bit with the total implication of this passage, but it seems to me, in the broader context, that the building of Jesus' church (Matthew 16:18) depends a bit on our inviting Him to do just that! He will build a prevailing church; of that I have no doubt. But just what does He mean about binding and loosing? Does this imply that we need to invite Him to participate? And by participate, I'm really saying "lead."

Please hear me out. I don't mean to say that God can't work if we don't invite Him to do so. At the same time, God's Word indicates that our disobedience hinders God's actions, and our invitation to Him to act allows for a greater flow of the Holy Spirit to move. God's involvement is absolutely necessary for there to be victory in this world. But do we limit Him by our failure to invite Him to participate?

I don't know about you, but I will assume nothing when it comes to God's involvement. I need and want it. How about you?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Soul Restoration

"He restores my soul." That short phrase in Psalm 23:3 is powerful. What does it mean to have our soul restored? Is the psalmist speaking of sinners who need to be restored to a right relationship with God, or is he referring to Christians who sin and need to return to a proper state? Could it be a little of both?

When it comes to having our souls restored, there is a great need for repentance. This is necessary for salvation and involves a purposeful decision and an act of our will. We have to willingly turn from sin and turn to Jesus if we desire to be forgiven of our sin (see John 1:12; Acts 3:19; Acts 17:30). It involves a change of our heart, mind, direction and goals. And it's more than a one-time act. It's an attitude for a lifetime.

Restitution is also necessary to experience soul restoration. It's a "facing what I've done wrong" plus a desire to make things right. It's a desire to follow Jesus all the way and influences our relationships. In Luke 19, the tax-collector Zaccheus acknowledged that he defrauded his fellow countrymen in his work for the Roman government. But he went further. He repaid everyone four times over what he had stolen from them. That's making things right!

Then there is restoration. To restore means to repair; to make usable; to make complete; to make better than before. This refers to our relationships within the Body of Christ, His Church. We are to be reconciled to those with whom we are at odds. Jesus' teaching on the subject makes it clear that we are not to wait for others to come to us and apologize. We are to take the initiative and seek healing in the relationship. For instructions on how we are to do this, see Matthew 5:23-24, 18:15-18, and Galatians 6:1-3. When true restoration takes place, that which was once broken is made stronger.

Soul restoration is more than a make-over. It's a total change in every area of our lives. It's something to think about.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Quiet Waters

As we continue our look at Psalm 23, I want us to consider the phrase in 23:2, "He leads me beside quiet waters." Some translations say "still waters" or even "peaceful streams." Water was not always plentiful in Palestine during the days of David. The shepherd had to lead the sheep to find water to drink.

In my studies I ran across the fact that splashing or rushing water scares sheep. They need quiet water - still water - to drink from. In our turbulent world, we all too often do not take the time to drink from the living water provided by our Shepherd. We are easily frazzled, given to racing away from quiet time with God rather than running to Him for our peace.

The shepherd had to work hard to get the sheep to the quiet waters. He had to keep an eye out for the enemies of the flock that would hide near watering holes, waiting for that single sheep to stray just far enough from the rest of the flock to be vulnerable. And isn't that when the attacks come? When we are most vulnerable? When we are alone, or think we are?

While the shepherd was responsible to guide the sheep to the watering hole, it was the responsibility of the sheep to follow the shepherd. Sheep have to get up and eat in order to get all the shepherd wants them to have. We don't really like that kind of responsibility. We would rather have room service, or better yet, to be spoon-fed.

If we want the quiet waters to flow in our lives, we must make time to be with the Shepherd. We must recognize that our spiritual development is not the result of instant gratification. We have to figure out the difference between living it up and really living. One may taste better, but only one satisfies.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Laying Down in Green Pastures

Our continuing study of Psalm 23 leads us to the second verse: "He makes me lie down in green pastures." The NLT substitutes the word "lets" for makes. Green pastures are cool and relaxing (Can't you picture laying on your back on the grass when you were a kid growing up? Wasn't it a relaxing place to be?) The idea here is that our Shepherd gives us the opportunity to rest. We were designed to rest. We need rest. And when we are where we are supposed to be (green pastures) there are fewer issues that keep us from resting.

But what keeps us from laying down in those green pastures? There are several things that come to mind. First, fear keeps you from laying down. When you are alone you are vulnerable. You have to stay in community (in the sheep-fold). Then you can hear the voice of the Shepherd and know His Presence.

Friction - a competitive attitude - will keep you from laying down. Sheep tend to pick on weaker members of their flock. There can be a pecking order that is used to keep the sheep in line. But God has said that the weaker members of His flock are necessary (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). Our Shepherd often puts the weaker in authority to destroy the pecking order and reduce our friction.

Flies, those pests that bug the sheep, keep you from laying down. When we let little things bug us - eat at us - we are unable to rest. You need to allow the Shepherd to use the oil of His Spirit rid you of the little things that keep you from laying down.

Finally, well-fed sheep are able to lie down. A lack of food will keep you from being in the green pastures. Isn't that ironic? There is good food all around but you fail to eat. We have so many resources at our fingertips yet we are some of the most undernourished believers on the globe.

The Shepherd of our souls wants us to rest in His green meadows. He only makes you lie down when you love Him and listen to Him. Are you experiencing green pastures?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Lord is My Shepherd

We began a study of Psalm 23 last night in an H3 Bible study that I lead. There were a number of great insights that we pulled from the first two verses. Let me focus for just a bit on Psalm 23:1.

First, we note that the psalmist referred to the Lord as a shepherd. The Scriptures do not often refer to God in this way (see Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Jeremiah 31:10). The term was commonly used for rulers in the ancient Near East. The rarity of its use in reference to God is significant and should catch our eye.

Why? A shepherd was indispensable to the flock. The sheep saw him as a constant companion, a guide, a provider, a physician, and a defender. In the same way, the Lord is to be all of those things to us. And He is, if we know Him as the psalmist did: "the Lord is my shepherd." Note the word "my." It denotes an intimate relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. It's a reflection of the relationship David had with Yahweh, Israel's covenant God. It's the type of relationship God wants to have with us.

Someone once said, "I would rather have less and have the Shepherd than to have more without Him." How about you?