We who preach and write, do so in a manner different from which the Scriptures have been written. We write while we make progress. We learn something new every day. We speak as we still knock for understanding...If anyone criticizes me when I have said what is right, he does me an injustice. But I would be more angry with the one who praises me and takes what I have written for Gospel truth than I would be with the one who criticizes me unfairly. -Augustine

Missing Persons Part 2

If you recall from yesterday, we were searching for the mysterious missing person in the family tree of Jesus. If you followed the clues from Jeremiah 22 and 52, you would have found that the missing person was Jechoniah. But how is this possible? Jeconiah was cursed by God never to have children. Then how in the world does he show up in the family history of Jesus in Matthew chapter 1?

If you study the life of Jechoniah you will find that something miraculous happens at the end of his life. In the last few verses of the book of Jeremiah, we learn that Jechoniah, after 37 years of imprisonment, is suddenly freed. And he’s not only freed; he is also seated above all the kings of the land and receives an allowance from the king of Babylon, a change of royal clothing, and a seat at the king’s table for dining. Now this is extremely strange. Why? The Old Testament doesn’t say.

But the New Testament unravels the mystery. In Matthew chapter 1 Jechoniah is mentioned twice–before Babylon and after Babylon. Before Babylon he is considered as a dead man in the eyes of God–cursed, never to have children. But after Babylon, he is given a new life and has a son whom he names, Shealtiel. The name Shealtiel is significant because it unlocks the mystery of Jechoniah’s miraculous deliverance from prison and the miraculous birth of a son-for Shealtiel, means, “I ASKED GOD!”

No matter how bleak one’s life has become, deliverance is just three words away.

Published in: on December 18, 2010 at 4:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Missing Person, Part 1

Do you enjoy a good mystery? Did you know that the New Testament begins with a mystery? Leading up to the birth of Jesus, Matthew records the family line of Jesus in three sets of fourteen generations. Well, one day I decided to count them, and lo and behold, there were only thirteen generations in the last set! Count it if you must but you will only find thirteen names.

Now maybe there is a reason for this missing person–a deep dark family secret perhaps? If I had descendants who were prostitutes, guilty of incest, murderers, and liars, I don’t think that I would record their names in a book for everyone to see. Matthew seems to hold nothing back however. He reveals that in Jesus’ family line there is treachery, sexual perversion, and severe self-centeredness, without any attempt to whisper or cover-up.

But if there is no attempt for a cover-up, then why the missing person? Before I explain why there is a missing person, I would like you to spend a little time in Matthew one and count the names for yourself. You may be able to figure out the mystery on your own. If you do, you will be blessed immeasurably! I will even give you a clue to help you find the missing person. If you read Jeremiah chapter 22:24-30, and the last chapter in Jeremiah (52), particularly the last four verses, you should be able to find the missing person. One more clue–take a look at the last word in Jeremiah in several different Bibles, including the NIV and the KJV. Once you see the difference, you may be shocked, but you’ll be well on your way to finding the missing person. If you can’t figure it out, tomorrow we will learn the identity of the missing person and why he has been left out of the family tree. May the search begin!

Published in: on December 17, 2010 at 4:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Fish Hooks, Nostrils, and a Humble Prayer

One of the wickedest kings in all of Israel, if not the most wicked, was Manasseh, son of Hezekiah (2nd Chronicles 33). What I find puzzling about the life of Manasseh is why God records so much of his dirty laundry. But before we look closely at God’s judgment, it should be mentioned that one of the reasons for Manasseh’s wicked life was his absent “godly” father, Hezekiah. Hezekiah was so focused on his career that he had little time to prepare his son for the responsibilities of kingship. Manasseh was 12 years old when he began to reign.

God’s judgment of Manasseh begins with him being fish hooked through his nostrils and led to Babylon as a slave. He had been explicitly warned by God to repent but he refused. The text in 2 Chronicles 33:11 says he was captured with “hooks.” I heard Dr. Colin Smith lecture once that this referred to a fish-like pronged hook that was yanked up through the nostrils, attached to a line. It sounds pretty nasty, but Manasseh reaped what he sowed.

But then something unexpected occurs–this low-life king is blessed by God.But why? In 2nd Chronicles the Scriptures records that Manasseh’s prayer turned God’s heart favorably toward him. Can a prayer have that much influence upon the heart of God?

“And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God” (2 Chronicles 33:12-13).

What an amazing turn around; what a merciful God. He will hear our prayers and act favorably toward us, if we will humble ourselves . . . no, if we greatly humble ourselves, and pray. Deliverance for anyone–at any time–is only one prayer away.

Published in: on December 16, 2010 at 4:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Connected Holidays

Recently I received a letter from a listener who shared about her family connectedness during Thanksgiving. She hadn’t seen some members of her family for over six years and couldn’t wait to hear all about God’s blessings over the years. Hugs and kisses abounded as family arrived from across the country.

As the great reunion began, she shut down her laptop and phone, as there were only a few precious days to be shared. Sadly, even before coats were removed, all sorts of buzzing and beeping went off. Instantly mom, dad, and their two children tuned in to their iPhones. Every conversation was interrupted. At the Thanksgiving dinner–a gathering that had not been shared together for over twenty years–some family members continually received text messages from friends during the mealtime celebration. Led by example, one of the children came to the table with her phone and iPod, thinking nothing of it.

This situation is heartbreaking for some, but seemingly normal for others. Should we raise the white flag of surrender? No, we need not be controlled by new technology. What we need is to prioritize our lives and our relationships, and have the discipline to turn our phones off–particularly when we are eating or conversing. It is a matter of good manners and consideration. There are times, of course, when you might be expecting an important call or text; if that is the case, simply let your guest know in advance that you may need to take a call during your conversation.

As we reestablish rules of courtesy and consideration in our own lives, then hopefully our children will follow.

“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous” (1 Peter 3:8).

Published in: on December 15, 2010 at 4:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Too Close for Comfort, Part 2

Too Close for Comfort: Part 2

As we continue our discussion on Too Close for Comfort, it is important to note that extreme anxiety about separateness or closeness is often fear-driven. The man who needed the constant companionship of his wife revealed that the root problem was fear. Where there is fear, there is an absence of genuine love. We are created as individuals with unique giftedness, and though we need others for love and support, we equally need our separateness. To arrive at a healthy balance of closeness and separateness, we must learn from a Son who:

“…took upon himself the form of a servant,

and was made in the likeness of men:

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself,

and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him…”

Both Father and Son are intimately connected, yet both have their distinct and separate roles to fulfill. The beauty of their connectedness is revealed in their separateness as they serve and honor each other.

Thirty-two years ago, I left family and friends to follow my separate and distinct calling to go to seminary, which laid the foundation for me to start Lamplighter Ministries. This separateness broke my dad’s heart. I later learned that he cried for two years after we left with their grandchildren. Little did I know that God’s call of separation would bring a new sense of closeness. Two years ago, after reading two of our Lamplighter books, Christie’s Old Organ and Buried in the Snow, my dad came to know Jesus as his Savior. I will never forget the day when I heard him say, “Son, I know Jesus as my Savior, and I’m going to ‘Home Sweet Home.'”

When we hold on too closely we will lose; but when we follow God’s call to develop our unique giftedness (separateness), there is gain for all.

Published in: on December 14, 2010 at 4:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Too Close for Comfort: Part 1

Recently a woman called asking if there was something she could do to help her husband stop being so dependant upon her. She said that they have a great marriage, love each other, rarely argue, but he wants to be with her all of the time. She continued by saying that she feels a little suffocated and frustrated that he doesn’t seem to be able to have any individual identity apart from her.

The imbalance of being disconnected or overly-connected with our family surrounds the basic needs of the human heart. Each of us has a need to be separate (identity, contribution), and a need to be close (to be accepted, love and be loved).

To be separate in a positive sense is to define self. But self-revelation depends upon one’s knowledge of God. We understand ourselves and our responsibilities as a parent and spouse in terms of our understanding of God and His relationship to His Son.

An inability to define oneself pushes one to become dictatorial, detached, enmeshed or indulgent; one’s family then becomes the measurement of their self-worth and identity.

To be close in a positive sense is to understand that we have been commissioned by God to provide a service to those he has entrusted in our care.

In the book How Your Church Family Works, Peter Steinke writes: “Separateness and Closeness also produce anxiety. The more intense our anxiety becomes, the more extreme our positions will be. Either we become too remote or too entangled. If we are too anxious about being close, we disengage. We exaggerate separateness. We say things like: “I can only count on myself.” “I’m 100% right.” In the same manner, if we are overanxious about being separate, we enmesh. We are stuck together in an exaggerated way. “I can’t live without you.” “I’ll give you what you want for my own peace of mind, at the expense of my own soul.”

The Scriptures teach that we are to be eager to maintain unity (closeness) in the bond of peace. But in order for unity to be governed by peace, each of us must first speak the truth in love and grow, using our unique God-given gifts (separateness) in order to build one another up in love.

Published in: on December 13, 2010 at 4:30 am  Leave a Comment  

The Influence of Role Models

The influence of a role model can change the direction of a life. Thirty years ago, one man, Charlie Tremendous Jones, inspired me to be a reader. And what an influence it was! Though I never read a book until I was twenty-two years old, Charlie’s influence set me on a course for which I shall forever be thankful.

Now, thirty years later, I still pray the pray that I found in that first book on the life of D.L. Moody: “The world has not seen what God can do through one man wholly committed unto him, I pray I be that man.” Next was George Mueller, who trusted God for countless orphans; what Moody did on his feet, Mueller did on his knees.

Amy Carmichael risked her life to stop teenage prostitution in India, and Gladys Aylward gave her life to care for Chinese orphans. I will never forget the pages that describe her defiance when faced with the insurmountable obstacles of the Japanese and Chinese armies that blocked her passage to water. She was threatened that she and the children would be killed. But not this day-she bravely held on to the promises of God, “MY God shall fight for me!” And he did! It is recorded that both armies fled in opposite directions. When you’re surrounded by angels with swords drawn, it is best that you get out of the way!

What a profound influence role models can have on our lives! You see, “You’ll be the same five years from now as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” With a renewed mind and redeemed passions, we can experience what the Apostle Paul so poignantly expressed to the Ephesians: God will do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think!

Published in: on December 12, 2010 at 4:28 am  Leave a Comment  

One Step at a Time

When problems seem overwhelming, the solution begins one step at a time.

Rosemarie Jeanpierre faced a HUGE problem–she was more than 100 pounds overweight. This hard-working nurse should have known better; she was well-aware of the health risks related to obesity–but it wasn’t until her own test results revealed borderline diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol that she knew her lifestyle had to change.

But Rosemarie’s transformation didn’t begin with her medical training, a new diet, or an exercise program–the first step was faith. “God, I want to live,” she prayed. “Show me how to change.”

Slowly, one step at a time, Rosemarie exchanged her bad lifestyle habits for healthier ones. Instead of visiting her favorite fast-food restaurants, she started packing her lunches and carefully counted calories. Instead of spending evenings watching the TV, she started walking and soon was jogging around the block. And despite many temptations to quit, she fought back by journaling, listening to the encouragement of her husband, and praying.

Today Rosemarie is still stepping out in faith–by competing in marathons several times a year. She can hardly believe it herself! But then she remembers: “I asked God to help me change, and He showed me that when we believe in him–and in our ourselves–anything is possible.”

As Philippians 4:13 reminds us: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Published in: on December 11, 2010 at 4:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Suzerainty Treaty

Deuteronomy 28 contains one of the scariest horror stories in the Bible. In this portion of Scripture God pronounces all the curses He will bring upon His children if they forsake His commands. These curses range from sickness to cannibalism! This is a grim chapter indeed.

Why is God our Father so severe at times? Why such dire consequences for their actions? In order to understand this severity we much consider the depravity of man. Surrounding Israel were pagan nations committing heinous acts. Parents were sacrificing their children in the fire. The Israelites had just spent 400 years under the pagan rule of Egypt. God’s laws were foreign to them. So in order to remove the contamination of the culture, God used aspects of the culture that they understood.

One facet of the culture that God used was called the Suzerainty Treaty, used by the king with a new people that joined his nation. In this treaty the king promised to keep his part of the covenant if the people kept theirs. A list of blessings and curses were decreed-if they remained loyal, they would never lack his care, provision, or protection. If they were unfaithful, the curses would be unleashed.

This type of treaty between the king and his people is really no different from the laws that govern us today. If we obey the laws of the land then we can enjoy its freedoms. If we break them, then we must pay the penalty.

There was one major difference however. God’s laws were relational, and he wanted His people to show appreciation for His care over them. In Deuteronomy 28:47 Moses writes:

“Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things . . . now you will lack everything.”

I have to wonder if this relates to our nation today. A gesture of appreciation may be the starting place to turn things around. Perhaps we can practice this lost art, both at home and at work.

Published in: on December 10, 2010 at 4:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Deathless Love at Bull Run

John Eldredge has in his files a copy of a letter written by Major Sullivan Ballou, a Union officer in the 2nd Rhode Island. He wrote to his wife on the eve of the Battle of Bull Run, a battle he sensed would be his last.

He speaks tenderly to her of his undying love, of “the memories of blissful moments I have spent with you.” Ballou mourns the thought that he must give up “the hope of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood around us.”

Yet in spite of his love the battle calls and he cannot turn from it. “I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter . . . how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution . . . Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break” and yet a greater cause “comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistably on with all these chains to the battle field.”

What resolve! Major Ballou calls to mind the words of Robert Lewis in his book Raising a Modern Day Knight. A biblical man is one who has “A will to obey, a work to do, and a woman to love.” If I could add one, it would read, A will to obey, a work to do, a woman to love, and a battle to fight. We are called to be warriors, protectors, lovers, and initiators. If a man possesses true love, it will evidence itself in sacrifice, for “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Published in: on December 9, 2010 at 4:24 am  Leave a Comment