Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Legacy Altar

This month in the Legacy Reading Plan we’re in the book of Joshua, which is such an exhilarating book. We so often talk about the time the Israelites left Egyptian captivity, and crossed over the Red Sea with God parting the waters to make way for them upon dry ground (Exodus); yet, so often we forget that after they left exile and crossed the Red Sea, they likewise entered Paradise, or the land of Palestine, by way of crossing the Jordan River, and God performed the same miracle! He parted the waters of the Jordan which were in flood stage. The Jordan in flood stage during the harvest was very wide, and impassible; yet, as soon as the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant reached the Jordan, and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing, and the water flowing down to the sea—the Salt Sea—was completely cut off, and the people of Israel went through on dry ground into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:1ff).

What I find fascinating is this: if you keep reading through Joshua, not long after the time God allows them to enter into the Promised Land, we see Joshua lying facedown, and crying out to the Lord, questioning why He led them to the land, saying, “Why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!” (Joshua 7:7, NIV).

Joshua had come into a difficult situation and immediately was thinking about how wonderful it once was in the desert, just as the desert Israelites were thinking how wonderful it was back in Egyptian exile. They essentially forgot that God had provided a way for them, and they longed for what was before.

God, however, commands the people to build an altar—to signify a way of remembering His salvation (Joshua 8:30–35). It’s similar to what I call a “legacy altar,” where you set aside a record of the significant moments in which God sovereignly provides for you, where His grace is bountiful, where His mercy is overflowing, and His love has been most clearly demonstrated in your life.

Like Joshua, you too must remember the faithfulness of the Lord in your situation, because so often we forget—and I can tell you that that’s true of me, just as it’s true of you—and, therefore, it’s so good to record the faithfulness of God, so you can go back to that altar as a memorial, a remembrance, of God’s faithful provision.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

“Our Father in Heaven…”

To the disciples, the first words of the Prayer of Jesus must have been nothing short of scandalous. Of all the things they had ever learned about prayer, this was certainly not one of them. They were not even permitted to say the name of God aloud, let alone refer to him as “our Father.” Yet, that is precisely how Jesus taught his disciples to pray.

There was, however, a catch. As John explains, only those who received Jesus and believed in his name have the right to refer to God as “our Father” (see John 1:12) In fact, Jesus made it clear that there are only two kinds of people in this world: Those who should refer to Satan as “our father” and those who may refer to God as “our Father” (John 8:44-47). There are no other options.

In one sense, Jesus is the only one who can legitimately address God as Father, for he is the unique Son of God and has been so throughout eternity. However, as Paul explains in Romans 8, those who are led by the Spirit of God are no longer illegitimate children. Instead, they too are sons and daughters by adoption in faith in Jesus. Thus, they can legitimately refer to God as “our Father.”

Jesus continues the pattern by teaching his disciples to qualify the phrase “our Father” with the words “in heaven.” In doing so, he is teaching us that God transcends time and space. We can address him with intimacy but never with impudence. He is the sovereign Creator and we are but sinful creatures. Addressing God as “our Father” makes us ever mindful of our relationship with God. It also underscores the fact that I do not come before him in isolation, rather, I come as part of the community of faith. Thus, adding the phrase “in heaven” reminds us of the reverence due his name.

[Excerpt from Hank Hanegraaff’s The Prayer of Jesus pp. 36-38.]

Monday, April 12, 2010

Writing the Word on the Tablet of Your Heart

If there is one thing preserved in the text of Scripture, it is the injunction to record God’s words upon the tablet of your heart.

One of the best things that happened to me as a new believer was being told that all Christians memorize Scripture. By the time I found out that not all of them do, I was already hooked. Now, as I look back, I can truthfully say that nothing compares with the excitement of memorizing Scripture. Charles Swindoll summed up my sentiments in this regard when he wrote:

I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. That’s right. No other single discipline is more useful and rewarding than this. No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your counseling will be in demand. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified. (Charles R. Swindoll, Seasons of Life [Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1983], 53, emphasis in original)

Despite such marvelous benefits, far too few Christians have made Scripture memorization a lifestyle. For the most part, it is not because they don’t want to, but because they have never been taught how to. While they may think they have bad memories, the reality is they simply have untrained memories.

I am convinced that anyone, regardless of age or acumen, can memorize Scripture. God has called us to write His Word upon the tablet of our hearts (Proverbs 7:1-3; cf. Deuteronomy 6:6), and with the call He has also provided the ability to do so. Your mind is like a muscle. If you exercise it, you will increase its capacity to remember and recall information. If you don’t, it will atrophy. Here are a few practical tips to get you started:

• Set goals. He who aims at nothing invariably hits it.

• Make goals attainable. If your goals are unrealistic, you will undoubtedly become discouraged and give up.

• Memorize with a family member or friend. One of my treasured experiences was swinging back and forth on a hammock, memorizing Proverbs 2 with one of my children. Memorizing with someone else is enjoyable and will also make you accountable.

• Use normally unproductive time to review what you have memorized, such as while waiting in lines, or falling asleep. Remember, there’s no time like the present to get started! A good place to begin is Psalm 119. In fact, committing verse 11 of that passage—”I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you”—to memory may well encourage you to make Scripture memorization part of your lifestyle.

While you’re at it, you may also wish to consider memorizing Joshua 1:8. These wonderful words remind us that memorization facilitates meditation: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” If you want the formula for genuine prosperity, there it is!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Meditating on God’s Word and Effective Prayer

Hard as it is to believe, we are already in the spring of the second decade of the 21st century! If you are with me following the Legacy Reading Plan, you are already reading the Book of Joshua. This is a fascinating book. It is the first of the twelve historical books—Joshua through Esther—that forges a link between the Five books of Moses and the remainder of Israel’s history.

God’s plan for redemption becomes a tangible reality in the Book of Joshua. We see that Joshua is chosen by the Lord to lead the children of Israel into the land of promise. The wanderings of Adam, Abraham, and Moses finally give way to rest on every side.

The intrigue this month that will become palpable before spring gives way to summer is that we will encounter the people of the promise living in servitude inside the Persian Empire. Why? How could God’s promises, which reach their zenith under Solomon, have ended in exile and humiliation? Well, the answer is that they forgot the Word of God: They began to do what is right in their own eyes. This of course is precisely why I have purposed to tackle the problem of biblical illiteracy during our jubilee year—our fiftieth year of ministry—for without the Word, we too will surely lose our way, and without the Word, we have no road map for the journey of life.

The Word of God is not only a light to our path; I believe that meditating on the Word of God is the missing link between the intake of Scripture and an effective prayer life. As I have sought the Lord’s face in prayer, I have become absolutely convinced that we need to see the connection between prayer and reading the Bible. Our devotion to the Word of God drives us into the presence of God through the practice of earnest meditative prayer.

If you’re like me, you probably pray backwards. You hurry into God’s presence with a laundry list of prayer requests, and before your knees ever touch the ground, you’re already thinking about getting back into your frenzied lifestyle. Often we treat God no better than we treat our families. We want relationship but without the discipline of investing quality time. So the first step toward intimacy with God is to make prayer a priority.

Intimacy: That is precisely what prayer is. Once we grasp the significance of a dialogue with God, prayer will no longer be a mere duty or discipline, it will become a delight. For prayer is the very means of bringing us into the presence of the one who saved us by His grace.