No Asterisks

This past Christmas I was quite surprised to receive a package in the mail. It was something I ordered as a Christmas gift for my wife. 

Sort of. 

It was actually half of what I thought I ordered. I went back online and discovered some “fine print” that I hadn’t really noticed earlier. 

You’ve probably experienced that too—asterisksfine print … footnotes … hidden fees … “limits and exclusions may apply” are all so frustrating!

Unfortunately, we get so used to these things that we begin to—consciously or subconsciously—plug them into places where they don’t actually belong. So even when Jesus Himself says something that sounds wonderful like, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20), we want to insert an asterisk. 

Or when He says, “And I will do whatever you ask in My name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14), we think we’re supposed to ask, “What’s the catch?” 

Christians are inserting asterisks where they don’t belong and, as a result, are praying timid prayers. 

Why do we pray this way? Perhaps we are…

  1. …fearful of being too bold. But in telling us how to pray, Jesus says God rewards our bold “shameless persistence” in prayer. 

I tell you, although he will not get up and supply him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his shameless persistence and insistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ask and keep on asking and it shall be given you; seek and keep on seeking and you shall find; knock and keep on knocking and the door shall be opened to you. (Luke 11:8-9 AMP) 

  1. …unsure that God hears us, cares for us, or even wants to answer us. But the Bible is quite clear that all of these things are true: He hears us, cares for us, and does want to give us what He has promised (1 John 5:14-15; Romans 8:32; Romans 4:20-21).  
  1. …ignorant of what/how to pray. T.M. Moore reminds us, “God has given us three great helps to assist us in our prayers. His Spirit groans for us; His Word guides us; and His Son governs and intercedes for us.” 
  1. …not looking for God’s answer. David said that after praying, he expectantly watched for God’s answer (Psalm 5:3). Indeed, the Aramaic word for prayer means “to set a trap.” 

“He is the God of limitless resources—the only limit comes from us. Our requests, our thoughts, and our prayers are too small, and our expectations are too low. God is trying to raise our vision to a higher level, call us to have greater expectations, and thereby bring us to greater appropriation. Shall we continue living in a way that mocks His will and denies His Word?” —A.B. Simpson 

Why are you hesitating to ask God for even a tiny amount when such vast resources are available? What would happen if you started to pray more boldly? What if you began to make mountain-moving requests? I dare you to try! 

Stop looking for the asterisks and start taking God at His word!

Join me next week as we continue our series on Boldly Praying, looking at some bold pray-ers in the Bible.

Four Kings Of Kings

When C.S. Lewis first introduces us to the land of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, we discover that the White Witch has Narnia seemingly under her iron fist, and has made it so that it’s always winter but never Christmas. 

“Come on!” cried Mr. Beaver, who was almost dancing with delight. “Come and see! This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power is already crumbling. … Didn’t I tell you, that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!” 

And then they were all at the top and did see.

It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge set a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly-berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. … Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.” 

I think the Israelites waiting for their Messiah must have felt a little like the Narnians: always winter, but never Christmas; trapped under the iron-fisted rule of Babylon, and Persia, and Rome. 

But as they approached what we now call the year 1 AD, winter is about to end and the Advent of CHRISTmas is about to occur at long last! 

You might think that the birth of Jesus brought us the King of Kings. But actually, there were three other “king of kings” that preceded Jesus, who all helped to fulfill God’s ultimate plan. 

Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon. God called him “My servant” and also gave him the title king of kings (Jeremiah 27:6; Ezekiel 26:7). It was he who defeated Judah and took captives with him to Babylon. Among those captives was a young man named Daniel. 

God gave Daniel the ability to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which foretold of three other kingdoms which would follow Babylon, with the fourth kingdom being called a kingdom of iron. History shows us that Babylon was defeated by the Medes, who were in turn defeated by the Persians, who were themselves defeated by the Greco-Romans. 

Artaxerxes was king of the Persians, and he called himself king of kings (Ezra 7:12). He helps to facilitate the Jews’ return back to Jerusalem, and even helped fund their efforts to rebuild the temple of Solomon and reestablish worship there. 

In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. Eventually, Octavius quelled a 20-year-long civil war and established himself as the unquestioned ruler of the Roman Empire. He changed his name to Caesar Augustus, which means the exalted one. But all throughout the Mediterranean world archeologists have discovered numerous other titles for Caesar Augustus—Divine, Son of God, God Incarnate, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, Savior of the World, and King of Kings. 

Historian Luke records these words, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree” (Luke 2:1). This decree called everyone to return to his hometown to be registered in Rome’s census. This decree meant that Joseph was obligated to return to Bethlehem. He took his pregnant wife with him to arrive just in time for Jesus to be born. 

JesusTHE eternal and ultimate King of Kings—was born in Bethlehem just as had been prophesied 700 years earlier in the winter of Israel’s captivity: 

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, you are little to be among the clans of Judah; yet out of you shall One come forth for Me Who is to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from ancient days (eternity). (Micah 5:2) 

The coming of THE King of Kings is proof that God sees you too. God brought the king of kings named Nebuchadnezzar, and Artaxerxes, and Caesar Augustus to power just to move two “average Joes” 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem so that THE King of Kings could be born there to fulfill the prophesy. 

God has a plan for your life. His plan for you was in place before you were even conceived in your mother’s womb. And—even this very moment—He is watching over world events to make sure that every detail of His plan is fulfilled (see Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 1:12)! 

If you ever feel like you are in a “winter” season of your life—always winter and never Christmas—just remember that God sees you, He has a plan for you, and He will bring an end to your winter just in time to bring you CHRISTmas!

Living Between The Advents

We live in an amazing time—the First Advent of Jesus has already happened in Bethlehem, and yet we are eagerly anticipating Christ’s Second Advent at any moment! 

The fourth stanza of Charles Wesley’s classic Christmas carol Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is a wonderful between-the-Advents look at what happened at the First Advent, and what we have to look forward to in the Second Advent. The key thing to note in this stanza is the verbs: come, fix, rise, bruise, efface, stamp, and reinstate. 

COME, Desire of nations—What is the “desire of nations”? It’s the restoration of God’s glory on earth, so it’s not really a what but a Who. The prophet Haggai informs us that our Desire is realized in the Advent of Jesus (2:1-9).  

FIX in us Thy humble home—At His First Advent, Jesus came and humbly made His home among us, even dying to pay the penalty for our sins (Hebrews 2:14, 17; Philippians 2:7-8). 

RISE, the woman’s conquering seed—Although Jesus was obedient to death—even death on a Cross, He didn’t stay dead but was resurrected (Philippians 2:8-9; Revelation 1:18)! 

BRUISE in us the serpent’s head—With His death and resurrection, Jesus took away the sting of death from satan, fulfilling one of God’s first prophesies (Genesis 3:15; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, 54-57).  

Adam’s likeness now EFFACE—That means to wipe out, do away with, expunge. That’s exactly what God does with our forgiven sins (Psalm 103:1-4, 10-12)! 

STAMP Thine image in its place—Although our sin has been effaced, God doesn’t leave us as blank slates, but instead He allows the image of His Son Jesus to be stamped onto our lives (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Corinthians 3:18). 

REINSTATE us in Thy love—The relationship we longed for is now reborn in us (1 Corinthians 15:49)! 

The Desire of Nations HAS come, and yet He WILL come again! We’re living between the Advents now, so a good question for Christians to ask is: “How are we to live?” I think there are three key things—

    1. In celebration that Jesus came at His First Advent to be our Savior 
    1. In anticipation of the Second Advent 
    1. In obedience to God’s Word (Revelation 22:7) 

The Powerful Name Of Jesus

As we approach Christmas Day and we think about the First Advent, many times our thoughts go to the scene of a lowly manger, tired parents, and a newborn baby wrapped in cloths. We tend to focus on the Baby. 

And rightly so! 

It is fascinating to think that before He was even born an angel appeared to both Joseph and Mary to tell them that this Baby should be named Jesus (Matthew 1:21 and Luke 1:31). But have you also noticed all of the other names and titles given to the Baby at His birth? 

    • a Savior who is Christ the Lord
    • Immanuel which means “God with us” 
    • Son of the Most High 
    • King of the Jews
    • Ruler of God’s people
    • Son of the Most High God
    • God Himself

What do we do with the name of the Lord? 

When I say “the name of the Lord” I’m not talking about the five letters that spell J-E-S-U-S or even C-H-R-I-S-T. The name of the Lord means all of God’s character, His majesty, His personality, His magnificence, everything that makes God God. 

The Bible clearly tells us how to use God’s name properly. We are to use the name of the Lord for

    • salvation
    • protection
    • batting the enemy
    • preaching
    • praying
    • casting out demons
    • healing the sick

The use of the name of the Lord should distinguish us. CHRISTians bear the name of Christ, so they should represent the character of God accurately, and in a way that causes others to glorify Him and want to approach Him. 

If there is a proper way of using the name of the Lord, that also means there are ways we can misuse the name of the Lord, something God expressly forbids in the third of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:7). 

We misuse the name of the Lord when we… 

    • …use His name as a throwaway phrase or as a curse word  
    • …make light of His majesty
    • …allow Jesus to be one of many options to salvation (see Acts 4:12) 
    • …use His name to make us look or sound religious (see Matthew 7:21-23) 
    • …perform parlor tricks (see Acts 19:13-16)

There is a holy balance—Jesus is both King of kings and a Friend of sinners. God paid an incredibly high price so that we could be reconciled to Him, but not so that you could treat Him ignorantly or carelessly. This calls for some serious searching by the Holy Spirit! Perhaps you could pray a prayer that David penned: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Sunbeams From God

For You are the fountain of life, the light by which we see. Psalm 36:9

“I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it. Then I moved so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.” —C.S. Lewis

“So we can say that when we ‘look along’ the heavens and not just ‘at’ the heavens, they succeed in their aim of ‘declaring the glory of God.’ That is, we see the glory of God, not just the glory of the heavens. We don’t just stand outside and analyze the natural world as a beam, but we let the beam fall on the eyes of our heart, so that we see the source of the beauty—the original Beauty, God Himself.  This is the essential key to unlocking the proper use of the physical world of sensation for spiritual purposes. All of God’s creation becomes a beam to be ‘looked along’ or a sound to be ‘heard along’ or a fragrance to be ‘smelled along’ or a flavor to be ‘tasted along’ or a touch to be ‘felt along.” —John Piper 

Leading Like A Shepherd

And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them (Psalm 78:72). 

The most powerful king Israel ever had is applauded for leading his people with integrity and skill like a shepherd. Not as a warlord, not as a kingdom builder, not as a musician and songwriter; but a lowly, unassuming shepherd. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who leads like a shepherd.

A shepherd is known for these qualities—

—shepherds don’s see their sheep as a mass, but know each and every individual by name. 

—shepherds lead their flock by walking in the middle of the group so that they can be as close to as many sheep as possible. 

—shepherds are attentive to the particular needs of the young, the sick, and the elderly.

—shepherds lay down in the dirt to protect any places vulnerable to a predator’s attack. 

—shepherds find the best food and water possible for their sheep. 

—shepherds search for any sheep who have strayed away. 

—David shepherded the people Israel just as he himself had been shepherded by God.

This is an invaluable lesson every leader should learn! 

This is part 30 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Alien Anxiety

“A recent survey of primary care physicians in the United States revealed that at least one-third of office visits were prompted by some form of anxiety.” —Lanny Hunter & Victor Hunter 

The Greek word for anxiety means to be pulled in different directions. In the context of “Aliens and Strangers,” it means being pulled between Earth’s way and Heaven’s way. Other biblical definitions for anxiety that the Amplified Bible brings out include—

    • being perpetually uneasy…about your life (Matthew 6:25) 
    • a troubled mind unsettled, excited, worried, and in suspense (Luke 12:29) 
    • drawn in diverging directions, his interests are divided and he is distracted from his devotion to God (1 Corinthians 7:34) 

Unchecked anxiety can negatively impact our physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual health, so it’s imperative—if we are going to live differently than Earthlings—that Christians handle their anxiety in an alien way. 

Peter gives us an alien response to our feelings of worry and anxiety—

Cast all your anxiety on [Jesus] because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Notice that Peter doesn’t say, “Don’t be anxious,” but he does say, “Here’s what to do with your anxiety.” Being anxious is not a sin, but hanging on to your anxiety may cause you to behave in a sinful way. 

So what do we do with our anxiety? In a word cast it off—throw it somewhere else! The verse tense here means it’s something we must keep on doing, so Peter is really saying keep on casting your anxiety on Jesus. 

Why can we keep on casting our anxieties on Jesus? Because He cares for you. Jesus has taken charge of your care; He’s made it His goal that you aren’t missing out on the abundant life He paid for! This verb is in what’s called the indicative mood. That means it is something that has happened in the past, and it is happening now, and it will continue to happen forever and ever! 

Even if you cast an anxiety on Jesus 30 seconds earlier, you can do it again right now because that’s how much He cares for you! 

At the risk of oversimplifying it, here is the prescription for anxiety in four steps: 

  1. Recognize that you are anxious—admit it to yourself and to God. 
  2. Remind yourself that Jesus cares for you. 
  3. Reject your anxieties by counteracting your worry with God’s truth—I like to read something like Psalm 23.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3. 

“Your natural tendency when you’re feeling anxious is to focus on yourself and your problems. The more you do this, the more you forget about Me and all the help I can supply. This worldly focus only increases your anxiety! Let the discomfort you feel at such times alert you to your neglect of Me. Whisper My Name, and invite Me into your difficulties. … A problem-preoccupation makes you anxious. So I urge you to cast all your anxiety on Me—trusting that I care for you. You may have to do this thousands of times daily, but don’t give up! Each time you cast your worries and concerns on Me, you are redirecting your attention from problems to My loving presence.” —Sarah Young, in Jesus Always 

Join me next week as we continue our series called Aliens and Strangers. You can join me in person or watch via Facebook Live. 

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