Judging The Right Way

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I have probably heard this verse quoted more by non-Christians than any other verse: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). 

Does Jesus mean that we can never point out to anyone else an area of concern? No, because Jesus Himself did this as well as nearly every epistle writer of the New Testament. What it does mean is that confrontation needs to be truly corrective and never condemning. 

Correcting means that I am never serving as the judge and jury. But it does mean that I can lovingly help someone before they have to stand before God on Judgment Day. Jesus said that if I am a mean, self-serving judge of others, I can expect to receive that same treatment (v. 2). 

Instead, I need to first recognize that what I may see in another person may only be apparent to me because I am afflicted with the same thing. So my first response when I see “a speck” in someone else’s eye is to ask the Holy Spirit to show me a possible “plank” in my own eye. Only after I have dealt with this through repentance and making appropriate changes, will I have the necessary empathy and gentleness to help my brother or sister deal with their own eye speck (vv. 3-4). 

Jesus said that trying to get someone else to repent of something that still exists in my own life is being a hypocrite. It’s playing a role that isn’t me. So Jesus says “first” deal with my own sin, “then” I may help a brother or sister (v. 5). 

Notice that I have been very careful to use the phrase “brother and sister.” I believe that Christians should deal with fellow Christians, but we shouldn’t try to bring correction to those who don’t come from the same biblical paradigm that we have. In legal terms, I may say that we have no standing, or that non-Christians are out of my jurisdiction. 

One final thought. I think I need to treat a concern that another person brings to me in a very similar fashion as I would treat an eye speck someone else. Perhaps God sent them to me, so I need to ask the Holy Spirit to show me any “plank” that may be in my eye, even if it has been brought to my attention through a judgmental person. It is very God-honoring for me to give that person the benefit of the doubt by saying that they cared enough for my well-being that they would be willing to point something out to me. 

Correction is an important aspect of Christian maturity. But we need to make sure we do it in a Christlike way.

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The Path To Revival

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

As we rejoin our series looking at the Selahs in the Psalms, let me remind you of the definition of Selah: (a) a pause to reflect—or “pause, and calmly think of that,” as the Amplified Bible says; (b) notice the contrasts; or (c) get ready for a crescendo. 

Psalm 85 is a longing for revival. Not only longing for it but giving us the path to revival. 

Many Christians say they want revival, but I’m not so certain they have the biblical definition in mind. When most people define revival, they use descriptions about exuberant worship, manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the church reenergized for ministry, and non-believers flocking to see what’s happening and then accepting Jesus into their hearts as a result. 

But those are actually the results of revival, not the revival itself. 

Take a look at this overview of Psalm 85: 

  • a look back (vv. 1-3) 
  • a look around (vv. 4-6) 
  • a look ahead (vv. 8-13) 

I am aware that I skipped verse 7 in that overview. That is the middle verse of this psalm, so it is presenting us with the main idea. It’s a longing to see the path forward, the path to revival. It’s not about “getting saved” again because verses 1-3 already thank God for His salvation. 

But let’s notice the Selah. It seems to come mid-thought in the backward look. I think this is both a pause to consider deeply, and also a pause to look at the contrasts. It’s almost as if the sons of Korah, who wrote this psalm, have their breath taken away as they consider the immensity of God’s love that covers our sins! 

That word “cover” means to cover our nakedness, conceal our shame, and hide us from our forgiven sins. The alternative is to live in fear of God’s righteous judgment on our unforgiven sin. 

The sons of Korah long for this again. They long for a crescendo of righteousness, which is why in the “look around” section we see the phrases “restore us again” (v. 4) and “revive us again” (v. 6). 

This Hebrew word for “restore” always means a turning:

  • men turning back from God (apostasy) 
  • men turning away from God (backsliding) 
  • men turning away from evil (repentance) 
  • men turning back to God (revival) 

The ball is in our court. God has remained faithful; we are the ones who have sinned and turned away from Him. God hasn’t gone anywhere; we have! 

So revival begins with the recognition of our sin and profound repentance from that sin. Revival is a recognition that I have turned back from God, and now I need to turn away from evil and turn wholeheartedly back to God. 

Immediately following that middle verse notice the personal, singular pronoun “I” in verse 8. Revival starts with my recognition of my sin and then my repentance of that sin quickly follows. 

The “show us the way” prayer of verse 7 is answered in verse 13: “Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway” (NKJV). God Himself shows us the way! His footsteps mark the path for us to walk! 

Just as Jesus told us He was the way (John 14:6). 

When we repent from following any other path, revival and restoration happen. The fruit of revival is then a life sustained, quickened, and equipped by God’s presence that will draw others to Him too! 

Let us SELAH—pause and consider the forgiving love of God, the need for my repentance, and then let us enjoy the crescendo of living in daily revival! 

If you have missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find all of those messages by clicking here. 

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Recovering Mentally

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I had a great time on the Thriving In Ministry podcast with Kyle Willis and Dace Clifton. 

Kyle asked me a question about how I recharge myself mentally. A key verse in the Bible for me is 2 Corinthians 10:5 where the the apostle Paul counsels us to capture our thoughts. This is extremely hard to do when we are physically or mentally drained. 

In my younger years, I used to try to “do nothing” as my recovery time. As I matured, I realized that top athletes had a different way to help their body recover, and I began to adapt those practices to my time of mental recovery. Dace also shares a very helpful tip for his mental recovery time. 

In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter I make the case that in order for the sheep to be healthy, the shepherd has to get healthy first. The principle is simple: You cannot give to others what you do not possess yourself. I hope you will pick up a copy of my book to learn how Jesus taught us to be wholly healthy leaders.

I’ll be sharing more clips from this Thriving In Ministry interview soon, so please stay tuned. Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple.

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A Healthy On-And-Off

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I had a great time on the Thriving In Ministry podcast with Kyle Willis and Dace Clifton. 

The guys asked me a question about how I keep myself healthy, and I pointed them to a principle I observed in the life of Jesus. Check out this excerpt from the chapter “A Healthy Leader’s Sabbath” in my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter

     Jesus had a human body just like ours. The demands of ministry caused stress on His body just as it does on our bodies. This is totally natural—this is the way God designed us. Our body helps us meet the demands of each day by releasing a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps us by managing how our body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins; keeping inflammation down; regulating blood pressure; controlling the sleep-wake cycle; and boosting our energy. … 

     Cortisol is naturally flushed from our bodies by a healthy on-and-off rhythm. God built this into His Creation by giving us daily rhythms of day and night, work and rest, and by providing a weekly Sabbath to rest and reflect. But as most shepherd leaders know, setting aside a consistent Sabbath day is extremely rare. Again, let’s look to Jesus: Do you see Him doing anything—or not doing anything—on the Sabbath day that He didn’t do the other days? On any day of the week, we see Him speaking in a synagogue, healing the sick, teaching crowds of people, giving instructions to His followers, correcting religious leaders, walking with friends, or stopping to eat at someone’s home.  

     Jesus had a healthy on-off rhythm: work-rest, minister-celebrate, expend-refresh. Jesus demonstrated that the Sabbath is not so much a day as it is an attitude of the heart. It’s listening to the Holy Spirit say something like, “You’ve been very busy this afternoon, so it’s time to take a nap” and then obeying that divine prompting. Resting and being refreshed—“sabbathing”—is not a luxury; it’s a necessity! That’s why, after a busy day of ministry, we see Jesus spending time in prayer, or taking a nap while crossing the lake when He didn’t have anyone to teach or heal, or finding time for a retreat with His disciples so they could rest and recuperate. 

I have five chapters in Shepherd Leadership about a leader’s overall health, and two chapters in particular where I talk about practical ways that we can create the time to practice sabbathing.

I’ll be sharing more clips from this Thriving In Ministry interview soon, so please stay tuned. Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple.

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Oy!

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Woe is me!” said the prophet (Isaiah 6:5). 

The Hebrew word for “woe” here is the word “oy!” Although the word “woe” appears 20 times in the English translation of Isaiah, the Hebrew word “oy” is only used four times, and two of those times are Isaiah speaking of himself (6:5; 24:16). “Oy!” is a cry from a profound stab of pain from the realization that my sin has transgressed an All-Holy God. 

Isaiah saw his own sin (6:5) as well a the sin of his people (3:9, 11), and it took his breath away. He stood trembling before a holy God pleading for mercy and cleansing before he could answer the call to be God’s messenger to the people of Israel (6:5-8). 

The other Hebrew word that gets translated into the English word “woe” is “howy.” This is usually uttered from someone in pain because things aren’t going well. It’s a cry of, “Hey! Look! This is painful. This is not good at all.” But unlike “oy” which requires a profound heart change, “howy” can be said with the mouth without any change of the heart. 

Isaiah cried, “Oy!” because his sin deserved the punishment of the Righteous Judge, but his heart posture called on God’s mercy for forgiveness and restoration. Because of his cleansed heart, Isaiah could now call, “Howy!” to the people: “Hey, sinful Israel, look at your sin. Look at how you’ve transgressed against God. Feel that pain, then don’t delay, but cry out ‘Oy!’ to Him now, while mercy may still be found.” 

Isaiah’s “howy” had the impact of godly integrity because he had first cried “oy” in God’s presence. His “howy” was a call to others to do what he had done: see the holiness of God, see their sin, tremble in fear before an All-Holy God, and then cry “oy” to an All-Merciful God for forgiveness and restoration. 

We should do the same thing. When the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, don’t merely say, “Hey (howy), that hurts!” But say, “Oy! I have sinned, but God is a merciful Forgiver of sin.” Let that stab of pain from the conviction of your sin bring a change in your heart as well as a cry from your lips. God is merciful, and He does forgive. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Holy Familiarity

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Holy Familiarity  

     All these thirteen years, so far as Scripture informs us, Abram had not a single visit from his God. We do not find any record of his either doing anything memorable or having so much as a single audience with the Most High. Learn from this that if we once forsake the track of simple faith, once cease to walk according to the purity that faith approves, we strew our path with thorns, cause God to withhold the light of His countenance from us, and pierce ourselves through with many sorrows. 

     But mark, beloved, the exceeding grace of God: The way to recover Abram from his backsliding was that the Lord should appear to him…. This brings to my remembrance the words in the book of Revelation concerning the church in Laodicea: ‘You are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth’ (Revelation 3:15-16)—a very solemn declaration. But what follows? ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me’ (Revelation 3:20). That means just this: For recovery out of a horrible state of languishing and lukewarmness there is no remedy but the coming of Jesus Christ to the soul in near and dear communion! …

     Distance from God’s presence always means sin. Holy familiarity with God engenders holiness. The more you think of God, the more you meditate on His works, the more you praise Him, the more you pray to Him, the more constantly you talk with Him and He with you by the Holy Spirit, the more surely are you on the road to thorough consecration to His cause!

From Consecration To God

I’ve often said that one of the most powerful prayers we can pray is simply, “God, help!” In those two words we acknowledge our helplessness and His omnipotence, our sin and His forgiveness, our shortcomings and His desire to restore us. 

The devil lies! He loves to whisper the condemning words of, “You’ve messed up one too many times. You’re too far away for God to rescue you now. This time you exhausted God’s mercy.” 

Once again, by simply crying out, “God, help!” you are calling out satan’s lies. Jesus paid too high of a price for Him to ever let you go. Near the end of this sermon, Charles Spurgeon spoke a powerful reminder: “The blessings of grace are not given today to be taken back tomorrow, but are eternal blessings [Genesis 17:7, 13, 19].” Amen! 

My friend, cry out to God today—He loves you and He’s longing to restore you!

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Doing Justice The Right Way

Once I was asked to teach a class on business ethics but I said, “I can’t because there’s no such thing as ‘business ethics.’ There is only ethics: Either something is right or it’s not.” 

I think the same concept holds true for “social justice.” There is no such thing: Either something is just or it’s not. 

For those situations that are truly unjust, the Bible tells us how to handle them. But first, let’s get a sense of what the Bible actually means by the word “justice.” 

Psalm 50 is a courtroom scene, with God Himself presiding as the Judge, summoning all of creation into His presence (see Psalm 50:1-6). Just before The Judge begins to speak, the psalmist Asaph calls on us to Selah—or pause to consider—after saying, “The heavens proclaim God’s righteousness.” 

The New Living Translation has this verse saying, “The heavens proclaim His justice…” and the Amplified Bible uses both words: “The heavens declare His righteousness (rightness and justice)….” So which word is it: righteousness or justice? 

The Hebrew word (tsedeq) means something that is ethically right. In other words, something for which God sets the objective standard for rightness and wrongness. There is another Hebrew word that is often very closely associated with tsedeq, and that is justice (mishpat): that is the penalty for violating tsedeq. 

But here’s where things get really interesting. We usually associate the idea of justice with retribution (or payback), but God’s justice is usually portrayed as restoration. 

In other words, God’s mercy is so strong and His desire for us to be restored into right standing with Him is so passionate, that His default is restorative mercy. 

God’s response to our acts of unrighteousness wasn’t to rain down retributive justice on us, but to send His Son to earth to make restorative mercy available! 

In his first public sermon, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah. The last words Jesus read about His mission on earth were “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He left off the last phrase in Isaiah which said, “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Favor (restoration) now; judgment (retribution) later for those who would not accept the restoration Jesus made available. 

Back in the Psalm 50 courtroom, God tells us the wrong way to address injustice: with angry, demeaning words (Psalm 50:19-20).  

We CANNOT do justice God’s way without two things: 

  1. Personal righteousness which comes from Jesus in us (Romans 5:1); otherwise, we’re just hypocrites pointing out the exact same injustice that’s in ourselves. 
  2. Kindness. “But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24)

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

The darkness of injustice is the absence of light. Jesus says to us, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). 

The hate of injustice is the absence of love. Jesus says to us, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). 

Here are my takeaways—

  1. Let God be The Judge. 
  2. Make sure I am in right standing with God through my relationship with Jesus Christ. 
  3. If I see injustice, address it with kindness, light, and love.

If you have missed any messages in this current series in the Selahs in the Psalms, you can get caught up by clicking here.

It’s Time To Come Home

I already shared the bizarre but beautiful sermon illustration that Hosea lived out for the Israelites and for us. His wife had been unfaithful to him and had gotten herself so far in debt that she was a virtual slave. Hosea, in a clear picture of God’s amazing, unrelenting love, bought back his wife, paid off her debts, and completely restored her to himself. 

Sadly, the people of Israel—even after seeing this grace-filled living lesson—continue to push farther and farther away from God. This prompted God to announce the indictment against them… 

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed” (Hosea 4:1-2). 

It wasn’t the first time that someone preferred the things of the world to the things of God (like Adam and Eve), and it wasn’t the last time (like you and me). We mortals tend to be seduced by what we can see and hold right now, instead of trusting God for something far better. 

Jesus told a story about a son who enjoyed the full privilege and favor of his father, yet this son thought he could do better on his own. He asked his father for his share of the inheritance and left for a distant land, determined to live a life where he called all the shots. But with his money gone, he found himself in debt, starving, and working as a hired hand in a pigsty. 

It was then that Jesus said that young man came to his senses. He had nothing to bring to his father—no gift of restitution, no token of respect, nothing except his words. All he could say was, “Father, forgive me.” 

But that’s all that was needed. Hosea counseled the Israelites to do the same thing:

Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips” (Hosea 14:1-2). 

The wayward son had a rehearsed speech asking his father to simply hire him as a servant, as if he wasn’t worthy to be considered a son any longer. But the father—in words that reflect our Heavenly Father’s love—cut the son’s speech short. He let the son only say, “Forgive me,” but before the son could make the request to be a servant the father totally restored him. 

After Hosea calls the wayward people to return with their “forgive us,” he quotes God’s reply: “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them” (14:4). 

How could this be? How could God’s full judgment not fall on His wayward people? How could it not fall on you and me?! Because it fell on Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21)! So when we come back to God with our words of forgiveness, He restores us and clothes us in the robe of Jesus (Galatians 3:27). 

Absolutely amazing! 

God longingly speaks to His wayward people, “It’s time to come home. I’m waiting for you with open arms. I am ready to restore you completely. Just come home.”

Join me next week as we continue to learn about the major lessons we can discover in the minor prophets. 

A Bizarre Sermon Illustration

Hosea is the only prophet from Israel (he calls the Israelite king “our king” in 7:5), and along with Amos he is the only prophet to address the northern kingdom exclusively. Hosea addresses the northern tribes of Israel with brutal honesty—he calls them an adulteress wife! Hosea isn’t alone in saying this, as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all same the same thing too. 

But Hosea alone is called on to live out his message in a most unusual way: God instructs him to marry “an adulterous woman”! The question is: was she already a promiscuous woman before they married? Or did she become unfaithful after they were married? 

I believe that she became unfaithful after marriage. When Gomer gives birth to their first son, Hosea writes that “she bore him a son”—indicating he is the father. But with Gomer’s second and third pregnancies, Hosea simply writes, “she gave birth,” leading me to think that Hosea wasn’t the father of those children. 

The names of the children are also interesting: 

  • Jezreel—This boy’s name means “God sows.” It is a neutral word meaning either sowing good seed and reaping a healthy harvest, or sowing godlessness and reaping punishment. 
  • Lo-Ruhamah—Her name means “not pitied.” God indicates that He will bring a judgment on Israel that is deserved justice. He has been patiently calling them to repentance but they kept running farther away from Him. 
  • Lo-Ammi—This boy’s name is saddest of all. It means “not My people. 

How sad! Can you imagine Hosea’s heartache?! Can you imagine God’s heartache?! God tells Hosea the penalty for their adulterous life (Hosea 2:2-13), which the apostle Paul would later sum up in these straightforward words: the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). 

“YET” and “THEREFORE”…

In the middle of God expressing His heartache over His wayward wife He says two amazing words “Yet” and “Therefore” (1:10; 2:14). 

  • Yet I will bless you and reverse your misfortune” 
  • Therefore I will allure you and speak tenderly to you” 

This is UNBELIEVABLE!! Who would respond like this to such vile unfaithfulness?! 

God would.

God did! But God shows and clearly proves His own love for us by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ—the Messiah, the Anointed One—died for us (Romans 5:8). 

Hosea—whose name means salvation—is called on to do exactly what Jesus did for us. Hosea buys back his wife from her master. Hosea pays the price for Gomer’s sin, just as Jesus paid the price for our sin. 

What amazing love God has for us! 

You have never lived an unloved day in your life. Not a single one! God loves you more than the best husband could ever love his wife. He paid for your forgiveness and your freedom. Will you receive that forgiveness and restoration today?

Join me next Sunday as we learn more major lessons from the minor prophets. 

Poetry Saturday—Taladh Chriosda

The Lord my shepherd is and I 
shall not want. He makes me lie 
in green pastures, leads me by 
refreshing waters, still.

Restore my soul, Lord, day by day.
Lead me in Your righteous way 
for Your Name’s sake, Lord, I pray 
according to Your will.

And though through death’s dark vail I go,
I no fear of evil show, 
for Your rod and staff, I know, 
shall guard and comfort still.

A table You before me spread 
in the midst of those I dread, 
and with oil anoint my head.
My cup You overfill.

Thus goodness e’er shall follow me, 
mercy all my path shall see,
Your house shall my dwelling be 
forever after still. —T.M. Moore, in Bricks And Rungs

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