About to drown? Trust the Lord of the Tides

In Psalm 42, the Musician cries out to God about the awful circumstances he is enduring. Things are so bad, he has nothing to eat. He remembers the good old days, when he celebrated in worship with great crowds of enthusiastic believers . Now he is alone, and the unbelievers taunt him: “Where is this God of yours? If your God is so strong and faithful, why are you in such dire straits?”

This sad, discouraged soul feels like he is drowning in a raging sea. Is this how his life ends? Towering waves pound him mercilessly. A strong tide threatens to drag him out to sea. “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Then it strikes him: Those mountainous waves are God’s waves. These deadly tides ebb and flow at the Lord’s command. Though tossed in a raging sea, our friend is still alive — and God is the one who gives life. “Each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.”

A new resolve rises in his heart: “I will remember your kindness! I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again — my Savior and my God!”

Is life too much for you right now? Do you feel like you’re about to drown? Are you discouraged to the point of just giving up?

Remember that the God who loves you is the one who created the waves that are pounding you. He is Lord of the Tides. Check your pulse. Is your heart still beating? Each pulse is a gift from God. Every single time your heart beats, God says, “I love you! There is a reason you haven’t drowned. Hang in there and trust me.”

Each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon you — even if only in the fact that he awakens you to live another day. Remember the days when he was kind to you. Put your hope in him and trust that he intends to use this storm to help you, not harm you. In the night, when you have no food but your tears, sing praise to him and pray. He is your Savior and your God! He has always been faithful — and he isn’t going to change now.

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God requires you to be legalistic

God requires you to be legalistic. A perfect God deserves perfect people. Jesus commanded perfection.

But it’s not what you think. God isn’t some bureaucrat who grinds out mountains of regulations. During his last supper with his disciples, Jesus replaced all the rules of religion with one new commandment: “Love each other, just as I have loved you.” The great apostle Paul would later write, that “the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

John, the disciple Jesus loved most, absolutely shreds rule-keeping legalism with this amazingly circular paradox: “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another ….” (2 John 1:6 NLT’96)

God requires you to be legalistic — about loving others the way Jesus loved us.

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You’ve got more important things to do

I’m listening to 1 John 4 this morning, and it’s grieving me that so many Christians have so many bad things to say about other Christians.

This guy seems to think he’s got everything figured out, and he’s got nothing but disdain for people who don’t see it his way. This faction is convinced that other faction is going to be the death of Christianity in our time, unless everyone comes around to “our true doctrine.” One group has nothing but venom for Christians who tolerate sin; another group doesn’t seem to know anything that still counts as sin. Then there’s “Buy My Book” Guy with the big smile who just wants everyone to be happy and rich — like he is.

Some days you want to de-Friend half the people on Facebook. How do you know who to listen to? How do you decide who to ignore?

John confirms what we already suspect: We can’t believe everyone who claims to speak for God. If all these people speak for God, the Almighty is pretty seriously confused. John says there are many false prophets in the world, and we must test each one to see who comes from God.

John’s test has only two questions: (1) Does the person hold up Jesus as God in the flesh? and (2) Does he love other people?

For some people, that list is too short, but you have John’s permission to reject the teaching of anyone who fails either of those tests. A teacher who does not acknowledge that God’s Word became a human being, that person is not from God. (vv.2-3) Anyone who does not love others, that person does not know God, because God is love. (v.8)

The heart of Truth is that God became flesh and lived among us. Jesus showed us what it looks like to live God’s way, then he suffered, died, and rose from the grave so we can be transformed into that new kind of life. He commissioned us (1) to tell others the good news that God became one of us and (2) to follow his example by loving our neighbors the way he loved us.

Yes, you will want to agree on more points of doctrine if someone is going to help you start churches in San Francisco, Shiva, or Shariah, but you don’t have to put up with “Christian” teachers who don’t hold up the truth about Jesus or live out his self-sacrificing love.

Verse 5 says, “These people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them.”

You, on the other hand, belong to God. “You have already won your fight with these false teachers, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” (v.4)

And you’ve got more important things to do than waste time on their nonsense.

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God is holding off Judgment Day for *you*

sominexGod’s sense of humor: I’m listening to 2 Peter 3 this morning (“the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief …) and on the web page next to the passage is an ad for the new Left Behind movie (starring the world-famous actor Nicolas “Sominex” Cage).

Peter reminds us that “in the last days there will be scoffers who will laugh at the truth and do every evil thing they desire” — and it seems like we have been living in the last days for thousands of days now. However, Peter also says the Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, but is being patient for the sake of believers: “He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.”

We think of repentance as something lost people do, but in this passage Peter is telling the believers (us) that the Lord is being patient for our sake and giving us time to repent too. That’s because ‘repentance’ isn’t just about turning from our old sinful ways and turning to Christ for rescue. The Greek word is metanoeo, and it’s about the complete transformation of who we are — the narrow road journey that builds in us the character of Jesus and teaches us how to continue his mission in the world. It’s a revolutionary renewing of your mind that turns you into an agent of God’s shalom revolution in the world. (Related: What does it mean to ‘repent’?)

Peter’s point (in v.14) is for believers: “While you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to live a pure and blameless life and be at peace with God.” Only after Peter says that does he add that the Lord also is waiting so people have time to be saved.

Peter doubles down on his point about God holding off Judgment Day to give his people time to mature spiritually. He warns us about “ignorant and unstable” people who twist the Scripture and carry away unwary, immature Christians into error. Peter says, “I don’t want you to lose your own secure footing.”

I wouldn’t bother going to see a movie that lulls Christians into complacency with the false promise that they won’t have to endure the tribulation that is coming. I wouldn’t suggest you spend large amounts of time trying to sort out the specific sequence of events that lead to Judgment Day. I would suggest, “dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to live a pure and blameless life and be at peace with God … and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

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Are you starving for God’s justice?

God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for his justice; they will be completely satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)

People who are never starving or dying of thirst will be hard pressed to understand this verse. Those who heard Jesus speak the words, however, understood only too well. They very familiar with what Kenneth Bailey calls “unrelenting hunger and life-threatening thirst.”

Bailey says: “Each day, prompted by hunger and thirst, all people seek food and water, hoping to be satisfied. But for how long? A few hours later, the cravings return. This beatitude makes clear that the bless-ed are those whose drive for righteousness is as pervasive, all consuming and recurring as the daily yearning to satisfy hunger and thirst.”

Many religious people around the world believe righteousness “is no more than adherence to an ethical norm,” Bailey says. To that I would add that most American Christians have not been taught that “righteousness” and “justice” are the same side of the same coin.

Bailey points out that in the Bible, ‘righteousness’ often refers to God’s mighty acts of salvation. Mighty God acted on behalf of the weak and oppressed Hebrew children to rescue them from slavery. Today, God still does justice for people who cannot rescue themselves from captivity, who cannot ever be righteous in their own right. God gives us a new status — “declared righteous.” Bailey says living justly is our human response of gratitude for the verdict of righteousness God gives us as a free gift.

Bailey also notes that ‘righteousness’ in the Bible has nothing to do with “an absolute ideal ethical norm,” but instead is about relationship, and relationships make claims on our conduct: “The unspeakable gracious gift of acceptance in the presence of God requires the faithful to respond,” Bailey says. “The righteous person is the one who acts justly. Furthermore that justice/righteousness is not simply giving every man his due but includes showing mercy and compassion to the outcast, the oppressed, the weak, the orphan and the widow.”

Just as God helped us when we could not help ourselves, we are to help others in desperate need. The way God helped us experience profound life transformation becomes the model for us as we love our neighbors the way we love ourselves.

Bailey adds: “Jesus does not say, ‘Blessed are those who live righteously and maintain a righteous lifestyle.’ The statement presupposes that righteousness is something the faithful continuously strive after.”

Who among us has a passion for justice “as pervasive, all consuming and recurring as the daily yearning to satisfy hunger and thirst”?

And if we aren’t starving for God’s justice in the lives of our neighbors, should we be worried about our own relationship with the God who brought justice to our lives?

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Do you want God to pull this country back from the abyss?

God drove his people into exile because they had closed their ears to the cries of the poor and oppressed. The people were disgraced, and disaster befell their city. Nehemiah’s heart was broken when he heard the news and he begged God to restore the people:

“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you sin, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands, even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.'” (Nehemiah 1:8-9 NLT’96)

But before Nehemiah asked “the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love” (v.5) to keep that promise of restoring his people and their city, Nehemiah confessed that the people — and even his own family — “have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, laws, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.” (v.7)

A generation of American Christians has been crying out for revival, for the Spirit of God to move among his people and bring the country to metanoeo. We are distressed that so many churches are in membership decline. We are worried about the chaos enveloping our society. A few of us are desperately praying for the Almighty to move in great power.

God will honor our prayer, as he honored Nehemiah’s, when we come to a point of heartbroken confession that we — even our own families — have sinned terribly, on at least these two counts:

– We are better Americans than we are Christians. We grew churches more concerned about membership than discipleship, and we drank deeply of a culture that values self-fulfillment over self-sacrifice. We have tried to serve two masters and failed to love the one who died to save us.

– We have not obeyed the Lord’s command to care for the poor. Politicians set out to expand their power by making the poor dependent on the government. One segment of Christianity abandoned the gospel of individual new birth for a false gospel of communal rebirth by government program. And because pursuing the American Dream requires our complete devotion, we turned our backs on the poor and oppressed.

The fall’s new TV shows should be enough to break a believer’s heart for this broken, confused nation. Even a glance at the evening news should provide a clue about the rage that simmers among our neglected neighbors.

Are you concerned about the decline of our churches? Do you want to see God move in power to keep this country out of the abyss? Then let us confess we have sinned terribly and return to obedience. Let us learn what it means to do justice and begin to love our neighbors the way we love ourselves.

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Five reasons to be confident about your salvation

If you keep following Jesus’ Way, you will reach your destination — the full, free, and forever life. 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 gives five reasons you can be completely confident of that: (1) the Lord can be trusted to keep his promise, (2) God is the one who makes you strong, (3) God himself protects you from the evil one, (4) God’s love for you is deeper than you understand, (5) the ability to endure is supplied by Christ himself.

But don’t miss the other crucial truth here. Those amazing promises bookend an emphasis on always practicing the commands we have been given. God’s promises are for his people, and his people are the ones who walk in his ways.

The passage is my prayer for you today: “But the Lord is faithful; he will make you strong and guard you from the evil one. And we are confident in the Lord that you are practicing the things we commanded you, and that you always will. May the Lord bring you into an ever deeper understanding of the love of God and the endurance that comes from Christ.”  (NLT’96)

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