Dry Wood

Luke 23:31 (ESV)

Jesus was bearing His cross to Calvary.  When He could no longer carry it, being worn out by blood loss and emotional distress, Simon of Cyrene was put into service to bear it for Him.  As He continued along the road to Golgotha, the women were “mourning and lamenting for him” (v. 27).  When Jesus saw and heard this, He said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children” (v. 28).  He went on to warn them about the terrible days that were ahead when Jerusalem would be destroyed by Roman legions (vv. 29-30).  Then came this unusual and somewhat strange proverb: “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

What did this proverbial saying mean?  Obviously, “these things” were the arrest, torture, and crucifixion of our Lord.  The “wood” was “green,” meaning it was not ready for burning.  Green wood burns very slowly because it has life within it.  Jesus was the “green wood” that was being judged by men.  If judgment was this fierce on the green wood, how much more terrible would it be on the “dry wood”?

The “dry wood” expression was looking ahead to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.  This judgment was just, for the Jews had refused their Messiah and brought about His crucifixion.  In their rejection of Jesus, they were signaling that they would not return to the Lord as He had commanded them many times before over hundreds of years.  When judgment fell, the “dry wood” would burn quickly and painfully.

How does this all apply to us today?  While you’re still alive and breathing, you are the “green wood.”  The possibility for receiving eternal life through Jesus still exists.  All you must do is call upon Him in faith and receive the forgiveness of your sins.  But, if you wait too long, the green wood will die and become dry.  After death, it is too late to turn to Jesus.  The judgment you receive then will be just and complete.  It will last for eternity in a real place called Hell.  Now is the time to repent and turn to God through Jesus Christ.  Now is the day of green wood.  This time will not last forever.  Act now while you still can!

Crossing the Jordan

Joshua 4:24 (NIV)

The people of Israel had just crossed the Jordan River, the last barrier they faced before entering Canaan.  After forty long years of wandering, they were now coming into their promised possession.  God ensured that they were able to cross on dry land, though the waters of the Jordan were normally at flood stage (3:15; 4:18).  Why was this miracle necessary?  What was so special about this river crossing that God had to perform an awesome wonder?  Three reasons come to mind.

First, the Jordan River had to be parted so the people of Israel could cross over safely and enter the Promised Land.  Sometimes God will do the miraculous to get you where He wants you to be.  If He has promised something, He will fulfill it.  It only made sense that if Israel was going to get into their promised possession God would have to do something amazing.

Second, the Jordan River had to be parted “so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful.”  This was a dramatic display of God’s power that would be talked about far and wide for many years to come.  All who heard of it would be completely amazed at what the God of Israel had done.  They would recognize that God’s hand is powerful.  When God wants to do something big in your life, it’s not just for you.  It’s also for others to see and be astounded at what God has done.

Third, the Jordan River had to be parted “so that you (Israel) might always fear the Lord your God.”  The Lord was not just doing this for others to hear about.  He did this so that His Own people would continually fear (reverence) Him.  When they saw His mighty power, they knew that He alone was God.  When you consider the amazing things that God has done in your life, does it cause you to fear (reverence) Him?  Do you find it easier to worship and serve Him knowing that He is all-powerful?

Are you facing any Jordans right now that you think are impossible to cross?  God has already gone before you.  All you must do is take that first step of faith and watch as God takes care of the rest.  Then others will hear and believe in the God who has rescued you.  Then you will fear Him as the one true God and Lord of all.

Don’t Lose Heart

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)

People the world over have been dealing with the effects of COVID-19 for close to a year now.  It has been a trying time for all, changing every normal habit of our lives so as to prevent from contracting this deadly sickness.  The constant change has been demanding to say the least as it has taxed us mentally, physically, and spiritually.  There are, however, some good things that are coming out of all this.  People are asking spiritual questions like never before, and Christians are taking a new look at how they do ministry.

The Apostle Paul understood what it was like to serve the Lord during difficult times.  He was “afflicted in every way…perplexed…persecuted…struck down” (vv. 8, 9).  But these things did not cause him to lose heart.  He continued to serve the Lord heartily, taking every opportunity he could get to share Christ with those who needed to hear of the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Speaking to the church at Corinth of this, he said, “So we do not lose heart.”  What kept him from losing heart?  The answer is clear; he looked at eternal things, not temporal things.  “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”  Circumstances may wear away at our body and mind, but they also have a way of being used by God to renew us spiritually if we let them.  This current crisis is an ideal time for all Christians to grow spiritually like never before.  Many of the things that once hindered us have been removed.  We have no one to blame for our lack of spiritual growth but ourselves.

Paul didn’t get focused on his situation.  He knew ultimately that these things were nothing in comparison to what God was doing.  “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  Whatever we must face now is a “light momentary affliction” when compared to what God is preparing for us in eternity.  The glory that lies ahead will far outshine the darkness we face today.

So how do we keep from losing heart when things get bad?  Don’t look around; look up!  “As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  Our focus as believers in the risen Lord is not to be on the “transient” things of this earth.  Instead, our focus is to be on the “eternal” things of heaven and the kingdom of God.  When our focus is correct, nothing that happens on this earth will shake us.  This is why Paul said elsewhere, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).  The sure cure for preventing losing heart is to constantly look to eternity instead of to the present.

Have you been losing heart lately?  There is no need to.  Jesus is still on His throne!  God is still in control!  He knows all about your circumstances.  He may just be waiting for you to refocus your life on Him.  Once you do, the things of this world will no longer have control over you.  He will then be Lord of all!

Following God’s Call

Amos 7:14, 15 (ESV)

No matter what you were before God called you, you had a choice to make.  You could either ignore His call and continue being and doing what you were, or you can follow His call.  Following God’s call is never easy.  It will require sacrifice.  But the blessings will far outweigh anything you give up to follow the call of the Almighty.

Amos knew what it meant to follow God’s call.  By his own admission, he was not originally a prophet.  His work before God called him was quite different.  “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs.”  Amos’ occupation was a far cry from what God wanted of him.  Tending the herds and dressing sycamore fig trees was not exactly an exciting daily adventure.  Not even Amos’ father had been a prophet, yet this did not stop God from calling him for this purpose.  It doesn’t matter what you used to be; it matters what God can make of you if you will let Him.

The change in Amos’ life happened when God called.  “But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'”  Imagine how astounded Amos was when he first heard these words from the Lord.  No longer would he be “following the flock.”  Now, he would be leading them back to God.  The sycamore fig trees could tend to themselves.  God had a much bigger purpose for Amos.

Amos would, of course, have opposition.  In context, Amos is here answering one who opposed him.  Amaziah was not in favor of Amos and his message (vv. 1-13).  He sought to silence Amos as quickly as possible, but Amos was obedient to God’s calling.  We must know that when we obey God and follow His calling, we will meet opposition.  Consider Jesus: He came to His own, yet they refused Him and eventually crucified Him because of His message to His people.

One largely obvious item is missing from the book of Amos.  We are never told of anyone who actually believed and obeyed the message Amos preached.  It can be discouraging when you know you’re obeying God’s calling and no one seems to respond.  We cannot let this deter us from being obedient.  At the end of our lives, what will matter most is whether or not WE obeyed God.  We must each answer for ourselves before God.  Whether we are despised and rejected, or loved and accepted, ultimately it is God’s “well done” we long to hear.  When we follow God’s calling, we can know that our reward will come.  Stay faithful, and wait for His timing.  It’s coming just as sure as He is coming!

Returning to God

Hosea 12:6 (ESV)

If you have been a Christian for some time, you know already how easy it is to walk away from the Lord.  Before we even know it, we suddenly realize we have wandered far from the One who saved us, and we’re left feeling lonely and empty.  If you’re currently in this place, don’t be afraid!  God has given us a way we can return to Him.

How do we return?  Follow this simple formula, given to us through the prophet Hosea.  First, rely on God to help you to return.  “So you, by the help of your God, return.”  In context, the illustration of Jacob is given as one who wandered far from God and then returned (vv. 2-4).  What did Jacob do to return to God?  He relied on God.  He met Him, strove with Him, “wept and sought his favor” (v. 4).  If returning to God has become a priority to you, I suggest the same.  Rely on God to bring you to a place where you must face Him.  When He does, strive with Him over your sins.  Weep and seek His favor.  He will give it to you if you honestly and humbly seek it.

Second, “hold fast to love and justice.”  What does this mean?  If you’re going to “hold fast” to something, you must first have it in your possession.  So get “love and justice” which only come from God, and when you do, “hold fast” to them.  Love is from God (1 John 4:7) because God is love (v. 8).  His justice flows from His love of holiness, purity, and equity.  If you truly love someone, you will want the best for them.  If the one you love has been wronged, you demand justice because of your love for them.  God loves you so much that He demands justice even when you have done wrong to yourself.  Hold fast to love and justice.  Grow in them.  This is how you can remain in a “returned” state with the Lord.

Finally, “wait continually for your God.”  We all know that the waiting is the hardest part (cue the Tom Petty song).  But it’s during the waiting that we come to know and trust Him more.  In the waiting, He does His work in our hearts to prepare us for what is ahead.  This waiting on God is not just a once and done thing.  We are to “wait continually” for Him.  It’s an ongoing thing in our walk of faith, but it will cause us to reap great rewards.  Wait continually for your God, and the returning will be one that lasts.

For you who may have wandered from the Lord, I plead with you to follow the words of Hosea.  Rely on God to bring you back.  He will seek you.  Will you seek Him?  Return as the Prodigal Son; humbly, meekly, and expectantly.  Hold tight to what He has given you (“love and justice”).  And then wait upon Him to do His work in your heart.  He will because He has promised.  And it could be the greatest work you’ve ever experienced!

A Simple Servant

James 1:1 (ESV)

Many people call themselves servants, but only the Bible tells us what a servant truly is.  As we read the Word, we find examples here and there of great men and women of God who truly served others.  Their sacrifices proved their love for God and others, giving freely of their time, their gifts, and even their lives in order to serve others.

One of the great biblical examples of servanthood is James.  He was the oldest half-brother of our Lord Jesus, and grew up in his shadow throughout his whole life.  He became one of the leaders in the Early Church after Jesus ascended (cf. Acts 15).  Yet he understood that being related physically to Jesus was not enough for him to claim prominence or demand that others serve him.  Instead, he became a servant by following the example of Christ and knowing Him personally and spiritually.

When James introduces himself to his readers, he doesn’t say, “James, the brother of our Lord Jesus.”  No!  Instead, he simply says, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  He recognized after becoming a follower of Jesus that his life was not his own.  He now belonged to Jesus, and therefore must serve Him by serving others.  He wants his readers to know that there is only one Lord, Jesus, and that we are all just His servants.  As we serve, God uses us to meet the needs of others and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who need it most.

The book of James speaks much about facing trials and living a life above the world’s expectations.  This simple yet profound book is a “How-To Manual” for all Chrisitans.  But the lessons James teaches us were not just passed on to him.  They were learned personally by him as he surrendered himself to Jesus and served Him fully.  If we expect to be faithful servants like James (and Jesus), we must put into practice what we learn from Him in our daily struggles.  As we do, we allow ourselves to become like James: a simple servant, useful to God and the Lord Jesus Christ to bring Him glory.

Hard Hearts

Hebrews 3:15 (ESV)

The writer of the book of Hebrews has much to say in warning us about hardening our hearts toward the Lord.  For the better part of two chapters (3 and 4), he digs deeply into the subject, showing us how Israel of old made the mistake of growing hard towards God and the effect it had on them.  Again and again he quotes this Scriptural warning for us, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  If he, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, thought it was so important to repeatedly warn us against hardening our hearts, we should listen closely and heed what he has to say.

Looking back over the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, we are told of how many of them died in the wilderness because they tested the Lord (v. 17).  What brought about their terrible end?  What did they do that caused the Lord’s anger to be risen against them?  They allowed their hearts to be hardened.  This in turn caused them to test God and His faithfulness.

Let’s look at what causes our hearts to become hard.  It is not an instant hardening, but happens over a period of time as we consistently doubt the Lord’s faithfulness.  It begins with us not guarding ourselves against “an evil, unbelieving heart” that leads us “to fall away from the living God” (v. 12).  Unbelief is evil, and leads to other sins that can easily destroy us.  Truly, the mother of all sins is unbelief.

As we continue with “an evil, unbelieving heart,” we become “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (v. 13).  We must acknowledge just how deceitful sin is.  It promises us pleasure, but cannot deliver consistency.  It promises us joy, but leads us away from the Source of true joy.  It promises us many things, but cannot deliver on any of its promises.  Sin is a liar because it stems from the father of lies, the Devil himself (John 8:44).

Once our hearts have become hardened by sin and unbelief, it is easy for us to rebel against God and His rule over our lives.  This leads only to His rod of discipline being applied to us.  Sometimes this comes in the form of sickness, job loss, family instability, or even death.  Ultimately, whatever we receive is far less than we deserve for our hard hearts.

Heed God’s warning today!  Hear His voice gently wooing you back to a loving relationship with Him.  Do not harden your heart!  Instead, let Him soften it so that His love will flow through you again.  Then, pass this warning to others who need it.

Tremble at His Presence

Psalm 114:7 (ESV)

The psalmist here is giving us a glimpse of the events that happened when Israel came out of Egypt in the Exodus (v. 1).  The people were chosen as God’s “sanctuary” and
“dominion” (v. 2).  He would look after all their needs and provide for their defense as they came up against any obstacle.  He did this in supernatural ways, causing the Red Sea and the Jordan River to part (vv. 3, 5), and providing water for them from a rock (v. 8).  His movement with His people was said to cause the “mountains (to skip) like rams” and the “hills like lambs” (vv. 4, 6).  This is the God whom Israel served, and it is the same God we serve today.

When we consider His presence, we must take into account His power and authority.  We cannot enter into His presence in a foolish or easy manner.  We must recognize that He is God, our Creator and Lord.  We should then “tremble” in His presence.

One of the most obvious attributes missing from our worship today is holy fear or reverence.  Yet this is the most important thing needed for us to enter into God’s presence.  He is perfectly holy; we are not.  He is all-powerful; we are limited.  If the whole earth trembles at His presence, why don’t we?  The earth and all of creation outside of Man fears the Lord and trembles before Him as Creator and Sustainer of all things.  We seem to have forgotten this valuable attribute of worship.

Maybe it’s time for us to renew a right image of worship.  Maybe it’s time for us to come to our Lord in holy fear and deep humility.  Yes, we can “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).  This does not mean, however, that we can come haphazardly!  Let God be in His proper place as Ruler of all, then your worship will be proper.  Tremble before His holy presence and leave the world behind!

Passing On the Torch of Leadership

1 Kings 2:1-4 (NASB)

No matter how great a leader may be, eventually he/she must pass on the torch to the next generation.  What knowledge, experience, and wisdom is necessary for the future that can be shared to the next leader?  King David shows us here some important lessons when it comes time to pass on the torch.  We would do well to heed his advice.

David was near the end of his life, but knew his son Solomon would need much help to rule over the Israelites.  “As David’s time to die drew near, he charged Solomon his son.”  How important it is to raise our children and the next generation of leaders to know the will and Word of God!  David had done this for Solomon from the time he was a small boy.  Now he would have the huge responsibility of leading the nation after David’s death.  It was no small undertaking, but with David’s charge to Solomon and the power of the Holy Spirit, it would be possible.

Let’s look at what David charged Solomon to do.  He said, “I am going the way of all the earth.  Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man.”  David made it very clear that he would no longer be around to give advice or direction.  Solomon would have to look to God for that.  To be a strong leader it is necessary to constantly look to God and not just the advice of others.  When we look to Him, we can “be strong.”  He alone is our strength.  We can “show (ourselves) a man,” acting with courage and wisdom only as we look to the Lord.

David continued, “Keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn.”  Every leader wants to be successful.  Success does not come automatically, though.  It is gained by grace from the hand of God.  We are to keep His commandments and live a life that is well-pleasing to Him if we want His blessing upon our endeavors.  Solomon knew the Law of Moses and all of God’s commandments.  Now he was being encouraged to keep them so that he and his kingdom would be blessed by God.

One final comment David made to Solomon concerned the future of the kingdom and of his (Solomon’s) royal line.  He was charged to keep the charge of the Lord “so that the Lord may carry out His promise which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons are careful of their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.'”  Simply put, if Solomon and his sons after him were to continue to have a descendant on the throne, they would have to be faithful in following the Lord.  Not all of Solomon’s descendants did so.  This ultimately led to the Babylonian captivity and the removal of the Davidic line of kings from Israel.  If we are to be godly leaders of integrity, we must concern ourselves with the future of those we lead.  It begins with the example we live out before them.  Can others see us walking with the Lord, or do we walk hand-in-hand with the world?  The future depends on how we walk right now!

Ultimately, this promise given to David by God is fulfilled in One who would always walk faithfully with God.  His name, of course, is Jesus, our coming King.  He alone completely fulfilled the requirements for this promise to see fruition.  He is now seated on His heavenly throne, awaiting the moment when the Father sends Him back to earth to sit upon His throne here forever.  He will reign in majesty, rigthteousness, and holiness, and His kingdom will have no end.  As we long for that day, let us continue to prepare ourselves to pass on the torch of leadership to others after us.  Let us prepare also to meet our King face-to-face in a manner that will not leave us ashamed but filled with joy.

Speaking Wisely

Isaiah 50:4 (KJV)

Though these words speak prophetically of Jesus Christ, they should also apply to all believers.  We are called to be like Christ, therefore we are to speak as He did.  This means we are to speak words of wisdom, bringing comfort to those who need direction or discernment.  How do we get the ability to speak wisely?

First, we have to let the Lord give us words to speak.  “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.”  We cannot just speak our words, for they have little to no power.  It is only God’s Word that has power to give us “the tongue of the learned.”  If we are to speak with wise words, we must first know the Lord and His Word.  He is the Giver of all wisdom, and He has promised to give “a word in season to him that is weary.”

Second, we must use the words He gives us to assist others.  Isaiah says that the Lord gave him “the tongue of the learned” for a specific purpose.  That purpose was “to speak a word in season to him that is weary.”  We all know people in our lives who need to hear from the Lord.  At just the right time (“in season”), God will give us the words to speak to those weary souls who desperately need His direction.  God speaks through believers who are humbly willing to let Him use them for His purposes.

Third, we must allow the Lord to wake us to the things of God and open our ears to hear them.  “He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.”  This calls for us to be attentive to His Word and His works.  As we observe how God works in accordance with His Word, we are awakened to His heart and direction.  When He opens our ears to listen to Him through prayer and Bible study, we hear things from Him that we may never have known before.  We can then take what we have learned and use it to help others in need.  This knowledge is not for us to boast about, since it came from Him.  We did nothing to deserve it; we were just being obedient to His Word by drawing near to Him.

Are there people in your life who need you to speak wisely right now?  Maybe someone you know is considering marriage.  Or maybe that friend who is mulling over a new career path needs some guidance.  It could be that God wants to use you to bring wisdom to that person’s life and circumstances.  Seek God’s wisdom, which is greater than any earthly wisdom, and then let Him use your mouth to speak wisely to someone you know in need.