Source of My Peace

Today’s Bible Passage: Micah 5

Scripture:
“And he will be the source of our peace” (Micah 5:5).

Observation
In verse 2, Micah prophesied the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Verse 3 reveals that the people would be abandoned to their enemies until his birth, which was fulfilled as the Jewish people came under Roman rule. Verse 4 shows the Messiah as a shepherd leading his flock, a foreshadowing of Jesus as our Good Shepherd (John 10 and other passages).

Verse 5 gives us our hope in Jesus as our Shepherd-Messiah-Savior-Lord. He is our peace.

He told his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). He is our “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He brings a peace to those who believe in him — a peace unlike anything the world has to offer. But he does much more than just give us peace. He is our source of peace!
Application

When life is uncertain, troubled, hectic, seemingly unraveling, Jesus is my source of peace. When I abide in him as my true source of power and provision (John 15:5), I will have that peace that is beyond all understanding (Phil. 4:7). When I feel overwhelmed, overburdened, overworked, underresourced, underloved, and under pressure, Jesus is the source of my peace. I can rest in him. He’s got this!

Prayer
Jesus, today I’m feeling anxiety and pressure, and I’m feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated. I bring these to you and surrender them to you. As I abide in you today, provide me with that peace that transcends all understanding, a peace that can only come from you. Help me to remember throughout the day today that you truly are my source of peace, and to abide in you. Help me to do what your Word encourages me to do: to trust in you with all my heart, to not lean on my own understating but in all my ways to acknowledge you, and I know that you, Lord, will make the path straight for me today. 

Filled with Power

Today’s Bible Passage: Micah 3

Scripture: “But as for me, I am filled with power and the Spirit of the Lord. I am filled with justice and might, fearlessly pointing out Israel’s sin and rebellion” (Micah 3:8).

Observation
Micah compares himself to the false prophets and other religious leaders of his time who didn’t know right from wrong, hated good and loved evil, treated God as a magic Jeannie, were leading people astray, took advantage of their leadership positions to make money, hated real justice, twisted all that was right, led the people for the bribes they could get, taught the people only for money, and yet claimed they depended on the Lord. Yeah, they were messed up!

Micah, however, was a leader after God’s own heart. He led not for what he could get out of it, but out of God’s calling on his life. He led out of God’s power within him by the indwelling of the Spirit of the Lord, not out of his own limited power, wisdom, or abilities.

Verse 8 brings to mind many other Bible verses, but especially Zechariah 4:6: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

It also brings to mind the leaders of the early church. In Acts 1:8, Jesus promised power when the Holy Spirit came upon them so that they could be his witnesses from Jerusalem to the whole world. That promise came true in Acts 2:4 when the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to boldly proclaim the truth. And it continued as these leaders stayed true to their calling regardless of the circumstances: “[The religious leaders] brought in the two disciples and demanded, ‘By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them …” (Acts 4:7-8).

The early church leaders knew where their power came from. They knew they could do nothing of any significance apart from Jesus and his Spirit (John 15:5). This is why they were so committed to prayer. Prayer is our “power cord.” Prayer is way more powerful than we understand, but the early church knew this: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31).

Application
The power behind, or actually within all true spiritual leadership comes from God’s Spirit. We tend to too easily forget this and rely on our own human strength and abilities instead, and we wonder why we are not more effective. The answer is not outside ourselves, it is inside, through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

“As for me, I am filled with the Spirit of the Lord!” That must become my mantra, my constant prayer. Not by my own might or power or abilities, but by the power of his Spirit … in all I do. As I lead my family, as I lead my group, as I lead in my church, I will seek his wisdom, direction, and power.

Prayer
Thank, you, Father, for your power. You have filled me with power and your Spirit. I am filled with justice and might. By your power I can be fearless and bold to be your witness, to speak your word, to carry out what you have called me to do.

Evil for Evil?

Today’s Bible Passage: Micah 2

Scripture: Micah 2:3: “But this is what the Lord says: “I will reward your evil with evil; you won’t be able to escape! After I am through with you, none of you will ever again walk proudly in the streets.”

Observation
I don’t like the New Living Translation here. It sounds like God does evil in return for their evil. The Biblical principle, however, is once again that you reap what you sow. They will face the consequences of their actions. The tables will be turned.

This is a very interesting verse. God has said, “I condemn you because you lie on your beds and plot evil.” Now He says, “I am going to plot evil against you.” What does He mean by that? Was God actually going to do that which was evil? No, God intended to punish the evildoers, which was right, but from their viewpoint it was wrong because they wouldn’t like that. They would call it evil. —J. Vernon McGee’s Thru The Bible

God does not do evil, though some people still claim he does. When a disaster strikes, many people say, “Why did God let (or make) that happen?” attributing evil to God. By allowing us to face the natural consequences of our own actions, he brings consequences of punishment and judgment to us, which often looks like evil from our limited human viewpoint. But they are really discipline, meant to bring us into God’s will.

The verse could say it this way: “I will reward you with what you will perceive as evil for the evil you are doing. The tables will be turned!”

God is gracious and kind, full of compassion and love, but he does not sugar-coat our sin. He loves us too much to allow us to wallow in our sinful behaviors. He so wants us to experience life to the full! So he has created this world in such a way that we face consequences when we are living outside his will. He disciplines us so that we will live life the way he intends us to.

But why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? (This is another question that attributes evil to God.) But the whole question is faulty. No one is good. We’ve all gone astray from God. He disciplines us for our bad behavior, not our good deeds. The whole point is to align us with his perfect, abundant, purposeful will for our lives.

Application
I am a child of God, and I’m glad my Father loves me enough to discipline me. He allows me to face the consequences of my wrong actions in order to help move me onto the right path–his path. He loves me way too much to allow me to continue living my own way. He desires for me to live life to the full, and I can only do that his way!

When things are not going my way in life, I will not question God’s intentions. He is not evil and is not doing evil to me. I will try to see these hard times as ways God may be trying to get my attention, return me to the right path, and discipline me so that I may experience life to the full. I will try to view God during these times as a loving Father. I will ask him to reveal to me what he is trying to teach me and ask him for his power and patience to go through it and learn from it.

Prayer
My loving Father, thank you for your compassionate discipline in my life. Father, help me to learn from the difficulties I am presently enduring. Help me to grow to the place you want me to be. Help me to get onto the right path and live life your way, not my own or the way of the world. As a leader after your own heart, help me to be wise in the way I model this for others. Help me to help them discern what you are doing in their lives when you are applying your loving discipline.

Should Christian Leaders Set Goals?

One of my hallmarks of a healthy small group is Goals and Plans: The group has a written “Action Plan” that includes a mission, goals, expectations, ground rules, etc. I’ve written about goals, plans, wins, and intentionality often in my posts at www.smallgroupleadership.blogspot.com. (Go there and see labels for “goals and plans,” “group health,” “intentional,” and “win.”) Obviously, I believe in the importance of a group having goals and plans. I’ve seen vivid evidence in the small groups at our church who developed goals and plans that lead to health, spiritual and numerical growth, and leadership development and deployment.

The other day, however, I began to question this value.

In their book, A God-Centered Church, Henry and Melvin Blackaby say that setting goals “comes straight from the world and the culture around us.” OK, so that sentence jumped off the page and got my attention!

The authors go on to say, “As servants of the most high God, we don’t have the right to determine the direction of our lives or our church. God alone sets the purposes, objectives, and goals for His people.”

Does this fly in the face for you, your group, and your church? Should you stop setting goals and making plans? Well … yes and no.

I see plenty of Biblical support for making plans and setting goals:

  • “May [God] grant your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans” (Psalm 20:4).
  • “Wise planning will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe” (Proverbs 2:11).
  • “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5).
  • “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

The issue is not whether we should or should not set goals or make plans; the issue is whose goals and plans!

  • “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:10-11).
  • “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3).
  • “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).
  • “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:3).

Several pages later in their book, the Blackabys say, “Instead of asking, ‘What should we do this year?’ we need to ask:

  • What is God doing this year, and how can we join Him?
  • What adjustments do we need to make in our lives in order to fulfill God’s purposes for us?
  • What does God want to accomplish in and through our lives this year?
  • What has He been saying to us as a church [or small group or team] that we must carefully obey?”

I put these questions in a bullet list because I believe these are GREAT questions to ask your small group, ministry team, or leadership team.

Leading a small group–or anything in the church–from the Heart starts with the idea that we exist and gather in HIS presence under HIS power and authority for HIS purposes … not our own.

How are you developing goals and plans in your group or team? Bathe the process in prayer and lots of listening. Ask the questions, above, and use them to shape the direction of God’s group that He has entrusted to you.

The Choice

Where do you turn when you mess things up?

The book of Hosea recounts a time when God’s people lost their way. And they had a choice: Where would they turn for help? Unfortunately they made the wrong decision:

“When Israel and Judah saw how sick they were, Israel turned to Assyria, to the great king there, but he could neither help nor cure them” (Hosea 5:13, NLT).

How sad. They could have turned to God, confessed their sin, and repented. But instead they turned to the world that could not really help or cure them, as only God could. But here’s the Good News: even though God brings judgment upon people who have gone astray and don’t depend on Him, He still patiently waits for us to admit our guilt and look to Him for our help (see v. 15).

God promises throughout Scripture that when we repent and turn to Him, He will respond to us. When we ask, he’ll give. When we have faith in Him, He’ll give us life. When we come to Him, he will give us rest. When we love Him, He will work for our good. He is for us. When we obey Him, He will be with us always, to the very end. He will never leave nor forsake us.

So, where will you turn when you are in need, when you have failed, or when you realize how sick and messed-up you are? You have a choice. There is only one source that can truly help and cure you. Apart from Him, you and I are nothing.

Don’t Point Fingers, Leader

Did you know that as a spiritual leader, God will hold you accountable for the spiritual condition of the people you lead? You are a steward of the leadership responsibilities and the people He has entrusted to you (1 Peter 5:2, 3) and you and I will someday give an account to Him (Matthew 25:19; see vv. 14-30 for the entire parable).

In Hosea 4, God held the spiritual leaders accountable for the spiritual condition of the people.

“Don’t point your finger at someone else and try to pass the blame! Look, you priests, my complaint is with you!” (Hosea 4:4, NLT).

If you’re a leader, don’t point fingers at the people you’re leading. Look in the mirror first. God’s complaint may be with you!

In verse 6, God says, “My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me. It is all your fault, you priests, for you yourselves refuse to know me.” Spiritual growth–discipleship–begins with us as leaders. We know that. We’ve heard it before. But I wonder how seriously we take it.

As I read this passage, I feel the weight of my spiritual leadership responsibility. And I should feel that weight! People’s lives are at stake. Many people are depending on me to be a model of what having a real relationship with the living God looks like. God will someday hold me accountable for what I did with what he entrusted me. And yet, I realize that I don’t have to carry this heavy burden myself. In surrender, I can take it to Jesus, and he will provide me with rest and peace. In his presence and by his power the burdens–even the leadership burdens–are not heavy at all.

I’m a Gomer … and So Are You

Hosea has never been a Bible book I’ve paid a lot of attention to. Until now, I may have never quoted it. None of my favorite or memory verses are from it. But as I read it now, I’m amazed by it’s very clear and meaningful illustration of God’s character, ways, and love for us.

This morning as I read chapter 2 and let it soak into my life, God spoke to me about Himself.

In the prophet Hosea’s true-to-life story, his wife, Gomer, represents the nation of Israel. She also represents God’s church and each of us as individuals. Each of us have treated God with contempt. I have chased after other “gods” in this world. I’ve prostituted myself to the world. I’ve committed adultery against Him. I’ve selfishly taken advantage of His blessings and spent them on the lusts of this world. I’m a Gomer … and so are you. (I’m also a Goober … but that’s another story entirely.)

The story of Hosea is this: God comes after us. Even when we have sinned and treated Him with contempt, as Gomer (Israel) had, he seeks after us to win us back. Gaaw-aawl-ly!

As you read trough Hosea 2, especially beginning in verse 14, notice that all the actions (“I will …”) begin with God, not us. God pursues us. He returns our blessings to us and transforms our lives. He causes us to “forget” our “Baal images.” Not only that, but someday God will restore His creation to it’s original state and put an end to all wars. The point is that no matter how bad things seem to be in this world, God is still ultimately in charge and will someday redeem and restore all things. Neither individuals, governments, nor any force in this world, including Satan, are really in control. Surprise, surprise, surprise!

This whole passage reminds us of God’s promises. He says, “I will,” and by faith, we believe He will. God extends His covenant to us. He woos us, pursues us, faithfully loves us despite our unfaithfulness to Him. Shazam! 

Father, thank you for wooing me. I’m sorry for the ways I’ve run after other “gods,” trying to satisfy my lusts with other things. I’m sorry for prostituting myself to this world and committing adultery against you. I’m amazed that you still want me and that you pursue me as you do. You have been faithful to me even when I have taken your blessings and used them for my own worldly satisfaction. Father, I accept your faithful love for me. I am yours, all yours. You are my God. You are my only God! Lord, I know you will transform my troubles into opportunities for joy and hope and peace and life to the full. I believe that you can and will help me to turn from my temptations and sin and, only by your awesome power, to live a holy and blameless life. Father, I admit my own powerlessness over all these other gods that woo me, and I submit to your power in my life–your holiness, your ways. Thank You, Father for the way you are planting joy and goodness and love in my life through Your Spirit. Thank You for Your love for me. I am Yours. You are my God!

When Jesus Isn’t Able

Jesus went back to his hometown, and Mark 6:5 says, “Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there—he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that’s all” (The Message).

When I read this last week, it took me by surprise. Jesus … not able to do much of anything? In the midst of healing thousands, calming storms, raising dead people to life, and feeding thousands with a Lunchable, Jesus experienced a “failure.” Of course, his power was sufficient. It always is. But their stubbornness and unbelief was the obstacle to his work having any effect. The problem was not in Jesus’ power; the problem was their hearts, which were hard, shallow, or full of weeds (see Mark 4:1-20 and my post about it here).

We can only imagine Jesus’ dismay over the fact that he could not bring healing or insight to these people, his own friends and family. Jesus was simply too familiar to them. They knew of the Jesus from the past–the son of Joseph and Mary–but they did not know the Jesus of Today, the Son of God who had the power to bring healing and transformation to their lives. So he moved on to other places.

Hmm…. does this still happen? Have we become too familiar with Jesus (and the way we’ve always done things) to be healed and transformed by him? Do we know the Jesus of the past from Bible stories we learned as a child, or do we know him and how he is working Today, in our midst?

As you meet as a small group, move beyond the stories of what Jesus did. Talk about–better yet, experience–what he is doing. He is indeed present in your group meetings–right now. Don’t just meet to study the Jesus of the past through Bible study. Be sure your hearts are softened and prepared to experience his presence, power, and purposes Today.

Otherwise, Jesus may have to move on to other places.

Who a Leader Listens to

A leader must know who to listen to.

When Moses failed to come back down the mountain right away, the people went to Aaron. “Look,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us….” So Aaron said, “Tell your wives and sons and daughters to take off their gold earrings, and then bring them to me.” All the people obeyed Aaron and brought him their gold earrings. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded and tooled it into the shape of a calf. The people exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”
– Exodus 32:1-4, NLT

Aaron had been chosen by God as Israel’s High Priest. And yet he totally blew it. He was a leader who led the people the wrong way. His intentions may not have been bad, but he listened to the wrong voices.

As a leader, I have to be careful not to lead God’s people to worship anything other than God! Regardless of how much people ask and plead and push–no matter what seemingly great ideas they have, I must not give in. A leader after God’s own heart learns to listen to one voice above all the babble of human voices. A leader after God’s own heart has spent enough time with God to know and follow his voice and lead others to worship and serve him only.

Some of those human voices will be very strong, and we will be tempted to listen to and follow them. Some will reverberate with reason and a certain power and authority, yet God’s still small voice is more powerful to the leader after God’s own heart. Some human voices promise popularity, power, position, and even prosperity, but the leader after God’s own heart does not give in to them.

What “golden calf” have I made for the people I lead? Numbers? Buildings? Organization? Programs? ? The success of my church or ministry or group? Is it time to stop, ask for God’s forgiveness, and turn back toward the one true God?

Oh, Father, you have called me to leadership in your church and I want to follow you because I know your voice! Amid the babble of all the other human voices competing for my attention, I desire to hear your still, small voice loud and clear. As a leader after your own heart, Father, help me to stay true to you and your way so that I may lead people to worship nothing and no one else but you.

What if God Showed Up in Our Meeting?

“Wouldn’t it be great if God would just show up physically in our meeting? It would be awesome if he would show himself or if we could literally hear his spoken voice!”

“But be careful! You did not see the Lord’s form on the day he spoke to you from the fire at Mount Sinai. So do not corrupt yourselves by making a physical image in any form” (Deuteronomy 4:15-16).

I was struck by a couple verses this morning as I read Exodus 20 during my quiet time. When God appeared to the Israelites, he did not show himself in any physical form. If he had, the people would have idolized the form itself. In verse 23, God reminded them (again) to not make or worship any kind of idol.

God reveals himself today in many ways: through nature, the Bible, miracles, gifted spokespeople for him, etc., and people have idolized all of these. That’s why Jesus said we are to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23). “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

 

“False gods are always gods one can see (and touch).”
– Christian philosopher Jacques Ellul

 

In Exodus 20:24-25, God commanded that the altars made for sacrifices be made simply and naturally, out of the raw materials God had provided for them. Otherwise, the altars themselves would become idols, and man’s work would be more important than giving worship to God.

When Jesus built his church, it was a simple, organic movement that needed no buildings. It was built upon the Rock (himself) and lots of uncut stones (that’s us!). During those days, the church grew like never again. The Temple was destroyed in those days when God’s church was growing.

The people of Jesus’ day still confusedly confined worship to a certain special location (John 4:20). But the Father seeks those who worship him in spirit and truth, and that happens anywhere even two or three come together in Jesus’ name (Matt. 18:20).

Leading from the heart means leading people to the presence, power, and purposes of Christ in your midst … wherever you happen to gather.

Father, today help me to be careful not to idolize the buildings we meet in or the work that goes into them. Help me to worship you in spirit and in truth. To recognize your presence, power, and plans for me wherever I am.  You want my heart … in complete surrender and worship to you.