Return

In Canada, today is Boxing Day. Not unlike Black Friday in the United States, today is the day of sales and deals and everyone goes out to get what they wanted for Christmas, but no one saw fit to give them. It’s also a day where many may try to return the gifts they got, but never wanted or needed, and exchange them for something they really want.

Life is full of exchanges. We want something and we go after it. Sometimes, once we get it, we may decide that we never really wanted it in the first place. But we keep it since it took so much effort to get it, or we may decide to give it up after all and go after something else.

All through the the Old Testament, Israel is chasing after something. Sometimes it’s God. Most of the time, it’s not. But, unlike Canadian stores on Boxing Day, God will take returns at any time from any vendor. You don’t have to bring something back to the place you got it from. You can take it to place you want to get something from.

I, the Lord, was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty.’

Zechariah 1:2-3 (NLT)

Israel was always out searching for the next best thing. Going out like Black Friday shoppers and making purchases for no other reason than it was a really good deal. Then they got home and realised they had absolutely no need for their acquisition. Instead of immediately returning it, they decided to make use of it. They borrowed gods and idols from other nations and, when they realised that those gods could do nothing for them, instead of tossing them in the hearth for firewood, they kept them. The effort to make the exchange was too great.

And then God comes along and makes a better offer than anyone or anything else could give them. Return to me, and I will return to you. Give me your useless things and I’ll give you what you really need.

It doesn’t matter what you’ve managed to bring into your life, God’s exchange policy will cover it. You can bring it to Him, lay it at His feet and He will give you what you truly desire and need. We don’t have to live our lives full of all the junk we’ve managed to pick up along the way because it seemed like a good idea at the time. God will take it all.

So if you’re holding on to some things that you don’t need, jump to the front of the line and go straight to God. He’ll take it all without any proof of purchase. Return it to Him and He’ll replace it with something worthwhile.

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 1-3, Revelation 17

It’s tough

In 1992, four and a half year old Jordy became the youngest person ever to make it on to Billboard’s Hot 100 with his dance hit, Dur dur d’être bébé. Loosely translated, It’s tough to be a baby, the song described the trials of being a toddler. Don’t touch this. Don’t touch that. Get your finger out of your nose. Sit still.

We all know that being a baby isn’t as rough as Jordy described. All a baby has to do is cry a bit and Mommy or Daddy come running to change their clothes, feed them, bathe them, cuddle them. While there are a lot of rules to learn as a child grows up, never again in their life will they have so much done for them.

Sometimes, we can be like a baby trying to convince the world how tough it is to be us. But you just don’t know what I’m going through. I feel like I’m the only one! While I don’t want to belittle anyone’s pain or suffering, you’re not the only one.

Take a firm stand against [the Devil], and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.

1 Peter 5:9 (NLT)

There are times when we can get so caught up in our own pain and search for sympathy that we completely ignore the fact that we have family members that are going through the very same thing. They could use some of that comfort we’re trying so hard to find. And when we, like an infant, cry out for satisfaction, those same people look on and shake their heads. We are never alone in our pain and we are not the only ones deserving of compassion. Not only that, but God has already poured out on us all that we need.

In his kindness, God called you to his eternal glory by means of Jesus Christ. After you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.

1 Peter 5:10 (NLT)

When we look at our suffering—no matter what it is—in the light of what Jesus already endured, it pales in comparison. None of us are ever alone in our suffering. All over the world there are Christians who also endure hurt, pain, suffering, and persecution. Instead of seeking out sympathy, perhaps we would be better off giving it and sharing in each other’s suffering, helping each other through our trials until such a time as God restores, supports, and strengthen us.

It doesn’t have to be tough.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 40, 1 Peter 5

New strength

As many of us age, we may find ourselves longing for the strength of our youth. Our bodies no longer recover like they used to. Definition and tone has been lost to obscurity and perhaps a spare tire around the midsection. Once, hefting an entire load of groceries from the trunk and into the house seemed to take minimal effort. Now three trips are needed to make the haul. We want our old strength back. But until someone finally finds the legendary Fountain of Youth, that’s just not going to happen.

But what if, instead of regaining our old strength, we could gain an entirely new strength?

But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)

I don’t think that Isaiah is talking about heading back to the gym with newfound energy, but when we wait on God, He will give us not only more strength, but new strength—one we never had before.

For I can do everything with the help of Christ, who gives me the strength I need.

Philippians 4:13 (NLT)

God doesn’t just give us the strength we want, He gives us the strength we need—the strength we need to accomplish His work and His will. He gives us the strength to put our focus on Him.

Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and heard from me and saw me doing, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8b-9 (NLT)

This new strength that is found when we wait on the Lord gives us the ability to do the things that Paul talks about in these verses. Our new strength give us the ability to set our minds on the things of Christ and resist those things that are not of him.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 39-40, Philippians 4

For the honour

We know that God is both able and willing to provide for those who trust in Him. He is great in power and rich in mercy. He wants to see us prosper and succeed. He wants us to go to Him with our praise and our needs.

When we go to God with our requests, what’s our reason for asking? Is it simply because we have a need? David made many requests of God, but in his asking, he also made an offer of sorts.

You are my rock and my fortress,
For the honor of your name, lead me out of this peril.

Psalm 31:3 (NLT)

For the honour. David wasn’t aiming to merely be set free from peril, he wanted to be lead to freedom so that he could give honour to the name of the God who brought him out.

This verse brings to mind a song from Elevation Worship* that bears the same title as this post:

Verse 1

For the honor of the Father
Who reaches out to us
That we might live inside His love
He gave His only Son

Verse 2

For the honor of the Savior
Let the cross be lifted high
The great exchange of love and grace
Came down to give us life

Verse 3

For the honor of the Spirit
Whose power lives in us
That we might see much greater things
As we embrace Your love

Verse 4

For the honor of Your kingdom
Whose reign will never end
We’ll give our lives in sacrifice
Until You come again

Bridge

Forever forever
We’ll honor You forever

All that God does in and for us is not only for us, but for Him as well. It is for His glory and honour that He supplies our needs.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (NLT)

Go ahead and make your requests known to God, but don’t forget to give honour where honour is due. When your needs are met, be sure that God gets all the glory—He is far more deserving of the praise than we are of whatever it is we’ve asked of Him.

*For the Honor
Chris Brown | Mack Brock | Steven Furtick | Wade Joye

© 2011 Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

The great pursuit

Psalm 23 is one of my favourite passages in the entire Bible. I attribute this to my mother. While she was pregnant with me, she took up a project to cross stitch the entire chapter. She completed it in the hospital right before I was born. It’s now framed and hangs on the wall in my bedroom and is one of the last things I see before I go to bed every night.

Psalm 23

There is so much packed into these six verses. I can barely begin to scratch the surface, but I want to give you a little bit from each verse.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have everything I need.

Psalm 23:1 (NLT)

If we follow Jesus like sheep do a shepherd, our needs will be fulfilled. God isn’t a magic genie to see to our needs and whims when we feel like rubbing the lamp. He is there to lead us and guide us. It’s under His guidance that our needs our met.

He lets me rest in green meadows;
He leads me beside peaceful streams.

Psalm 23:2 (NLT)

Turmoil and stress don’t have to be a part of our daily lives. Like being under God’s guidance allows for our needs to be met, if we follow His lead, we will be drawn to rest and peace.

He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.

Psalm 23:3 (NLT)

Strength is required to walk God’s path. There is nothing that says walking with God will be easy, but He does give us the strength to do it. And, if we’re not bringing honour to His name, we’re probably not on His path.

Even when I walk
through the dark valley of death,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.

Psalm 23:4 (NLT)

When, not if. We will go through dark times. That’s pretty much a guarantee. But even in those times, God has promised that He will be with us—guiding us, protecting us, comforting us.

You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You welcome me as a guest,
anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.

Psalm 23:5 (NLT)

Our enemies will not suddenly decide to leave us alone because we decide to put our trust in God. We will still have enemies. They may still surround us. Yet God is there, providing for us in the middle of the battleground. And there, we can even find blessings!

Surely your goodness and unfailing love
will pursue me.
all the days of my life,
And I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23:6 (NLT)

We make a grave mistake when we believe we have to chase after God’s love. His love comes after us. His love is there in peaceful rest. His love is there in the dark valley of death. His love is there in the presence of our enemies. His love is there in His house.

It’s time to stop chasing after God’s love. If we’d only just slow down for a moment, it will catch up to us and overtake us. In His love, we will find peace, rest, strength, guidance, provision, anointing, blessing, and goodness.

We don’t have to pursue God’s love because He is always pursuing us.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 22-24, Acts 20:1-16

Shelter

If someone were to list all the things that God is, that would be a really long list. Then, if they started asking others what God is, that list would keep getting longer. While God’s character and nature never change, what facet each of us sees of Him can vary dramatically.

To someone who’s father has passed away, God may fill that void as a parent. To a single mom, He is a provider. To a child, He can be a giant. Some may need comfort while others correction. Some need a friend while others may need the void of a lost spouse filled. We all need God to be different things at different times in our lives.

What we can miss, though, in our focus on just one single facet of His character is everything else that He is, can, and wants to be to us all the time. Though our view of God may change throughout our lives, one thing does not—He will never abandon anyone who truly searches for Him. It is not in His nature to turn his back on anyone.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away.

Romans 8:38 (NLT)

Maybe you feel like you’re outside of God’s love, beyond His circle of protection. Keep this in mind—shelter must be taken, refuge must be taken. If you’re outside and get caught in a downpour, you won’t be sheltered just because you wish it to be so. First you must look for and find refuge. Then you must take it.

The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed,
a refuge in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have never abandoned anyone who searches for you.

Psalm 9:9-10 (NLT)

Often the only thing separating you from God’s shelter and refuge is distance. And He hasn’t moved.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 7-9, Acts 17:1-15

The friendship of God

FRIENDSHIP: An attachment to a person, proceeding from intimate acquaintance, and a reciprocation of kind offices, or from a favorable opinion of the amiable and respectable qualities of his mind.

There can be no friendship without confidence, and no confidence without integrity.

Everyone needs friends. Life is miserable when done alone. We weren’t meant to do it alone. Friends can get you through dark times. Friends can make you laugh. Friends can provide for you in ways no one else can.

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.

Proverbs 17:17 (NLT)

Friendship carries evidence. You cannot be friends with someone without having evidence of that person in your life. Maybe a gift they’ve given, something they’ve left at your house, a message on your phone. Even in non-physical ways. On a bad day, a friend can pick you up. When you’re excited, they rejoice with you. In some way or another, your life will have evidence of a relationship with that person.

What about God? In James 2:23, it says that Abraham believed God, so God declared him to be righteous. He was even called a “friend of God”. Abraham’s life surely showed evidence of his relationship with God.

Even Job knew the benefits of being friends with God.

…the friendship of God was felt in my home.

Job 29:4b (NLT)

I don’t know that any of us wouldn’t want the benefits of being friends with God—both Abraham and Job were very prosperous men because of their loyalty to the Father. But the benefits come at a price. Friendship with God costs something. We all have it—time and effort. It’s the same price tag on every relationship.

You can’t call up an old high school buddy after twenty years of silence and ask to borrow their car. But if you’ve stayed in contact with them, nurtured that relationship, and put time and effort into your friendship, that person is much more likely to help you out in whatever way they can.

God will never ignore us when we call out to Him in need, but if we only ever call out to Him in need, why should we expect Him to respond like a best friend would? Maybe, if we would continuously put time and effort into our friendship with God, those times of need won’t be so drastic and we won’t need to cry out. Perhaps our lives will show evidence of a friendship with God like Abraham and Job. A close friend may even see the need before we do. God knows our needs and wants to fulfill them. How much more would He be able to do that if we nurture the friendship of God?

Daily Bible reading: Job 29-30, Acts 12