Archive for the ‘Walking with Jesus’ Category

What will your verse be?

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The Winter Olympics gave us another opportunity to vicariously join in the quest for a place in history – years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice for both personal and national glory – fidelity to a lifelong goal that defines success in hundredths of a second or tenths of a point.  Stories are told that draw us into journeys often overcoming great adversity from across the globe, but all which intersect in one place: Going for the Gold.

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Back in the box?

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How was your Christmas?  I bet you had to think about your answer! Even though it’s only been thirty days, it may seem like such a long time ago!

Most of us decked the halls for the big celebration.  In keeping with the spirit, we strung lights and decorated the chosen tree.  We decked the halls of our homes with festive colors, stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and, of course, a manger scene took its place in prominent display.

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Who’s the greatest?

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Who’s the greatest? Spirited debate usually follows asking this question in regard to just about anything. You fill in the blank. Who’s the greatest athlete, team, company, actor, author, artist, or innovator? Halls and awards and statues and polls commemorate such elite status.

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The Good Shepherd

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I’ve always been amazed when the Scriptures tell us how Jesus looked at someone and said, “Follow Me.”  Regardless of prior contact or what they’d heard about Him, I believe there was something powerfully attractive in His eyes.  Take the call of Matthew.  One minute Matthew was sitting in his booth collecting taxes for Rome, and the next he “left everything behind” (Luke 5:28) to follow Jesus.

To fully appreciate Matthew’s calling, you have to understand his profession.  The Jews of that day considered tax collectors to be legalized thieves, traitors, the worst of sinners, and moral lepers.  They were excluded from any religious fellowship and were considered to be justifiably condemned by God.  We have no modern-day equivalent that even comes close.  So despised, they were not even lumped in with all the “normal” sinners like prostitutes, drunkards, murderers and thieves.  No, they had a special category all their own as the Bible often records the expression: “tax collectors and sinners” (Matt 9:11; Matt 11:19; Luke 5:30).

But Matthew found favor in the eyes of Jesus and walked away from his old life to pursue a new one.  His first impulse: throw a big party at his house and invite all his friends to meet Jesus!  Matthew, as he remembers that day, writes, …and behold, many tax collectors and sinners came” (Matt 9:10).

When you read the word “behold” in Scripture, you are meant to inhale rapidly and make a gasping sound like something took your breath away.  Try it now to make sure you get it – “and GASP, many tax collectors and sinners came.”  Now, look around the room and picture the crowd at the party – the sinner, the outcast, the hurting, the rejected, the abused, the scorned, the damaged, the needy, the sick.  Keep looking until you find Jesus.  What do you see?  Is Jesus standing in the corner hoping no one comes near Him?  No, Jesus is hanging out and “dining” with them.  He’s having a good time – laughing – listening – building bridges.  Hmmm.

Why am I telling you this story?  Because unlike the Pharisees that came there only to lecture Him (Matt 9:11), Jesus was comfortable being at this party with these people.  More than that, Matthew’s friends felt welcome around Jesus!  I’m not suggesting Jesus shrugged His shoulders at their sins.  Hardly!  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  Rather, I’m saying the only ones who felt uncomfortable in Jesus’ presence were the self-righteous Pharisees.  Ask yourself, “do I make others feel welcome in my presence?  What do others see when they look in my eyes?”

Jesus answered their grumblings with, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:12-13 NASB).  In other words, “Think about what you’re saying.  Would you go to a doctor’s office and complain about all the sick people sitting in his waiting room?”

If we are going to learn what it means to follow Jesus…if we are going learn to look through the eyes of the Savior, we must learn mercy.   Just a few verses later Jesus says, “Seeing the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36 NASB).  Other versions say “harassed and helpless.”  Literally, Jesus saw them as “downcast.”  If sheep lie down in the grass and accidentally roll over on their backs, a shepherd calls them “cast” sheep.  Like a turtle on its back, they become totally helpless, fully exposed to the scorching sun, and even more vulnerable to predators.  They are doomed to die without the intervention of a shepherd.

Do you get it?  When Jesus looked out at people, He saw them for what they truly were: cast sheep lying helplessly on their backs unable to save themselves – and He was moved to act with deep compassion.  Such is the heart of the Good Shepherd.

Jesus is still calling, “Follow Me.”  But He’s training shepherds, not Pharisees.

© 2013 Tim McKenzie – www.OnEveryWord.com 

Dine with Me

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We all hunger.  Our bodies require nourishment to function properly, stay healthy, and thrive.  Most of us don’t worry about from where our next meal is coming.  The only question is, “With what do we fill ourselves?”

One of the things Jesus taught us to pray is, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11 NASB).  Now, was He talking about physical bread (food) or spiritual bread or both?  Before you answer, consider this statement Jesus made, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 NASB).  Clearly, Jesus is aware of the body’s need for physical nourishment, but His overwhelming emphasis is on the nourishment of our very souls by the Word of God – the Bread of Life.

Physical malnutrition is fairly easy to see.  In fact, images of the hundreds of millions people worldwide who are either starving or malnourished prompt us to change the channel rather than see the walking skeletons, severe bloating, rampant disease, and debilitating lethargy – all stemming from a profound emptiness in their digestive systems.

But what about the symptoms of spiritual malnutrition?  Perhaps busyness, despair, discontentment, self-centeredness, bitterness, fear, worry, strife, greed, lust, pride, or worldliness should make the diagnostic list…just to name a few.

Consider the amount of “Bread” Americans are surrounded by.  It’s not like we don’t have access to true nourishment for our souls?  The irony is akin to a starving man trapped in a grocery store – encircled by an abundance of food, he slowly perishes.  Oh, there is a difference between proximity and nourishment.  It’s like a famine in the land of plenty.

We must realize our soul’s need to be fed – not with junk food and the empty calories of this world, but with the Bread of Life – Jesus – The Word.  It is possible to be full of something and yet still hungry for true nourishment.  No wonder Job says, “I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread” (Job 23:12 NIV).

Here’s my closing challenge to you: approach God’s Word just like you would an exquisite meal.  Set your expectations high.  Look forward to the joyful fellowship and incredible conversation you’ll have with Jesus.  He is the Word so when you read His Word you should hear His voice.  Engage all your senses.  Experience it.  Taste it.  Feast on it.  Digest it.  Be nourished by it.  Allow its inherent, supernatural power to bring energy, fullness, and life to your entire being.  Let it be on your heart as you walk in it and on your lips as you share the Bread of Life with a starving world.

Are you hungry?  Jesus is calling, “Come dine with Me!”  “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8 NASB)

© 2013 Tim McKenzie – www.OnEveryWord.com

The value of thorns

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(1Peter 5:6 NASB) is a statement completely foreign to our earthly nature.

We are immersed in a performance culture that caters to the praise of the world. Weakness is neither rewarded nor honored. Quite the contrary, it is ridiculed and exploited whether on the playground or at the office. We’ve been raised to excel in our strengths and compensate for our weakness. So we learned to boast in our strengths and hide our weakness. We display our trophies and bury our shame. At the very least, we’ve all spoken in our hearts like a Pharisee, “Thank God I’m not like those guys” (Matthew 18:10-14 NASB). We have much to be proud of.

So what do you boast in? Tim Keller, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church NYC, said that when counseling, he doesn’t start with someone’s big failure or problem, but by determining what they boast in. Why? Because sins spring forth from the root of pride.

“Pride is a telescope turned the wrong way. It magnifies self and makes the heavens small.” – C.S. Lewis 

The apostle Paul was no exception. Paul explains, “To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me…” (2Corinthians 12:7 NASB). Interestingly, we are never told exactly what this thorn was, I believe, so we could all better identify with whatever “it” is in our own lives. But we are told its purpose: “to keep me from exalting myself.” And while Paul identifies this thorn as “a messenger of Satan” that was painfully effective, its purpose was wholly used by God for good.

The Greek word for “thorn” is used only here in Scripture and its meaning spans the gamut from “a thorn or splinter” to “a stake.” And since “torment” literally means “to beat or strike with the fist,” Paul’s emphasis here is probably closer to a stake than a thorn.

I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me” (2Cor 12:8 NASB). He asks, but in view of something better, God answered his prayer unexpectedly. Oftentimes, His ways are not our ways. Instead, “He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness’” (2Cor 12:9 NASB).

And Paul’s closing testimony to us is this: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor 12:9-10 NASB).

Did you see it? After previously begging the Lord for deliverance from this “thorn” and hearing the Lord say “no,” he is now strangely “well content.” Why? Instead of removing his weakness, God transformed it to work for him, not against him. Perspective. Paul is literally “staked” – pinned close to Jesus in surrender and dependency and emptied of self. Not a bad place to be.

All of which is possible because, Jesus, the strongest One in the universe “emptied Himself” to become humble, submissive, weak according to the flesh, and wholly dependent on God – even to the point of death (Philippians 2:5-8). For our sakes, the Lion became a Lamb. Such is the foolishness of God – the heart of the gospel – the valley of vision. Do you want to see more clearly? Do you want to be set free from the tyranny of pride?

Then learn the value of your thorn by experiencing the sufficiency of His grace.

Jesus is still saying, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29 NASB).

© 2013 Tim McKenzie – www.OnEveryWord.com

What are you waiting for?

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We hate to wait.  Whether sitting in traffic, holding for a customer service representative, sitting in a crowded waiting room, or standing in a long line, we hate to wait.  What a waste of time!  We much prefer now to later.  Most of us would agree that waiting is both passive and negative.  Its byproduct is often impatience, frustration, and even anger.  We end up muttering things like, “Who hired this idiot?” or “Don’t they know my time is valuable too!”

What about waiting on God?  Do we experience the same range of emotions?  If so, these verses might just help transform your next trip to God’s waiting room.

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
 and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
 they shall mount up with wings like eagles; 
they shall run and not be weary.  Isaiah 40:30-31 ESV

Did you see our favorite word sandwiched in there?  It’s important since it’s the very “action” that leads us to where we want to go.  That word “wait” is translated from the Hebrew word qavah that literally means to “to collect or bind together; to twist or weave.”

So how do the weak grow strong?  How do the fallen begin to soar?  How do the prayerful endure?  By “waiting” on the Lord.  By twisting and weaving your life around the Lord like the braiding of a rope – like the uniting of multiple strands of fiber to create strength.

Unlike our customary earthly experience, biblical waiting is highly active and positively charged.  It flourishes in expectancy, hope, faith, and dependence.  It perseveres in prayer, remembers God’s faithfulness, and clings to His unwavering promises.  It rests in the very sovereignty of God and rejoices in what He is doing during the time of waiting as much as in the anticipated outcome.  It knows that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  It senses the abiding Presence of God and hears the reassuring voice of the Good Shepherd.

Easy?  Hardly.  We don’t like to wait, remember?  But if you will keep putting the fragile strands of your life into the hands of the One who wove you in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), you will discover the miracle that awaits in God’s waiting room.

© 2012 Tim McKenzie – www.OnEveryWord.com

Leave room for God

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Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” Romans 12:17-18 NASB.

It’s hard to fake this.  We have to be talking supernatural stuff since I prefer the natural.  I like getting even or seeing my “enemy” get what’s coming to them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cursed someone in my heart if not with my lips or tried to disprove grandma’s saying “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

The end result of this natural tendency is escalation of warfare, bitterness, giving justification to your adversary’s actions against you, and discrediting your testimony.  In short, we get in God’s way.

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” Roman 12:19 NASB.

Topos is the Greek word translated “room” and means “a marked off place as a city, village, or location; a parcel of ground – real estate” (it’s the root of our English word “topography”).

It’s as though God has given us a clearly defined area for the real estate of our life.  If we move off our topos in judgment and unforgiveness, we overstep our authority and trespass on His land.  We need to let God be God.  When we take revenge, people hate us; when God judges, people often repent.  So leave room for God.

Similarly, the Bible says, “Be angry and yet do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” Ephesians 4:26-27 NASB.  Would it surprise you that “opportunity” is also the Greek word topos?  The warning is to not let anger marinate and degrade into a root of bitterness, resentment or hatred thus allowing the devil to move onto your property!

Since your “enemy” is most often being driven by the Enemy, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 KJV) works well to restore God’s perspective.  So say it.  Be diligent to guard your God-given topos by renewing your heart and mind according to the Word of God and being transformed into those who supernaturally live according to Spirit.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once said, “Peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”  Could it be that peace in our lives will come when we love the Lord more than we hate our enemy?

Where are you currently in God’s way?  Forgive and step aside.  Where have you given the devil an opportunity to camp out on your property?  Forgive and tear down that stronghold.

© 2012 Tim McKenzie – www.OnEveryWord.com

Be strong and courageous

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When you consider these meanings along with God’s command to obey His Word, not let His Word depart from your mouth, and to “meditate” (“growl, rumble, or groan”) on His Word day and night (Joshua 1:7-9), then you see that success is defined by clinging to the Word and having a steadfast heart for God, not by might or the sword.

Can you hear His voice? God is calling you to “be strong and courageous.” Are you clinging to and abiding in His Word? Do you find His Word frequently on your lips? Are you hiding the Word in your heart so that it’s growling like hunger pangs in the depths of your being? Besides a daily time in the Word, try memorizing and mediating on just one verse of Scripture each month. Start with the one you need the most and God will honor it and multiply it.

© 2012 Tim McKenzie – www.OnEveryWord.com

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