Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Month: May 2023

“Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament”

Just Released! Check out my new workbook!

Jesus said that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24.44). The Old Testament has hundreds of allusions to and direct prophecies about the Messiah. This study guide explores those connections. It’s an inductive style workbook – no true-false, multiple-choice, or fill-in-the-blank questions. They’re all thought questions, which means it’s a challenging study, but well worth the effort. A teacher’s guide (i.e., answer key) is also available from OneStone Books in Bowling Green, KY. Here’s a link to their website.

Unanswered Prayer

Can you be thankful when God says “No” to your prayers?

We often lament when our prayers go unanswered. Maybe God hasn’t said “Yes” or “No” but simply hasn’t answered at all. Perhaps God’s answer is a clear and unmistakable “No.” Then, we wonder what’s wrong. Is something wrong with us? We wonder and we lament.

Psalm 44 is a lament by the nation of Israel when they were defeated in battle. The first half of the psalm reflects upon God’s past victories and affirms Israel’s faithfulness. Verse 6 says, “I will not trust in my bow, nor will my sword save me.” Verse 8 says, “In God we have boasted all day long, and we will give thanks to your name forever.”

Yet God allowed them to be defeated. Verse 9 says, “Yet you have rejected us and brought us to dishonor, and do not go out with our armies.” The text provides no explanation and emphasizes Israel’s bewilderment at their situation. They ask, “Why do you hide your face” (v. 23a).

Perhaps the answer is that God’s “No” is really intended to help us, even if we don’t understand.

  • What if God said “No” to your dream job because he knew it would take you away from your family?
  • What if God said “No” to healing a loved one because that person’s doctors might learn something that would help future patients with the same condition?
  • What if God said “No” to that special house because he knew that it would put you in a financial bind?
  • What if God said “No” to finding a spouse because it might mean less devotion to and dependence upon him?

Too often our responses to unanswered prayer reveal a lack of thoughtfulness about God and his ways, and they reveal a short-sightedness about his providence toward us. When we whole-heartedly trust him, he always does what is best for us. Even when he tells us “No”.

That’s how Psalm 44 resolves itself. It accepts the answer, even though there’s no explanation. The nation determines to continue seeking God, even though they don’t understand. Verses 17-18 say, “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten you, and we have not dealt falsely with your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, and our steps have not deviated from your way.” It ends with a final appeal: “Rise up, be our help, and redeem us for the sake of your righteousness” (v. 26).

Thank God that sometimes he says “No.” Thank him, pray to him, and hope in him.


We learn from an early age how to shift blame. 

  • “It wasn’t my fault; it was the dog’s!”
  • “My grades would’ve been better if the teacher was nicer to me!” 
  • “The coach is mean.” 
  • “Sissy did it!”

Perhaps we learned it from our siblings or parents. Maybe we heard Dad blaming Mom for his bad mood. Maybe our older siblings blamed us for everything, and we returned the favor. 

It’s not a new problem. The very first sin brought finger-pointing. After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they tried to hide from God, but God tracked them down and confronted them. God asked Adam if he had disobeyed, and Adam blamed Eve. God asked Eve what she had done, and she blamed the serpent. See Genesis 3.8-13. 

What God wanted was for Adam and Eve to own up to their failures. At that point, the deed was done and couldn’t be undone. God was testing their character. Having failed the obedience test, would they at least pass the integrity test? Would they take ownership of their sin?

The Bible urges us to confess our sins. It allows us to rid ourselves of the toxic spiritual residue of our sins and brings us a step closer to reconciliation with God.

  • “For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin” (Psalm 38.18).
  • “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Proverbs 28.13).
  • “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James. 5.16).
  • “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.9).

King David learned this the hard way. After committing adultery with Bathsheba, after murdering her husband Uriah, and after marrying her in a feeble effort to hide his sin, David pretended for at least a year that nothing had happened (2 Samuel 11). God finally confronted David through the prophet Nathan, and David confessed (2 Samuel 12). 

David later said, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; and You forgave the guilt of my sin’” (Psalm 32.3-5).

Silence has its price. Confession has its reward. 

Unrequited Love

When my son was in kindergarten, he was smitten with a classmate named Kristen. She was the cute, spunky, blond-headed, blue-eyed daughter of a local pastor. One day he mustered his courage during recess and revealed to her that he liked her. She looked at him with her ice-blue eyes, kicked him in the shins, and said “As if!” as she walked away. 

For the first time in his life, Nate experienced the pain of unrequited love. He liked her a lot more than she liked him. In this particular case, it hurt both physically and emotionally!

Unrequited love is love that’s unreturned. It’s love that isn’t given back in measure. In fact, it’s a lack of love toward someone who has bestowed love. 

Isaiah the prophet described God’s love for Judah and Jerusalem. 

Let me sing now for my well-beloved, a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it; then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones. 

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, but briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.

Isaiah 5.1-6

The farmer did everything for his vineyard that he could have done, but it still didn’t produce fruit. The problem wasn’t a bad farmer, it was a bad plant. Likewise, God did everything for his people that he could. He loved them enough to give them and do for them the very best he could. Yet they failed to return his love. 

If someone treats you nicely and you’re ungrateful, it’s a social problem: rudeness. If God treats you with love and favor, and you’re ungrateful, it’s a spiritual problem: inexcusable ingratitude. 

Divine love isn’t dependent upon human response. God loves us even when we don’t love him in return. However, unrequited love isn’t without consequence. Sometimes God demonstrates his love in the punishment he gives. A father must sometimes punish a rebellious child. So too with God. 

Loving God is our highest calling. Rejecting God’s love is our greatest failure. Choose wisely. 

Motivation & Honesty

As a preacher, I frequently deal in the currency of motivation. Part of what I do is attempt to keep fellow Christians and church members motivated to do the work of the kingdom.

Some Christians are highly motivated and rarely need help from me. Others are motivated only to the extent that there’s something in it for them, some tangible reward, usually in the form of trumpet-blowing. Some seem to struggle with motivation at the most basic level. They seem unable or unwilling to do the most basic forms of service. I may push, pull, beg, pressure, and howl, but nothing happens.

Regarding motivation, Oswald Chambers once wrote, “Our Lord never pleaded, He never cajoled, He never entrapped; He simply spoke the sternest words mortal ears ever listened to, and then left it alone.”

Chambers’ comments raise an interesting question: How motivated am I to do what’s right? What really moves me to serve Jesus? Do I really care? I should be careful how I answer. Because, if I must constantly be goaded, pressed, embarrassed, pushed, or shoved before I’m willing to act, it would seem that doing right isn’t my highest priority.

Too many Christians fall into this category. We say we’re followers of Jesus, but we seem awfully casual about the whole thing. We say we want to do right, that we want to serve, but we act only when we’re pushed to the limit.

This may provide some insight into Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Luke 8.4-8). In the parable, a farmer sows seed on different kinds of soil and, consequently, gets different yields from each soil. Some of the soil is packed down and won’t grow anything. Some of it is shallow, with a layer of rock underneath. Some of it full of thorns. Some of it is good, clean soil. 

When Jesus explained the parable, he said that “the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8.15). The honest heart is the one who takes the Word of God and simply obeys it. There’s no resistance, no argument, and no excuse.

In other words, honesty is the linchpin of the machinery of spiritual motivation. A dishonest person will never have sufficient motivation to act upon the commands of God. 

If you’re struggling with your motivation to serve God, the first thing to look at is your heart. Are you motivated for the right reasons? Bottom line: Are you honest?