Friday, July 23, 2021

So Close to You I'm See-Through

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I’m Doug Apple...and my heart is on fire.  (Luke 24:32)

Sometimes God uses little scraps of words to speak mountains of truth.

I think that’s what’s happening in the song “In Awe” by Hollyn.

If my sources are correct, this song wasn’t written in the usual way.  The singer Hollyn was literally put into a vocal booth in a sound studio and told to just sing.

She said, “I didn’t have any words at first, so I took my time, closed my eyes, and for a solid hour thanked God for what He’d been doing in my life.”

And out came the song “In Awe.”

James 4:8 says that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.  It sounds like that’s what Hollyn did in creating this song, and that is definitely what I feel whenever I hear it, like I’m drawing near to God and He is drawing near to me.

And the lyrics say that.  The song opens with these words:

Can’t speak,

So close I can feel You breathe,

You’re so holy and worthy,

You know where I’ve been.

Can’t move,

So close to You I’m see-through,

No, not innocent like You,

Oh God, I’m sorry.

It reminds me of Isaiah chapter 6 where the prophet Isaiah sees the Lord, high and exalted, and Isaiah’s reaction is to realize his own sinfulness in the light of the holy God.

In the song “In Awe,” the singer is drawing into the presence of God and begins to feel the weight of His holiness, and listen to that line again:  

You’re so holy and worthy,

You know where I’ve been.

God knows where you’ve been, my friend.  He knows where I’ve been.  He knows EVERYWHERE we’ve been.  He knows any shame, any sin, any hurt, any anger and bitterness.  He knows where we’ve been, and it’s an awesome and terrible thought.

The song continues:

So close to You I’m see-through.

God sees it all, including any dark places.  There is no hiding before the living God, and listen to the singer’s response to the presence of God:

I’m not innocent like You.

Oh, my friend, we are not innocent, and we stand in stark contrast to the high and exalted, holy and worthy almighty God.  No wonder Isaiah, the mighty prophet of God, cried out in agony, “Woe unto me.  I am ruined.”

We are see-through in His presence.  He knows where we’ve been.  He knows it all.

The singer almost whimpers in God’s presence, and the song goes on:

No, not innocent like You,

Oh God, I’m sorry.

What else can be said?  What else can we say but, “Oh God, I am so, so sorry.”

But oh my friend, listen to this Bible verse.  Psalm 34:18.  The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.

Yes, our hearts break for our sin in the presence of God, but as soon as they break, He rushes in.

The song continues:

I’m living in awe,

You don’t need me at all,

But You couldn’t love me more.

Oh man, let that sink in.  God, You don’t need me at all…but You couldn’t love me more.”

First John 3:1.  What great love the Father has LAVISHED on us, that we should be called His children.

The song continues:

Your love is overwhelming, Your love is overwhelming,

It’s only You and me here.

Your love is overwhelming, Your love is overwhelming,

I can hardly breathe here.

I’m living in awe,

‘Cause You don’t need me at all,

But You couldn’t love me more,

You couldn’t love me more,

You couldn’t love me more.

Hallelujah.  Praise God.  Thank You, Father, for the love You have lavished on us, in spite of ourselves, in spite of our sin, in spite of where we’ve been, but You couldn’t love us more, and we bow in Your holy presence and we love you back.  We love You back.  We love You back.

Amen.

May God bless you today.

I’m Doug Apple.


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Oddities in the Story of Zacchaeus

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I’m Doug Apple...and my heart is on fire.  (Luke 24:32)

There’s Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree.  How did he get there?

He climbed, which must have been a funny sight.  I have 13 grandkids.  We see them in trees all the time, but we never see older people in trees.  And we NEVER see older rich people in robes up in trees.

But that was Zacchaeus, an older, rich, short man in robes, climbing up a sycamore tree just to get a glimpse of Jesus who was coming that way in what basically must have been like a parade.

Why was Zacchaeus so interested in Jesus?

Why is ANYONE so interested in Jesus?

In fact, why on earth are millions of people on earth still to this day so interested in Jesus?

It can’t be because he was a local phenomenon, flash in the pan, 15 minutes of fame guy.  Nobody is that interested in someone like that.

Rich guys in robes don’t climb trees for that.

So why was Zacchaeus there?  That’s one of the oddities in this story of Zacchaeus.  Why was he there?

Luke 19:3 says he “…sought to see who Jesus was…”

So it sounds like Zacchaeus was doing the seeking, desiring to know more about Jesus.

Then comes another oddity in the story.  Luke 19:5 says that when Jesus came to the place where Zacchaeus was, “He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’”

As a child, I remember standing outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis and watching the players arrive.  There they were, in the flesh, all those stars I had seen on TV and on my baseball cards.  

None of them ever turned to me and called me by name and said they were coming to my house.  It would have blown my mind!  “How did they know my name?  Why are they coming to my house?”

But that’s what happened to Zacchaeus.  Jesus looked up into the tree, called him by name, and said, “I’m coming to your house.”

The life of Zacchaeus is transformed in the presence of Jesus.  He gives half of his possessions to the poor, and he pays back fourfold everyone he has taken advantage of.

Then Jesus says something so joyful and jubilant, “Today salvation has come to this house!”

Man, that’s just like Jesus, just going in and revolutionizing someone’s life, turning them around in just moments in His presence.

And He’s still doing it today!  He did it for me and He’s done it for millions.

And here’s the final and grandest oddity in the story of Zacchaeus.  It’s right at the end, almost an afterthought, and yet it puts the entire story of Zacchaeus into a different light.

In Luke 19:10 Jesus said, “…for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Wait a minute.  The story starts with Zacchaeus seeking Jesus.  But at the end we find that Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus!

Wow.  That explains Jesus stopping right at the tree and looking up and calling him by name.  It explains Jesus’ offer to go to his house.  It wasn’t that Zacchaeus was seeking Jesus.  It was that Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus!

One more Scripture before I close.

In John 6:44, Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…”

Why did Zacchaeus run ahead and climb up into the sycamore tree to see Jesus?  Maybe he thought he was just curious.

And maybe you think you are just curious.  You want to know more about Jesus.

But you know what?  You aren’t just curious.  Zacchaeus wasn’t just curious.  God the Father was drawing him, and if your heart and mind are wanting to know more about Jesus, God is drawing you.

He stands at the door and knocks, and if you will answer, He will come in, and just like Zacchaeus, a little time in the presence of Jesus and your life will be changed forever.

May God bless you today.

I’m Doug Apple.


Friday, May 14, 2021

How to Handle Opportunities

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I’m Doug Apple...and my heart is on fire.  (Luke 24:32)

It’s one of the most exciting times in life.

It’s when opportunity presents itself.

It’s exciting because you have to make a choice, and you know that your choice will affect your future, and maybe the future of many others.

It’s exciting, and nerve wracking.

In fact, some people are scared of opportunities precisely because of the possible huge ramifications.  They think, “Well, if I don’t choose at all, at least I won’t make the wrong choice.”

Tell that to the man in Jesus’ parable who hid his talent in the ground instead of using the opportunity wisely.

Ah, now that’s the key:  using opportunities wisely!

So how do we do that?

First of all, the Bible tells us not to “give opportunity” to the flesh, or to the devil.  So when we are looking at an opportunity and deciding what to do about it, we clearly want to avoid things that are sinful.

We don’t become unequally yoked.  We don’t cheat people.  We don’t take advantage of people.  We don’t enter into win-lose situations where I win and you lose.  That may be taking advantage of an opportunity, but it’s wrong and sinful.

Galatians 6:10 says, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all…”

So how do we handle opportunities?  One thing we are looking for is how we can use this opportunity to do good for all, not just me.  We’re looking for opportunities to create win-win situations, where everyone’s situation is improved and no one comes up a big loser.

One question to ask is, “How can I use this opportunity to solve problems, both my problems and other people’s problems?”

Proverbs tells us that lazy people ignore opportunities, and ignorant people don’t even notice them.  

I think God often brings opportunities into our life.  

Back to the parable of the talents, in Matthew 25 Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  Like what?  It’s like a rich man who gave opportunities to his servants, and he wanted to see how they would handle them.

Maybe you never thought of it that way.

I think God brings opportunities into our life, and then He watches, like a patient Father, to see what we will do with them.

What He wants is for us to take advantage of the opportunity in order to do good.

Next comes the question of which opportunities to work on, because in this day and age the world is crawling with opportunities and you can’t possibly take on all of them.

Back to the book of Galatians.  

Galatians 5:16 tells us to “walk in the Spirit,” which means to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:18 tells us to be “led by the Spirit.”

Galatians 5:25 tells us to “live in the Spirit.”

As Christian believers, we have to learn to discern the leading and speaking of God’s Holy Spirit inside of us.

And then when opportunity presents itself, we can watch for God’s Spirit in us to rise up and put a fire in us that says, “Yes, there it is.  Go for it.”

Yes, it can still be nerve wracking, because it’s important!

But don’t be like the lazy and ignorant and even wicked person who lets opportunities pass by, ignoring them while supposedly “playing it safe.”

It didn’t work for the man in the parable of the talents, and it won’t work for us!

So when you see the opportunity arise, take a good look, pray for wisdom, listen to the Holy Spirit, and be ready to strike while the iron’s hot, going forward in faith and trust that God is with you, and He will help you turn it into a winner for everyone involved.

May God bless you today.

I’m Doug Apple.


Friday, April 30, 2021

Have Patience With Yourself

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I’m Doug Apple...and my heart is on fire.  (Luke 24:32)

I’ve shared this parable with a bunch of people lately.

Jesus was often asked about the kingdom of heaven, and I can imagine Him looking up, hand on his bearded chin, pondering and saying, “What is the kingdom of heaven like, and to what shall I compare it?  Hmmm…”

“It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden, and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”

Question:  how long does it take a tree to grow from a seed?  A long time.

How long does it take the kingdom of heaven to grow inside of us?  A long time.

So my message is:  have patience with yourself.  Mighty trees take a long time to grow.

In Luke 17 the Pharisees were asking Jesus about the kingdom, and Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation, nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’  For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

How is the kingdom of God within you?  Here is a quick breakdown.

We’re all born in sin.  We are all sinners.  Jesus died for our sins.  When we turn to God and receive His forgiveness for our sins, that takes care of the sin problem that separates us from God, and then a glorious thing happens.

He puts His Holy Spirit inside of us.  

That is the kingdom of heaven “mustard seed” being planted in us.

This is God beginning His good work in us, and Philippians 1:6 says that He who began His good work in us will be faithful to complete it.

In other words, that kingdom of heaven “tree” is going to grow.

The kingdom of heaven tree is going to bear fruit, the fruit of the Spirit.  Galatians 5:22-23 says that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

If you look at your life and say, “Wow, I am lacking in the fruit of the Spirit,” then I say, “Have patience with yourself.”  It takes a long time for a tree to grow.

Back in the day The Hemphills had a powerful little song called, “He’s Still Workin’ on Me.”  It said:


There really ought to be a sign upon my heart,

“Don't judge me yet, there's an unfinished part,”

But I'll be perfect just according to His plan,

Fashioned by the Master's loving hands.


He's still workin’ on me,

To make me what I ought to be,

It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars,

The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars,

How loving and patient He must be,

He's still workin' on me.

Yes, God is still workin’ on me.  He’s growing that tree of the kingdom of heaven inside of me.  It’s going to bear the good fruit of the Spirit, but trees take time.  They have to grow roots.  They have to grow limbs and leaves.  They have to weather the seasons, but watch.  In time they will bear the good fruit the Creator has designed for them.

And so will you and I and all of God’s people, because His Spirit is inside of us, working on us, growing us, and raising us up to be full grown, fruit-bearing people.

So if you find yourself falling short of where you want to be in your walk with God, just remember that mighty trees take a lot of time to grow, so…

Have patience with yourself, because God’s still workin’ on you.

May God bless you today.

I’m Doug Apple.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Let's Play Two

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I’m Doug Apple...and my heart is on fire.  (Luke 24:32)

“Your boss is taking advantage of you.”

“What?  I’m just walking his dog.”

“Yeah.  That’s not part of your job.  You’re a radio station manager, not a dog walker.”

“Okay, well, call it my senior citizen ministry.  I’m helping the old guy out.”

“Call it what you want.  You’re being taken advantage of.”

“No. What I’m doing is loving my neighbor.  If someone shows you how you can love them, and you can easily do it, just do it.”

“But doing personal favors is not your business.”

“Mankind is my business!”

Okay, so now I’m quoting Marley talking to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, but mankind is our business.  

Jesus said something oh so powerful in the Sermon on Mount.  In Matthew 5:41 He said, “…whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.”

This is where we get that phrase, “Go the extra mile.”

How it worked back then was, a Roman soldier could legally tell you to carry his gear for a mile.  So Jesus said, “If that soldier makes you carry his gear for one mile, go ahead and carry it for two miles.”

Now that’s next level Christianity!

Serving others should come as naturally to a Christian as playing ball does for a ballplayer.

I’m thinking of Ernie Banks, the hall of fame baseball player for the Chicago Cubs.  In fact his nickname was Mr. Cub.  He also had another nickname, “Mr. Sunshine” because of his positive attitude.

Ernie Banks had a popular catchphrase he was known for.  He would say, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame…let’s play two!”

Now I imagine a lot of ballplayers probably hate doubleheaders.  It’s twice the work in the same day.  But Ernie, with his go-the-extra-mile positive attitude was like, “Let’s play two!”

Imagine Ernie back in Bible days.  A Roman solder barks at him, “Carry my gear for a mile,” and Ernie cheerfully responds, “Let’s go two!”

I know it seems to go against our rights, and a law like that wouldn’t fly for a hot minute in America today, but listen for a second.

Sometimes clinging so tightly to our rights is actually a burden that keeps us from freely loving and serving others.  

So watch for it.  Suddenly an opportunity to serve someone will appear.  The door will open, and what will we do?  We can ignore it.  We can go ahead and serve them but with a bad attitude.

Or we can cheerfully, with the joy of the Lord as our strength, choose to go the extra mile and say, “Why stop at one?  Let’s go two!”

May God bless you today.

I’m Doug Apple.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Set the Bar High...for the Most High

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I’m Doug Apple...and my heart is on fire.  (Luke 24:32)

Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will stand in the presence of kings!

That’s what it says in Proverbs 22:29.

Are you skilled in your work?

Are you improving your skills?

It’s a lifelong effort.  We never stop improving.

Jesus’ parable of the talents tells us the value of taking what we have and growing it.

Matthew 25:23 says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  You were faithful over a few things.  I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord.”

So the question is, are we being faithful with what we’ve been given?  

It’s a requirement.

First Corinthians 4:2 says it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

Are we being faithful?  Are we growing what we’ve been given?  Are we improving our skills, taking them to the next level, moving towards mastery?

Ecclesiastes 9:10 says whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.

Colossians 3:23 says whatever we do, we should do it with all of our heart, as if we are doing it for the Lord.  

Here are some Bible verses I often apply to my work, taken from Luke chapter 3, “the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth.”

In your work, are there crooked places and rough ways?  It’s time to make them straight for the Lord!

Sometimes I say it this way, “Set the bar high…for the Most High!”

Philippians 4:8 says, “…if anything is excellent or praiseworthy…” 

That should apply to our work!

When people want to think about something excellent or praiseworthy, our work should come to mind.

Show me a man who is skilled in his work and I will show you a man who will stand before kings!

And the most important king is the King of Kings!

So, are we skilled in our work?  How can we become MORE skilled in our work? 

How can we meet the requirement of being a faithful steward of what God has given us?

One way is by locking this mindset into our brains.

Set the bar high…for the Most High!

May God bless you today.

I’m Doug Apple.


Friday, April 02, 2021

If You Are the Son of God

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I’m Doug Apple...and my heart is on fire.  (Luke 24:32)

“If You are the Son of God…”

That’s what they shouted at Jesus while He was on the cross.

They said, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

He could have.

He could have avoided the cross altogether.

When He was arrested, Peter pulled out a sword to fight, but Jesus told him to put it away.  Then He said, “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?”

He could have avoided the cross, but, He said to Peter, “How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?”

God had a plan, but Peter didn’t see it.

Even when God announces His plans, people often don’t see it.

In John chapter 2, while Jesus was at the huge temple in Jerusalem, some leaders asked Him for a sign, so He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The leaders were like, “What?  It took 46 years to build this temple, and you’re going to raise it up in three days?”

But Jesus wasn’t talking about that building.  He was talking about His own body being raised up in three days after the crucifixion.

But they didn’t get it.  Even when Jesus did announce the plan, they didn’t get it.

But they did use His words against Him.

When He was on trial, Matthew 26 says, “…two false witnesses came forward and said, ‘This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’”

They used these same words against Him while He was on the cross, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

But you know what?  I think we do the same thing today.

We lack understanding.  We don’t see God’s plan, so we say dumb things like, “If You are really God, You’ve got to do thus and so.”

And it doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.  To tell Jesus to come off the cross if He’s the Son of God is not all that unreasonable.  But it is ignorant of God’s plans.

Much of the time we are ignorant of God’s plans, and that’s where this word “trust” comes in.

When Jesus told Peter to put his sword away, He was saying “trust Me.”

When Jesus told Peter to go back in the water and let down the nets, even though Peter had fished all night and caught nothing, Jesus was saying “trust Me.”

And Peter did trust Him.  At one point, when a bunch of fair-weather followers left Jesus, He turned and said to His disciples, “Do you want to leave, too?”

Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Peter didn’t know what all was going on, but he did trust Jesus.  

So what about us?  We also don’t understand what all is going on, but will we trust Jesus?

God has plans, and He’s never been in the habit of revealing them in detail.

But there is something that God is very much in the habit of:  asking us to trust Him.

Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding…”

Jeremiah 17:7 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.”

I don’t want to be one who says, “IF You are the Son of God, here’s what You have to do…”

Instead, I want to be one who says, “You ARE the Son of God.  And even though I don’t understand what all is going on, I put my full faith and trust in You.”

Amen.

May God bless you today.

I’m Doug Apple.