Friday, January 5, 2018

What Are You Reading?

Every year I try to make an effort to read the Bible through from cover to cover. I know many other people make the same goal, and I’m happy that there are people out there that see the benefit and significance of reading the Bible. It’s a journey that can be frustrating, difficult, even boring at times, but it can also be enlightening, refreshing, and humbling to see how much understanding is still to be gained.

God never intended us to read through pieces of Scripture occasionally, but rather He wanted us to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV) Because, the more we read God’s word, the more we get a clearer picture of what God is looking for in us, or as Ephesians 5:17 says, “...do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (See also Joshua 1:8, 2 Timothy 4:2.)

Paul had encouraged Timothy, in 1Timothy 4:13, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” But why is this so important? As followers of a God, whom we cannot see, it’s vital that we understand His ways, which is what the Bible reveals to us. Therefore, the less we know of God’s ways, the less we’ll be able to interpret His words accurately. Unfortunately, there is an epidemic of Biblical ignorance within congregations.

Recently, in an Apologetics Press article, the author interviewed Melvyn Bragg, who is an English broadcaster and an atheist. One of the topics brought up was about the impact of Bible reading on a culture. Braggs recognized the extreme decline of people who regularly read the Bible. He said, “I think it is a great deprivation. What have we thrown away? One of the greatest pieces of art work [has been neglected]. It’s awful. Is the excuse really that it’s too difficult, really? We should be too good for that….”

Although as Christians, our view of the Bible is much greater than just a “work of art.” It is the living word of God, as Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

This year I will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. I hope you’ll read along. I'd love to have you join me!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Are You Running the Race?

Acts 20:24, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”

Running has been a favorite pastime of mine for several decades now. Not so much the aching bones, the cramped muscles, or trying to get motivated to run in frigid conditions, but instead the satisfaction of completing a run.

Life, like running, is filled with not-so-fun conditions that can deter many people from wanting to engage in it very deeply. However, it’s the satisfaction of knowing you’ve completed something that really is good for you -- physically and mentally -- that has such value.

Paul often compared his time on earth to that of a runner running a race. He said in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”

Our training is more than early morning runs come humidity or high winds, sunny or snowy; no, it is about consistency, focus, and desire to be more of what God has called us to be.

Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us what it means to live to the level of faith mentioned in the people in the previous chapter, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”

As we wrap up another year what can we reflect on that helps us see our progress? Are we stronger spiritually? Are we more compassionate? Do we give more? Do we pray more? Do we love more? What has changed in our life to aid in our long distance run of faith?

This leads to the next question, how will 2018 be better than 2017? What are we willing to invest in to make our “temple” more pleasing in God’s sight? Let’s rally together to help each other reach greater potential and purpose than ever before.

Friday, December 8, 2017

God's Infinite Power

El Shaddai, the Hebrew name that means “God--the Powerful One, God--the Almighty.” It’s a commonly used name in the Bible for God, but descriptions of that name are illustrated all throughout the Bible: the Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 14:19), Builder of everything (Hebrews 3:4, Ecclesiastes 11:5, Genesis 21:33), the King of Heaven (Daniel 4:37), the only God (Jude 1:25). Paul says it this way in Ephesians 3:20, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”

A God who can speak things into existence, and with just a word can do the impossible, is a God that we should find comfort in when we have troubles arise in our life. He wants to save us; He wants everyone to repent and turn to Him for that help (2 Peter 3:9). It’s our pride that keeps us from simply turning to Him, and that was the story of the Israelites from Egypt on--their pride. Yet at the height of the Israelite nation, David finally brought back the Ark to reside in the temple, and that box represented God’s mighty power. It had been with them during the years of conquest in Canaan, it had been there at the presence of God on the mountain or in the camp, and it was a powerful symbol of what God could do.

David says at the return of the Ark ceremony in 1 Chronicles 16:28-35, “O nations of the world, recognize the Lord, recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong. Give to the Lord the glory He deserves! Bring your offering and come into His presence. Worship the Lord in all His holy splendor. Let all the earth tremble before Him. The world stands firm and cannot be shaken. Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Tell all the nations, 'The Lord reigns!' Let the sea and everything in it shout His praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever. Cry out, 'Save us, O God of our salvation! Gather and rescue us from among the nations, so we can thank Your holy name and rejoice and praise You.'”

Those words were true. God is powerful, and we can rejoice because of that. So, when the angels made the announcement that Jesus was arriving to the earth (Luke 2:10-11), those same words of David’s could have been said about Jesus. Jesus modeled for us what faithful love really is. Therefore, we like the angels, should praise Him for coming in the name of El Shaddai, the almighty God, to save us from sin.

Isaiah 9:6-7 were God’s word to share with a people that had been walking in darkness. Jesus, the promised one, would bring light to the world (John 1:1-5) so they could see God’s power in an entirely new way: “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on His shoulders. And He will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of His ancestor David for all eternity.”

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Breath of Fresh Air!

Imagine a country where corruption was a regular headline in the papers, where every day you heard of another crime against humanity and against the authorities. Imagine how hopeless you may feel when you look out over your fellow citizens and realize that the corruption in the leadership has trickled down to your neighbors. If you’ve read a newspaper in the past 20 years, you probably don’t have to stretch your imagination too much.

This time of year the world generally focuses on a stronger sense of generosity, of family, and warm greetings to friends. But soon after the festivities of the holidays are over we begin to focus on taxes and the drudgery that comes with paying tithes to the government. As you wrap your mind around the cycles we face on an annual basis--and the increased exposure to corruption--try to imagine what it may have been like for a Jew living in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor, as well as the influence of Herod, the Jewish “client” king of Judea.

Oppression and corruption was a normal way of life. The Jews, who had been beaten down by regret, guilt, and hopelessness, didn’t have a positive outlook on their future. Yet, something was about to happen that would kindle hope within those who were able to see how Immanuel, God with us, would fulfill God’s promises.

As we spend the next couple weeks focusing on the hope that came when Jesus came, I hope we’ll see that it wasn’t His birth that was going to change the world, but rather His life and death. His life directed us towards the kind of attitude and behavior that pleases God; His death made our hopes a reality.

Many folks may end up putting the emphasis on the wrong part of Jesus’ life this time of year, but we can still recognize how much His arrival refreshed those who believed in God’s age-old promise. Today, we must remember that the same characteristics and behaviors Christ modeled for us can have the same impact that they did in Jesus’ time.

Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable.”

That “word” is still powerful! Let’s trust in it, and encourage others to do the same. John 15:20, “Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted Me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to Me, they would listen to you.”

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Calling on His Name

What was the Great Awakening? It’s not Monday morning; it was a revival movement 200 years after the Reformation Movement. The first and second Great awakening was primarily focused in America and England - (The Restoration Movement came out of this movement.) In 1801 the Cane Ridge Revival was labeled “the most important religious gathering in all of American history.”

It was said that 20,000 people attended the tent meeting; and that meeting helped to usher in a new way of looking at a biblical concept of salvation. With a lot of heightened emotional experiences and the sheer popularity of the event, it seemed there need to be a better way to handle all of the responses to the gospel message. The answer: the “anxious seat,” which was another form of the “Mourner’s bench.” This was a place up front (or off to the side) where you could go to get more
information about how to respond to the message. Some have suggested it was designed to make this process more efficient, but it was through this event that gave birth to the idea of the “sinner’s prayer.”

Today, many people have asked where that is found in Scripture. The main problem is… it’s not in there! But how could such a major religious concept that many practice in order to be saved, not even be in the Bible?

Throughout the teachings of the Second Great Awakening, the sinner’s prayer was gaining popularity; and Romans 10 was the passage often used for support – “They [those who trust in Christ] have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

The previous verses are used to explain what that means: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

But is that really describing a “sinner’s prayer”? Is this what Paul had in mind when he wrote Romans? Did Paul imagine that two millennia after he wrote this letter that people all over the globe would be told that if they sincerely asked Jesus in their hearts, they can be assured of being saved because of the promise in Romans 10:13?

The word “call” is Epikaleomai in koine Greek, and it means to "appeal to." The Israelites appealed to God in Egypt, but that pleading didn’t save them, but God heard it. God heard the prayers of Cornelius, but those prayers didn’t save him, Peter was sent to show him what he needed to do.  As believers we should do what Paul instructed the Ephesians to do in Ephesians 5:17, “Don’t be foolish but understand the will of the Lord.”

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thankgiving

What should be different about a Christian than other people without a hope in Christ’s promises? I’m sure we could list many attributes that set us apart from the world, but at least during this time of year one characteristic should come to our minds–Gratitude. At the heart of what many celebrate this week is gratitude for family, friends, material blessings, freedom, and of course spiritual blessings. All of these things we realize have shaped our life and made us what we know we need to be and hopefully want to be.

I’m reminded of a passage that may not seem like a Thanksgiving Day sort of passage, but it addresses the great insight into a grateful-hearted person. In Hebrews 12:12-13, “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”

People have been placed in our lives that have given us the opportunity to praise God, but Satan tries to convince us not to see the blessings in our circumstances–good or bad. But it’s easy to ask, “Where’s a blessing in what I’m going through?” Perhaps like Job, or Daniel, or Joseph, or Jesus. We see them and many others who endured awful things and yet there was something about their situation that still brought God glory.

What about your story? Have people been more compelled to express their gratitude in their life by watching yours? How was Paul able to say in Romans 8:37-39, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘for Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Perhaps his appreciation for God was best seen through the trials of his life. The difficulties that led him to a point in his life where he could reflect on the presence of God all along. How about us? Can we recognize how God has worked through the situations, good or bad, in our life that should lend themselves to our attitude of thanks?

Every challenge, every discipline, every loss may define some of the moments where we modeled the strongest faith. Consider why God disciplines us. It was through those events that brought Israel to their knees and made them grateful that their God was always there. Because it’s in the difficult times that we feel we need God more. We feel more helpless, weaker, and simply scared, yet God enjoys demonstrating His love and power towards us.

Discipline prepares us to wait for Him. Without it, we tend to take the “easy way” out that actually leads to more pain, suffering, or disappointment. This Thanksgiving, thank God for the challenging things that have contributed to your faith.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Are You Wise Enough?

Who were the prophets of the Old Testament speaking to? Our knee-jerk reaction may be that they were speaking to the Israelites, which is true. But much like Jesus’ parables there were usually deeper levels to what was spoken.

1 Peter 1:10-12, “This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when He told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and His great glory afterward. They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you…”

Paul reminded us of the same thing in Romans 15:4, “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”

In other words, we need to be able to learn from the past to help guide our future. This has been a common theme throughout Scriptures, and really throughout our own lives. Therefore, there is a constant need for us to be able to gain the wisdom revealed in how God dealt with those He was leading to the Promised Land, or those He reprimanded for their unfaithfulness, or many other issues.

In the New Testament, Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote a letter to some churches to encourage, or maybe warn, them to do just that. He had planned to write about the joy and hope of salvation, but realized they had become sidetracked. In his letter, he addresses the immorality that they were welcoming into their lives, but it’s how he does it that I want to highlight.

He compares the false teaching they were entertaining to that same kind of teaching that led the Israel into rebellion (Numbers 14), and he describes the outcome. Then he continues with the angels who violated God’s will. Although this is a controversial issue to some, many scholars believe this is what was being described in Genesis 6 prior to the flood of judgment. He moves on to Sodom, and the perversions that they were engaging in (Genesis 19). The point is that he’s bringing up stories that most Hebrew people would have been familiar with--stories that we can now see their purpose when looked at through the lens of Christian living. He also brings up other (non-canonized) books like 1 Enoch 1:9 that describes a prophecy from Enoch, who lived prior to the flood. Followed by a reminder about Cain (Genesis 4), Balaam (Numbers 22-25), Korah (Numbers 16), Selfish Shepherds (leaders) in Ezekiel 34:2, Chaotic waves (unstable people) in Isaiah 57:20.

The past is constantly pointing us towards the right path that leads away from sin and death. We have to be wise enough to accept it and listen to it. What Jude does in his letter Peter did in his 2 Peter 2:1-3, John did in 1 John 4:1-3, Paul did in 2 Timothy 3:1-9, and Jesus did in Matthew 7:15-19. Pray that we will be wise enough and obedient enough to learn from the mistakes from the past instead of being doomed to repeat their same judgment for our stubbornness.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Are You Sharing with the Lost?

Do you really want the church to grow? Church growth is not about money, buildings, our plans, or our dreams. It is about sinners coming to Christ. The growth of any church is determined by the mindset of the people within the body of Christ about the lost. Congregations burdened with pride, apathy, laziness, negativity or critical attitude will never grow. These were some of the attitudes that the churches John addressed in Asia (Revelations 2-3) were dealing with.

Probably all of us could quote Matthew 28:19-20, “Go into all the world and preach…” But how determined are we to get them to Jesus? We read of some amazing followers of Christ that understood the urgency of the message and the power of Christ in Luke 5.

These were the men who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus. They serve as an example of the right attitude leading to the right action, resulting in great changes in lives – in their case a sinner is forgiven.

They knew that Jesus had the power to save, heal, repair, or forgive. That knowledge led them to some pretty decisive action that didn’t seem to be hampered by obstacles. Unfortunately, the smallest of obstacles cause many believers to sin by failing “to do the good they know they ought to do” (James 4:17). Luke 5:19 says that they couldn’t get their friend through the door because of the crowd. Think about the “crowds” who will keep many people from getting to Jesus. Sadly, a large percentage of the crowds will be those within the walls of a church.

Brennan Manning, a priest, made this statement, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Within the walls of that house where Jesus shared the words of life, Pharisees and scribes stood soaking in the words but hardening their heart. However, the friends of the paralyzed man were on the outside and they recognized just how important it was to be in the presence of Jesus. They overcame obstacles and got to work, making a hole in the roof to lower their friend through.

How do you suppose those inside felt about the noisy mess the men on the roof were making? The friends knew that getting them in was more important than finding excuses. Luke 5:20, “Seeing the faith of his friends, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘Young man, your sins are forgiven.’” Will there be people that get to hear the invitation into heaven because of the efforts of Christ’s followers? Absolutely – think about Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 2:12. In fact, most of the people reading this were heavily influenced by someone who “brought them to Jesus”. It’s still a choice they must make, but what can we do to bring them in?

The church is God’s pride and joy. It’s time we see the church the way God sees it. The way God knows it can be when people truly trust Him, follow the Spirit, and genuinely care for those that haven’t been to Christ yet. Seeking and saving the lost was the reason Jesus came to earth; what’s our purpose on earth?

Consider who you can bring to Jesus.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Revelations 101

Sometimes what looks good turns out to be bad, and what looks bad turns out to be good. That’s no mystery to anyone who has lived very long on earth. God can use bad things to do good (Romans 8:28), or Satan can use good things to make our lives bad (1 Chronicles 21). What’s bad is when we try to “sell” the bad as good, or vice versa. Isaiah 5:20-21, “What sorrow for those who say, ‘evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.’ What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever.”

But life can be filled with choices that aren’t what they seem; so, it would be helpful to have some insight, a birds-eye view of our problems. Thankfully, God has given us the Spirit as a guide to our decisions – big or small. That’s what defines the biggest difference in the New Testament verses the Old, the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). A promise to help us make better decisions. The real challenge then is how well do I know, or trust, the Spirit’s guidance?

In the book of Revelation, John uses situations going on in seven churches as the backdrop to how we can model trusting in the Spirit to help us make the decisions that lead to an eternal home with God, our father. Five out of seven of the churches were making bad decisions and calling them good. However, regardless of the challenges each church faced, all of them had an ever-growing problem approaching – persecution.

The problems they faced at the end of the first century were their own, but every generation afterwards has had their own set of struggles that they have to face. The question is will we make the decisions that please God by showing our allegiance to him rather than our stuff or even our own life? Will we compromise our faith for security or fear? Or will we remain faithful to the end?
This letter offered insight into God’s desires for them, by pointing them back to Old Testament prophesies, but why? When you see the times of hardships that others faced, we can get that birds-eye perspective better and see where they should have repented, or they should have trusted God more (Romans 15:4). What did the Israelites fail to understand about God when Canaan Land was laid before them (Numbers 13)? What did the Israelites fail to do when Assyria or Babylon threatened them (Deuteronomy 28:49, Jeremiah 25:8-14, Isaiah 39:5-8)? To the Israelite, those events defined some of the darkest periods of their nation, but they could have been better if they had trusted the guidance God was offering them through godly people.

As the slaughtered lamb, Jesus was the only one who could reveal what the sealed scroll told about the bad things coming. As the seals were being broken, He reveals the mystery that was similar to what Pharaoh could have learned, or what the Israelites could have learned. Seven trumpets that resembled the ten plagues sent to Pharaoh to help him see the power of God. Then the seven bowls continue to show the same thing. Finally, the King of Kings shows up to fight the final battle putting an end to all that is bad. This story should give us hope that no matter what we face, God has the ability to help us through to the end

Friday, October 13, 2017

Uniquely Unified

One comedian said about single-life, “It’s just like magic. When you live by yourself, all of your annoying habits are gone.” If the church were made of only one person, there wouldn’t be division, but that’s not how it is. We can get frustrated with the hardships that come from a melting pot of different personalities, different fears and strengths, different levels of maturity, or different abilities all found within the body of Christ, OR we can stand in awe of God’s amazing design for it.

If Christians are to be the salt and the light to a lost world, it makes sense that we need as many capable people serving as examples as possible. Here’s where the humanistic way of thinking comes into play – “selfishness becomes the driving force in doctrine” – was a way I heard it described recently. We have the capability to be unique, yet unified with the same focus of living according to the Spirit. We have the capability of being unified, yet we’re not forced to think just like each other. This can be refreshing or frustrating.

The unity of the body of Christ has always been a struggle; that’s why there are thousands of denominations – inability to be unified. However, this seemed to be an important point in Christ’s final prayer before His arrest that we read about in John 17, “that they be one as we are one.” After the church began, efforts were made by the apostles to convince brethren to think like Christ, and thus, reach a level of unity unobtainable without Christ.

Therefore, most of the epistles were written to churches, bodies of believers, who were “biting and devouring each other” (Galatians 5:15). One group was too selfish to recognize, or appreciate, the uniqueness of each believer. Instead he mentions in Galatians 2:4-5 that “some so called believers there—false ones, really—who were secretly brought in…[to] take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow the old ways.” But we know that wasn’t Godly, yet we too often struggle with falling into their same footsteps.

In Ephesians 4 Paul “begs them to live a life worthy of the Gospel,” then he describes what that entails. Ephesians 4:2-6, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.”

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul describes his freedom that he has in Christ; a concept that scares many believers. To realize that the “good news” is good because of the level of freedom Christ has made possible. It’s in this passage where Paul says he “became all things to all people so that I may bring many to Christ.” Regardless of which group he was around he understood how he could demonstrate unity among deeply diverse cultures and still live within the realms of the gospel. What if our motto was truly: I will do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings?

What if?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Living a Better Life

Who do you turn to for help? In the TV game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a contestant had a choice to phone a friend if they got in a pinch. Statistically, that’s accurate for a lot of folks when they need answers – get on the phone. In fact, 92% of American adults own a cell phone now, and 65% of those own smartphones. It’s no surprise that the internet is a common place to go for answers; from Google to YouTube, there is something out there that can probably get you some answers.

However, the drawback of having instant “answers” at our fingertips is that we tend to rely on those answers exclusively, at least that’s what one survey revealed about searching habits.

Let's explore the beauty of the better way in Christ. What makes it better? Well, promised eternal life is one great perk, but perhaps it’s in exercising the wisdom to make better choices down here. God designed the church to be a warehouse full of spiritually minded people that can point you in the right direction, correct you when you wander off, and support you as you plug along. Even on a personal level we realize that God’s word is packed with wisdom and guidance.

Psalms 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” (114- 117), “You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope. Get out of my life, you evil-minded people, for I intend to obey the commands of my God. Lord, sustain me as you promised, that I may live! Do not let my hope be crushed. Sustain me, and I will be rescued; then I will meditate continually on your decrees.”

God’s word points us towards a better way; better choices that don’t lead to regret, but rather peace and satisfaction. God’s words are filled with such rich wisdom, and the more we’re in them, the more we’ll feel confident about using them in our daily decisions. Regular study and meditation will also help you in these areas:

1. Setting Goals for Your Life. You’ll understand how to set them based on God’s desire for your life, not what’s easiest for you. Philippians 3:12-14, “I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

2. Know Who to Ask for Advice When Needed. Too many people fail to utilize this precious gift of other people in their life. Proverbs 15:22, “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.”

3. Trusting Yourself. I know that doesn’t necessarily sound very spiritual, but God gave us some important tools that help us determine right from wrong. Romans 1:19 describes how God made awareness of His existence part of our DNA. Also, in Hebrews 5:14 it says, “Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.”
 
But the important thing about living a better life… is practice, practice, practice. The only way you're going to get better, is by practicing making better decisions every single day. So slow down (if possible), surround yourself with wise counselors, Be constant in prayer, turn to God’s word, and have faith.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Does Your Account Balance?

At least once a month, my wife goes through our bank statement to make sure that what the bank says we have left in our account, is in fact what she shows we have in our accounts. That process is called “reconciling,” and it’s a way to verify that our accounts are in agreement. When there is something that doesn’t match up, we have to check with the bank to see how they came up with their balance. In most cases, the bank doesn’t make the mistake; therefore, it’s our fault somewhere. If that’s the case, then changes or exchanges must take place for the reconciliation to be complete.

When it comes to reconciling our spiritual account with God, the "bank" is never wrong! The idea of reconciliation is brought up many ways in several places in scriptures. Christ made right the imbalance in our accounts; by changing and exchanging something to that was wrong. That was sin, in our case.

Jesus told a parable of a Shrewd Money Manager in Luke 16 that outlines a man who misused what he had been entrusted to manage. The manager misused his “authority” to win some friends before he lost his job. That is an example of reconciliation, and an example of an unauthorized change and exchange.

But Jesus did more than just making an exchange on the cross, but He also revealed how we should function on earth better than the law ever could. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” He has the authority to change what needs to be changed and to command what needs to be commanded.

Colossians 1:20 explains that concept and even how He has the authority to do that. “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him and for Him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is His body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So He is first in everything. For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through Him God reconciled everything to Himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”

Jesus has the authority as the creator of mankind and designer of heaven to determine who is in and who isn’t. But He wants everyone to recognize their imbalance and come to Him in repentance.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Perfect Pattern for Love

“Looking for love in all the wrong places…” This song made popular in 1980 by Johnny Lee is iconic to the plight of our culture. People in desperate search of meaning through relationships, and if that can’t happen, then through some other type of fulfillment. The song describes a man that was going to singles’ bars and any place that most people would go to find quick, meaningless relationships. However, it seems that he didn’t really want that, instead he wanted a friend and someone who would really love him.

I won’t pretend the song had much of a spiritual undertone to it, but perhaps it’s representative of how people are constantly looking for something, or someone, to bring meaning to their life. What they search for in those places will always be elusive. Regardless of how close they get to what appears to be the “real deal” it slips out of their fingers or leaves them at a dead end.

Sadly, the search isn’t only made by lonely bar-hoppers, but by people in the church as well. Some religious analysts have suggested that the age of contemporary worship is coming to a close. That may be up for debate; however, the dropout rate in those arenas aren’t much less than the dropout rate among more conservative churches. Where are they going? What are they looking for? Why can’t they find it?

We need a pattern, just like an engineer, an architect, or even a surgeon, knowing what everything should look like in the end is crucial to success. It’s just as important for a person who is searching for meaning, because without a pattern to follow anything or everything can be a possibility. The result is a person looks for meaning in all the wrong places. The human mind and heart is typically only going to take so much before it gives up in the search. Satan has offered plenty of detours that lead us to nowhere we want to be.

Jeremiah 17:9, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” And Solomon recognized that a search in the wrong place was equal to “meaningless.” But we, and Johnny Lee, should know the appropriate places to find someone that genuinely loves us and cares about us; the better question is “Am I willing to go there?”

Our goal can’t be in a job, a sport, a school, a hobby, or even a spouse. Those things are fine in their proper place, but the only way to experience true and genuine love is in Christ. That’s where all the hope is found, and he’s also our pattern to follow.

Paul wrote an encouraging letter to a church in Philippi who had set out on a mission to help spread the gospel. Like a lot of us, they started out strong but problems cropped up occasionally. Comparatively, their problems were far less than many other churches, but they were problems that may have caused some to consider going somewhere else. But Paul reminds them in Philippians 1:6, “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Stay faithful to the plan.

He also appealed to them not to forget what they had seen and, more likely, heard in the example Jesus left for us. Philippians 2:3-5, “Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” Understand the designer. Love is understood best when we give it, rather than always looking to receive it. Love will come when love is given. Be the light the rest of the world is desperately searching for.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hope

On December 11, 2010, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium hospital rescued a little 58-lbs 3-month old dolphin that they named Hope. They found her undernourished and dying, but within several months of rehabilitation, she was growing and healthy. Her story, along with the injured dolphin Winter, that the aquarium had found several years earlier, was part of a movie series called Dolphin Tale. It happens to be a favorite movie for my kids. In fact, it inspired my family to take a trip to Clearwater last fall to see Hope and Winter.

It's the tiny dolphin’s name that I want to focus on in this article – Hope. I'm not sure if there were any interviews as to why Hope was the name chosen, but logic tells us they were hopeful to revive her. Even though she was now being nourished, she still wasn't “out of the woods” yet. They had HOPE that they could make her healthy again, but that would be somewhat dependent upon the will of that dolphin.

That's true in our life as well. We have to want to rid ourselves of the disease of self and pride; Or as Paul told the folks in Lystra in Acts 14:15 that they should turn from their worthless and vain things and listen to the gospel. James describes this worthless living as selfishness and arrogance and that it is not from God but from the Devil (James 3:14-18). But just as Jesus warned His disciples in Matthew 26:41-42 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Our flesh is drawn to shiny, exciting things of the world; that's part of being human. But the dangerous side is that we allow those things to take our eyes off of the life God has offered us through Christ. Our involvement in the process is having the will to live. He is our hope, and He will be where we find true and lasting life. There will be a day that we will be glad we didn't give in to the temptations of the world, but for right now, we have to keep watching and praying.

We have hope of eternal life because of the salvation that Christ made possible. And while it is offered to anyone and ultimately everyone, not everyone will have the will to live. They will lose hope throughout all their trials of life and take the easier road of worldly living, of selfishness, of greed, of hate, of things contrary to the will of God. As Paul said in Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on things above, not things that are of the earth....”

To stay hopeful will require us to surrender our will to His care. He has the power to nourish us and heal us, not the things of the world. Don't lose hope in the promises of God.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Best Gift Ever

What is the best gift you’ve ever received? Would the value of that gift change if the giver of that gift had been someone different? For instance, if your grandfather gave you one million dollars, you’d probably appreciate it greatly. What if a terrorist gave you one million dollars, would that change how excited you were about it? The same could be said about nearly anything…including salvation.

The more we get to know who God is, and what He longs for, and what He loves, and what breaks His heart, the more we see the value of salvation. We need deliverance from our foolish choices to ignore His boundaries that were put in place for our protection. So, the fact that “salvation” is even necessary highlights the trustworthiness of God’s promise. He went to great lengths to give us the best gift ever given.

Paul said in Titus 2:11-15, “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave His life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them.”

As you read about Christ’s arrival to this world, and all the attempts to destroy Him in some way, it’s easier to recognize God’s love for us. More than anything God wanted this precious gift to be given so that all those who will trust Him will be able to enjoy it. When you read the history of Israel’s origins and their journey to the Promised Land, you quickly realize how long this story was actually unfolding.

So, no wonder that when Jesus began to teach, He helped connect the dots for us. He said to the Apostles in Luke 24:44-45, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then, the Bible tells us that He “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

Everything about Him helped people see God through Him (if they had eyes to see, or ears to hear). He even told His closest followers during a bout with doubt in John 14:9-11, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don't know who I am? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father! So why are you asking Me to show Him to you? Don't you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in Me does His work through Me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen Me do.”

Those same words ring true for us today: believe in the message of salvation because all the proof wrapped up in the message that has spanned over thousands of years. We, too, must embrace what Jesus did, taught, and asked of us—and recognize him as the door to salvation. What a wonderful gift! 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Help!

“Help!” is a word that brings panic to any situation. But within that same word is a plea filled with hope. God’s word consists of descriptions of God’s actions, His thoughts, and ultimately His will. Therefore, when we read God’s word, when we meditate on it, when we do what it says, we are following the healing, redemptive, powerful guidance of God Himself.

Psalms 119:147, “I cry out for help and put my hope in Your words.”
Psalms 18:6, “But in my distress, I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to Him reached His ears.”
Psalms 56:9, “My enemies will retreat when I call to You for help. This I know: God is on my side!”

All throughout the book of Psalms we read of people’s plea for help to the one who can heal, deliver, protect. God is our physician, our redeemer, and our comforter. The medicine He prescribes is found in His Holy Word (Psalms 107:20, John 1:14).

In Proverbs 4:20-22 Solomon says, “My son, attend to my words; incline your ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.”

God's Word is the medicine given to us by our Creator to aid in our infirmities, our fears, our struggles. We are expected to follow the directions for the medication given by doctors; how about the medicine God prescribes? We honor God as the great physician by taking the powerful medicine He gives us, the Word of God.

Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

“God so loved the world that He sent His only son…”, or as John said of “His only son” in 1 John 1:1-2, “He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen Him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that He is the one who is eternal life.”

If you haven’t read, meditated on, or studied the words of God recently, then realize you’re missing out on an invaluable resource sent from the creator of the universe, a gift that helps, protects, redeems, heals, and guides your life.

Psalms 119:34-35, “Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart. Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.”

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Going Back to School

School-time conjures up feelings of great joy for some and great dread for others. What is school about? Learning, as they say, can be fun; but it depends on your willingness to make it that way. Consider the Apostles’ education in ministry that they enrolled in when they accepted Jesus’ invitation to “follow me.” Throughout those three years, they learned how to pray (Luke 11:1), they learned that Jesus truly was the son of God (John 11:42; John 17:7-8), and they learned how to bless people the way Jesus did. The blessings Jesus focused on weren’t strictly miraculous, but generous and highly encouraging.

Upon graduation (Jesus’ ascension) they had to go out on their own. But they weren’t alone, because Jesus had promised a helper would come once He had ascended to the Father. John 16:7, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” And, once the helper came, that’s when they would realize how much God was really with them helping them know what to say (John 14:26).

Although we may not encounter the situations the Apostles faced on a day-to-day basis, we still have the responsibility of putting our “education” into practice; and that always helps when you are prepared for action (1 Peter 1:13) and when you have someone to work alongside of you.

They learned how much they needed to get rid of some non-essentials on their journey. We read about some of the things we need to get away from in places like: 2 Timothy 2:23, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” Colossians 3:5, “So [get rid of] the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don't be greedy.…” Hebrews 12:1-2, “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.…”

But Christianity is not just a bunch of “thou shalt not’s.” In fact, these things are put away to make room for more beneficial things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.…” (Galatians 5:22-23). Those are what causes the real fruit to be seen. Or as Peter said in 2 Peter 1:8, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we want to learn the ways of Christ, we’ll aim to carry the good things and ditch the bad things so we will put our knowledge of Christ into action.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Invitation to Trust God

In college, a coworker and I started a travel club. It was called the S.E.T.T. club, which stood for Students for Education Through Travel. Our motto was “Get SETT to see the world.” We had all we needed—except people willing to join. That’s where our campaigning, recruiting, and selling the idea came in. I bring this example up because I’ve heard it said that God is like someone wanting to start a club, a club called church, sponsored by Jesus. Just like the club I started years ago, in this scenario, God would have to go around recruiting and selling the idea to people in order to get a following. After all, Jesus asked many people to “Follow Me” during His ministry.

There are obviously a lot of problems with thinking God is doing whatever it takes to get people to join His club. One of the biggest problems is the age-old question, “How can a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?” to which there are a host of answers. Within this dilemma, many people claim they couldn’t, or wouldn’t join God’s club—the church—as if to say, if He expects to entice new followers, He needs to have better incentives. And since He’s the all-powerful God of all creation, He should be able to deliver on this pledge.

But God revealed His plan through Christ, not to win a popularity contest or to have the most “likes” on Facebook. Instead, His was a plan of salvation, or simply put, an escape strategy out of a world corrupted with sin. However, it takes wisdom to recognize it as such. 1 Corinthians 2:7-8, “…the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—His plan that was previously hidden, even though He made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord.”

This wisdom doesn’t make sense to most people, so they reject the invitation. But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18-21, “We who are being saved know [this wisdom] is the very power of God… (20) God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know Him through human wisdom, He has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe….”

In our own Bible, God has inspired writings about this kind of wisdom. In fact, these books are often categorized as “the wisdom books” or “books of poetry.” They were labeled as poetry because these godly attitudes and teachings were put to music and recited in a chant and were easy nuggets of wisdom to help in everyday situations.

The book of Job focuses on what God desires for us even when we face unfathomable difficulties. The God we serve hasn’t changed; He still wants us to trust Him. People who trust Him are the ones He wants in “His club,” and all of us are given the opportunity to join. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Read It Out Loud!

In the Middle Ages, there was virtually no literacy in Europe, except within the Church societies. In fact, many cultures didn’t seem to rely on the written word much at all compared to the spoken word. From tales of history, to popular literature, to ordinances, that were many times accomplished by someone like a town crier; an old fashion public announcement – oral reading was common.

However, during the early 15th century, there were notable changes happening all over the world. Things like the invention of the movable type printing press in 1436, but also political changes that opened the doorway for more exploration into educational and religious venues. The collapse of Constantinople in 1453 for one, and the events leading up to the Reformation Movement. So, for the first time in a long time, on a grand scale, more people were able to read, or at least had access to the written word. People heard the unaltered story of the gospel for the first time; straight from the text itself.

Hearing the actual words of God, not just sermons about God, caused people to think about their lifestyle, their faith, and even their death more biblically. When we look through the pages of the Bible, we quickly discover that those same kinds of problems had happened before, and the public reading of scripture had been a part of it.

After 400+ years in Egyptian slavery, the Israelites set out for the Promised Land and were given the opportunity to hear the will of the Creator spoken to them by Moses. In Exodus 19:7-8 after Moses shared everything with the people they answered, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” 40 years later, Joshua read the laws of God to the Israelites and they too responded, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.” (Josh 1:16). Then in Nehemiah 5:12 and Ezra 10, the people wept because they had heard the words of God spoken to them again.

It may be tempting to regard preaching about the Bible and reading the Bible out loud as one in the same, but I encourage you to consider that there is a difference. Although they both may have the same basic message, there is something unique about hearing the words of God read from the Bible. Paul said in 1 Timonthy 4:13, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hope Matters

2 Corinthians 1:8-10, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again.”

A better understanding of God’s Will can drastically change how you face the trials of life. Just look at Abraham; a man who hadn’t had much experience in the faithfulness of God, and he really didn’t understand the promises of God all that well, but we read in Romans 4:20-24 that “Abraham never wavered in believing God's promise.” In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this, he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises. And because of Abraham's faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn't just for Abraham's benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in the one who raised Jesus from the dead.

We could continue to look into the lives of many people we read about in Scriptures who really didn’t have much to go on, but they had faith. Hebrews 11 might be summed up as a list of people who endured some horrific situations because they had hope in a promise that they didn’t even fully understand.

Hope happens to be the theme of the Bible: hope of salvation, hope of eternal life, hope of forgiveness, and hope of purpose. But what is hope exactly? A feeling of expectation, a desire for something yet to come. 

For Paul, the reminder of new life made possible because Jesus returned from the grave was enough to motivate him to endure many trials. Although we may not face the trials that Paul experienced, they are still trials that test us. The result will either be stronger faith or weaker faith. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians was that their trials wouldn’t snuff out their faith, but make it bolder.

The truth is that is not normal. Our human nature will often cause us to get angry, discouraged, or depressed when trials rattle our cage. Yet, we’re not living according to the human nature, but the spiritual one.

In the verse above, Paul expresses how the trials of life can push us closer to God if our mind is focused. A quick reminder to us is that God is in control, so quit trying to micromanage Him. Instead, humbly make it your aim to talk of Him and His promises often. Learn to be content in the circumstance you’re in. Pray as if you really believed that HE is our savior, and not ourselves. Then keep your eyes on the promise God made long ago to those who trust in Him – eternal life.

Satan works hard at distracting us from that, but God (who cannot lie) wants us to “set our minds on things above, not things below” (Colossians 3:2).

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Effective Communication

If you’ve ever been “the boss” or managed people on practically any level, you know the difficulties that come with communicating instructions. You may give crystal-clear instructions about what you needed done, but later discover that they didn’t get the message. It’s this dilemma that challenges many leaders: getting things accomplished AND keeping those doing the work, happy (and/or focused).

Truth is, that it’s exactly the issue Jesus faced with His disciples, and it’s what the Apostles faced with the Christians they’d shared the gospel with. So here are a few practices that some high-up managers use in accomplishing the task of effective communication of instructions.

Ask, don’t command
Emphasize what to do, not what to avoid
Explain why it’s important
Give freedom of action

Some would argue that these may work in an employment situation, but not in worship. While worship, and whatever is linked with worship, should be exalted higher than a secular job, the truth is we’re still dealing with imperfect people that can easily misunderstand. There’s a reason many of the effective communication skills work with employees, therefore it’s worth considering something similar within the realms of worship.

The Jews were known for their strict attention to details, even to a fault. This was something Jesus addressed on several occasions (Matthew 23, Luke 11); yet He wasn’t complimentary of it, but critical of it. Perhaps because within their strictness and their overbearance, they lost sight of what was important and how to communicate God’s will to the people. The reality is that they didn’t understand His will.

Paul compliments the Thessalonians for their understanding of the commands of God. They realize what faith leads us to do, and how love, and how that is a reflection of our faith, and that when these are combined with a godly motive we remain in the hope of the Lord. They got it; unfortunately, there are many that don’t. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5:17, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” So, consider how well you grasp the place of faith, hope, and love in what you do in life, at work, or in worship.

God wants us to stand firm in the truth, but this takes a clearer understanding of what His will is for us. Thus the reason, to “meditate on His word day and night.” The great thing is that if we realize we haven’t been living with an accurate understanding of God’s will, He invites us to simply humble ourselves and begin today. It’s really not as complicated as many would like to make it; Paul said in Colossians 1:9-10, “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Let’s make that our aim as well--understand and DO the will of the Lord.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Answered Prayers!

When do you stop praying for someone? Some might respond to that question – “never!”, and even quote 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” While that is true, there comes a time in most people’s lives when we naturally stop praying for something or someone: a sick person recovers, a person dies, problem resolved, etc. Typically, when the conflict is truly behind them is a natural time to stop praying.

Perhaps it’s more in our attitude that determines a stopping point rather than simply overcoming the conflict. The pattern in Scripture shows us a lot about the purpose and policy of prayer.
In Joshua 7, the Israelites face their first real disaster on their Canaanite conquest at the city of Ai. In the end, it’s discovered that Achan violated a command, which resulted in their loss in battle. Joshua tore his clothes and mourned for Israel, but God said to him, “Get up!” He goes on to describe why they’ve suffered a loss; then He tells them to take action. The point we can take from this is that there is a point when “just praying” may be an act of cowardice instead of a noble or godly thing.

David modeled something similar when he prayed for his sick son born of Bathsheba to survive in 2 Samuel 12:16-23. Once his son died, he got up and resumed his duties as king – the prayer for his son was over. However, after Nathan rebuked David, and during this trial in David’s life, he wrote Psalms 51, a prayer of repentance to God. We can read of many Psalms afterwards that reflected on God’s mercy and blessings.

The point is prayer is our appeal to God for guidance and wisdom, but at some point we must act on the wisdom and guidance we receive from God. At that point our prayer may change from a prayer for wisdom to handle a situation correctly, to a prayer of thanksgiving that He is a God who listens and cares about us.

At Samuel’s farewell address in 1 Samuel 12, he recounts all the challenges Israel faced in becoming a kingdom. The people, realizing their rebellious actions throughout their history, pleaded with Samuel to pray for them. His response in 12:23 was, “far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you…”

Paul demonstrates that he continually prays for the church in Thessalonica, as he does for many of the congregations he was part of. In the Thessalonian letter, he starts with a prayer of Thanksgiving for their obedience to the Gospel. Then he offers a prayer of Endurance, for their continued faithfulness. Finally, he concludes his letter with a prayer of Hope.

We too can share in those prayers for our congregation and our families. Let’s be in constant prayer, but realize when our prayer may need to come from a different angle.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Are you bold enough?

What’s the theme of the Bible? Most would say something about redemption, salvation, or hope. All that is wrapped up in what Jesus came to offer us – eternal life. That is in a nutshell, the Good News. When someone realizes they’ve been a slave to sin, and then finds there’s a way out, it would seem difficult to understand why they wouldn’t want freedom. However, freedom isn’t free, and often times, isn’t easy to come by.

Throughout the Bible we read of many stories about people facing seemingly impossible tasks and situations, but they trusted in God and amazing things happened. In the book of Acts in particularly, we read of many conversions of people coming out of bondage to sin. But there was a cost. Some were ostracized from family, kicked out of town, abused terribly. All because they wanted to be free.

Peter and John set the tone for the beginning story of Christianity in Acts 4:13-20 when they were arrested for preaching the gospel. Here we read, “When [the Sanhedrin counsel] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus… (17) They ordered them not to speak about Him anymore, but Peter answered, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

Paul also demonstrated that kind of boldness in proclaiming the good news to the Gentiles. He reminded the brethren at Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2, “You yourselves know that our visit to you was not a failure. Remember how badly we were treated at Philippi, yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition.”

The boldness of Peter and John lives on in those willing to stand unashamed for the freedom Christ brings us. There are many people hungry to hear the good news. People that recognize that where they are at is spiritually (and physically) dangerous. They are people who will listen if we’ll be bold enough to tell them. But we must do as Joshua commanded those heading into Canaan land in Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Christians today need to understand that they’re not alone. Knowing that faithful people all around the world are standing in the gap proclaiming the Good News to those trapped in spiritual darkness, should inspire each of us to be more bold in our own faith. Paul reveals the kind of battle we are facing, and the kind of weapons we have to boldly fight with in Ephesians 6:10-17. But then he concludes in (18-19), “pray at all times… keep alert with all perseverance… so that [our] words may be [preached] boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…”

Friday, June 9, 2017

How do your shoes fit?

Have you ever bought a new pair of shoes that look and feel great in the store, but once you’ve worn them a day or two discover that they wear blisters on your feet? At that point you have to decide if the blisters are worth the wearing. It would be easy to go get new shoes, or put those on the shelf somewhere in the back of the closet. While that might be good advice when you’re talking about shoes, but when it comes to spreading the gospel it’s a different story.

Paul said in Romans 10:14-15, “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”

Try to put yourself in Paul’s “shoes” when it comes to his efforts in Thessalonica. You show up to Macedonia’s largest city where you had tremendous success in spreading the gospel. But your success also came with a lot of opposition. While the Gentiles welcomed the message, the Jews caused such havoc for you that you had to sneak out of town at night.

How would you feel about the new brothers and sisters in Christ who stayed behind, who lived there, worked there, and worshiped there? There’s an old saying, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” which basically means just because the water's dirty, don’t get rid of the treasure inside of it. Paul had a longing to see those brethren strengthened so that they would stay “faithful unto death.”

In his letter to those who worshiped there, he says in 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

In spite of those who made it their aim to ruin the work and influence of the church in Thessalonica, the genuine followers of Christ let their light shine beyond their borders. This is the challenge for any congregation anywhere in the world – to let their light shine regardless of those who may do everything within their power to snuff out the light. Keep burning bright for our Lord!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Joseph's Lesson

Why did the Prodigal son wait until he was eating pig slop to go back home? Maybe it was pride, maybe stupidity, maybe something else; but regardless our reasons, we can only imagine what was going through his mind before he came to the realization of his situation.

We can read in Luke 15:17-20 and learn something about his situation that perhaps we can all relate to at one time or another. “When he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger…'”

Maybe coming to your senses would be equivalent to waking up from a hard fall that you can’t remember, or waking up in a fog after being under anesthetics. No matter what picture it paints in your mind, Jesus is describing a man who had been blind to his condition and/or the consequences of his decisions.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan, the god of this world, is who presents situations to us that make it easier not to see God’s will for our life.

But Hebrews 5:14 describes those who aren’t blinded by Satan; they are the mature, “…who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Solomon said in Proverbs 22:3, “The prudent (wise) sees danger (evil) and hides himself, but the simple (the blind) go on and suffer for it.”

The Prodigal Son accepted that coming to the father may require a totally submissive position, one filled with humility. He not only accepted it, but made every effort to get there. The story of Joseph found in Genesis 37-45, and his journey from Canaan Land to Egypt. He endured a lot of things that caused him to feel like he was living in pig slop. Even though God was leading him there in order to save many people, Joseph didn’t figure that out until later.

As you consider his journey, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see how his pride in who he was, or what God was going to do for him, caused him to act in such a way that resulted in being beaten up and rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery, and sent to prison.

The point I hope you take from this is how much humility may have changed his situation in life. As was stated, God had a plan for him, but doesn’t He have a plan for you and me? God is working in our lives, and one of the best things we can start putting into practice is that quality of humility. Joseph learned it; so can you.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day

Our nation recognizes those who have given everything to preserve, and even usher in freedom as we know it. One of those special days we celebrate is Memorial Day. It was originally called Decoration Day, and was first officially celebrated in 1868. During the Civil War, there were more fallen soldiers than in any other national conflict up to that point. So this was an opportunity to honor those lives, and remind others of the destruction that comes with selfishness, pride, and hate.

It doesn’t take much to appreciate their sacrifice, and a day like Memorial Day helps us focus on the gift they helped to make possible. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ gave His own life on a cross. Jesus’ sacrifice gives us hope at eternal life with our Father in heaven. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

The blood of Christ was shed on a cross so that you and I could live. Jesus died so that we could live eternally. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

We gather on the first day of the week so that we can remember the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We observe and remember Him every day of our lives, but we have a memorial set in place on every Sunday. It is the Christian’s Memorial Day. Memorial Sunday. The Christians in Troas were gathering every “first day of the week…to break bread” (Acts 20:7).

I hope we are forever thankful for the men and women who died for defending our country. But I also hope we are even more thankful for a Savior who died to offer the ultimate freedom, the freedom from sin.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Mother's Love

It’s in the unspoken words that some of the most profound speeches are made. It’s in the stillness of a moment where some of the most tender comforts are given. It’s within the unseen acts of love that mothers tend to reside. They don’t show compassion or give advice for notoriety or fame. They do what they do because they love us. Words and hugs are not always needed, just their presence can make us feel safe and loved again.

But perhaps because of the often silent and unseen acts of love by our mothers, we may forget to let them know how much of a blessing they’ve been to our lives. There are so many things that our mothers have done that no one ever knew they did. What lengths would a mother go for their children? Our mothers have helped to shape us into the kind of people we’ve become.

In time, who they have been to us and what they did for us can often be seen and appreciated better. To watch my wife care for our children, and now reciprocate many of the same actions my mother demonstrated towards me has a deeper meaning now. The children we’ve been blessed with have now defined who we are; they are the ones who in their often whiny or stubborn ways have given our life a more fulfilling purpose.

To watch my wife become a mother to our children, to care and nurture them, allows me to see how the cycle goes. And the more I see the cycle in motion the more I understand God’s nature. He, too, is a loving parent that has a nurturing side, a compassionate side, a tender comforting side. He loves us more than we can know, and often He doesn’t receive the recognition He deserves.

Romans 5:8-10 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

A fingerprint of His selfless nature can be seen in how mothers tirelessly serve their children without complaint. Never asking for anything in return, but to quietly long for their love in return. They represent an important part of God that we cannot overlook. Fathers may represent to some degree the provisions and protection of God, but mothers often represent the unfailing love of God.
God was willing to go through extreme rejection, humility, and pain in order to save His children from eternal destruction. When we realize that, it should convince us that hell is no joking matter, that it must be so bad that God would do anything to keep His children out of there.

In Proverbs 31:10-31, Lemuel describes a godly mom and a godly woman, but he also describes the kind of care and compassion that our God has towards us. As Jesus expresses in Matthew 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

Proverbs 31:15, “She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens.” – She’s sacrificial.
Proverbs 31:18, “Her lamp does not go out at night.” – She’s long suffering
Proverbs 31:20-21, “She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet.” – She is generous
Proverbs 31:26, “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” – She gives good advice

How much does God love you? What lengths is God willing to go to keep you safe? God loves each one of us. He wants us to succeed, He wants us to rise above the pits of this life, and He wants us to trust in Him for the strength. Our mothers, as great as they are, have physical limitations; our Heavenly Father has no limitations. He’s all powerful and is able to wipe away every tear.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Faith = Works = Grace

Grace, in the Biblical context, is undeserved favor. But why don’t we deserve it? Well, we’ve sinned. We’ve been rebellious towards God. And while we all have to admit that describes us at some level, it’s tempting to have the attitude of "I do deserve it!"

“Undeserved.” This has a negative connotation to it. The idea that you’re not good enough, you didn’t perform well, or even you’re unworthy to receive whatever it is – and that’s a tough pill to swallow, especially for the trophy-generation, the ones who think that everyone needs a trophy, even if you didn’t earn it.

The longer people refuse to face the truth about themselves the harder they fall when the truth is revealed. For that reason, a person who refuses to see their faults often becomes angry for being rejected. Consider Cain in Genius 4; he didn’t “deserve” a praise from God for his sacrifice, whereas Abel did receive praise for his appropriate attitude. Although the feeling of anger may have been legitimate for Cain, it was his call what to do with that anger. God asked him, “Why are you so downcast (upset)? You know what you need to do. If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Acceptance and praise that would be deserved was within his power, but he had to humble himself, make corrections, and then try again. Similar to any one of our kids sports teams; if they messed up in a game, they should: take note, fix it, overcome that problem, and next time don’t fall to it. Sounds easy enough, but this is rooted in humility. If I refuse to recognize that I didn’t “deserve it,” then I will naturally fight to justify my sloppy or rebellious nature.

The other side of the definition of grace is “favor.” Favor is basically being accepted, receiving praise or approval, or winning support from someone. In the case of Christianity, we would therefore be winning the support of God! Sounds pretty cool to have Him in your corner. But that’s where the problem lies, since “we’ve all sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory,” we quickly realize that God won’t support my nature by itself.

So, Jesus came to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, the perfect offering to pay for my sins. By doing so, He allowed God’s gift of the Spirit to be given to those who will trust in that sacrifice. The gift of the Spirit, therefore, becomes the vessel through which we find the ability to “rule over it,” or “master sin” as God told Cain to do.

Perhaps this is an over-complication of a simple concept, but it seems too many people get caught up on the idea of “grace” or “works,” instead of realizing that Jesus introduced us to the Spirit of God for the purpose of giving strength to our weakness. That strength becomes the evidence of God’s grace. If Cain had humbled himself and admitted that how he made his offering wasn’t acceptable to God, and then DO what he already knew what to do, he would find favor with God.

James 4:5-8, “Do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives more grace. Therefore, it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts.”

Sunday, April 16, 2017

God's Passion

“You can't force passion.” Ask a starving artist or an author dealing with writer’s block if that’s possible: So how do you find your passion? Basically, you could determine what you enjoy spending your time on, or what is deeply satisfying to you even if it’s a struggle to do it; and it will typically show in your work.

Our culture has a tendency to determine what our passions “should” be. We should be passionate about making money. We should be passionate about sports, or art, or hunting, or shopping, or technology. While those things may be okay, are those things something that brings deep satisfaction to your life? Passions could be summarized as those things we do that bring us joy, and bring us peace. And joy or peace are deeper feelings than simply “fun.”

What would God’s passion be? What brings Him joy or peace? What is truly satisfying to Him?
His children are His passion, and most of us can sympathize with that. We do what we do for our kids because we love them; but at the end of the day, our children may bring us tremendous grief or tremendous joy. Most parents aren’t seeking accolades for their efforts, but a more genuine response. Psalms 51:17 reminds us that “the sacrifices that please God (or bring Him joy) are those from a broken heart and a pure heart…”

Or as Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Because people displaying a consistent and genuinely pure heart display a love towards their fellow man similar to God’s display of love for mankind.

God’s actions have proven that He loves us so much. Or as John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Seeing His children excited about running to their Heavenly Father, wanting them to want Him around, and listening to His guidance brings God joy. His actions continually prove that He wants them to have that passion within themselves.

The Passion of the Christ is more than a ritualistic scene depicting Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross. Instead, it’s a glimpse into God’s desire for us to want to be near Him, and the lengths He’s willing to go to make that happen.

What keeps you from bringing joy to God’s heart? Consider the words of Hebrews 12:1-2, “Let us throw off every sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame.”

Friday, March 31, 2017

Are you choosing godly behavior?

Spirituality wears many masks; all but one leads to eternal death. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That thought continues when Jesus said in Matthew 12:22, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” In context, Jesus was rebuking someone accusing Him performing His miracles by the power of Satan. But as Jesus said, “A house divided against itself will fall!”

With a culture so interested in exploring NEW ways to experience spirituality, we have to be careful not to fall into a trap of accepting something other than the truth. While Wiccan faiths, the Occult, and other more Satanic based faiths are on the rise, the more prevalent attack is getting us to accept things God is opposed to.

We live in a sin-sick society that is constantly attempting to justify sinful behavior by somehow associating it with goodness or spirituality. The truth of the matter is, there is absolutely nothing spiritual about grotesque and uncontrollable desires. Everything about that kind of chaos, negligence, or even ignorance is displeasing to God, it goes against what He’s instructed us to avoid.

The apostle Paul drew a stark contrast between the sinful works of the flesh and commendable fruit of the Spirit. In fact, he wrote: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another” (Galatians 5:16-17). Then Paul listed several works of the flesh that God condemns as sinful and destructive. He said: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness...drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand...that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). The outrageous claim that spirituality can be achieved by engaging in sinful practices is little more than an attempt to “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).

True spirituality can only be achieved when a person chooses to crucify “the flesh with its passions and desires” and foster the fruit of the Spirit which is “love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-24). Let’s consider how to protect our entire life from Satan’s sneaky attacks on our soul.