Thursday, December 31, 2009

Commitment to What Honors God

Remember me with favor, O my God.
-Nehemiah 13:31

              Would you think it strange if I said that Nehemiah and Paul the Apostle had a lot in common?  The common trait I see in them is that they both shared a desire to finish the race God had set before them.  Nehemiah would not rest until he had completed the tasks that the Lord gave him to do.  A major part of that was leading the people of God to holiness and dedication to God’s Word.  Like many great leaders he faced opposition on every side.  Yet he remained steadfast in his commitment to God’s Word.  One of the biggest challenges he faced was motivating the people to holy living.  This will always be the challenge of the church today.  Start talking to people about holy living and they may start looking at you like you are from another planet.  But let us not grow discouraged and may we ever continue to hold fast to the true and upright principles taught in the Word of God.
              Consider that Nehemiah was trying to lead the people back to a right relationship with God.  Was he being too hard on them?  I do not think so.  There are times when we cannot compromise and a firm stand must be taken.  The book ends with Temple worship being re-established, and with Nehemiah’s prayer that God remember him with favor for the good that he had done.  The Lord does not hold our mistakes up in front of us to remind us of them, but He remembers the good that we have done.

              Like Nehemiah, let us always be faithful and serve the Lord with determined faith.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Taking a Strong Stand for God

Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services.
-Nehemiah 13:14
              Despite having to overcome some serious opposition, Nehemiah had led the people to do what God had placed on his heart to accomplish.  This had involved taking a strong stand against some who were enemies of God, and it had involved dealing with some attitudes and practices that dishonored God’s Word.  I believe that what Nehemiah was discovering was that no matter how good things were going there would always be ongoing issues that he needed to face.  We find the same situations in our Christian lives.  As we walk with the Lord we will discover that there will be new challenges that come up all the time that require our prayerful attention.  The one who desires to be right with the Lord is willing to trust Him to enable us to meet these challenges.  Nehemiah demonstrated great faithfulness in rising to meet the challenges that were before him.  

              All throughout the book of Nehemiah we see that the people were getting back to doing what the Word of God says.  When that happens, the result is a spiritual renewal among the people.  A revival of faith begins to take place.  This is certainly needed right now – in our churches, in the home, across the land.  It has been a long time since there was a great movement of God’s Spirit in America.  It would be a positive development for believers everywhere to commit to praying that spiritual revival and renewal will happen again.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Faith That is Growing

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.
-II Thessalonians 1:2, 3

              Here is a passage of scripture that challenges us to possess a faith that is living and active.  If our faith is thriving then it is growing.  And if it is growing then it is accomplishing God's will in our lives.  Paul instructs the believers in II Thessalonians to continue on with their faith that is growing.  He has already told them about the coming of the Lord (I Thessalonians 4:13-18) .  Countless people live as though the Lord will never return, and they live as though the judgment of God will never come.  We know that the day of the Lord will one day come, and we believe this by faith.  Therefore we strive to be ready for that day when it happens.  Until then we seek to have faith that is growing.  The last thing we want is for our faith to stagnate.  Instead we want it to grow and take us ever deeper into our relationship with Christ.  The greater our faith, then the closer is our walk with Him.
              Paul’s hope was that the followers of Christ grow in grace.  He desired for them to have the grace of Christ in their lives and that they also have the peace that comes from the Lord.  We can possess these attributes through a relationship with Christ.  We are called in scripture to be ever growing closer to the Lord.  We cannot do that apart from faith that is vibrant and growing.  The scripture says that their faith was growing more and more all of the time.  

              Let that be said of us.  In a time when peoples’ faith the Lord in diminishing, let us have a faith that is growing, thriving, and leading us to daily spiritual victory.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Correctly Identifying the Enemy

In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
and do not give the devil a foothold.
-Ephesians 4:26, 27

              The Bible makes numerous references to our old adversary, the devil, and we know that since the beginning of the world he has been our enemy.  I believe that we do well to often stop and remember that.  We need to be certain that we understand that our adversary, our enemy, is in fact the devil.  Our enemy is not other believers.  We are not to be at war with or fighting against one another.  Rather, we are called to come together in a common cause of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Now, in order to accomplish that task we must be willing to lock arms against our common enemy – the devil.  A pastor friend of mine was telling me about a new ministry he began in another church, and he said that he immediately discovered that the congregation was divided.  This division was causing much turmoil within the church.  In an effort to find out what was going on and how the situation could be resolved, he sat down with some of the people in the church and had what we’d call a “sit down.”  It was an informal and calm kind of discussion.  The next day he received a call from an angry church member who accused him of “siding with the opposition.”  Take note of that terminology.  Here were brothers and sisters in Christ identifying one another as the opposition.  I do not believe we should ever identify one another as the enemy.  Our enemy is the devil, not each other.
              Let us strive to love one another as the Lord has commanded.  And let us work together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Many Have Still Not Heard

Do you not know?   Have you not heard?
-Isaiah 40:28

              We make a terrible mistake if we assume that everyone has heard about salvation in Jesus Christ.  Many people have no idea about the love of the Lord Jesus and how they can be saved through Him.  Christ has called us to go and tell others of His mercy and grace.  We have been given a divine commission to share with those around us about salvation in Christ Jesus, but do we not also have a responsibility as followers of Christ to grow in Him?  We certainly do.  We are called to be ever growing in our faith in the Lord Jesus. 
              Isaiah the Prophet poses this question: "Do you not know?"  It's as though the prophet had trouble comprehending that anyone did not know of the love and power of God.  Sometimes we feel the same way.  My heart goes out to the unbeliever.  I honestly feel a burden for them.  I think about what an empty way of life that would be - not having God in my life.  Frankly I wonder if there are any true atheists in the world today.  You know what military chaplains have said for a long time; there are no atheists in foxholes.  When life gets rough to whom will they turn?  Hopefully, they will turn to the Lord.
              Never assume that the people around us have heard about the love of Christ and the mercy and grace He offers.  Countless people have not heard, and they stand in need of salvation.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dancing for Joy

David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might… When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!
-II Samuel 6:14, 20

              The Bible says that when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem that he danced before the Lord with all of his might.  He was so overcome with the Holy Spirit that he danced in celebration of the Ark being brought into the city.  Now, please do not hear me say that I am advocating dancing in church - I am not.  This was between David and God and it was a unique situation.  We recognize that at least one person was scandalized by his behavior.  Who was it?  His own wife (Of course, this had been a rocky marriage from the start, and David's dancing didn't help matters).  Doesn't what she said in verse 20 sound like some biting sarcasm?  It truly does.  In other words, she was telling him that he looked like an utter fool.  She was embarrassed and she wanted him to be embarrassed as well.  There will be times when the expression of our worship will cause some people to think that we are foolish.  However, there is never anything foolish about glorifying Christ and honoring Him.  Whatever we do, let us do so to the glory of God; if we pray let us do so to the glory of God.  The same is true if we sing, shout, testify, or preach; let it all be done to the glory of the Lord.  Our most vibrant worship will result as an overflow of the love of the Lord that is in our hearts.
              When we live our lives to the glory of the Lord then we have the assurance that the blessings of God will be upon us.  It honors the Lord to worship Him in purity and holiness.  And it honors God to worship Him with a right spirit. 

Friday, December 25, 2009

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 
                                                                                      -Luke 2:7

I find that even after all these years of celebrating Christmas, there remains a sense of excitement and anticipation every Christmas morning.  I enjoy giving gifts to my family, eating Christmas dinner, and simply being together for the day.  Of course, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't care about getting anything for Christmas.  I cannot help but look forward to receiving some gifts, especially from my wife, Andrea, because she has a knack for getting me some nice and useful presents.  Yes, it's a nice day all the way around.

My hope is that we not feel disappointed over what we did or didn't get for Christmas.  Remember that the old saying about how it's the thought that counts really is true.  Also consider that often times the nicest gifts come in the smallest packages.  I recall a story I heard many years ago about a little girl, five years old, who the day before Christmas brought to her father a present she had obviously wrapper herself.  The small box had been wrapped with several layers of expensive paper and probably two or three roles of tape.  After much pulling and unwrapping, the father was finally able to make his way to the actual box.  He opened it and saw that it was empty.  He looked at his little daughter and said, with some frustration in his voice, "Why did you waste all that expensive paper and tape on an empty box?"  The child then replied, "Oh no, Daddy, it's not empty; it's filled with hugs and kisses just for you."  As he embraced his daughter, the father told her that was the nicest gift he had ever received.

God took the greatest gift the world has ever been given, wrapped it in swaddling clothes, and placed it in a manger.  That gift of the birth of Jesus Christ, would bring light to a world long struggling in darkness.  Jesus' coming brought hope to a world that has desperately needed true and genuine hope.

Let us not forget the real reason we celebrate Christmas.  Christ has come, light has come, and hope is born anew.  Joy to the world, the Lord is come.  

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Will Christmas Ever Come?

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. -Isaiah 9:2

At the time the Prophet Isaiah spoke these words to the people of Israel, the coming of the promised Messiah was still a long time from coming. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, and still the Messiah did not appear. It would have been easy for the people to have begun to despair that the promise of God might never come to pass. Several hundred years later, the promise of God did in fact happen, and let's face it; that's a long time to wait. However, those looking toward the coming Messiah did not give up hope. By faith they looked to that which they could not see, but knew would happen according to the will of God. If we trust in God, who loves us and has given us redemption, then we will be willing to wait for the fulfillment of His promises, no matter how long that might take. Someone has said that faith is knowing there's an ocean because you have seen a river. By faith we know that something greater lies beyond our current vision, and we have the evidence of it's existence right before us. Such is the nature of true and unquestioning faith.

Just as God's people waited for the coming of the Messiah, so we too must trust God and wait upon Him. But unlike the Israelites of Isaiah's time, we have the perspective of being on the other side of the promise. We have seen that blessed promise come to pass in the birth of the Lord Jesus. Because of this we can consider ourselves most blessed and living under the love and grace of God.

I imagine that right now countless children are eagerly awaiting Christmas morning when they will get to open their presents. Several months ago it probably seemed to them that the day would never come. And yet here it is - right upon us. Life is like that in many ways; often what we believe will never happen finally does come to pass. God is faithful and He will bring to fruition that which He has promised. And like a happy and grateful child on Christmas morning, we will not be disappointed when we have put our faith in the Lord.

Trust in the Lord, wait upon Him, and seek Him with faith and devotion. Christ has come, and in Him we rejoice at the fulfillment of God's greatest promise.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Unto us a Child is Born

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. -Isaiah 9:6

As I write this Andrea and I are awaiting the birth of our first grandchild, who could be born any day now. There is much anticipation as we consider the birth of this child. Sometime over the next week or so, little Braden Daniel will be born in the local hospital, surrounded by doctors, nurses, extended family, and all the comforts modern medicine can offer. Consider for a moment the night that the Lord Jesus was born. None of those comforts were present on the night of His birth. Rather than a hospital room there was a stable. Instead of the comfort of doctors and nurses, there was the lowing of the cattle and the bleating of the sheep. And rather than being surrounded by extended family, there were shepherds who came testifying to visions of angels who told of His birth. I know that our grandson's birth is going to change our lives and we will be greatly affected by his coming into the world. All of this causes me to think about how the world has been changed by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible speaks of those that had been walking in darkness seeing a great light, and those dwelling in the land of the shadow of death a light dawned (Isaiah 9:2). Jesus' coming brought hope to a world that for too long has been living in the shadow of death without hope of redemption.

Something we always need is hope. Without hope we are liable to give up and stop trying. Hope can be the driving force that keeps us moving when we might otherwise have given up. Someone has said that hope is something; sometimes it is everything. Jesus Christ is the hope the world has awaited. The hope He brings shines light into the darkness of the world and the darkness of troubled lives. The hope He brought into the world can lift us up and keep us going forward when might have seriously considered calling it quits.

Be thankful, and look to the Lord during this season of the year. In Christ there is hope. In Christ there is ample reason to keep going.

Joy to the world; the Lord is come!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Lesson for us

And Mary said, "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."
-Luke 1:46, 47

Down through the ages learned people, theologians, and Bible scholars alike have pondered the question as to why God chose Joseph and Mary for the task of being the earthly parents of Jesus Christ. Some might think that it would have made more sense to have had Christ be born in a more modern time and to more influential people. From there would not the Lord have been in a better position to share the Good News of salvation? In response to such postulating I find myself considering that one, God is not in the habit of explaining Himself or His actions to mankind. Secondly, God is also not in the habit of doing what makes sense to us. He is God, Lord, Creator, Redeemer, and Savior, and He will work His will according to His plans and purposes and not according to ours. Thirdly, the way God accomplished the coming of Christ into the world makes perfect sense to me. Christ came to identify with sinful humanity. He came to walk among us that He might see what we see, feel what we feel, and experience pain as we so often experience it. Jesus Christ came into the world at just the right time and just when the world needed Him the most. There are dozens of different ways God could have brought it all about, but God caused it to happen in a manner that would require is to by faith trust in Him completely. So, even in Jesus' birth we find the essence of true and unquestioning faith. We believe not on the basis of what makes sense, but on the basis of what God has said and done.

Life presents all sorts of situations, occurrences, and happenings which are best understood when taken by faith. If I happen to see the beauty of a sunset at the end of a clear day, shall I begin to analyze how it all happens and try to figure out why those colors span the horizon as they do? No, I choose instead to marvel at the beauty of the sunset, and enjoy the majesty and grandeur of it because God allowed me to possess eyesight and the opportunity to view it at that moment. So it is with the coming of Christ in the world. Let's not miss out on the power of what God has done by picking it apart.

God's timing is always best. God knew exactly what He was doing and why when He sent Christ into the world in the manner that He did. We need look no further than that humble stable in the insignificant little town of Bethlehem to see the wonder of God's grace. Mary and Joseph were seemingly insignificant people called to a great task. Rather than question God they did as they were told. And they were blessed for doing so.

Don't you think there's a lesson there for us?

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Debt we Could not pay

And he gave him the name Jesus. -Matthew 1:25

Christmas Eve a few years ago found my wife and I at the store doing what many others were doing that night; buying some last minute items for Christmas. As we waited in line I couldn't help but notice a woman in the line next to us. She had a grocery cart full of all sorts of items ranging from what appeared to be last minute Christmas gifts to groceries which would be used for Christmas dinner. The woman began to pay for her purchases and something seemed to be wrong; either the credit card was maxed out or there was some other problem that was hindering her paying for her groceries and gifts. While I could not hear all that was said, I did note that she looked to be upset as she tried again and again to get the card to register. My heart went out to her as I thought how sad it would be if she was not able to pay for all that food and all those gifts on Christmas Eve. For a moment I pondered how nice it would be if I was a wealthy man, and could step up beside her and pay for the things in her cart myself. However, that was out of the question as we were doing well to pay for our own groceries. Still, I thought about how nice it would be if I could have payed that bill for her - a bill which was around two-hundred dollars.

Finally, I saw that whatever problem there had been with the credit card must have been resolved, because the woman paid for her bill and was on her way. When I look back on that incident I am reminded of the great and awesome gift God gave to us in Christ Jesus. Mankind was in a terrible position of being unable to pay the debt we owed; a sin debt that was far beyond anything we could have ever paid. But God in His mercy sent Christ into the world to pay that debt for us and on our behalf. And to think that it all began in a humble stable in the little town of Bethlehem. Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save it - just as He said (John 3:17). Most of the gifts we will receive for Christmas have some sort of monetary value. However, the gift of salvation given to us by God through Christ's coming is utterly priceless. Something as valuable as eternal life is precious beyond measure. And yet, God stepped up when we needed it most, and gave to us this precious gift free of charge. Someone else has paid the debt on our behalf - Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

This week, don't forget to stop and again give thanks for the greatest and most precious gift ever given; salvation through Christ. He is indeed the true reason for the season.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What’s all this I Hear About Christmas?

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.
-Luke 1:68

It seems as though every year there are more and more distractions from the real reason that we celebrate Christmas. People can get so involved in the observances of the season that they neglect the true reason we observe the season in the first place. So, I pose the question today, what’s all this I hear about Christmas? Let me provide some observations about that:

  • I hear that Christmas is supposed to honored, observed, and revered by everyone. If we are waiting for that we are in for a long wait. The true observance of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is for believers. Why would we expect unbelievers to treat Christmas different from any other holiday? They probably will not. I am not in the least surprised by stores and businesses that do not allow their employees to wish their customers a Merry Christmas. When they do that they are behaving exactly as we can expect; like unbelievers. Rather than write letters, send emails, and picket the stores I have a better idea; go inside the store, browse around a while, and wish as many employees as possible a Merry Christmas. But be sure to do this in a way that is gentle, humble, and Christ-like.
  • I hear that Christmas should be observed in such a way that non-Christians aren’t offended. My response to that is to ask, when has the faith of Christians not been offensive to some people in the world? The answer is that there has never been such a time. Jesus said that sometimes we would be hated by the world and we would be offensive to those who do not believe. The very practice of our faith on a day-to- day basis is going to be offensive to unbelievers. How much more around this time of year?
  • I hear that Christmas and everything with it should be reduced to the word “holiday.” You know what I mean; holiday lights, holiday tree, holiday food, and so on. No, this is Christmas. That’s a Christmas tree, Christmas lights, and Christmas cards we have around the house during this season. Shall we tell the Jewish people to not say Happy Hanukkah, but instead happy holidays? No, that would be completely unreasonable. They, like us, we call it what it is.
For the remainder of the Christmas season, let us be sure to focus upon the One for whom the season is all about in the first place. Christ has come, redemption, grace, mercy, and hope to all who will believe. Peace on earth and joy to the world. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Merry Heart

A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. -Proverbs 15:13

This time of year we hear a lot of talk about the saying of "Merry Christmas." The controversy arises over stores that do not allow their customers to utter those words as well as their refusal to recognize the holiday as being Christmas. I have received numerous emails encouraging me to write letters to the corporate headquarters of these stores voicing my complaint and demanding that they allow their employees to wish me and everyone else a Merry Christmas. If you feel lead to do that, then go ahead. However, here is another idea; go into some of the stores that don't allow their employees to say Merry Christmas, browse around a while, and wish as many employees as possible a heartfelt Merry Christmas. Do not utter those words out of a vindictive spirit, lest you miss out on the opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ, but rather do so out of a genuine desire that those persons see the love of the Lord shining from your life.
Jesus said that as His followers that we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), and that light shines brightest when we are walking in the fullness of God's grace and mercy. When we reach out in Jesus' name with a kind word and a warm smile, then we are being faithful to what Christ has called us to do, even if it's something as simple as wishing someone a Merry Christmas.
This season, remember that the world is filled with sad, lonely, and anguished people. Countless people we meet are hurting deeply inside. So, not only wish folks around you a Merry Christmas, but when we have opportunity, let's be sure to remind them that in Christ there is hope. In Jesus, there is life anew. When we practice this sincerely, we will be enriched and our hearts will be made glad. We are then empowered to show the Lord's love all around.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Take Time to Listen

To man belong the plans of the heart,
but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.

-Proverbs 16:1

Let us make sure that our replies and responses are always from the Lord. From the Lord comes the reply of the tongue. If our response is from God then we will exalt Christ and encourage one another with the things which we say.

  • I love to tell stories and I love to talk. But there are times when I need to be quiet and let others speak.
  • I love to tell of my goals and dreams. But there are times when I need to sit quietly and let others tell of their goals.
  • I love to preach and teach, but there are times when I need to sit and allow another to preach to me.
  • There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. And we must make sure that our words are from God and guided by God.
  • I take time to pour out my heart to God, but I also need to quietly listen for Him to speak to me.

As we walk with Christ and seek a deeper relationship with Him, we will find that our response to others will be a reflection of the love of Christ working in us.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Being a Part of God's Greater Purposes

I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. -John 10:10

There’s a lot of debate today about what it means to be living the abundant life in Christ.
Let me give you an answer based upon God’s Word; the abundant life comes when we trust the Lord completely, without reservation, without compromise, and we are seeking to live daily in the fullness of His love, grace, and mercy. From that strong position of faith we become a part of God’s greater purposes. Here is how people, even believers, look at this sometimes; they say, “Well, nothings happening in my life, so I guess I’m not part of God’s plan.” My response is Hey! You are alive, you’re living, you are a part of the family of God – of course you are part of God’s plan and greater purposes – get with the program here!!!

When I was a boy, and during the days when my dad worked second rather than first shift, he was the one who would come into our rooms about 6:00 AM and wake my brother and I up for school.

However, Dad woke us up the way he was woke up when he was a boy, and that was to literally kick the door open, turn on the lights, and begin shouting, “GET UP BOYS, IT’S LATE! YOU’VE GOT TO GET UP RIGHT NOW OR YOU’RE GOING TO BE LATE!!!” I think he also learned that technique from the military – that’s how they wake you in basic training I’m told. This is what I often want to say to believers who are not walking in the power of God and seeking to be a part of God’s greater purposes; “Get up and get with it! The time is late! Get going or you’re going to miss out!!!”

When we believe God and follow His plan we have the privilege of being a part of God’s greater purpose. We are no longer sitting on the sidelines and watching as others live in spiritual victory, but rather we too experience that victory – for ourselves. Here is the cause that so many are not walking in spiritual victory; they are missing out on being part of God’s greater purpose. Being a part of that plan leads us to see beyond the present problems to what God can and will do in our lives.

I recently had this illustrated for me in a powerful way. A couple of weeks ago the sky had been dark and rainy all day. Late in the afternoon, as the sun was about to set, the clouds parted, and the sun shone through. And for a little while, many of us across the region witnessed the most well-defined rainbow that I had ever seen. After a day of clouds and gloom, the sun broke through, and it was glorious. This is the way the Lord can work in our lives when we trust Him and are faithful. The clouds of doubt, sorrow, defeat, and problems part and we see the glory of God. In John 11:40, just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He told Martha that very truth; if we trust Him we will see the glory of God.

That call to witness God’s glory is still in force today. Whatever you are facing, open your heart and trust the Lord today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Believing God and Keeping His Plan

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. -Matthew 1:18

Following God’s plan and God’s ways does not always make sense at first. Let me explain; I am sure it made little sense for a man named Abraham to pray and pray that God would give he and his wife a son, and then for God to decide to wait until Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 to bring that about. But that was exactly how God did it. God has a way of doing things that remove any doubt about it just happening by chance. Furthermore, I am sure it didn’t make much sense for God to tell
Abraham, after all those years of waiting for this child, to take him up on the mountain and offer him up as a sacrifice. I’ll tell you something; Abraham had far more faith than me. Even though it didn’t make sense, Abraham followed God's instructions to the letter. It was never God’s intention to take back the child of promise, but God needed to see that Abraham’s heart was fully committed. From there Abraham was able to do all that God called him to do.

These examples of God calling people to a plan which on the surface doesn’t seem to make much sense are numerous, and when we see the saints of old following God’s plan we see the essence of true faith. Many a follower of Christ, you and I included, have been called by God to levels of faith and a plan which at times doesn’t appear to make much sense. But listen; God’s plan doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be followed!

The scripture says that the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said to him, “Go ahead and take Mary as your wife. Don’t fear this, but go forward with the plan, for I have a greater plan – that baby she is carrying is conceived of the Holy Spirit (paraphrase mine).” The challenge for you and I today is to follow God’s plan for us.

I contend that when we are faithful God’s plan will be revealed – just as it was to Joseph. Maybe not in a dream or a vision (that would be nice sometimes), but the plan will be made known to us. For Joseph, this made no sense – until he placed all of his faith in God. Following God’s plan always requires faith; faith that is not based on circumstances or the here and now, but based upon the faithfulness of God. For the believer, the words, “Thus saith the Lord,” have great significance.

Like Joseph, when we trust the Lord and believe upon Him, He will continually give us assurance that we are where we are supposed to be. Over and over again God continued to demonstrate to Joseph that was right where he was supposed to be, even though at the start the entire ordeal made no sense whatsoever. God did that for Joseph, and He will do the same for us.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Trusting God in the Midst of Life’s Struggles

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. -Ephesians 4:29

I have had many a conversation with someone who was sick or going through a bad time, and something they all agree on is that we cannot have too much prayer; the more people praying for you, the better. We cannot have too much prayer, and we can’t have too many people praying for us. The same is true with encouragement. That is something we can never receive enough of, and the more we get the better off we are. The reason being that it takes several encouraging words to overcome just one negative one. What I’m saying is that if we are given several words of encouragement, all it takes it one unkind, inconsiderate, or hateful word, and we are emotionally knocked back to where we started. It’s been proven that it takes several positive statements to overcome just one negative statement. And we do hear negative words a lot, don’t we? No where in the Bible will we find that believers are supposed to say negative things to one another, but just the opposite; we are to encourage one another, be kind to one anther, let wholesome talk come from our mouths – that which is useful for building up the body of Christ. The Bible teaches that we ought to be kind, encouraging, and helpful to one another, for we all are facing struggles and trials of one sort or another. Ancient philosopher Plato said that we ought to be kind to one another, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. That is a purely Christian way of thinking.
When we are facing some trial we need all the encouragement we can get, and we can find it in God’s Word, and we hopefully we can receive it from the body of Christ – the church. Take a look around; there are people all around us who are hurting inside. Reach out to them with the love of Christ. Offer a kind, encouraging, and hopeful word. Such consideration can make all the difference for someone who is struggling through some hardship. Reach out and offer hope in the name of Jesus, for He is the ultimate hope.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Blessed in Persecution

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

-Matthew 5:10-12

As followers of Christ we are called to endure persecution for the Kingdom of God. Jesus said that if we suffer persecution in His name that we are blessed. Those who have been beaten, tortured, and imprisoned for their faith probably didn’t feel very blessed, but Jesus said that indeed they are. The question for all of us, will we be such courageous witnesses for Christ that we even open ourselves up to persecution? Many are so quiet about their faith; it is such a well-guarded secret, that there is little chance of any persecution ever taking place. As I have said many times we need to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are suffering terrible persecution for the name of Jesus.

Jesus spoke of the kinds of persecution we can face in His name; reviled, lies told about us, false accusations, and hatred. The Lord said when that happens to rejoice because our reward in heaven will outweigh anything we suffer here in this life. We are called to let the light of Christ shine from our lives and to honor Him in all areas of our lives and in everything we face.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Does it Mean to be Merciful?

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.

-Matthew 5:7-9

As followers of Christ we are called to be people with attitudes of mercy towards others. Let’s understand that mercy is not just the absence of violence. I don’t harm anyone physically, I don’t go around beating people up, and I have never killed anyone – but does simply not doing those things make me a merciful person? Christ calls us to take it a step further and put our mercy into action. Mercy is where we resolve to help others, love others, be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to others whether they deserve it or not. When we reach out with a cup of cold water and give it to the one who is thirsty, without trying to determine if he deserves it or not, then we are showing mercy.

  • Christ-like mercy takes no delight in the misfortunes of others.
  • Christ-like mercy does not seek retaliation, retribution, against the one who has wronged us.
  • Christ-like mercy loves those who have no intention of ever loving us in return.
  • Christ-like mercy allows the Holy Spirit to drive hatred from our hearts to be replaced with the love of Christ.

Jesus calls His followers to function at heights of faith and depths of grace attainable only to those walking in His power. We are blessed and empowered when we seek to be like Jesus in all areas of our lives.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Spiritual Appetite

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

-Matthew 5:6

In Christ we are to have a hunger for righteousness. Notice the terminology the Lord used. We so desire righteousness in our lives that we feel it as we would physical hunger. We know what it feels like to be hungry. Although most of us only know hunger on the short term; we honesty don’t know what it feels like to go hungry for days on end as do so many people in the world. But we do have an idea of what hunger feels like. And really what is it? Hunger is our bodies letting us know that we need food; we need energy so that our bodies can function normally. If we do not eat we begin to grow weak, maybe even faint, perhaps irritable, and over time a person could become extremely sick from lack of proper nutrition.

Jesus was saying that our hunger for the Word of God and for righteousness functions in like manner. Without the Word of God we grow spiritually weak. We cannot function properly as followers of Christ apart from His righteousness in our lives. And Jesus said we are to hunger for it in such a way that we allow the Lord to fulfill that hunger. When we hunger for the things of God, then the Lord will indeed fulfill that need in ever-increasing abundance.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Balance Between Time With God and Time With Others

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.

-Mark 7:24

In order for us to maintain spiritual health, a balance must be struck between time with others and time by ourselves. There is a time for us to be around other people and in their company, but there are also times when we need to be alone. We can worship together, but we also realize that we need time to worship God as intimates - just God and I. The same is true with prayer. What a blessing it is to pray with and in the company of fellow believers. But we also know that there is great power is seeking God out in those quiet moments alone. We truly need contact with other people. Spiritual health will involve maintaining healthy relationships with other people from whom we can find encouragement and agreement. If I spent all of my time with people whose beliefs were in opposition to mine that would be very exhausting. I can spend some time with such persons, but I prefer to spend quality time with people that will encourage me in what I believe and what I am doing. I in turn can do the same for them.

Jesus showed us a clear example of the importance of spending time alone with God in prayer. The Lord modeled for us, His followers, what a vibrant prayer life looks like. Yet, He also demonstrated the importance of maintaining healthy interactions with others. Keeping this balance can mean the difference between spiritual defeat and spiritual victory. Trust the Lord daily to keep us focused upon our own spiritual needs as well as the needs of those around us.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Keeping the Lord’s Day as Sacred

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.

-Hebrews 12:28

Have you even noticed how that certain days of the week have a certain feel to them? For example, Monday has a definite feel doesn’t it? Over the years there have been songs written about Monday and how people don’t seem to think much of that day. Why is that? Well, of course it’s because many people have the weekend off and come Monday morning they have to go back to work. The fun is over and reality is back. A living has to be made and Monday signifies that the weekend is over. Honestly just about every day of the week has some kind of feel to it. For followers of Christ, Sunday is a special day, because that’s the day we gather together for worship. We lay aside any other plans we otherwise might have made and we come to church, study God’s Word, fellowship with other believers, and take part in a time of worship. That entire process is probably the most under-rated character builders that we know. Coming together on the Lord’s Day to worship and exalt the name of Jesus is vital to the spiritual health of the believer. We need corporate worship much like flowers need rain. We need a time of worship like we need food for our bodies. Without it we can wither, and we can grow spiritually weak. Remember the Lord’s Day. Come to the house of the Lord, worship Him, and keep the day a special and sacred.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Paying Attention to the Truth

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

-Deuteronomy 6:4

The call to God’s people the Israelites was to stop and listen carefully to the truth that the Lord is the one true God; “Hear O Israel.” Stop again and pay careful attention to this, for it is extremely important. The call was to hear it, refer daily back to it, and never forget it; the Lord our God is one God. In Him there is nothing false, He is the one true God, and He is the true way. I John 1:5 conveys this truth as follows; “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.”

We have the challenge to love the Lord with all of our hearts, soul, and strength. The essence of this is that we love the Lord with all we have. We as followers of Christ are called to place the Lord at the center of our lives. When this happens, all aspects of our lives are positively affected through our relationship with the Lord. In Christ we grow into the persons He has called us to be. We move from being condemned to saved, lost to found, spiritually blind to spiritually seeing, and defeat to victory. Let me challenge you this morning with something I believe to be very important and profound: Something is at the center of your life today; what is it? Who or what is at the center of your life? When we place Christ at the center, we are blessed, and we begin to see the power of God at work in our lives.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Never Give up on a Wayward Child

Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to is father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger song got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living." -Luke 15:11-13

Jesus understood the pain that parents experience when a son or daughter goes astray. In the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31) Jesus told the story of a young man who requested that his father give to him his inheritance. The youth then went to another city and squandered his fortune on a wild and lavish lifestyle. As poverty and hunger began to take their toll, the young man came to his senses and resolved that he would return to his father and plead to be taken in as a servant. Jesus said that when the boy was a long way off his father saw him, ran to him, and embraced him. The father then threw a party to welcome home the errant son.

Jesus’ parable is not only about a rebellious son, but it is also about the compassion of a loving father. The dad in the parable never lost hope that one day his son would come home. Eventually his most earnest prayers were answered. It was no doubt an excruciating period of pain and loss, one in which innumerable nights were spent without sleep worrying about the welfare of his beloved son. The only peace the parent of a prodigal son or daughter can find will be in God. No matter how difficult things become parents must try not to lose sight of the fact that this is still their child. That child may have disappointed them, done unspeakable things, and inflicted all manner of verbal abuse. The challenge is never to give up on them, never stop praying for them, and by no means stop loving them. Remember that this is a person whom the Lord dearly loves and wants to guide home. Like the father in Jesus’ parable, we must be waiting for them once they come to their senses and return home.

Trying to enjoy life in the midst of circumstances such as these is indeed difficult. Only by faith and with the Lord’s help can it be accomplished. Keep praying for the wayward child, keep reaching out, and never stop believing that God can work a miracle and bring him or her home to a new and better life.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Be Careful Not to Backslide

Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

-Luke 9:62

Understand that many people today have stalled out in terms of their forward progress. They might want to be moving forward, but for whatever reason they are not. They are at a standstill. One danger of stalling out in our faith is not only can we begin to stagnate, but we can begin to digress rather than progress. There is another word for digress I could have used and you can probably guess what it is; that’s right; backslide. When a believer begins to backslide, what has happened is his forward motion has ceased. And he has remained for so long in that condition that he begins to slide backward.

He may not even be fully aware of it at that moment, but there he goes, slowly sliding away from fellowship with God. Of course there are others who don’t just slowly backslide away, but they nosedive out of fellowship with the Lord. Regardless of which one it is that is never where the believer should be. So where should we be in our walk with God? We should be moving forward in faith, trusting God every moment of every day, patiently and consistently progressing with Him. But that cannot happen unless we love the Lord with all of our hearts. The question is, do we love the Lord so much that we’ll do whatever it takes to move forward in our walk with Him? Resolve to begin moving forward with the Lord with no turning back. Therein are joy, peace, and spiritual victory.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Trust God to do His Work

But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers.

-Deuteronomy 6:23

The scripture shows how that God was preparing His people so that they might move forward in faith into the Promised Land. This was the blessed place which had been promised to God’s people over 500 years earlier to a man named Abraham. It was all coming together just as God had promised so long ago. If we learn nothing else from something like this it is that as followers of Christ we must trust God to do His work, His will, in His own time. God works in accordance with His will and His time, not according to ours. We want God to do and act right now. What the Lord shows us is that He is doing and working on our behalf; we just need to learn to trust Him in the midst of it no matter what.

The call to the people was to hear what the Lord was telling them and then to put it into practice. Hear it and then do it. Its one thing to know what God has said in His word, but it’s another matter altogether to put it into practice. The commandment says to worship the Lord and serve Him only. In response we remove from our lives anything which has become an idol and we make sure that we are completely devoted to the Lord and placing Him first in our lives. From there the Lord will empower us to live lives which bring honor and glory to Him. The commandments also show us how we are to treat one another; truthfully, honestly, and without jealousy or malice. When we do what God has told us to do we are empowered to move forward in faith – not growing stagnant, but rather enjoying that fresh living water of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Never Forget What God Has Done

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

-Deuteronomy 4:9

The Bible reminds us of God’s commandments. The commandments demonstrate to us the holy standards which God expects from His followers. Ours is not a self-styled and free-form way of doing things in which anything goes. No, when we become followers of Christ we come to the knowledge that the Lord has for us certain expectations. There is conduct which is becoming the believer and there is conduct which is unbecoming the believer. And the Lord has made this clear as to what is and is not acceptable for us His followers. This is what separated and distinguished God’s people of the Old Testament from the nations around them. The pagan religions of that time often took an anything goes approach to their practice of religion. Such issues as morality, righteousness, and godliness were rarely considered. The Lord God told His people to come out from among that to a higher, nobler way; a way which honors God, strengthens family, builds community, and prolongs life. God said that if we follow His ways, then we will be blessed for having done so. We are then to take what we learn, apply it to our lives, practice it, live it, and pass it along to proceeding generations. God told His people that they were to pass this knowledge on to their children that it would prolong their days.

Let us pray that a revival will break out across our land and spread everywhere. We must pass what the knowledge of God on to those who will come after us. If we love the Lord, then we will strive to do just that.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Jesus Christ: The Way of Salvation

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…

-John 3:16 (KJV)

We see the love of God all through the Bible; including the Old Testament, where see the Lord seeking to draw His people unto Himself. Truly when we come to the New Testament and we see the coming of Christ into the world, we learn of the great and wonderful depths of the love of God. And when we see in the scriptures the Lord Jesus giving His life for the sins of humanity then surely we come to a powerful understanding of the love of God. Jesus said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” If God didn’t love us He would not have redeemed us in Christ Jesus. I have heard all of my life people say that if God loves us then whey does He allow such bad things to happen to good people? And I have tried on many occasions to address that question by pointing out the fallen condition of the world in general and humans in particular. We live in a fallen world and God has endowed each of us with free will. And what we see in the world – the violence, war, and a host of other terrible things is the result of that free will being used in the wrong way. I don’t struggle too much with why bad things happen to good people. Instead I wonder why God allows such good things to happen to such bad people. And when it comes to bad, sinful people, I know that the Bible says that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We all stand in need of God’s love, for we have all sinned.

Never forget that God loves us; so much in fact, that Christ came into the world to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross. In love Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for sin – His life for you and for me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Criticized for Being Christ-like

Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.

-II Corinthians 13:7, 8

Here is Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians; that they do no wrong; not to make Paul look good, but rather that they would be faithful – because God has called us to faithfulness. Paul was more concerned for them than he was for himself and his reputation. He already had a reputation as being a troublemaker. He no longer cared what people thought about him. There were still those in Jerusalem who couldn’t believe that Paul would associate with common people. Those people didn’t keep the Law, they had no regard for dietary regulations, and here Paul was eating with them; scandalous! Recall one of the chief complaints of the Pharisees against Jesus; He was a friend to sinners (Matthew 9:11). How terrible! He was right out there among those who most needed to hear the Gospel message. And for that He was roundly criticized.

Paul points out here that he could do nothing with the truth except be in support of it. The truth is that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by Him. This is the truth, and all Paul could do was agree with it. This becomes extremely personal for you and me; what is God’s plan for sharing the Gospel with the world? The plan is that we do it. That is plan “A.” It always has been. When it comes to going therefore and teaching all nations, we are plan A, and there is no plan B.

The last thing Paul would worry about would be if the brethren at Corinth were more spiritual, were baptizing more people, or were growing in their faith more than him. If that happened he would rejoice and be glad. That is a wonderful attitude for us, isn’t it? If the Gospel is going out, then let us rejoice. If people are coming to faith in the Lord Jesus, then I will rejoice and rejoice some more, whether it’s happening here or somewhere else. This is the heart of the matter; if people come to faith in Christ, we will rejoice and be glad.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Never be Ashamed of the Gospel

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.

-Romans 1:16

To live by faith in the Son of God means that our lives are centered on Christ. There are people who would say that I am a fanatic, and that’s okay. There are others who would say that I am obsessed. They would say I am obsessed because I think about Christ and the Word of God all of the time. God’s Word is almost constantly on my mind. And what’s interesting is that many times throughout the day, verses just come into my thoughts. Now, think about this; am I doing that or is that God’s doing? I am firmly convinced that is God’s doing. He is the one who gently urges the Word which is in the heart into the consciousness and He does that for our benefit. The believer who engages in immorality is blatantly ignoring the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. The closer a believer gets to sin the more the Holy Spirit is pulling the person back.

Let us not forget what the Lord Jesus has done for us at Calvary. For there He shed His precious blood to cleanse us from all sin. Jesus loved us and He willingly went to the cross and gave Himself for us. This is a blessed reality and the foundation of the Gospel message. Like Paul the Apostle, let us not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Receiving the Sinner

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant, “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” -Matthew 26:6-9

We do not know all of the details of the woman’s life who so boldly crashed the dinner party that was being held in Simon’s home. We do know that she was broken and repentant, and she sought to demonstrate her love for Jesus in some tangible way. Sadly, some present were more concerned with the value of the ointment than the worth of a person. Many people maintain the same attitude today. They get a little uneasy when “sinners” start showing up at their Sunday morning party. It somehow throws everything off kilter.

What would most of our churches do if a known prostitute showed up on a Sunday morning adorned in clothing befitting her trade? She might be like the woman who brought the ointment to Jesus in that she is lost, burdened, and in dire need of redemption. If she comes to church at all, she will do so because she believes that Jesus Christ is her last and only hope. Jesus would not for a moment condone such a person’s lifestyle, but He will love her and offer her the forgiveness she needs.

Often what a distressed person desires is for someone to be willing to listen and try to understand. All that is needed is a Christ-like compassion and a willingness to try to see people the way Jesus saw them. The recipient of a warm smile and a kind word fully understands the true value of such things. A profoundly positive effect is then left upon one who has been under attack from the stresses that so frequently occur in our lives.

Such thoughtfulness serves as a reminder that we are connected to other people, and we will be sustained in the midst of whatever hardship we are facing.

The woman who came to Jesus with the expensive ointment on that day wanted to be a participant in the celebration that was going on. But in order to accomplish this she had to deal with some problems that existed in her life. Once these were confronted, she realized that she needed a source greater than her own strength to overcome them. What she needed was to come into the presence of Jesus Christ. In Him there is mercy and grace. In Jesus there is the opportunity to start anew.