Sunday, January 31, 2010

Obedience to God Inspires Fulfillment of the Vision

 "I am God, the God of your father," he said. "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there.  I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph's own hand will close your eyes." -Genesis 46:3, 4

 We need to look carefully at what God as telling Jacob to do.  The Lord was not only giving Jacob a renewed vision, but God was again making a promise; that He would help Jacob, empower him, guide him, and be with him.  Again, we see these similarities in what God promised Jacob back in Genesis chapter 28.  Just as God accomplished all of that back then, He would do so again.  There is no so much as a hint that Jacob questioned God and considered not going forward as the Lord instructed him.  Some might have said, “Lord, I’m too old for this, I’m getting tired, I would like to stay in one place for a while, and all this moving forward is just wearing me out.”  It’s easy for us to start to feel that way.  About the time we get comfortable where we are – lo and behold the Lord lays before us yet something else He wants us to accomplish; a vision of what He would have us to do.  But let me remind us of something; for the follower of Christ that is to be expected.  Jesus has not called us to stagnate, but to grow.  He has not called us to stay where we are, but rather to move forward. The Lord has not called us to cower in fear, but to rise up in faith. 
This is what Jacob was doing.  He was trusting God and moving forward.  He was realizing that comfort and ease and a half-hearted commitment will not bring us to the spiritual victories the Lord envisions for us.  Christ has not called us to the mundane but to the miraculous.  God is faithful and as His followers we are called to be faithful.
Jacob understood that God had given him a vision, and in order for the vision to be fulfilled, Jacob had to be obedient.  He would go forward as the Lord has told him.  There is a powerful spiritual application for us there as well.  When we are obedient to what God tells us to do we are inspired to move toward the vision.  Many people never see the vision God gave them fulfilled because they never pursued it to begin with. It looked so great, so large, so overwhelming, that they drew back and chose not to attempt it.  I read a quote from Earnest Hemmingway that I thought to be most profound.  He said that whenever he got discouraged, he went back and read some of the books he’d already written, and when he recalled how hard it was to write them, he was then inspired to keep trying.  He knew that since he had done it before, he could do it again.

When I get discouraged, I contemplate the victories God has brought about in my life, and I am inspired to keep going – God did it before He can do it again. Never doubt it, and don't stop believing.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Devotion to God Opens the Heart to the Vision

So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.  And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, "Jacob! Jacob!  Here I am," he replied.           -Genesis 46:1, 2

The Bible says that Jacob was on the move once again, as he had been all those years earlier in Genesis chapter 28.  There are major differences and major similarities in these passages.  Earlier, Jacob had been on the run for his life, and he wasn’t sure what was waiting for him down the road.  Now in chapter 46 he is 130 years old, but he knew exactly where he was going; to Egypt to see the son he thought had been dead for the previous 13 years.  But there are also similarities in the passages; in both instances Jacob was moving forward, open to God’s leading, and the vision from God came.  The Bible says that as they traveled that Jacob stopped along the way for a distinct purpose; to offer sacrifices to God.  The Lord had done what He promised, and Jacob had kept his end of the covenant he had made with God.  The Lord had provided for Jacob, taken care of him, and brought Jacob back the where he had began.
Jacob had kept his word; the Lord had become His God.  In keeping with that word, Jacob worshiped the Lord.  I point all this out because that very night Jacob received yet another vision from God.  His worship and devotion to God had kept his heart open to the visions that God was placing before him.  What would happen to us if we hardened our hearts toward God, ceased from praying, stopped seeking God, and no longer looked to Him?  We would no longer be open and receptive to the visions God would have otherwise revealed to us.  God is always speaking to us, but we have to be listening.  Devotion to God keeps our hearts open to Him.  If someone said to me, “God never speaks to me,” me reply might seem harsh.  I would have to ask, “Do you love the Lord?  And do you love the Lord as Jesus said, with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength?”  If we love the Lord that much, then He will speak and we will hear.  The vision from God will come to us.  Of that we can be certain.  When God speaks we will hear, because like the saints of old, we will be listening.

Like Jacob of the Old Testament, we are called to worship the Lord and to seek Him with earnest devotion.  Our devotion to God will serve to keep our hearts open that we might hear the Lord when He speaks to us.  Seek the Lord, be open to the movement of His Spirit in our hearts.  The vision will surely come.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Vision can Lead to a New Start

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?"  And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"  -Genesis 17:17, 18

When God gives us a vision, and we accept it, we are then empowered to move forward in faith.  A vision from God keeps us moving onward when we might otherwise have given up.  God can place vision upon our hearts that on the surface looks impossible, but through that vision we are provided with hope – hope that comes only from the Lord.  If I were to ask how many of us believe that God can do the impossible, I would hope that all of us would lift our hands in agreement with that statement.  God cannot only do the impossible, but He will do the impossible through us.  When we begin to delve deeply into God’s Word we find that time and time again God placed before His servants a vision that probably seemed to them to be impossible.  Some of them even told the Lord as much.     

When God told Abraham that he and his wife Sarah would have a child in their advanced age, Abraham said this; “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Genesis 17:18).  God had just confronted Abraham again with a powerful and wonderful vision; your descendants are going to be more numerous than the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky.  Abraham looked at that, he looked at his age, his wife’s age, and in so many words asked God this: "Wouldn’t it make more sense to do this the easy way?  I already have the son I had with my servant girl; why not make him the child of promise?"  Let me pose a question in response: Since when has God ever done things the easy way, and since when does God allow His followers to try and accomplish His will in some easy discounted manner?  God doesn’t operate that way and He never has.  The easy way requires no faith.  But accomplishing God’s will His way requires that we trust Him and live by faith.  A vision from God has a way of reminding us of that.  

Anytime God provides a vision He always empowers us to see it through to completion.  The question is, will we trust God and believe even when the vision seems impossible?  Victorious faith does not waver and does not doubt God, even when it all seems impossible.

Trust the Lord, walk forward in faith, and believe that God can and will accomplish in us what He has called us to do.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

As we are Faithful we see the Reality of the Vision

Once you spoke in a vision, to your faithful people you said: "I have bestowed strength on a warrior; I have exalted a young man from among the people.  I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him."  -Psalm 89:19, 20

 The Bible reminds us of the way the Lord spoke long ago concerning a vision.  God gave a vision to the people of a strong and faithful leader by the name of David.  Just as God promised He would give the people a faithful leader, the promise came to pass.  God kept the promise that He had shown the people in earlier visions.  Some thought the vision might never come to pass, but eventually it did.  Those who continued to trust in the Lord were blessed and they saw the vision become a reality.

I point this out because of how easy it is to lose sight of the vision the Lord has given us.  God gives the vision, and if we fail to act upon it, then we miss out on the fullness of the blessings and the power of God in our lives.  Remember that just because we didn’t follow the vision back then does not mean we can’t follow it now.  Is it too late to rise up in faith and follow the vision God has placed upon your heart?  The answer is certainly not!  Is it too late to trust God and move toward a vision that He gave long ago?  Again I say, no it is not!  Remember that God gave His people a vision of what the Promised Land was going to be like – a land flowing with milk and honey.  But the people did not believe God, failed to move toward the vision, and as a result they wandered in the wilderness for 40 long years.  Later on, however, they had an opportunity to move toward the vision God gave them all those years before.  The vision that once was came to pass.

Was there a vision the Lord placed upon your heart at one time, but for some reason you did not follow it?  Was it to be a more positive witness for Christ, be a better parent, pray with deeper devotion, read the Bible all the way through, or maybe even preach the gospel?  The challenge is to re-capture that blessed vision.  No where in God’s Word can we find justification for remaining where we are. God has called us to move forward in faith reaching out to everyone around us. In his book, “Finding your Church,” George Barna said, “Vision always entails progress: it is never satisfied with the status quo.”  Whatever is standing in our way, be it doubt, fear, uncertainty, worry, pride, or anything else, God can and will overcome. 

The vision that once was can be again.  The time has come to start moving toward the vision God had placed on our hearts.  Lives can be touched, souls can be saved, the body of Christ can grow, the people can be spiritually renewed and revived, and the Lord can have the increase.  But we must be faithful and trust God – believing that with God nothing is impossible.  Recapture that vision and move forward.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

As we Rejoice in the Lord we are Strengthened in the Vision

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.  They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness.   -Psalm 89:15, 16

The Bible shows us that those who are walking with the Lord have something to rejoice about – at all times.  From time to time people will find themselves rejoicing and being grateful for something good that has happened to them, but for the follower of Christ, we can rejoice in the Lord and be thankful at all times and in all circumstances.  The reason for this is that the hand of God is at work in our lives.  We have His presence and grace to give comfort and hope.  The Bible says that in the name of the Lord His followers rejoice – all day long.  Here is what this means: on the basis of our relationship with the Lord we will rejoice.  We will rejoice when great things happen in our lives, but if those wonderful movements of God’s Spirit do not come and if the miracle doesn’t seem to be happening we will not be discouraged, but we will rejoice anyway.
As we move towards the vision God has given us we are strengthened as we go.  The world is filled with people who are waiting until everything is right in their lives before they experience true peace.  The logic appears to be that when the circumstances of their live are all as they should be then they will have peace.  That kind of thinking is flawed, because who among has no problems, fears, conflicts, or concerns?  We all do and those situations are a part of life.  The peace of God comes not as a result of us having no problems or worries, but rather the peace of God comes in the midst of all that.  The peace the Lord offers comes right in the thick of our darkest and most desperate hour. 

  • The peace of God is Job losing just about everything and then proclaiming, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  
  • The peace of God is Paul and Silas locked away in the dark and dirty dungeon and singing hymns of praise to God. 
  • The peace of God is when the trials of life seem more than we can bear, but we stand upon God’s promise because He is faithful.  
 We trust the Lord, rejoice, look to Him, believe, and keep moving forward, even when we believe that the strength for doing so is gone.  When we seek after hope and strength in any other resource we are going to be disappointed. However, when we look to the Lord and put our faith in Him we will never be disappointed.  Christ will always come through and He will give us the victory - in Him. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Radical Transformation

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it."   -Matthew 16:24, 25

Whenever Christ extended the call to people He did so with the expectation that they would be altered into something far different from their former selves.
      The thieving tax collector was called to, “Follow me (Matthew 9:9).”
      The woman caught in adultery was challenged to, “Go now and leave your life of sin (John 8:11).”
      A loud mouthed fisherman named Simon Peter pleaded with Jesus to leave him alone claiming, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  To which Jesus replied, “From now on you will catch men (Luke 5:8, 9).”
      A rich young ruler was challenged to, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come and follow me (Luke 18:22).”
      Nicodemus, a pious and well educated religious leader, was told, “You must be born again (John 3:7).”
      These persons were given the understanding that following Jesus Christ, becoming His disciples, carries far-reaching implications.  A new approach to life is required in which the follower of Christ forsakes the old way of doing things in favor of a higher, nobler, and better way.

      How did the idea come about that an individual can come to faith in Jesus Christ, yet remain just the same?  Unfortunately a decreased emphasis on radical transformation has become prevalent in the present age.  Bedrock principles of the faith such as the shed blood of Christ, the call to repentance, and holy living are sometimes avoided for fear of being offensive.  Radical transformation in Jesus Christ calls for an emphasis on Him, not upon us.  Following Christ involves following Him completely - with all we have and all we are.  

    Christ can bring radical transformation to our lives, which leads to radical peace and joy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

As we Walk in the Light we Move Toward the Vision

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.
                                                                                                                       -Psalm 89:15

Psalm 89:15 speaks of walking in the light of God because we have entered into a relationship with Him.  As we walk in the light of the Lord we move forward toward the vision God has given us.  Those walking with Christ are not walking in the darkness of sin, but rather we are walking in the light of Christ.  In fact, the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world.”  Are we aware of what an awesome responsibility that is?  We are to carry the light of Jesus into a world that for too long has been shrouded by the darkness of sin and evil.  So great is the light of the Lord in our lives that the light outshines us and we are consumed in that light.  Have you ever had the experience of walking up to someone at night and the person has a bright light shining behind him or her?  Perhaps the person is standing in front of a car with the headlights right behind.  You can’t see the person, but all you see is an outline – so great is the light.  The light outshines the individual.  That’s what Jesus meant when He said that we are the light of the world.  We have become totally enveloped in His light to the point that His light far outshines us.  

As we walk forward in life, walking in the light of the Lord, we do so with a direct and divine purpose; we move towards the vision God has imparted to us.  Someone will say, “Well, God has never given me a vision.”  My response is, “What?!  What are you talking about!  Of course He has!”  For starters, the Lord has told us to go ye therefore and teach all nations (Matthew 29:19).  We are to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8).  But grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18).  As soon as we begin to move towards that vision which for us all, then we begin to see a personal vision which God has in store for each and every one of us.  Was there a vision the Lord placed on your heart, maybe a long time ago?  I declare to you that the vision that once was can be again.  Don’t say it’s too late; you are able by the power of God to accomplish whatever vision God has given you: missions, ministry, and outreach, growing in grace, faith, and patience, going on a mission trip, or witnessing to those around you.  Maybe your vision from God is to write a book or preach the gospel – go home and start writing the book and preparing the sermon today!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Anger Properly Directed

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.
                                                                  -Matthew 21:12

When anger is properly controlled it can motivate us to go beyond what we might normally have done and strive harder toward some positive accomplishments.  The Lord Jesus was so motivated by His righteous anger that He refused to pass through the Temple and ignore the fact that greedy men had turned the Temple into a market place.  In response the Lord drove them out and truly He got the peoples’ attention.  Righteous anger is anger that is properly directed.  It is not directed at people, but rather towards the evil which people are doing.  Such anger can bring about positive results.  For example,  it can motivate a group of ministers to come together to encourage and pray for one another because they are so concerned about the number of their brother pastors falling into immorality.  Anger that is properly directed can motivate parents to take radical steps to try to keep their children on the right track.  Righteous anger can motivate believers to do something positive about all the ills which exist in our society.

When we feel ourselves becoming overwhelmed by all of the evil in the world we can get so angry about it that we can do something positive: pray, reach out, volunteer to help with some youth organization, or volunteer our time in leading Bible meetings at the local jail.  It’s one thing to sit back and be disgusted about all the evil in the world, but it’s another matter to be motivated to rise up and do something about it.  This is righteous anger properly directed.  Righteous anger, properly directed, can motivate a person to action in the name of the Lord.

Faith in Jesus motivates us to rise up and confront the evil that exists in the world today.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Reaching Those Without Christ

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
                                                                           -I Peter 5:8

Something which hinders as much as a hateful attitude towards one another is the arrogance which abounds today in matters of faith.  I recently came across an article on the Internet written by an individual, and he spent what would have been 20-25 typed pages explaining why most Baptists are going to hell – because we aren’t part of his particular group of Baptists.  Clearly he views you, me, American Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and anyone else outside his group as the enemy.  Again I say that our enemy is the devil.

Years ago I had a neighbor who sometimes tried to get me to defect from the Baptist church I was attending to his church because he believed that we were all lost and everyone in his church was saved.  I gently tried to explain to him on one occasion that his energies could be far better spent trying to reach the lost.  I am a child of God; I have been born again, my sins cleansed by the blood of Christ.  Stop trying to save me – I already am!  He left me alone after that.

 As we follow Christ let us reach the lost, do the work of evangelism, edify one another, and urge one another onward to good works.  Do not allow the devil to have a foothold in our lives.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Finishing Well

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
                                                                                                             -II Timothy 4:7

I believe that one of the goals of the Christian faith is not only that we live well, but that we also finish well.  The Bible gives us some examples of persons in the Bible who ran a good race, but in the end did not have a strong finish.  The Bible tells of three kings, right in succession, who started out strong, but ran into serious trouble later on.  Saul had tremendous potential, and he got off to a fairly good start, but he took his eyes off of the Lord, and began to go his own way instead of God's way.  In the end he finished poorly.  David was a man after God's own heart.  He was doing great, until he took his eyes off of God and became focused on another man's wife.  His life was never the same after that, and he was plagued by strife within his own family.
Solomon too got off to a strong start, but he like his father, allowed himself to be lead astray.  In the end he stopped being completely faithful to God and turned his heart towards idols.  He did not finish well. 

We see examples of this right on down through the present age.  A few years ago the singer James Brown passed away.  Here was a man that came out of poverty and some difficult circumstances to make a name for himself as a singer.  Do you know what he was called?  "The Godfather of soul."  His music is still played on radio stations across the nation and his style has influenced untold numbers of singers and performers.  Sadly, James Brown did not finish well.  Over the years he had numerous run-ins with the law, there were DUI's, drug arrests, and reports of spousal abuse.  James Brown accomplished much in music, but he did not finish well.

Christ has called us to not only run a good race, but to also finish well.  The high call of God in Christ Jesus is to move forward in faith, resist the devil, and live in a manner that honors God and is characterized by godly integrity – and keep on doing so right until the end.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Faith that is Growing and Thriving

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 1:3

The believers in this passage of the New Testament were commended for possessing faith that was living and active.  If our faith is thriving then it is growing, and if it is growing then it is accomplishing God’s will for 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.  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 ever ready for that day when it happens.

Until then we seek to have faith that is growing, thriving, living, and active.  We cannot grow spiritually as followers of Christ if our faith has grown stagnate.  The desire of the mature believer is to possess faith that is growing and taking us ever deeper into our relationship with Christ.  The greater our faith, the closer our walk Jesus – which leads to spiritual victory and the fullness of God’s grace.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Continuing to Grow in Faith and Love

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.  We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 
-I Thessalonians 1:2, 3

Unlike the Galatians, Paul had serious praise for the believers in Thessalonica.  The Galatians were plagued by heresy and doctrinal problems.  The Thessalonians to whom Paul was writing had overcome these challenges and were walking firmly in Christ.  They were standing firm in the faith and were not backing down from it.  Therefore Paul and the others thanked God continually for them.  Is there someone that you daily thank God for?  It might be a relative, a loved one, or a friend, but you frequently thank God for this person’s faith because it is a blessing and an encouragement to you.

Paul was thanking God because their faith was growing continuously.  They were not faltering the faith, but instead they were growing deeper in their faith.  That is what we are to be doing.  We are called in scripture to be ever growing closer to the Lord.  We cannot do that apart from a growing faith.  It says here that their faith was growing exceedingly.  That means that their faith was growing more and more all the time. 

They had something else going for them.  Their love for one another was growing greater all the time as well.  If we will love one another more, then our love will spill over into the community and we will love lost people more.  And if we love them more we will be more concerned with their spiritual condition.  Let that be said of us.  In a time when peoples’ faith in diminishing, let us have faith and love that is growing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Childlike Faith

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
                                                                        -Matthew 18:1-4

I do not want to alarm anyone, but we must realize that our nation is facing a crisis.  You may wonder what sort of crisis I am talking about.  Is it the rising price of gas, global warming, or the possibility of yet another war?  All of those are of a concern but that it not what I am referring to.  I am talking about the crisis of faith that is taking place among the youth of our nation.  All across the country young people are not embracing the faith that we are trying to pass along to them.  There appears to be a turning away from the gospel by the youth of today.  Find a teenager who is committed to Jesus Christ and you have found a young person of rare quality.  Everywhere I go I talk to young people who are rejecting the faith that we are seeking to instill in them.  They are being inundated with the philosophies of the world to such a strong degree that the truths taught in the Bible seem totally irrelevant to them.  What our young people need from us is a solid and living example of what faith in the Lord Jesus Christ looks like.  They must see that what Christ offers is far better than anything the world has to offer.  They need our love and they need our prayers.  We don’t want to lose any of them, but bear in mind the devil is out to steal them away from the church.  George Barna in a recent article called the youth of today the un-churched of tomorrow.  That is how fast they are falling away from the faith.  What is needed desperately in our nation is a revival among the youth.  Rather than a falling away we are called by God to pray for a turning to the Lord. 

Think about some young man or some young girl you know that is out of church.  For many of us we are talking about some of our own children.  Get a burden on your heart for that person and begin to pray for him or her.  Write his or her name down in your Bible and make it your mission to pray every day for that young man or woman.  At any time God could work a miracle in their lives and they will come back to Him.  But what they must see in us is a living example of the faith.  Jesus told us what kind of faith we are to possess.  It is not deep theological faith, but rather it is child-like faith – faith that trusts God without question.

Pray that we will be positive examples of the faith to the youth among us.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Growing Through Prayer

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.  -Luke 5:16

One of the most important practices of the Christian faith is also one that is the most neglected, and that is the practice of prayer.  Prayer is a vital discipline in the life of the believer.  Without prayer we cannot grow in our faith.  Prayer is spiritual nutrition for the soul.  Prayer leads us to a greater understanding of spiritual matters.  Prayer leads us to a deeper level of faith and a closer walk with God.  Those most committed to Christ and who are the most spiritually mature will always be those with the most disciplined prayer lives.  The maturing follower of Christ will seek to be engaged in an active prayer life.  Consider some of the benefits of prayer:

·       Brings peace in our lives
·       Gives us spiritual strength
·       Develops spiritual maturity.
·       Develops patience.
·       Deepens our faith.
·       Brings us into the presence of God.
·       Makes a positive difference in our lives.
·       Positively effects others.

The great leaders of the Bible always demonstrated a disciplined prayer life.  In times of trouble the biblical leaders always turned to God in prayer.  The leaders of the early church were people committed to prayer.  Clearly these pillars of the faith earnestly believed in the power of prayer.

Years ago I heard a joke about a preacher that received a call from another church telling him they wanted him to come and be their pastor.  He said he wasn't interested.  The chairman of the search committee said that they would double his salary.  The preacher said he'd call back.  The preacher informed his wife of these events, and then told her that he was going to go and pray about the decision.  His wife asked if he wanted her to join him in this important time of prayer.  “No,” he replied, “you start packing.”  As silly as that story is, it illustrates an important point; such major, life changing decisions, do indeed require serious and earnest prayer, regardless of how we feel about the decision.  

As with worship, we do not wish to place attention on ourselves, but we want all glory and honor to be directed to the Lord.  Jesus said that having a private place to pray is a means to spiritual growth.  It may not be a prayer closet, but it can be the quiet of your living room very early in the morning.  Or it may be on the porch, or beside the garden.  What is most important is to spend time alone with God daily and as often as possible.  We are challenged by Christ Himself to sincerely pray from the heart with the purest of motives.  We are blessed when we do so, and we are spiritually strengthened to deeper levels of faith, resulting in a more serene, happy, and positive outlook.
Prayer can be like a healing rain during a spiritual drought.
Prayer is like steel girders which hold together our spiritual house.
Prayer is the power source for an effective Christian life.
Pray in faith; pray in confidence that the Lord will hear.  He always does, and He always will.
From, Get up and Grow: Becoming an Mature Christian, by Dan Birchfield

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Our Attitude Concerning Worship

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.  Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.                         -Psalm 100:2-4

When contemplating what it means to become a mature Christian, stop for a moment and consider the importance of our attitude regarding worship.  What is our concept of worship, and how do we know when we have indeed worshipped God?  Hopefully you know the feeling of walking away from a time of worship and thinking to yourself that it was a genuine worship experience.  You felt it in your heart, and you experienced it in your soul.  You knew beyond any doubt that you had been in the presence of the Lord.  We do well to understand that simply sitting inside of a church building while hymns are being sung is no guarantee that authentic worship is taking place.  People can be worshipping all around us, and yet it is possible for us to miss out on the experience.  We must take an active part in worship in order to fully experience it. 
Consider that a student may show up for class, but that is no guarantee that he is going to learn something.  What must he do?  He must tune his mind for learning, listen carefully, pay attention, be in ontrol of his thoughts lest they wander, get out his notebook, take some notes, and have his lessons with him.  And there is one more vital component:  he must come prepared to learn.  Each of these principles can be applied to worship.  Showing up is something, and I am always grateful for anyone who simply comes to the worship service.  But for us to fully experience God’s presence in worship, we must take an active part.  We will have a difficult time worshipping if our minds are a hundred miles away.  Whatever we are dealing with can wait an hour or so while we focus on exalting the Lord Jesus Christ.  

I had a conversation with a man recently and he posed to me an interesting question.  He asked, “Do you believe that faith in God is supernatural?”  Without hesitation I responded that yes, I do believe that.  Faith in the Living God transcends human experience.  Jesus Christ coming into the world, His virgin birth, His sinless life, the miracles He did, and His resurrection, are all supernatural.  Our worship is an affirmation that we believe in and have experienced that which we cannot see.  By faith we know and affirm these foundational truths, as stated in Hebrews 11: 1:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.   (KJV)

Let us seek to view worship as a positive and uplifting expression of our faith in God rather than an obligation.  The growing and maturing follower of Christ will make worship of the Lord a priority, resulting in a deepening of faith and commitment to Christ.

Trying to live the Christian life without worship is like trying to raise a garden without rain.  Attempting to live the abundant life in Christ apart from worship is like trying to sail without strong winds.  Endeavoring to walk with God in the fullness of His grace without worship is akin to trying to maintain proper nutrition without eating.  Worship brings us into the presence, power, and holiness of Almighty God.  Through worship the fire of God will fall, but also the soothing balm of His mercy.  Worship inspires, motivates, and encourages believers to a closer walk with God.  

Lift up the name of the Lord in worship.  Experience the blessings of exalting God through worship.  Never be contended with going through the motions, but rather move forward in spiritual growth and maturity.  

From, Get up and Grow: Becoming and Mature Christian, by Dan Birchfield


Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Importance of Worshiping Together

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
                                                                                                                         -Hebrews 10:23-25

Hebrews 10:25 is a key verse in our understanding of how we can grow to mature Christianity through worship; we are not to give up the assembling of ourselves together.  We make coming together for worship a priority, and we seek to worship God on a regular basis.  All of my adult life I have heard people say that a person does not have to be in church to worship God.  Well, that is pretty obvious.  I frequently commune with and worship the Lord when I am all alone.  Many a man has said that he doesn’t need to worship God in a church, but can do so just as easily on the golf course.  Nevertheless, one would be hard pressed to find a golf course where people were praying, singing hymns, or having Bible study.  There is definitely a need for private worship as a part of our daily time with God, but nowhere in scripture do we find that this is to replace worshipping with the people of God. We are shown throughout the Bible that when God’s people were serious about their relationship with Him, they came together for worship.  It was a vital part of their relationship with God.
The same holds true for us.  Hebrews 10:25 also instructs us to encourage one another all the more as we see the day approaching.  In its most basic terms, this means that we encourage believers to attend, and we invite unbelievers also.  We can do a lot of advertising, mailings, and other strategies to get people to come to church, but the best method is still a personal invitation. 
So, what do we do when we worship?

·       We exalt the Lord.
·       We sing His praises.
·       We uphold the Bible as the Holy Word of God.
·       We earnestly pray.
·       We make our focus upon the Lord Jesus Christ. 

If we are honest, we will admit that there are times in church when our minds are on anything but worship.  Unless we are careful, our minds can wander to anything rather than what we are supposed to be focusing upon.  The least we can do is to spend a couple of hours a week focusing on the Lord.  Everything else can wait until we are through with the worship time.  The growing and maturing believer will make it a goal to grow through worshipping the Lord among other Christians.

From, Get up and Grow: Becoming a Mature Christian, by Dan Birchfield

Friday, January 15, 2010

Growing in God’s Word

Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.  -Proverbs 30:5

For the follower of Jesus Christ, the Bible is required reading.  We cannot walk in the fullness of Christ apart from the Bible.  We seek to grow in God’s Word because it is applicable to all of us in every situation we face.  When we know what the Bible says, and we believe it with all our hearts, then we have the basis for sharing the message of the Gospel with others.  It also provides us with integrity in our message.  We cannot speak with authority on that which we know nothing about.  I love John Grisham’s books, and I have read most of them.  Wouldn’t it seem strange, however, if I said that I loved John Grisham’s books but had never read one of them?  I would have no authority to speak on the subject.  When we are growing and maturing in God’s Word, we are given the authority to speak of and to confront spiritual matters of the faith. 
I have long believed that it is a positive benefit to prisoners that they are provided with Bibles in their jail cells.  I hope this practice will continue.  However, I am confident that if I were locked away without the Word of God, that He would still speak to me in my heart.  Even in the darkness of the dungeon or the jail cell, the Word of God will illuminate our path and give light to our way. This is what God did with the righteous people of ancient times.  We can know with all certainty that at just the right time, when mankind was ready to receive it, God began to reveal His will to humanity.  Those who sought Him were shown the truth by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Remember that we have the blessed benefit of the written Word.  It will light our path as we study and let it speak to our hearts.  A young man keeps his way pure by living according to God’s Word.  The follower of Christ who desires a deeper faith and a mature Christian life will do likewise.  To reject God and His plan of salvation is to be like the fool spoken of in the scripture:

The fool says in his heart, there is no God.   (Psalms 14:1)

Those who have opened their hearts to the truth know better.  We know that God is real, that He loves us, and that He sent His only begotten Son to die for our sins.
Grow in the Word of God.  Grow into a mature follower of Christ who is walking in faith, victory, and a sure step that will not falter.
Take the Bible down from the shelf.  Gently brush the dust from it.  Open it, and begin to let its divine and wonderful truths speak to your heart. 
The world has long been searching for answers.  We can find them in God’s Word.

From, Get up and Grow: Becoming a Mature Christian, by Dan Birchfield

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Having the Mind of Christ

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped . . .  -Philippians 2:5, 6

What does it mean for a believer to have the mind of Christ?  Notice I apply this concept of having the mind of Christ to believers.  An unbeliever cannot have the mind of Christ.  He may have some Christ-like attitudes of love, mercy, and compassion, but he will not possess the mind of Christ apart from faith in Christ.  If he would put his faith in the Lord, those attitudes previously mentioned would function at a far deeper level.  Having the mind of Christ involves a transformation in our thinking, our outlook, our attitudes, and our perspective on life.  Having the mind of Christ is revolutionary in today’s world.  The Christian stance is intended to be one of love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and grace.  We love others because the Lord first loved us and has called us to love one another. 

Having the mind of Christ means that we seek to view others the same way in which the Lord sees them.  We are called by Christ to be entirely motivated by pure and genuine love for others.  We reach out in the name of the Lord, not in judgment and hatred, but rather with compassion and mercy, seeking to share with others the abundant life which Christ offers.  We are challenged in scripture to have the mind of Christ Jesus, which is the next vital step in becoming a mature Christian.  Here is the challenge given to us in the Word of God: take on the attitudes of the Lord Jesus.  Let us not take on the attitudes of the world or of those who have no faith in the Lord, but rather let us have the mind of Christ.  The mind of Christ in us is to be constantly renewed by the Word of God and is daily being brought under the control of the Holy Spirit.  The mind of Christ desires the will of God.  We do not seek after our will, but we seek to do God’s will in all aspects of our lives.  

Having the mind of Christ empowers us to accomplish whatever the Lord would have us do.  We cannot become mature in our faith without putting on the mind of Christ.  When we put on the mind of Christ we enter into a depth of faith that leads us to the abundant life offered to all who place their trust in Him.

From, Get up and Grow: Becoming a Mature Christian, by Dan Birchfield

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Putting Away the Childish and Embracing the Mature

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.  -I Corinthians 13:12

Paul also said here that when he became a man he put from him childish ways.  He left behind those behaviors that we expect from children.  The same principle applies to followers of Christ; we left them behind, and it would be strange to take them up again.  From time to time those who gave the impression of being maturing followers of Christ abruptly walk away from the faith they had once practiced.  In some instances such persons may cease from praying, studying the scriptures, witnessing for Christ, or attending church.  The scenario might also include drug use, excessive drinking, profanity, and a rejection of the Christ-like attitudes admonished in scripture.  Sadly, the childish behaviors which had been put away so long ago can be taken up again.  When this happens it is not a pretty picture.  Rather, it is a shameful picture.  The mature Christian will move forward, not backward.

The mature believer works toward having faith, hope, and love in the right order and perspective.  Consider that any one of those three has the power to sustain us in the hard times of life.  Faith that is grounded in Christ and the Word of God will keep us moving in the right direction in terms of our Christian growth and maturity.  Hope is a powerful and positive force in our lives which can empower us to keep progressing when we might otherwise have given up.  Hope is something.  Sometimes it is everything.  Love will then become an outward expression of the transforming power of Christ working within us and overflowing into all areas of our lives.  Any one of these can be like a lifeline thrown out to a drowning man.  If he can take hold, he will make it through whatever storm he is facing.  When we have all three working simultaneously in our lives, we will be empowered toward spiritual and personal growth; we will be on the path to maturity as believers.  The result will be an ongoing process of spiritual growth as we become the vibrant and joyful persons Christ has called us to be.

From, Get up and Grow: Becoming a Mature Christian, by Dan Birchfield

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Putting Away Childish Things

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.   -I Corinthians 13:11

If I know anything about Christianity, it is that the Lord intends for us to grow in our faith.  Followers of Christ are called to be ever reaching a deeper level of understanding of faith in Jesus.  Let us not be contented with being immature believers, but let us seek to mature in our faith.  We can’t stay on a liquid diet forever.  At some point we begin eating solid food.  Isn’t it interesting how quickly babies grow once they get on solid food?  They just seem to take off.  The same can be said of us.  A new believer will have difficulty comprehending some of the deeper aspects of the faith, but if he perseveres the Lord will begin to give him understanding into these important elements of Christianity.  We might use terms like “atonement,” “sanctification,” “regeneration,” and “redemption.”  Many believers will understand what these terms mean, but unbelievers, as well as new Christians, may wonder what in the world we’re talking about.  It’s like some subject that may not make sense at first, but over time we came to comprehend it better until its point made sense.  The mathematician does not start out with perfect understanding of the principles of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, but over time and with careful study begins to make sense of those concepts.  So it is with principles of the faith.

We are called by God to be ever moving toward spiritual maturity.  No matter where we are in our walk with God, there will always be room for growth.  We won’t have arrived until we one day stand before the Lord.

The old song about understanding it better by and by certainly applies here.  We will understand all things when we go to meet the Lord on that great and wonderful day, and what a day it will be.  However, let us not grow discouraged over what we do not understand.  Christian author T. W. Hunt has said, “It is more important to know God than it is to understand God.”  Our inability to fully comprehend all there is to know about God need not hinder our having a close, vibrant, and growing relationship with Him.

The plan for us is to reach maturity and to do so in Christ Jesus. Seek the Lord, and continue to grow in the faith. 

-From, Get up and Grow: Becoming a Mature Christian, by Dan Birchfield 

Monday, January 11, 2010

Never Too Old to Serve the Lord

The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.”
-Genesis 12:1

              We should never get to an age where we say; “I have served the Lord long enough; now I will stop serving Him.”  Just because we retire from our jobs doesn’t mean we ever retire from serving God.  The Sr. adult who is retired is doubly blessed because he or she has more time to devote to serving the Lord.  Abraham was 75 years old when God called him.  He didn’t allow his age to in any way stop him from following God’s call in his life.  What if he had said, “Lord, I’m too old.  I’m too settled.  I can’t follow your calling any more.  If you’d called me 20 or 30 years ago maybe, but not now.”  That was not his response at all.  

              I know of some shut-ins who continue to serve and minister for the Lord.  You say, “Well how?”  The answer is they pray every day for me, the church, and many others.  What a wonderful ministry.  God kept his promise to Abraham.  The Lord did make him into a great nation.  People the world over revere him as the father of the Jewish people.  Even the Muslim religion reveres him as the father of Ishmael.  And he did become a blessing to many people.  His commitment to God is a blessing to us; from his lineage came our Savior Jesus Christ.  

              Let us never stop serving the Lord, but rather let us serve Him with joy and gladness throughout life’s journey.  When we reach the end of life, we can say with Paul the Apostle, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7). 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Tearful Reunion and True Grace

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.
-Genesis 33:4

              To understand this passage we need to get a clear look at what is going on here.  What Jacob was fearful would happen and what actually occurred are extremely different.  He was afraid that Esau would exact vengeance upon him for stealing the birthright all those years earlier.  But that is not what happened at all.  In fact, the complete opposite took place.  The Bible says that when Esau saw Jacob that he ran to him, threw his arms around him, embraced him, and wept with joy.  It says that Jacob was weeping also.  Esau had many years to think about what had happened between him and his brother.  Somehow he had gotten over all of the vengeful feelings he had harbored so long ago.  When he saw his little brother all he could think about was how much he had missed him.  What a wonderful situation this turned out to be.

              What Jacob had thought would be a fearful reunion had turned out to be a tearful reunion.  Both men, overcome with emotion, embraced one another and wept.  What a beautiful picture of love, joy, grace, and forgiveness.  Wouldn’t we be missing something if we failed to point out the powerful spiritual application in this event?  Indeed we would. 

  • Jacob expected wrath, but found forgiveness
  • Jacob expected anger, but he found tenderness
  • Jacob expected vengeance, but he found grace

              The same holds true with us when we come to the Lord Jesus Christ.  I deserved His wrath, but what I received was grace.  God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  This grace is available to all who will trust in the Lord.  No one will be excluded or turned away.  Open your heart and trust Christ today.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Seeking Righteousness that is From God

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
-Isaiah 64:6

              The promise of God has always been that when we are righteous we are blessed.  The problem comes when we lack a proper understanding of what constitutes righteousness and what is meant by blessings.  We must understand that righteousness is not something we acquire and accomplish on our own strength.  The Bible teaches that true righteousness only comes from God.  We are incapable of being righteous ourselves.  We can only be righteous by the power of God.  When we start trying to attain righteousness on own strength we will quickly become frustrated and burdened.  The Bible teaches that our righteousness when compared with God’s righteousness leaves ours looking shabby and ineffectual.  The scripture says that our righteousness is as filthy rags by comparison.  There is a righteousness that comes from God and it can only be acquired through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

              We also sometimes misunderstand what constitutes blessings.  People today are associating blessing with financial wealth, and clearly that is not at all what the Bible teaches.  Just because you are not a millionaire does not mean you aren’t blessed.  There are many other ways which the blessings of God can come into our lives apart from having a lot of money.  No where in the Bible did the Lord Jesus promise financial wealth to His followers.  In fact, Jesus promised that if we follow Him we just might suffer persecution, distress, people would mock us, and our own families might turn their backs upon us.  True blessings come as the result of having the Lord in our lives – His Spirit dwelling within us, our sins washed away, and our home in Heaven secured.  That is the basis of any and all blessing.
            When we trust in God, we learn what true blessings are all about.  Seeking the Lord, striving to live an honorable life of integrity, and living out the teaching of Jesus lead us to the true riches of God's grace.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Need for Godly Leadership

A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.  Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them.
-Proverbs 28:3, 4

              History has shown time and time again the problems caused when the ungodly come to power.  A ruler with a heart for God will be motivated to want the best for the people he governs.  And the people along with the nation will benefit from such godly leadership.  I and II Kings provide us with numerous examples of the effects of bad verses good leadership.  In every case the ungodly leaders lead the nation of Israel into problems and sometimes near annihilation.  But the reverse was also true.  God-fearing and principled leaders brought the blessings of God upon the people.  They were stronger, more unified, more prosperous, and more devoted to the lord.  The God fearing Kings were careful to guard their own lives and conduct.  When they failed to do that they ran into problems and so did the nation.

              Those who forsake God’s Word get their priorities all turned around; they begin to believe good is evil and evil is good.  But the Bible says that those who are faithful to God’s Word will ever stand against that kind of thinking.  One certain truth we know about being victorious in our spiritual walk is that we can make no compromise with evil.  One compromise is like a crack in the floodwall.  It then gets bigger and bigger until the floodwall eventually collapses.  What can we do?  Here are some suggestions:
  • Pray for our leaders both spiritual and secular (local, state, and national).   
  • Pray for one another.  
  • Be faithful.  
  • Do not stray from the truth regardless of our circumstances.  
  • Do not neglect our time with God.  
  • Guard that time with a tremendous zeal and allow nothing to interfere with it.