Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Our Weaknesses Made Strengths Through Christ

For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you.  –II Corinthians 13:4 
All too often I am reminded of God’s strength and my weaknesses.  The Lord is all strength and no weakness.  However, we as humans are prone to weakness, and any strength we draw, if it is truly strength, must originate in the power of God.  This idea that the Lord can take my weaknesses and turn them into strengths is comforting during the trials and struggles of life.  Christ is not plagued with fear, doubts, uncertainties, worries, or questions about the future.  We, however, wrestle with these negative attributes on a daily basis.  The challenge for the believer is to take Christ at His Word and allow Him to transform our weaknesses into strengths – and not ours, but His strength working in and through us.  When that happens we will discover that every aspect of our lives is enhanced.  Our outlook will improve, our attitude will become more positive, and our outlook is brightened.  By all means we can benefit from such improvement in the midst of the troubles, stresses, and heartache we all must bear. 
The thought of Christ taking my weaknesses and transforming them into strengths gives hope that we will not always be underneath our problems, but rather steadily rising above them.  Indeed, through Christ we are not to simply survive life, but we can live the abundant life in Him each day.  I recently watched a program about a new submarine commissioned by the US Navy.  This advanced submarine has the capability of taking seawater and transforming it into fresh water which can be used for a variety of purposes by the crew.  This process is done through a system of filtration, heat, and purification.  What was unusable becomes useful and beneficial.  

This is similar to what Christ does in us.  He filters our weaknesses and transforms them into strengths.  Christ brings us through the fires of life’s struggles and brings us out stronger on the other side.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, working through us, we are daily purified and made to be more like Him.  We can give thanks to the Lord that our weaknesses need not have power and victory over us.  Through Christ’s power we can rise up and walk daily in spiritual victory. 

Are you struggling with discouragement because of weakness?  Take heart, for the Lord understands and He is able to turn our weaknesses into strengths.  Don’t give up.  Why not begin today walking in spiritual victory? 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Redemption in Jesus Christ

He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses.  Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. -Psalm 33:7, 8

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  -I John 1:5

Something we see all throughout the Word of God is the message of redemption that can be found in the Lord.  The message of the gospel is one of redemption.  Do we truly understand what that means?  To be redeemed means to be bought back.  That which was lost was gained with a price.  And once redeemed the owner will never let it go.  God can redeem us because He has the power to do so.  The same God who created the heavens and the earth and who flung the stars into their place cares about you and me – individually and personally.  God is all powerful, all knowing, the Creator of the universe, and He also cares for us.  Because the Lord is God we are called to seek Him and to revere Him.  The Scriptures calls mankind to fear the Lord and to stand in awe of Him.
The closer we get to God the more we will be in awe of His power, grace, and holiness.  We have to draw near to Him to experience the wonder of that fullness.  Back in the mid 1980’s I took a group of youth from the church where I was serving to a youth rally in downtown Cincinnati.  After the event that night Cincinnati Bengals football player Anthony Munoz was signing autographs and talking to people.  As we were leaving we saw him at the back of the auditorium .  Several of our group got to talk to Mr. Munoz and I even got to shake his hand.  He was a mountain of a man; more than a head taller than me, broad shoulders, and when we shook hands my hand seemed to disappear in his.
Up until then I had only seen him on TV during football games.  It wasn’t until I met him in person and stood close to him that I realized just what a big man he was.  I point this out because countless people only see the Lord from a distance.  They have never sought to draw near to Him.  If they did they would discover how great, awesome, powerful, and amazing He is.  When we come into God’s presence we realize that he is God and we must humble ourselves before Him and seek Him – with all of our hearts.  We draw near to God and in awe we begin to wonder how the Lord could love us so much that He came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ and died for our sins.  Christ became the sacrifice for the sins of the world that you, me, and all who would believe could have everlasting life.  Christ has come into the world and He has brought redemption; He came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Christ the Living Word has come to us, and in Him there is light and no darkness at all (I John 1:5).  That light can be in us as well, and the light will drive all darkness from our lives.  When that happens it is marvelous and wonderful.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Word of God: Right, True, and Faithful

Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.  For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.  The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.  -Psalm 33:3-5

The Bible reminds us that the Word of the Lord is right, true, and faithful.  Consider what a high standard the Word of God lives up to in this statement.  How many among us could say that about ourselves, someone else, or about some situation?  If we could say that about someone, that he or she is right, true, and faithful at all times, then this would be a person of rare and unique quality.  The problem is that none of us can live up to such a rigid standard of righteousness.  We simply aren’t able to possess all three of those qualities at all times and in complete perfection.  There was only one who did that; Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord – the Living Word who became flesh.  He was absolutely right, completely true, and faithful at all times.  He was the pure and spotless Lamb of God – the only fit sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Without a standard, we have nothing to work toward or look toward.  The Word of God gives us a standard - a case, for righteousness.  Without God’s Word we are left to figure out for ourselves what God expects and what God requires.  The Word of the Lord makes all that clear and brings it into focus.  Having a standard of faith and righteousness is essential to living and walking in spiritual victory.  In ancient times an army always marched with its standard going before them.  The standard represented that particular people and it gave them a rallying point in the battle.  As long as the standard was flying, then they knew they were winning the battle.  Our standard is the Word of God.  We hold it before us and as long as we are moving toward it and walking with Christ then we can know that victory is ours.  

God has given us in His Word a clear case for righteous living.  Get out of God’s Word and we are out of God’s will.  But the reverse is true; stay in the Word and stay in God’s will.  Without the standard we drift with nothing to work toward.  The Word of God gives us a spiritual path to the godly lives to which we have been called in Christ Jesus.   

God took that standard, that case for righteousness, and placed it all before us in wondrous glory.  The Scriptures says that we beheld that glory, His glory – the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  We look to Jesus and we can say, “Oh yes; now it makes sense to me.  That is how I am supposed to live and conduct myself in a depraved and wicked world.  That is how I am to love and serve God and love my neighbor.” Jesus brings the righteousness of God right into our frame of reference and our personal point of view.  When we see Him, His grace, glory, mercy, love, and sacrifice, we proclaim, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” And we don’t just say it, but we proclaim it and we mean it with all of our hearts, for we have come to know that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Believe on the Lord and Praise Him

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.  -Psalm 33:1

 The Bible says in these verses that we are to rejoice in the Lord.  We see that admonition throughout the Scripture: Rejoice in the Lord.  Understand that this call to rejoice in the Lord is for everyone, but it has a special application for followers of Christ who are seeking the abundant life in Him.  Let me put this another way: If you see a commercial on TV advertising a sporting event then that advertisement is for everyone.  However, if it’s your team playing then the situation takes on a personal application.  Such is the nature of the call to rejoice in the Lord.  All have the opportunity to praise the Lord, but not everyone will.  This call becomes extremely personal for those who profess faith in the Lord.

The Scripture says that it is comely for us to praise the Lord.  What that means is that it’s fitting and right to praise, exalt, and lift up the name of the Lord.  The question is, will we just praise the Lord when the circumstances of our lives are okay, or will we praise Him even when things seem to be falling apart?  You see, if we will praise the Lord no matter what, then that’s what separates us from those who on Sunday were shouting, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” and then on Friday were shouting, “Crucify Him!”
Let us be found among those who shouted, “Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord,”  and then on Friday we were weeping at the cross as our Savior died.  The blessed Word of the Lord comes to us and is cause for rejoicing. 

Let’s make sure we are on the side of the upright.  These would be the ones who believed upon the Lord Jesus no matter what; they did not demand from Him a sign.  Matthew 12:38, 39 say that the religious leaders came to Jesus and demanded from Him a sign to prove that He was the Son of God.  Jesus said that a wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but none would be given except for the sign of Jonah.  Will we believe upon Him no matter what and will we praise Him no matter what?  Let’s come down on the side that says, yes!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Power of a Soft Answer

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. –Proverbs 15:1, 2 

Several years ago I was out driving one afternoon and with a full schedule that day I was a little distracted.  While driving down a busy street I made a common, but dangerous driving mistake; I took my eyes off the road for a moment.  When I looked up the traffic in front of me had stopped suddenly.  I had to just about stand on my brake pedal and I came screeching to a stop with mere inches to spare from the bumper of the car in front of me.  It was close, but as my father is fond of saying, “No contact.”  Had I delayed a fraction of a second longer I would have surely crashed.  

The traffic moved on, I prayed a prayer of thanks to God that I stopped in time, and proceeded on my way.  However, the incident wasn’t over.  At the next red light the car I had come within a breath of smashing into pulled alongside me.  A woman in the passenger seat then proceeded to berate me for nearly causing a catastrophe and for almost giving her a heart attack.  She then informed me in no uncertain terms that my poor driving skills left a lot to be desired.  The man in the driver’s seat, perhaps her husband, was gripping the steering wheel furiously, scowling at me, and nodding in agreement with her assessment of my dismal driving abilities.    

At that moment my blood pressure began to rise and I considered informing these folks that while I did nearly hit them I did, in fact, stop in time.  However, I recalled the words of Scripture: A gentle answer turns away wrath.  I replied by gently telling the woman that I was honestly sorry for giving them such a fright.  Truly I was in the wrong, I told them.  It was a silly lapse in concentration, and I did indeed need to work harder at being more careful while driving lest I make the same mistake again.
Both people in the car looked at me as if I was speaking Swahili.  This was not the answer they were expecting at all.  I can’t help but think that they were all geared up for a fight.  When they saw that I wasn’t going to give them one, the wind seemed to go right out of their sails – so to speak.  The woman then shrugged her shoulders and said,
“Well, okay; thanks, I guess.  And be careful.” 
“Yes, and you too,” I said, “And God bless you.”
The woman then sort of half smiled, waved, and we drove off.  And that was the end of it.  Or was it?  I cannot help but think that an impression was made; the love of Jesus Christ shined through.  A gentle answer turned away wrath, just as God promises in His Word.

Let the light of the Lord Jesus shine in your life today.  Speak with love, grace, humility, and compassion.  A lost world needs to see that light in action.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Peace Prayer

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  -John 14:27
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  -John 16:33

I recently came across a prayer known as the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis.  When I read it, I was deeply touched by its depth of spirituality and pure message of humility.  Today I share the prayer with you that you also may be inspired and encouraged to greater depths of humility in service to the Lord.

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred,
Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, Joy.

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
As to console;
To be understood,as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Removing that Which Hinders

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.  -Matthew 5:29, 30

Consider the figurative language the Lord Jesus used when referring to the need to rid ourselves of that which hinders or offends.  The Lord said to cut it off, right?  We often think of this in terms of the big ones, drugs and alcohol.  And yes those vices have wrecked and continue to wreck countless lives.  However, it isn’t limited to that, but can be things far more subtle.  What about an attitude?  If we have attitudes that hinder our walk with Christ, our Christian witness, and our spiritual growth, then we do well to get rid of it.  What are some attitudes that can hinder us and need to be cut off from us?

Negativity and cynicism.  These attitudes can cause terrible problems in our lives.  Now, how is it that some folks are just more positive and optimistic than others?  For some it’s a gift.  God has given them the ability to be upbeat and positive in the midst of difficult circumstances.  The rest of us have to work at it.  But remember that even the person who is naturally positive has to work to maintain such an attitude.  When we are negative we will shoot down our own ideas before we ever give them a chance, and we might find ourselves doing the same to others.  Negativity says, “I can’t” which leads to either, “I quit,” or “I won’t even try.” A positive outlook says, “I will try, I think I can, and this might work.” You can certainly see the difference.  Try to go one day without making any negative or destructive comments.  Try that and you will find it works like a cleansing sort of process.  A purely biblical concept is to only say that which builds up, inspires, and encourages the body of Christ.  Ephesians 4:29 says:

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.

Bitterness and hatred.*  Both of these are attitudes that can be changed.  If we find ourselves growing bitter we can take steps to change our attitude and outlook.  Bitterness, when not brought under control, can eventually become hatred.  These run contrary to the work of the Holy Spirit which seeks to fill the heart with the love of Jesus.  I cannot love others the way Christ commands if my heart is filled with hatred.  This is one of those undesirable elements which according to Jesus needs to be cut off and cast away from us.  The Bible says that bitterness can grow and take root in the human heart:

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root 
grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Hebrews 12:15)

The challenge for us as followers of Christ is to cut bitterness off at the root.  Here are some ways to overcome bitterness:

  • Seek a more positive outlook.  Begin the process with prayer.
  •  See others the way in which Jesus sees them.  Are they hopeless, or is there hope in Jesus?  (There is always hope in Jesus Christ)
  •  Expand personal horizons.  Try a hobby you’ve always wanted to take up, go somewhere you have always wanted to go, or simply do something just for you once in a while.  
  • Treat yourself once in a while – stop at your favorite coffee shop and have a gourmet coffee and huge blueberry muffin (fat free of course). 
  • Develop the habit of kindness to everyone – even strangers.
  • Smile more often.
Look for the blessing in bad situations and see problems as an opportunity to grow in the faith.  We can thrive spiritually and be blessed through the good times of life, but we grow the most spiritually through the trials of life.  When we take on such attitudes we are cutting from us bitterness which can stifle and hinder our Christian growth.  Winston Churchill once said, "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."  Take a good look at your attitude today.  Are there aspects of your attitude that need cut away?  If so, seek the Lord's help in becoming a brighter, more upbeat, and positive witness for Christ.  The Lord stands ready to assist in such an important process.

*(See chapter 12 of my new book, Get up and Grow, Becoming a Mature Christian.")

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Look to the Rock

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn.  –Isaiah 51:1 

Since time out of mind people have wondered at the ingenuity of those capable of building structures that can stand the test of time.  One can still travel around the world and see the pyramids, Stonehenge, the Roman Coliseum, and the Great Wall of China to name a few.  These amazing structures have withstood the elements, wars, and centuries of time because they were made from stone.  The process of carving, cutting, and shaping the stones needed for these buildings would impress even the most advanced stone cutter of our time.

Consider how that the stone used in a building is only as strong as the stone from which it was taken.  Builders understand that in order to construct something that will stand for generations they must start at a quarry where the best rock can be found.  From there they take the stones needed.  Likewise, our Christian faith is not based upon ourselves, but rather upon the One who made faith possible in the first place.  We look to Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith as the solid foundation upon which we can stand the test of time.  If we seek to hew our faith from the shifting sands of chance, fate, and our own abilities, we will have a life-structure that will not endure when the hard times come.  But when we have built our lives upon the solid rock of Jesus Christ the result will be strength, power, and stability – faith that will not falter during the storms and trials of life. 

Just as Isaiah the Prophet challenged the Israelites of his time to look to God, the rock from which they were hewn, we also are challenged to look to Christ.  By looking to the Lord they would find the strength and power needed to stand firm and be the people God had called them to be.  Like God’s people of old, we too can look to the Lord for strength during the trials of life.  Our own strength will fail us, but Christ will never fail. 

Look to Jesus, for He will never let us down and He will never forsake us.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jesus Christ: 100% Real

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.  –II Corinthians 11:13-15 

My son Aaron knows a great deal about computers, far more than me, in fact.  One afternoon Aaron was trying to install a program on his computer and he was having problems doing so.  He said that the program kept asking for an installation disc that would only work with a floppy drive.  Most of you probably know that PC’s these days don’t have floppy drives as they have become obsolete.  Aaron decided to tackle this problem another way: He asked me if I still had in my possession a flash drive which I’ve had for four or five years.  I did have the flash drive in question which happened to be among the first ones on the market.  Aaron’s strategy was simple: He used the old outdated flash drive to trick his computer into thinking that it was a floppy.  The ruse worked and he was able to install the program on his computer. 

Pondering this situation with the computer caused me to consider that the forces of evil can function in like manner.  The devil can deceive people into believing that what they have is genuine, when in fact they have been duped.  What the devil passes off as getting our lives on track is a false program.  In the end we will discover that we were given lies and counterfeit hope.  The devil never keeps his promises, yet he is skilled at deceiving people into believing that they have found what they need.  Rather than looking to Christ for peace of mind, joy, and contentment, people are tricked into thinking that they can find those blessings in what the world offers.  Countless people search for love and happiness in all the wrong places and sadly their search often brings heartache and more problems.  This search can lead to the pain of drug and alcohol abuse, failed relationships, bitterness, anger, and unfulfilled dreams.  Jesus Christ extends an invitation to bypass such pain and anguish and put our faith in Him.
What Jesus offers is in fact the genuine article.  Christ offers true joy, peace, love, forgiveness, stability, and hope.  In Christ there is hope for today, strength for tomorrow, and peace about the future.  We need not fear tomorrow, for we know who holds today.  Trust in the Lord, for what He offers is 100% real.

Monday, March 22, 2010

When the Going gets Tough - Trust Jesus

I love you, O Lord, my strength.  The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.  -Psalm 18:1-3

When we read the Psalms we get a sense that David was a man who wanted to experience the fullness of God’s grace at all times and in all circumstances.  This is right where the Lord wants us to be; experiencing the wonder of His love, power, and mercy right in the midst of the storms of life.  When the going gets tough the Lord Jesus does not just prop us up, but rather He lifts us up –  there is a difference.  He encircles us with His strength and power.

When you walk into a building somewhere, an office building perhaps, and you see a desk that says above it in large letters, “Information,” what does that say to you?  It says to me that if I have questions then this is where I can get some answers.  On two different occasions in recent months I was in a building and encountered just such a desk.  And in both cases the persons behind the desk gave the impression that I was really getting on their nerves.  I wanted to say, “Hey; look up; the sign above you says, ‘Information.’ That’s you!” I didn’t say that, but I certainly felt like it.

We have questions; God has answers.  We have fears; God offers calm.  We have doubts; Christ offers assurance.  We have needs; Christ will provide for them.  We have problems and frustrations; the Lord will give us patience.  We go through dark days; Jesus brings the light of His power.  Oh how we miss out when we don’t ask and when we don’t seek the Lord.  Christ stands ready to help, assist, guide, encourage, and get us where we need to be.  All we have to do is come to Him in faith and ask.  The sinner can come to Him and find forgiveness, and the one struggling can come to Him and find hope. 

Don't delay another moment.  Trust the Lord today.  He stands willing and able to help - and to save from the chains of sin.  Christ will rescue, and He will save.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

God’s Wisdom is Perfect

He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.-II Samuel 22:31b

The scripture says that the Lord is a shield to those who put their faith in Him.  In Genesis 15:1 God told Abraham to fear not, for He was his shield and very great reward.  The Lord will come into our lives and so provide us with His wisdom that we will be shielded from problems that would otherwise have come upon us.  What do I mean by that?  By having the Lord in our lives and following His ways we are saved a world of heartache which we would have encountered.  God is perfectly willing to provide us with the wisdom we need to navigate our way through life.  As we follow Christ our lives are encircled with His shield of power and protection.  This is not the kind of protection that keeps all bad things from happening to us, but it’s God’s protection against the attacks of the devil.  That protection only comes to the faithful; to those who have shielded themselves with God’s Spirit and wisdom.

There are worlds of people who are not living, but rather are only surviving.  That is not how Christ has called us to live.  Christ has called us as His followers to walk in spiritual victory.  I was having a conversation with someone recently and we were talking about looking at life and making plans for the future.  What I said was that we should not sit back and just let life happen to us, but rather we are to move boldly forward toward what God has called us to do.  There is a difference in those two outlooks, isn’t there?  The first just goes along taking whatever road and wind of change comes along.  But the latter, the one committed to Christ and firmly planted in Him, walks steadfastly in the power of the Holy Spirit.  David, the one who wrote this Psalm, was experiencing the greatest spiritual victories when he was taking this approach to life.  He did not sit back and let life happen, but rather he sought to move forward and accomplish what the Lord had called him to do.  It was when he stopped taking this proactive approach to life that his troubles began.

The wisdom that God offers, the wisdom that comes from having God’s Word in our hearts, will take us to a level of understanding that is unavailable to those who reject the Lord.  Life is hard; we need all the strength and power we can get to navigate our way through it.  The Lord will freely give us the power to do just that.  And Jesus promised that He would help and guide us every step of the way.

Look not to our own wisdom or the wisdom of the world, but look to the Lord.  Christ stands ready to lead, guide, and help us through.  He will empower us to walk in spiritual victory.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

God’s Word is Perfect

The word of the Lord is flawless...For who is God besides the Lord ?  And who is the Rock except our God?  -II Samuel 22:31, 32

David proclaims in the above passage that not only is God’s way perfect, but His Word is flawless.  The King James Version renders this as "The Word of the Lord is tried."  This means that God’s Word has stood the test of time because it is flawless.  Did you know that gold is the only mineral in nature that will not break down because of the elements?  Theoretically, you could place a gold bar outside and leave it exposed to the rain, snow, ice, and sunshine for a thousand years and it would not rust and decay.  Gold is the closest thing we have to a perfect mineral; it will stand the test of time.

David was making a similar statement about the Word of God.  In God's Word we have the thoughts, teachings, instructions, and commandments of the Living God – and it is without flaw or mistake.  Herein lies the way of life, peace, and salvation.  The Word of God has and will stand the test of time.  It was here before you and I came on the scene and it will be here long after we’re gone.  The Word of God remains one of the great constants in our lives, and we all need what I call “constants” in order to have peace and steadiness.  We all need the constants of love, security, a home, connections with other people, and a loving family.  Without these constants in our lives we will have problems.  

Jesus set a wonderful example for us in the power of God’s Word.  When tempted, Jesus stood firmly upon God’s Word.  We do well to follow His example.  When someone asked about the greatest commandment in the law Jesus was ready with the answer (Matthew 22:36-ff).  When a rich young ruler asked Jesus what he needed to do to find eternal life Jesus told the young man to look to the Word of God and do what it says (Matthew 19:16-22).  The Bible is the great constant in our lives.  We will change, our life circumstances will change, our views, perceptions, attitudes, and outlook will change, but God’s Word remains the same – and it will not change!

I am amazed at modern technology that enables those who make maps to keep up with the changes that are always going on in this country.  You might have an Atlas in your car, and if it’s more than a few years old it may not be accurate.  Not so with the Word of God.  It was accurate 2000 years ago, it’s correct now, and it will be right on target next year, 10 years, and a thousand years from now.  You can depend on it. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

God’s Way is Perfect

With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.  As for God, his way is perfect.  -II Samuel 22:30, 31a

Here in the above passage we have David of the Old Testament lifting up a song of praise to God Almighty.  David was a man familiar with trials, persecution, and hardships, but he always was able to stand, for his feet were firmly planted; not upon himself, but upon God.  David had some problems and made some mistakes along the way, but he always found God's grace to be sufficient to help him through.  From this grace came strength, peace, and stability.  We can have that same kind of stability and assurance when our feet are firmly planted upon the solid rock of Jesus Christ.  David recognized that there were a great number of paths he could take in life.  He could follow a path of ungodliness, self-centeredness, riches, or fame.  But David stepped back, took a hard look at life and declared that the way of God is best.  The reason that following a path with God is best is because God’s way is perfect – flawless.

Some will argue that if God’s way is perfect then why do we have problems along the way.  The answer to that is that God and His ways are perfect, but we are not.  We are flawed humans, born in sin, prone to wander away from God, and forever making a mess of what God wants us to have.  God and His ways are without flaw.  Time and time again the problem comes back to sinful disobedience and ungodliness on the part of us frail humans.  If more people would follow the way of the Lord there would be far less violence, heartache, and trouble in the world.  God has provided us with a clear way – the way of the cross.  If we will follow Christ we will find a straight and narrow road with Jesus that leads to life, peace, joy, strength, stability, and eternal life.

When we, like David, acknowledge that God’s ways are best, then we are on our way to living the abundant life and walking the road of victory.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Who Will be the Greatest in God's Kingdom?

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 18:2-4
In this passage of scripture Jesus’ disciples of were apparently having an interesting discussion.  They were trying to figure out which one of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.  Doesn’t that seem like a strange thing to be talking about?  They somehow got it in their heads that there were positions of power to be had in the Lord’s kingdom.  Jesus set them straight on that very quickly; there isn’t.  All followers of Christ are called to be servants.  Jesus said that if you want to be great in His kingdom then you will have to be a servant to everyone.  This can be difficult for some people to understand.  Christianity is not about gaining power and prestige, but it is about being a humble servant.  Now, there is leadership in the church, but it is not to be confused with power.  Donald Trump is a man of power in the corporate world.  Some years ago on a visit to New York City I stood outside the building that bears his name and I have to say that it was indeed impressive.   

Following Christ is nothing like that.  I fear that many people have lost sight of this important truth.  Many people today seem to be vying for who will be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom.  The gospel message has nothing to do with affluence, power, privilege, or being the greatest.  It has everything to do with being humble servants of Jesus Christ.  Such an attitude honors the Lord and makes us available to serve the Lord and those around us to our fullest potential.
This coincides with what Jesus said in Matthew 25:35, 36; “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  Jesus said that when we did this to the least of our brethren then we have done it to Him.

Never pass up an opportunity to minister to someone in a tangible way.  The needs are all around us, and the needs are immense.  Do you want to be great in God’s kingdom?  Start by becoming a servant to those around us, and reaching out in Jesus’ name.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Don't Allow Past Difficulties to Hinder the Present Work

We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.  -I Thessalonians 2:2 

The Bible shows that two workers in the early church, Paul and Silas, did not allow the rough treatment and hard times of the past to keep them from doing the present work.  Do you know why a lot of preachers leave the ministry?  It’s because they grow discouraged because of some painful things that have happened.  They become fearful that if they go to another church the same or worse might happen, and so they walk away from their calling.  I have come to view the ministry as kind of like playing football. If you don’t take some hits once in a while, then you really aren’t in the game.  Very often a pastor leaves a church because the church is going through some conflict.  However, all congregations must deal with conflict from time to time.  A more spiritual approach is to move on because God is leading the pastor to do so, not just because of some trying times.

While they were in Philippi, Paul and Silas had been treated badly.  They had been attacked, beaten, thrown in jail, and shackled (Acts 16:16-35).  Many a preacher would have considered quitting after all of that.  But they would not allow themselves to be discouraged, and instead they stayed with the work – they stood firm and God blessed them.  There is a time to move on, and there is a time to stay, but the work of the Gospel continues whether we are in Bristol, California, South America, or the African continent.  

This same principle can work in us as well.  Don’t allow painful and difficult circumstances of the past keep you from doing a work for the Lord right now.  All too often people drop out of church because of some conflict or hurt feelings.  Such persons are depriving themselves of the blessings of serving God and worshiping with a congregation, and they are also depriving others who could greatly benefit from their spiritual gifts and talents.         

The high call of God in Christ Jesus is to rise up, move forward, and get involved in the work of the ministry.  There are no perfect churches, for congregations are composed of people with all of our flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections.  But the wonderful grace of God can work through our frailties in some marvelous ways.  Never give up on serving Christ.  There is a place for you in His kingdom.   

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thankful for the Freedom of Worship

And labor, working with our own hands; being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it.     -I Corinthians 4:12 

Every Sunday I do something at East Bristol Baptist Church that I fear many of us take for granted.  I stand in the sanctuary, read from the Bible, and then preach to those gathered about faith in Jesus Christ.  Throughout the week I meet with people in their homes, in the hospital, and on the street, and I speak openly with them about matters related to Christianity.  If I wanted to do so I could go to the most public and populated places in the Tri-cities area and proclaim to anyone who would listen what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  Here in America I am free to express my beliefs candidly and I do so without fear of arrest or imprisonment.
The same cannot be said of countless other believers around the world.  If they preach or pray in public they risk being harassed, beaten, thrown in jail, or maybe even killed.  This is not hearsay or rumor, but is based upon eyewitness accounts and interviews with those involved. Consider the account of a missionary in India named Omprakash.  According to Alpha International Ministries this Christian missionary was conducting a worship service when a group of militant Hindus attacked their small congregation.  The building was completely ransacked, Bible-themed posters were torn down, scripture verses and anything remotely Christian were taken out and burned.  Omprakash and his wife were arrested and taken to a police station where they faced a tirade of false accusations of bribing people in order to get them to convert to Christianity.  At one point false witnesses were produced to testify against them.  Despite their pleas of innocence, they were taken into custody in order to appease an angry mob that had gathered.  Criminal charges were filed against them along with a summons issued for a future hearing in court.

This account is by no means an isolated incident.  Alpha Ministries reports numerous other cases of persecution against Christians in India.  There is Pastor Gamit who was thrown from the roof of his residence and suffered a shattered ankle.  Pastor A.K. had acid thrown on his face and body because he was praying.  Pastors Ramanbhai and Jose were severely beaten, their arms and legs broken in several places.  In spite of all this, these courageous believers continue to spread the good news of the Gospel.
 As we gather for worship this week, let us be sure to remember to pray for the Christians in India and other places who are being persecuted for their beliefs.  And let us be thankful for the freedom to worship as we choose.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Overcoming Stress Through Prayer and the Word of God

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.-II Samuel 22:31

If ever we lived in a stressful world that time is now.  People have more ways of relaxing and we have at our disposal more time-saving devices, and yet we remain one of the most over worked, stressed out, depressed, and tense societies that ever lived.  You are probably stressed out, you know people who are, or you encounter people who are stressed out.  Part of the problem is that people can get so busy and their schedules so full that they work in everything except a relationship with God.  How is it that we can make time for everything except spending time alone with the Lord?  That isn’t just an important part of our daily lives; it’s the most important part of our daily lives.  And yet that personal time with Christ is so often neglected.  

If I was giving out advice today on how to better handle stress it would begin with this: Make prayer and personal Bible study a top priority.  Don’t start your day without it.  Having a growing and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ is the best stress reliever we can have, for we are not carrying the burdens of life all alone, we have the Lord to strengthen and help us. I read recently some signs that a person is prone to stress:

1. Plans day unrealistically.
2. First to arrive, last to leave.
3. Always in a hurry.
4. Makes no plan for relaxation.
5. Feels guilty about doing anything other than work.
6. Sees unforeseen problem as a setback or disaster.
7. Is always thinking about several other things when working.
8. Feels need to be recognized and overextends because of this. 
(From Leadership, V. 1, #3, p. 99)

If any of these describe you, then slow down, start taking time to pray and seek the Lord, and begin to place Christ first.  The Scripture shows us that those who experienced spiritual victory in their lives did so by placing the Lord at the center of their lives.  By seeking the Lord first we are empower by Christ to stand firm in the midst of life's storms.  The Lord will uphold, guide, lead, and strengthen us in those times when we need Him the most.  The Lord has not and will not abandon us.  He will give us peace through the trials of life, and we will walk forward in victory - calm, assured, and certain victory.

To God be the glory - for giving us peace and joy and for bringing us through the trials of life.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Believing the Promises of God

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?"...Then God said, "Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. -Genesis 17:17, 19

Consider for a moment some of the strange phrases we use in the English language.  For example, we might say something like this; “That dog is pretty ugly.”  How would you explain to someone learning English how the words pretty and ugly describe the same thing?  Yet, most of us would know exactly what this means.  The reason being that a native English speaker has grown up speaking English and we understand these strange nuances in our language.  The other day I made the statement that I was "toying with the idea" of doing something.  Now, what did I mean by that?  I meant that I was seriously thinking about it.  But saying that I was toying with it somehow takes away from the seriousness of it, doesn't it?  But you know what I meant.

Sometimes we find ourselves doing the same thing with the promises of God.  We think about them, and we toy with the idea of believing that God will keep His word.  The promises of God are something we ought never to toy with, but instead we are to believe God without question.  This is where the challenges of life and the trials we face can become extremely difficult.  We want to believe God, but often the circumstances surrounding the promise cause us not to.  And what do we do?  We toy with the idea of believing God.
Abraham and Sarah wanted to believe God when He told them that they would have a child, but consider the circumstances: Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90.  When God told Abraham that Sarah would have a child Abraham fell down and laughed (Genesis 17:17).  Now, we can’t think about what he did without considering Sarah also.  When she overheard the angel tell Abraham this news she too laughed (Genesis 18:12).  They both wanted to believe what God was telling them, but the circumstances made this a tremendous challenge.  Whatever the circumstances, we are called to believe the Lord no matter what.  Like Abraham and Sarah, we will soon find that God always keeps His word and His promises always come true.

What sort of challenges have you been facing lately?  Have you been struggling with the belief that God loves you, has a plan, and will bring you through as He has promised?  Or has the situation become so critical, so vast, and so seemingly impossible, that you have had a hard time holding to your faith?  The same God who worked miracles in the past can and will do so again.  Don't toy with the idea of believing God and holding to His promises.  Trust in Him and move forward in faith.

God still cares, and He will keep His promises.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Seeking Godly Wisdom

Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse. It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.  -Proverbs 19:1, 2

The heart of the book of Proverbs is the blessing and benefit of seeking after and following Godly wisdom.  The world offers a type of wisdom, but that kind can bring about all sorts of problems in our lives.  The wisdom offered in God’s Word is wisdom that leads to a blessed life.  Some are street-wise, some are worldly wise, but followers of Christ are to seek wisdom that honors God.  It’s a wisdom that stands the test of time, and wisdom that agrees with God’s Word and God’s standards of conduct.

 I am continually amazed at what the world thinks is funny.  There is a generation of comedians in the world today who think that in order to be humorous they have to use the most obscene language possible.  We know for a fact that this is not true.  Some years ago I rented a collection of Laurel and Hardy movies, and some of the videos were so old that they were silent.  By the end of those movies my side and my stomach were aching because I had been laughing so hard.  Those men could just be standing there and they were hilarious.  And later when they started making movies with sound they were even funnier. The point is a comedian does not have to be obscene to be funny, but quite the opposite.  

When we seek after God's standards and a life that honors Him, then we will be blessed and those around us will be encouraged.  Following the Lord leads to the abundant life in Christ.  That beats anything the world has to offer.  Look to the Lord and trust in Him today.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Who is my Neighbor?

He answered: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbor as yourself." “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” -Luke 10:27-29 

When I think about my neighbors, I have to consider how blessed I am these days to be surrounded by such nice people who dwell just a short distance from my house.  These neighbors are people who will stop and pass the time of day, offer a helping hand, and can be trusted to keep an eye on my home when I’m away.  Having neighbors who are friendly and reliable is a tremendous blessing.  

 Jesus provided us with a description of our neighbor that transcends those who live on our street and those who we may call our friends.  The term becomes a concept which is applied to anyone around us who has a need with which we are capable of assisting.  Countless people have been dealt harsh blows by the realities of life.  The challenge seems overwhelming, doesn’t it?  While we can’t help everyone, we can help some.  My thinking is that while I cannot change the world, I can positively affect my little corner of it.  When I make an effort to reach out in the name of Jesus, even with something as simple as a cup of cold water, then a positive difference is being made.  Pondering this brings me back to Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25:35, 36, which says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  

Let us also consider that reaching out to a neighbor in need can take the form of compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and being willing to listen.  In a world full of self-centeredness, Jesus calls us to Christ-centeredness.  When we allow our thoughts and attitudes toward others to be directed from the standpoint of Christ-like compassion and mercy, then we begin to see those around us in an entirely new light.

Who is my neighbor?  He is anyone along my path of daily life who is in need.  The question is will I take the time to stop and apply the healing balm of Christ’s love? Jesus would do just that.  As His followers we are compelled to take to heart a divine directive: Go and do likewise.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

His Grace is Sufficient

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. -II Corinthians 12:9

Let me tell you about the morning that I sat on the edge of my bed with my face in my hands.  After sitting there for several minutes, I began to pray and pour my heart out to God.  My plea went something like this: "Lord, as I look out at the coming day, I am not sure I can do it.  I am exhausted, worried, afraid, and I just don't know how I will get up and do what needs done.  Please, I need your help."  Would it surprise you to find out that this happened only a couple of weeks ago?  Someone might say, "But Brother Dan; you are a pastor, a man of God, a spiritual leader, we all know you as being pretty solid.  How can you be feeling like that?"  If you think that way about me, well then, thanks for the compliment.  However, being a spiritual leader does not insulate me against becoming discouraged.  I wrestle with problems and frustrations just like anyone else - perhaps more so.  Anytime I start to believe that I might somehow be above all that I go back and read the words of Paul the Apostle.  Paul stated in II Corinthians 12 that he had been sent a thorn in his flesh, a messenger from the devil, and after asking God three times to remove it, the thorn remained.  Paul resigned himself to having to rely completely upon the grace of God to help him through - just as the Lord told him.  Oh yes; I am certain that Paul, one of the greatest leaders of the early church, had some moments sitting at his bedside wondering how he could face the trials awaiting him that day.  Just like you and me.

But also I recall another scenario that took place in a Garden called Gethsemane just outside Jerusalem.  On the night He was betrayed, Jesus spent some time in that garden praying, struggling, and pleading that the trial He was about to endure would be taken away (Matthew 26:42).  Jesus knew and understood the struggles we face.  He too wrestled with fear and pain, and as He neared the cross He asked God to take away that burden.  The answer was an emphatic, "No."  Jesus went to the cross and bore our sins, thus paying the penalty for them.  And because of His sacrifice grace is now offered to us; a grace that is full, free, and available to all.  By this wonderful and divine grace we find the strength, power, and resolve to rise up and to forward, even when we are certain we cannot do so.

Now, about that morning recently: I trusted God, got up, and moved forward; not in my power, but in the power of Christ.  As Paul stated, His grace is indeed sufficient.  And that grace is sufficient not for just getting by, but for walking forward in confident victory and spiritual power.

The next time you find yourself at your bedside wondering if you will be able to face the day, claim the promise of Christ.  His grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in our weaknesses.  Trust in Him and move forward.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Understanding the Call to Follow

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.  Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go."  Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." -Matthew 8:18-20

The call to follow Jesus is not something to be taken lightly.  Sadly, people often do fail to take seriously the call to follow Christ.  The problem lies with the terms with which people try to follow the Lord.  We are called to follow Christ on His terms, not ours.  We make a costly mistake if we try to be a disciple of Jesus with an attitude that says, "I will follow, but only when I feel like it," or, "I will take upon myself His attitudes and compassion when it suits me."  Following Christ is about dying to self, which is a drastic concept in today's self-centered culture.  People believe that by placing themselves at the center of their lives that they discover who they are.  Jesus turned that idea on its head when He invited people to die to self, take up the cross, and become His disciple.  By dying to self and the way we were without Christ, we discover who we actually are as well as our purpose in the world.

The Scripture says that when a teacher of the law stated that he would be a follower of Jesus, the Lord reminded him of the plight of the true disciple.  The earnest follower of Christ will learn to depend upon God for all his or her needs.  The idea that following Jesus is a cushy and comfortable life is foreign to what the Lord taught.  We may suffer persecution, family and friends may abandon us, the world will hate us, and we may end up suffering a martyr's death.  However, Christ promised that in Him there is life: new life here and now, peace and joy, and eternal life one day in heaven.  As we walk with the Lord we learn the true discipline of a life devoted to God.  We learn of godly patience, endurance, peace in the more simpler things, and joy regardless of the problems we are facing. We discover the power of walking through life in spiritual victory rather than defeat. 

Are we willing to follow Jesus where ever that may lead us?  Such a commitment is to be taken with the utmost seriousness.  We are called to follow, and then to become His witnesses - in our neighborhoods, our towns, our nation, and around the world.  When the light of Christ is shining forth from our lives the world will see that light and will know that the love of Christ is functioning in us.  The call has gone out. New life is waiting in Christ.  Spiritual victory is available to all who will follow.  

Will you follow Him today?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Driving out the Dark Forces From our Lives

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.  This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases."  -Matthew 8:16, 17

Some years ago I was having a conversation with a man who was telling me of a relative who had long struggled with addiction: "He just can't seem to get straightened out," he told me.  "Try as he might, he doesn't seem to be able to drive the demons from his life."  I have pondered many times this conversation and others like it.  We often refer to someone who is wrestling with alcoholism, drug addiction, and any other problem that interferes with life as dealing with demons.  Our terminology is intended to be symbolic, but actually is not off the mark.  People do struggle against demonic forces every day.  We confront evil in all forms as we go through daily life.  As a pastor I have counseled with people whose lives have been ravaged by those dark forces.  Indeed, people have the desire to be set free, but sometimes lack the ability to do so. 

The Scriptures says that Jesus spent some time driving evil spirits out of people thus delivering them from the dark forces that were oppressing them.  These persons had known the pain of loneliness, hopelessness, despair, and sorrow.  Their lives were not just in a shambles, but rather were walking catastrophes.  A more modern idiom might be that their lives were a "train wreck."  With no where else to turn they came and threw themselves at the feet of the Prophet from Galilee.  According to the account given in Matthew 8, Jesus did not pry into their pasts, He did not grill them about what had gotten them into such a state, and He did not tell them they were too far gone.  Instead, He simply drove the demons from their lives.  While we don't have the details of what happened afterward, we do know that they were given another chance; a new lease on life.  

Just as Christ drove the demons from peoples' lives then, He can still do the same today.  Countless people are wandering a dark and dreadful road that if not changed will result in disaster.  Jesus Christ has the power to remove from our lives that which pushes us away from God and toward destruction.  Christ doesn't just drive it from our lives, but He also empowers us to keep it from us should it ever try to return.  What is keeping you from a right relationship with God today?  What is hindering your happiness, joy, peace, and contentment?  You may not be in the same condition as the people who came to Jesus that day, but you still are in need of His cleansing touch.  Just as the Lord did with those He ministered to then, He will do with us.  He will not judge, condemn, or berate us for making such a mess of our lives.  Rather, He will offer to us the grace that will bring transformation and healing.

Why walk around with the dark forces of the world oppressing us and hindering our joy?  Christ calls us to a life characterized by His strength, peace, and joy.  The Lord can drive from us whatever is holding us back.  Look to the Lord, and know that He is able to give us new life and new hope.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Firmly Rooted in the Faith

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. -Colossians 2:6, 7

The Scriptures says that as followers of Christ we are first rooted, then built up, and then established in the faith.  Consider the power of this term “rooted.”  Without strong roots we will not be able to grow in the faith.  I know that after one of those big snows we have had recently that the tress behind our house will sway over with the weight of the snow.  Many of them will hold up and they will not break.  They may be bent over for a time, but they will remain firm.  Why is that?  It is because of their strong root system.  If a tree has died and it no longer has any roots, then it will in no way withstand the weight of the storm.  How like that we are in that when the pressure of life exerts itself upon us we will stand firm depending upon how well rooted we are in the faith.  

Having been rooted, we will then be built up as the Scripture says.  The Bible is not talking about being propped up, but rather built up.  There is a difference.  To be built up means that we are strengthened all the way around, from the roots to the top of our head.  I understand that in California builders are now trying to build buildings that can withstand severe earthquakes.  These building are constructed on a foundation that can literally slide, shake, and move with the earthquake so that it will not come tumbling down when it happens.  It occurred to me that this is what the Lord does for us: He empowers us to remain standing when the troubled times come – even if the very ground is shaking under our feet.  We don’t fear, we don’t get discouraged, and we don’t fall apart, but rather we keep on keeping on.

What holds us together?  The Scripture says that we are established in the faith.  The Holy Spirit has wrapped around us and holds us solid through the storms and trials of life.  The faith we hold to is not that of shifting sands, but of the solid rock.  Also, notice that the Bible says that through it all we are overflowing with thanksgiving.  A vital component of our spiritual health is taking on an attitude of thanksgiving in any and all circumstances. We make a grave mistake when we look someplace other than the Lord for strength, stability, and support.  However, when we build our lives upon the solid rock of Jesus Christ, then we will surely stand firm when the storms of life come our way.  Those storms will come, and sometimes the earthquakes of crises and trials will shake up our lives.  But rest assured that the Lord is with us and will not forsake us.

Christ is faithful, and He will see us through the troubled times - as He has promised.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Continue to Walk in Christ

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.  -Colossians 2:6 (KJV)

I recall back in the early 1980’s when a singer named Madonna was becoming popular that she had a definite way of dressing and presenting herself.  I also noticed that girls and young women everywhere seemed to dress in a similar fashion.  Look back at the fashions among the young men of the 1950’s: leather jacket with the collar turned up, boot-cut jeans, and hair slicked back in a Pompadour.  Young men everywhere dressed that way thanks to a young actor named James Dean.  Indeed, we tend to want to imitate those we look up to.

Paul gave to the believers a bold challenge: As you have therefore received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in Him.  We are to no longer walk in the futility of our old ways, but we are to walk in the fullness of Christ.  To walk in Him means to take upon us the mind, heart, and attitudes of the Lord Jesus.  It seems that I once read somewhere that imitation is the highest form of flattery.  If we look up to someone, then it follows that we might try to be like that person.  Remember that as believers we are called to take on Christ.  We are challenged to have the mind of Christ, to walk in Him, to be like Him and to not just imitate, but to die – to self.  Dietrich Bonheoffer said that when Christ calls a man that he bids him come and die.  We die to self, to our old attitudes, thought processes, and the old way of doing things, and we arise to new life in Christ Jesus.

As the Bible says, if we have received Christ as Lord, keep on walking forward in Him - not in spiritual defeat, but in victory.  We can claim that blessed victory in the Lord as we strive to be like Him and to let His light shine from us and to a lost and dying world.

Are you trying to be like someone?  Hopefully, the one you are striving to imitate is Christ Jesus. 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Spectacle of the Cross

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. -Colossians 2:13-15

Down through the ages mankind has come up with ingenious and terrible ways of execution.  The cross (crucifixion) was particularly gruesome because of its horrific slowness.  The condemned person might hang upon the cross in agony for hours or days.  Up until a relatively recent time, executions were done in public.  I have read that throughout the ages that when an execution took place that people of all ages would come, and in some cases it became something of a public fair with food vendors and a festival atmosphere.  All that odd revelry would then culminate in the execution of a condemned prisoner.  Indeed, such a celebratory atmosphere would have been a macabre sort of spectacle.

When we consider what the Lord did for us on the cross we are amazed that He would die such a painful death for us and in our place.  When we see what Christ did for us on the cross we see the greatest sacrifice ever made.  He died not just for my sins, although He would have had I been the only one, but He died for the sins of the world.  Christ bore upon Himself the sins of humanity.  All of what kept us away from God was nailed to the cross with Jesus and in Him we die to the old self.  Furthermore, the Bible says that the cross upon which the Lord died was done in public, and in dying for us, Christ took our sins, nailed them to the cross, and made a public spectacle of them.  We are no longer to be held captive by the sin which used to enslave us.  It has lost its power over us due to the power of the cross and the resurrection.  Not only were we crucified with Christ, but we have been raised with Him, as the Scripture says Romans 6:4, to now walk in newness of life.

As we have trusted the Lord Jesus, and as we walk in victory and newness of life, we are empowered to praise the Lord - in all circumstances and in the midst of all our trials.
Praise the Lord!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Victory in the Midst of Life's Struggles

Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel. When they chose new gods, war came to the city gates, and not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel. My heart is with Israel's princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord!  -Judges 5:7-9 

Many people are intimidated by strong-willed women.  Personally, I am not.  That’s because I have been around such women all of my life.  My mother, sister, and my wife are all wonderfully intelligent and outspoken women who are perfectly willing to speak their minds and move forward toward what they believe to be right.  Deborah of the Old Testament was indeed a kindred spirit with the forthright and strong-willed women of the world.  At a time when God’s people lacked godly leadership and direction, Deborah stepped up and led them to a badly needed victory.  Deborah pointed out that when they rejected the Living God and chose instead to follow new gods that the results were a disaster: war came upon them, their enemies overtook them, and they were without the strength they once possessed when they had been faithful to God.  Deborah’s attitude was not one of arrogance or a “ha ha I told you so” attitude, but rather she was giving God the glory for granting victory over those who had oppressed them.
This passage in the book of Judges reminds us of an important principle: When we are faithful to God we are blessed.  But when we turn away from Him we become vulnerable to the spiritual attacks of the devil and the dark forces he hurls at us.  Like the ancient Israelites, when we turn from God our lives are disrupted, our enemies attack, and we lack the ability to defend ourselves against those dark forces.  Once the people came to their senses and turned their hearts back to God they were blessed for doing so.  In a chorus of praise and thanksgiving Deborah sang a loud, “Praise the Lord!”  All glory went to God for the victory He had brought. 
I am forced here to contemplate those instances when the circumstances of my life were going the direction I wanted them to go.  My writing ministry was flourishing, the church was thriving, and my family was experiencing showers of God’s blessings.  Then suddenly, without warning, came the attack.  The church faced unanticipated challenges, family problems arose, and my creative energies seemed to be at an all-time low.  I know perfectly well the feeling of crying out to God for deliverance.  I began to feel powerless: “Not a shield or spear was seen.”  There appeared no defense against the dire forces that seemed to be trying to overcome me.  During those difficult times I have discovered a wondrous strength – this is not unique to me, but is available to all who will look to God.  Spiritual strength comes when I trust God, move forward, and praise Him.  Have I shed some tears in those dark times?  Have I prostrated myself before God and asked why did this happen?  Did I feel overwhelmed with it all?  The answer is yes, but the peace – and the spiritual strength, came when I began to praise the Lord for the victory I knew was mine.  This blessed victory came not through me, no not for a moment, but through the Lord.  As Deborah found victory in the Living God, so we find victory in Christ.  As we go, even though the way seems dark and dreary, we must praise God.  He is present, He is able, and He will be with us in our time of need.  Say it with me, just like Deborah: 
Praise the Lord!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

True Shelter in the Storms of Life

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.  –Psalm 7:17 

Several years ago I watched a dramatic video taken by some people who were seeking shelter from a tornado that was bearing down upon them.  As the tornado approached, those caught on the highway quickly parked their cars and found shelter beneath a highway underpass.  The tornado blew across them and shook the underpass, but the people held on and were safe.  That certainly looked like a solid plan: The tornado was coming, the highway underpass was right there, they got under it.  Good plan, right?  Wrong.
According to the “Tornado Safety Project,” an online resource which offers strategies for surviving a tornado, getting under a highway underpass is a bad idea: “An underpass may seem like a safe place, but may not be. While videos show people surviving under an underpass, those tornadoes have been weak. No one knows how survivable an underpass is in a strong or violent tornado. The debris flying under the underpass could be very deadly... head for a ditch” (  A better strategy would be to lie down in a ditch.  Who would have thought that?  The highway underpass appears so strong.  Lying in the ditch appears so vulnerable.  It doesn’t seem to make sense, does it?  How we handle the trials and crises of life often function in like manner. 

Often times when we are faced with some new problem we look toward what appears to make sense.  We mistakenly believe that we can handle this on our own strength.  I’m a solid person and I’m made a strong stuff, right?  I can handle this.  Or worse, people look to some artificial means of support: drugs, alcohol, or outright denial.  The best place to be when the difficulties of life come our way is in a personal relationship with Christ.  We look to the Lord in the sure hope that He is with us and He will empower us to not simply get through the problem, whatever it may be, but to walk forward in victory.
David of the Old Testament understood this perfectly.  He knew that his only hope for spiritual victory and for overcoming whatever trial he was facing rested in God.  He could have sought to take on the problem with his own strength, but he knew that in the end this was a futile approach.  A better strategy was to humble himself before the Living God.  And having done so, he was empowered to rise up and praise the Lord, the rock upon which we can stand in times of trouble.  For David, it made perfect sense to place himself in God’s hands.  He humbled himself, took on an attitude of trusting God no matter what, and was able to walk forward in confident faith.  When we adopt a similar strategy, we quickly find that what the world offers is no assurance of safety whatsoever.  What God offers is certain, solid, and absolutely right.  Like David, we will then know the power of lifting our voices and our hearts in praise to God for His wonderful presence on our lives.
What will we do in times of trouble?  Shall we seek shelter in the unstable edifices of the world, or will we look to the solid rock – Jesus Christ, the One upon who all hope rests?  Look to the Lord.  He will not let us down, and He will see us through the storm.  Praise His holy name!