Monday, May 31, 2010

Remembering the Fallen

Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights.  How the mighty have fallen!  -II Samuel 18:19 

A few days ago I was watching the local news and at the end of the broadcast they showed some pictures of soldiers from our region who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  About that time my teenage son walked into the room and asked me what I was watching.  I explained to him about the pictures of the soldiers, and as the faces continued to flash across the screen we both fell into a reverent silence.  Neither of us was aware that there were so many.  I knew that a number of soldiers from our area have lost their lives in recent years, but I honestly did not realize the number was so high.  A deep sense of awe settled upon me as I looked upon those faces.

The brave men who fought and died for our country were sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers.  They came from all walks of life, but they all shared a common belief: They felt so strongly about the freedoms we hold dear that they were willing to place themselves in harm’s way to defend these precious freedoms.  Sadly, those freedoms men such as these have fought and died for we are guilty of sometimes taking for granted. 

After a number of Israelite soldiers were killed in battle, King David declared that a lament be sang in their honor.  “How the mighty have fallen!” they sang.  They remembered with great reverence the ultimate sacrifice that their comrades and countrymen had made on their behalf. 

Today, let us not forget the ultimate sacrifice that so many have made in defense of our great nation.  They indeed were the mighty – the best America had to offer.  They gave their lives in defense of freedom.  Recall them with the honor and dignity they deserve.  They have fallen in battle, but their sacrifices were not in vain.     
Remember to thank God today for the bravery and heroism of our soldiers.  God bless them –  each and every one. 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What the World Calls Foolish

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. -I Corinthians 1:18

Mankind has a long history of coming up with good ideas and bad ideas.  The world often has an odd sense of what constitutes intelligence and foolishness.  I am still amazed that you can purchase a hand-held blow dryer and it has a warning label that says, “Warning: Do not use this product while bathing or showering.  Fatal electric shock may occur.”  I always want to say, “Do you think?”  Who would have thought that something like that may have happened?  To do so would definitely be a bad idea and most foolish. Consider also, however, that people have come up with some incredibly good ideas down through the years.  I don’t know who it was within the US Postal Service that invented those adhesive stamps that you don’t have to lick, but whoever he or she is deserves a raise.  What a brilliant idea. 

Sometimes those lines between intelligence and foolishness can be blurred.  What the world sometimes calls foolishness, others look at and say, “That isn’t foolish at all.”  That’s what the Bible says about the preaching of the cross of Christ.  Down through the years many in the world have looked at the cross, and still do look at it, and declare it to be foolish, but for followers of Christ the cross represents life and salvation.  Several decades ago there was a movement in the field of psychology that said that all you really need to make it through life is inside you; you just have to be able to reach down inside yourself and find it.  As a follower of Jesus Christ I look at such thinking and declare it utter foolishness.  When we reach within ourselves and try to find the power to overcome the struggles of life we will surely come up empty.  However, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ we will find the power to not just survive life, but to live the abundant life which God offers.  In Christ we find victory over those trials of life which otherwise would have overcome us. 

Followers of Jesus will be thought of as foolish for believing that God has given us power to overcome the world.  The world will often look on in disdain and think that we are foolish.  However, God has called us, not to be swayed by the whims and fads of the world, but to walk forward in a Spirit-filled life of victory.  That victory can be found in Jesus Christ.  That blessed victory is secure and available to all who will believe.

Stop doubting, start believing.  Cease from worrying about what others will think.  Seek instead that blessed relationship with the Lord that can be found in Christ.  In Jesus there is life, love, peace, joy, and spiritual power.  If yours is a troubled soul, take heart; Jesus loves and cares for you.  Trust Him today.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Kept in Perfect Peace

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.  -Isaiah 26:3 

Someone might read the above verse and start wondering about what constitutes perfect peace.  We might think that there is peace, which means that our lives are going pretty well and we don’t have too many problems, and therefore we have a certain amount of peace.  Then comes the elusive pursuit of perfect peace, right?  Perhaps this is the place in life where we have no problems and everything is great – just as we always hoped it would be.  The problem with such thinking is that neither scenario is in any way reasonable.  The idea that we can go through life with no problems, hardships, or crises is as unrealistic a perspective as a person can take.  The growing and maturing follower of Christ recognizes that life will carry with it daily frustrations, problems, and sometimes catastrophes, but in the midst of all that we have the presence of Christ in our lives to give us peace.

The peace that Christ Jesus brings is the best and greatest sort of peace to be experienced.  The peace of Jesus in us is indeed perfect peace.  This is the calm assurance that while life appears to be assaulting us with difficulties, we will not panic nor will we fall apart, for we know full well who is piloting this ship.  To have perfect peace means that we understand that this pilot cannot be me and you, but rather our pilot is Jesus Christ.  He is the one guiding us through the dark storms of life.  We need not just long for that perfect peace, gaze at it from a distant, or hope that one day in the future it will be ours, but instead we can embrace it right here and right now.   

Make a conscious decision today to trust Christ even in the midst of the difficult trials in which you may have found yourself.  When we set our hearts and minds on the Lord Jesus, and we are steadfast in that commitment to keep believing and trusting Him, He will then in turn keep us in that wonderful and blessed peace – perfect peace, the best kind. 

There is hope for the troubled soul in Jesus Christ.  Look to Him, for He willingly brings perfect peace to any and all who seek Him.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Standing Firm under the Weight of Life’s Struggles

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.  –I Corinthians 10:12, 13
Often when we are going through some struggle we deeply appreciate the encouragement of others.  When a brother or sister in Christ has a word of love, support, and inspiration we can gladly receive such words as a true gift from the Lord.  Like a healing rain, these soothing words of hope can accomplish a great work during troubled times.

Recently, someone shared with me that God will not place upon me more than I can bear.  I understood what this dear brother in Christ was trying to tell me and I greatly appreciated his kindness and concern for my situation.  The stress Andrea and I have been under during her battle with cancer and recent surgery has pushed us to the edge of what we could reasonably endure.  Indeed, we have had more placed upon us than we would ever have thought we could bear.  However, God is faithful all of the time, and He has given us the strength and power to stand firm under the tremendous weight of this trial. 

During the trials of life, especially one as severe as what we have been facing, I find that the old saying of, “No pain, no gain,” is true.  When do we grow the most: during the hard times or during the good times?  You know the answer; we grow the most when we are stretched, and we are stretched when we trust God in the problems and difficulties of life.  Lately, Andrea and I have had more placed on us than I would have ever thought we could bear, but then I realize that as long as the Lord is carrying the weight for us, then there is no limit to the weight that can be carried. 
God is stretching us, growing us, and taking us to heights of faith and depths of grace we had yet to experience.  We say, to God be the glory; thank you Lord for what you have done for us.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

So Simple a Child Can Receive it

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."  -Matthew 19:14

Receiving the grace of God in Christ Jesus is so simple that even a child can grasp it.  That’s why Jesus said to let the little children come to Him, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.  If you hold out a tasty cookie to a child, what will he or she usually do?  The child will reach out and receive it.  Such is the essence of grace.  It can’t be earned, but it can be received – by faith.  When people get hold of this wonderful truth, they begin to understand that that this blessed grace is available to them.  Anyone can come to faith in the Lord Jesus.  Such grace astounds us and such grace convicts the heart of the unbeliever.  Such grace is a demonstration of Holy Spirit power.

I cannot imagine taking one step through life apart from the guiding hand of the Lord.  Why would anyone want to?  What holds people back?  Is it pride, doubt, lack of faith?  Whatever the reason, the power of God can melt the coldest heart and bring salvation to the most wretched sinner.  People need not die in their sins, but they can profess faith in the Lord and be saved
 As we profess faith, we can also reach out in love to those around us, demonstrating to a lost world that Christ is in us.  And as He has saved us, He will save any who will by faith come to Him.  Don’t turn Him away.  There is hope for the troubled soul in Christ.  Believe Him, trust Him, and receive Jesus today.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Shared Witness of God's Grace

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.  -Acts 4:34-36

The Bible says that God's grace was being given in such a powerful way that the people truly began to look out for the needs of one another.  No one had anything in want, for the church made sure that all were provided for.  They took up collections, people donated money, goods, and land, and these were used for those who had need.  You see, we not only help others as we can, but there is another way we support one another, and that is with this shared witness of God’s grace.  We, having experienced for ourselves the grace of God, now desire to share that grace with others.  It’s a coming alongside one another in prayer and encouragement.  It’s no coincidence that we are introduced here to a dear brother in the faith, Barnabas, who had the nickname of the Son of Encouragement.  That’s not a bad nickname is it?  There are worse ones I am sure.  God will work and move in our lives and will empower us to use the gifts He has given us, and for Barnabas it was the gift of encouraging those around him.  And I know that one way he did this was to testify as the power and wonder of God’s grace.  

 The problem is that we tend to make this grace more complicated than it needs to be. Here is the way people often view this: "You’re saying that God loved me so much that Christ died on the cross for my sins, that He overcame death through the resurrection, and if I will put my faith in Him I will be forgiven, and that I will have Holy Spirit power for daily living?"  Our reply is yes, that’s what we’re saying.  Forget trying to earn your way into God’s grace; it can’t be done.  God's grace can only be given, and it can only be given through the Lord Jesus Christ. 

The troubled soul can trust look to the Lord and trust Christ today.  This wonderful grace can be yours.  That is God's promise to us.  Believe Him, trust Him, receive Him today. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Courage of Unschooled, Ordinary Men

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  –Acts 4:13 

The explosive growth of the early church demonstrates that the power of God was at work in the hearts and lives of the people.  The Bible says that people were daily being added to the church.  Souls were being saved, lives were being touched, and the power of God was clearly at work among the people.  What is also amazing is that the Apostles, namely Peter and John, were ordinary people with no specialized training beyond simple obedience to Christ.  They had never been involved in any personal growth seminars, they had probably not read many books on sharpening their ministerial skills, and they did not have any specialized programs through which they could evangelize the community.

Now, is there anything wrong with attending seminars, studying new outreach programs, or even advanced education?  The answer is certainly not!  Those sorts of pursuits can stretch and grow a person in
some wonderful ways.  I will always be thankful for my years of study in college and seminary.  However, education, programs, and personality alone cannot and will not build up the church of the Living God.  Only the power of the Holy Spirit, given in the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, can accomplish that.

Reaching others for the kingdom of God is all about relying upon Holy Spirit power.  Such reliance has never been based upon a program, but upon the power of Christ in us.  This wonderful Holy Spirit power is available to all people from all walks of life.  From the surgeon to the factory worker, or from the theologian to the chef, all can be witnesses to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. 
The call of God is to move boldly forward in Jesus’ name.  This is for you, me, and all who will by faith follow Christ.  So, what are you waiting for?  Jesus said, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19) 

Why not begin today?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Followers of Christ With One Heart and One Soul,

 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.  -Acts 4:32

The Bible says that the early church was experiencing tremendous growth.  People were daily coming to faith in the Lord Jesus and a great revival was going on.  A part of this was that the people were of one heart and one soul.  What this means is they were in agreement about what they were doing.  Now, this isn’t to say that the people of that time always agreed on everything, but they were in agreement as to the Lordship of Christ, the call to witness, and the resurrection of Christ.  My brothers and sisters, if we as Jesus’ followers can agree on those central truths, then we can turn the world upside down with the power of the gospel.  I don’t care if a brother is southern Baptist, Independent Baptist, Freewill Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, or Lutheran, if he is serious about winning souls for Jesus Christ then he is on my side – and I’m on his.  Believers of today must begin to focus upon the one who gave us the Great Commission in the first place – the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Let’s stop bickering with one another about what we don’t agree on and start working together on what we do agree on and that is that Jesus Christ is Lord, and through Him there is salvation, new life, life eternal, and Holy Spirit power that overcomes the world.  

Believers of all shades, types, and colors must come together and pray for revival.  The blessed revival we are hoping for won’t happen until we get together in one heart and one mind.  Pray for unity among brothers and sisters in Christ.  Pray for a great revival of faith across the land.  Pray that we will have hearts open and ready to reach out in Jesus' name. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

God’s Comfort in Troubled Times

To my faithful readers: Again I apologize for missing yesterday's devotional thought.  The next couple of weeks may be minus a post or two due to Andrea's recent surgery.  Please keep checking from day to day, and may you be encouraged through God's blessed Word as we are - especially right now.  Read on...

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?  Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.  –Psalm 6:2-4

It’s coming up on 11:00 PM and I am sitting at Andrea’s bedside as she is recovering from cancer surgery.  Earlier today the pain and discomfort she was experiencing were nearly unbearable for her and this despite the pain medication.  In between the times when the medicine was given, and she felt she could bear it no longer, she looked to God’s Word for comfort.  Andrea asked me to begin reading from the Psalms – any Psalm.  And when my eyes started to grow weary after several chapters I would hand the Bible off to her sister who would continue reading.  We read from the Psalms, Genesis, and the Gospels.  Whenever we finished a passage she would say, “Keep reading.” So, we did until her pain began to diminish.

David’s prayer was that God would deliver him from his pain, for his body and soul were in terrible anguish.  I know that this has been Andrea’s prayer throughout this ordeal.  As we have walked through this difficult valley we have continually found strength in the Lord.  Once again, God honored His Word by bringing comfort when it was needed most.

God will bring comfort, deliverance, and healing.  Come what may, we are called to trust in the Lord and look to Him no matter what.
Tonight, because of my wife’s suffering, I am that troubled soul.  And I know that God will bring comfort, healing, and peace. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Scandalous Nature of God's Grace

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.  -Acts 4:33

I want you to pay close attention to what this verse says: "with great power the Apostles continued to testify of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus."  This is the crucial area in which they came together in full and unquestioning agreement.  Jesus Christ arose.  We are called to come together as followers of Christ in this shared witness to the resurrection of our Lord.  If someone cannot agree with us as to the R of Jesus, then that person is yet to come under the ark of salvation.  What I’m saying is, you can’t be a Christian unless you believe the resurrection.  This was the heart of the early church’s message.  

Do we think that religious movements and religious groups that spring up and come and go are something new?  No, that sort of thing has been around since time out of mind.  But here comes this group of people proclaiming something that had never been proclaimed before: The Lord has come into the world, we beheld His glory, the Word became flesh, and He died for the sins of the world, but He rose on the third day and in so doing overcame death and hell forever.  This was unlike anything the world had ever seen or heard.  And you know something?  It still is.  The world still listens to the message of the gospel and people continue to think that it’s unlike anything they have ever seen, heard, or experienced.
The Scripture also says that great grace was upon them all.  The idea is that the people were experiencing an outpouring of the God’s Spirit that was different from anything they had ever seen.  The Old Testament Jewish people knew something about God’s Spirit, but now the Spirit of God was abiding in the hearts of people – common people like you and me.  The vilest sinner can find forgiveness in God’s eyes and be saved from sin, hell, and death.  This is where we come face to face with the scandalous nature of God’s grace.  Here’s what I mean: If someone is accused of a crime, all the evidence is against him, and it looks obvious, at least to us, that he did it, but then the jury find him innocent, then what do we say about that?  We say that it was a miscarriage of justice.  It was scandalous.  A guilty man has gone free.  We are scandalized at such a verdict and rightly so! 

This is why the grace of God appears to be so scandalous in the eyes of the world.  The most wicked and vilest sinner can be forgiven.  And not only forgiven, but adopted by the Father and given a full inheritance – that is being forgiven by God and granted life eternal.  For many people they look at that and they reason that it’s just too much to take in.  And I say they are correct.  It is too much to take in.  That’s why we take it by faith, not by sight or reason. 

Christ has come to save sinners and to bring hope to a lost and dying world.  The message for the troubled soul is that there is hope in Jesus Christ.  He will bring you through whatever storm you are facing.  Trust in Him today.   

Sunday, May 16, 2010

One Heart and One Mind in Serving Christ

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.  -Acts 4:32

These days when we hear talk about everyone sharing with one another, everyone having all they need, and everyone’s needs being provided for, we tend to get fearful.  Such talk rings of communism, socialism, and giving a handout to those who did nothing to deserve it.  Such notions are abhorrent to us as Americans.  This nation was not only founded upon Biblical principles, but it was also founded on a principle that says that people ought to have to work for and earn what they have.  Anything less cheapens what we call the American dream.  We hear way too much about folks getting something for nothing.  Understand that when the Scripture speaks in Acts 4 of believers not considering their possessions to be their own, but making sure that everyone had everything he or she needed, this isn’t socialism, communism, or someone milking the system, but rather this is the church looking after one another.

One aspect of the church is to see to it that those within the body of Christ are being supported in their times of need.  No where will we find in God’s Word anything that sanctions getting something for nothing or it being okay to shirk one’s responsibility in working, making a living, and providing for one’s family.  The opposite is true: The Bible says in II Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat.You see, followers of Christ ought to be the hardest working, most industrious, and most honest people in the world.  That is just one way we witness to the world as to the power of Christ that is in us. 

The Bible says that the early church was experiencing tremendous growth.  People were daily coming to faith in the Lord Jesus and a great revival was going on.  A part of this was that the people were of one heart and one soul.  They were in agreement about what they were doing.  Now, this isn’t to say that the people of that time always agreed on everything, but they were in agreement as to the Lordship of Christ, the call to witness, and the resurrection of Christ.  Brethren, if we as Jesus’ followers can agree on those things we can turn this town upside down with the power of the gospel.  I don’t care if a brother is southern Baptist, Independent Baptist, Freewill Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, or Lutheran, if he is serious about winning souls for Jesus Christ then he is on my side – and I’m on his.  Believers of today must begin to focus upon the one who gave us the Great Commission in the first place – the Lord Jesus Christ.  

Let’s stop bickering with one another about what we don’t agree on and start working together on what we do agree on, and that is that Jesus Christ is Lord, and through Him there is salvation, new life, life eternal, and Holy Spirit power that overcomes the world. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Looking for the Showers of Blessings

I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.  –Ezekiel 34:26 
After one of the worst winters we have seen in 15 years here in southwest Virginia, we had a spring season that was beautiful beyond description.  During the winter, there was a great deal of talk about what kind of summer we might have: one that was blessed with plenty of rain.  Now, I know that some parts of the country have had way too much rain, resulting in devastating floods, but here in this part of Virginia it has been a little dry lately.  The sky grew dark earlier this evening and we thought that the anticipated rain would surely fall.  There were thick clouds, some lightening, and even some thunder, but no rain.  In other words, there was a lot of racket, but no results.

Contemplating this leads me to a comparison with the way people are in their spiritual lives.  We often go through the motions: we attend church, talk about faith, and maybe even mumble some prayers, but in the end we are sorely lacking in results.  Deep in our hearts we desire those showers of blessings promised in God’s Word, but we somehow keep missing out.  Could it be that God has sent the showers, but we simply missed it?  Perhaps God has been sending some wonderful blessings our way, but we were so focused on our problems that we didn’t see them.  I know that I have done that many times.  Here I was, praying for a trickle of rain, and God was sending showers of blessings – just as He promised.   

Even in the midst of some terrible struggles, we can begin to look around and see the mighty hand of the Lord at work.  For example, my wife, Andrea, is battling cancer, but we have the blessings of a loving family and a loving congregation.  Our faith is being strengthened each day through this ordeal, and we are growing closer to God and to one another.  This crisis has enabled us to place all other problems and stresses we face in a more balanced perspective.  What I am saying is that even in this difficult time, God is still sending showers of blessing our way. 

The Lord has done this for us and I know that more blessings are on the way.  I also know that God is perfectly willing to send some of these blessed showers your way as well.  Stop doubting, trust God, and look upward.  The showers are about to fall.  

Friday, May 14, 2010

Using our Talents in the Service of Christ

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  II Timothy 4:2 

When it comes to my calling in ministry, I am a pastor first and a writer second.  Truly, preaching and ministry are my first love.  Writing is something I do out of an overflow of my heart.  The thoughts I would like to share in my sermons, but which time simply doesn’t allow, can be shared in my writing.  To me, there is tremendous personal satisfaction in placing words on paper that might possibly encourage those that read them.  My aim in writing is to inspire my readers to a closer walk with Christ and to deeper levels of faith.  I consider writing to be an extension of ministry and I indeed take it with the utmost seriousness.

Now, just because I take my writing seriously doesn’t mean that everyone else will.  I have been turned down by publishers far more than my writings have been published or even considered.  Numerous articles and manuscripts that I have submitted were rejected outright without as much as a rejection letter.  However, this must be taken in stride and with a healthy dose of perspective – and humor.  It’s their loss right?  Right.   

The charge that Paul gave to a young pastor named Timothy was to be prepared.  Be prepared at all times, Paul told him. Furthermore, Paul instructed Timothy that when necessary, offer correction, rebuke, and words of encouragement.  Timothy’s main task was to be that of proclaiming the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Everything else he did was to be an extension of that vital ministry to which he was called.  Just as Paul gave this charge to Timothy, I am confident that this applies to me as well.  My first and foremost task is to be the proclamation of the gospel.  Anything else I do, whether it is writing, teaching, singing, or some form of evangelism, must flow outward from this sacred calling.   

Paul was something of a writer himself, so surely he knew of the challenges involved with communicating his thoughts in written form.  This challenge I love so much must ever be done in the blessed name of the Lord.  For me it’s writing, but what about you?  God has gifted and empowered each of us according to our unique skills and talents.  Whatever spiritual gifts God has given, be sure to use them for the glory of God and for the spreading of the gospel.   

You most certainly have gifts the Lord can use.  Put them to work today in Jesus’ name.   

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Having a Heart for Christ

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.  One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. -Acts 16:13, 14

Take note of what the Scripture says in verse 14: “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia...”  Lydia was paying attention when the Word of God was being taught and preached.  She possessed a heart that was attentive to anything and everything that the Spirit of God sought to reveal to her.  Remember that God is always speaking to us.  The question is, are we willing to stop and listen?  Anyone that desires to have a heart for God must be attentive to what the Lord has to say to us.  When Paul the Apostle was preaching and teaching, Lydia was open and attentive to what was being said.  Here we see a powerful discipline at work in the life of a believer: being able to focus upon and carry out our priorities.  I wonder how many women reading this are list makers?  I mean, you enter into just about every task, whether it’s cleaning the house or going to the grocery with your list in your hand.  Ladies, be wary of the man who says he’s going to the grocery, and when you ask him about his grocery list, he responds with, “I’ve got it all up here.” He says as he taps his forehead.  He will return with everything but what you wanted him to buy – lot’s of snacks, cupcakes, doughnuts, soft drinks, and cheese-its.  I find that most women, even if they only have to buy three items at the store they are going to make a list.  For most men, we don’t trust any man who is making a list about anything – except Santa Claus.  For any other man list-making equals weakness. 
I hope I am not reading too much into this and stepping too far from the text, but something tells me that Lydia was a list maker.  How else could she have managed a thriving fabric business and still have time to sit by the riverside and take part in a lengthy worship service?  She obviously was taking life seriously, but she also was taking her faith in God seriously.  The Bible says that she was already a worshiper of the Living God.  Her heart was more than ready to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and she did.  And having come to faith in Jesus, she began to take her faith with the utmost seriousness. 

Faith in the Lord Jesus is not something we just sort of tack onto the end of our lives.  To become a person with a heart for God we will have to follow this Biblical example and be attentive to what the Lord has to say to us.  Be careful not to enter haphazardly into our walk with Christ, but rather follow Him with zeal, earnestness, and a serious mindset.  What is more important than a relationship with Christ?  

Nothing is more important, for when our relationship with Christ is in order, so will be everything else. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Walking Through the Difficult Valleys

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. –Psalm 23:4 (KJV) 
For the past three months I have been walking alongside my wife, Andrea, as she has courageously battled esophageal cancer.  Her faith is inspiring, amazing, and absolutely solid.  Even though I have for years preached that our lives can be turned upside down in an instant, I never fully understood just how dramatic this turning upside down process can be.  Most of the time I walk forward in confident faith that everything is going to be all right; she is going to come through this ordeal, and she will soon be enjoying good health again.  There are other times, however, when I waver between blind panic and complete hysteria.  The “what ifs” of this nightmare, what may or may not happen, bang on my heart and rattle my mind with their cruel uncertainties, tempting me to doubt God’s sovereignty and healing power. 

During those moments of fear I am compelled by the power of the Holy Spirit to not panic, but to trust the Lord.  This peace that compels me is not my doing; please don’t think for a moment that it has ever originated in me.  The peace that keeps me moving forward in the midst of this terrible illness my wife is facing is the pure knowledge that the Lord is with us.  Christ is with Andrea, guiding, helping, encouraging her every day, and He is daily coming alongside me with a strong and mighty hand so that I can be encouraged, but that I might also encourage her. 

This comforting that God has promised is as real as the ground beneath our feet.  When we feel ourselves becoming weak with the tears we have shed and the anguish we have suffered, the Lord upholds us by divine spiritual power.  The picture given in the Psalm is like unto a staff being gently placed into our trembling hands.  We can lean on it for support, and we will be able to keep moving forward. 
Perhaps you too are facing some crisis which has left you terrified and wondering if it will ever end.  Do not be afraid and do not panic.  Look to the Lord and lean not on your strength, but on His.  God is perfectly willing to help and comfort us in our time of need. 

The Lord has promised to guide us through whatever difficult valley we find ourselves traversing.  That promise still remains.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Christ can Break Sin's Stronghold

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  -Ephesians 2:3-5

The Scripture says that in the past, when we were still dead in sin, our hearts were often set on going against what the Lord would have us to do.  When we set our minds to it, there was no limit to how far we might have gone against God.  The one who has taken that plunge away from God and into sin just doesn’t know when to stop.  You may have heard me speak of our old dog, Jenny, who died sometime back.  I recall that several years ago, around Easter, someone had given our sons some of those huge Hershey Kisses.  Somehow, one of those had been left out, and Jenny, not knowing that chocolate can kill a dog, had eaten nearly an entire one.  Fortunately, she was fine and suffered no ill effects.  The point is, she did what people often have done; dive into something we know is bad for us and will do us great harm, but we choose plunge into it anyway.  It’s a giving into the sinful nature, that person we used to be before we knew Christ, rather than fight against it.  

The problem is this: giving in is easy.  The resisting is what is difficult.  That is where the true challenge comes in.  Giving in to sinful and destructive desires requires no effort whatsoever; any fool can do that.  Standing firm and resisting, however, that is the work of the committed and dedicate servant of the Lord Jesus.  Ours is not to be children of wrath (v 3), but rather the high call of God in Christ Jesus is to be children of obedience to God.  By walking with the Lord every day we find spiritual victory.  We become conquerors over that which would otherwise rob us of life, peace, and joy.

Fortunately for us, God who is rich in love and mercy has made us alive in Christ Jesus.  We need to no longer live under that influence of the sinful nature.  Sin doesn’t have to reign over us any longer.  Rather, Christ can have the preeminence in us.  His power can be made actual and real in us.  I saw a program once in which a man was supposedly a martial arts expert, and he was going to break with his bare hand a large stack of ice blocks.  He took a whack at it, and it didn’t break.  He hit it again, and it still didn’t break.  After several attempts it became painfully obvious that he wasn’t going to able to break that block of ice.  

To me, this is illustrative of our trying to break the power of sin on our own strength.  We can stand there and hit it all day and produce no greater effect.  We will never be able to completely break sin's stronghold over us on our own strength.  Only through Christ can the power of sin and death be broken.  We can be made alive in Christ Jesus.  

Thanks be to God that in Jesus we have the victory. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.-Ephesians 2:1, 2

The Word of God uses what I believe is some of the most powerful symbolic language to describe the spiritual condition of those who have trusted in Christ.  The Bible says that as followers of Jesus, we are dead to sin, but alive in Christ.  Until we had the power of Christ in us, the situation was that we were spiritually dead in sin and that was it.  We had no true spiritual life apart from the Lord Jesus.  Trusting in Christ changed all of that.  We were born again, renewed, regenerated, made whole, and made alive.  Now, instead of sin reigning in us, Christ now reigns in us, and we are dead to sin.  What kind of power does sin have over one who has died?  The answer is none whatsoever.  The person has died; he or she no longer has the negative effects of sin work in the body or in life.  The Bible says that this describes the state of the one who is dead to sin; it no longer has any power over us.

If that is the case, then why is it that believers sometimes fall prey to sin?  Why do we sometimes give into sin?  The answer lies in what the Scripture says about being obedient and disobedient, and of not following after the lusts of the flesh, the mind, and those things which war against the Holy Spirit.  We have to confront the old man - the sinful nature, the residue of what we used to be, on a daily and ongoing basis.  We must be prepared to defeat that old nature every day.  For the believer that is not a battle that will soon end, but one that must fought continually.  

Apart from Christ we were in a state of spiritual death which was brought about by sin.  However, Christ Jesus, because He has overcome death, has made us alive in Him.  We were, as the Bible says, quickened –  made alive. When we put our faith in Christ we are brought out of that deadness of sin; we are made alive in Christ.  As the Scripture says, sin is to no longer have dominion over us.  Who is to have the dominion over us?  That would be, of course, Christ Jesus.  He alone is able and capable of taking on the power of this new life that is in us.   

Through Jesus Christ we no longer have to live each day under the control of that old nature which is forever trying to bring us down in defeat.  Instead, we can walk forward in Christ's power with a new outlook and a new perspective.  Imagine walking through a field during the rain and you lose your balance and end up falling into a mud puddle.  With your clothes all sodden and covered with mud, your one desire is to get home and get cleaned up.  What a relief to cast off those filthy, muddy clothes and put on some cleans ones.  

Such is the essence of what Christ does for us.  We cast off the sin which has for so long held us back, and we put on Christ.  We become new creations in Him - better, stronger, more joyful, and with an entirely new perspective on life.  Don't walk around any longer in those muddy clothes.  Put on Christ Jesus today.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Blessing of Being Influenced by a Godly Woman

A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value…Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.  –Proverbs 31:10, 11, 28 

If you had the blessing of being raised by a godly woman, then you were most fortunate.  My heart goes out to anyone who had to find his or her place in life apart from the influence of a kind, caring, and loving mother.  To say that I am thankful for my mother may be one of the all time great understatements.  She has always been ready to assist in any way possible.  And that isn’t just for me, but that goes for my brother, sister, and all of our children as well.  Mom and Dad have always been the “go to”  people in our lives.  When we have a problem and have nowhere else to go, we could always “go to” them.  My mother exemplifies not only Christian character, but true unconditional love.  Indeed, she typifies what it means to have someone love me no matter what.  

I would also point out that Mom has always been there to stand up for us.  I recall an incident when my brother and I were young boys.  We were walking home from school one day and two older boys, both teenagers, pushed my brother around some and said some hateful things to us.  When we got home Mom saw that we were upset, so I told her why.  Mom proceeded to march up the street where she found the two bullies lingering near the alleyway.  She then waded into those unfortunate hoods with a verbal thrashing unlike anything I had ever heard.  She gave them to understand in no uncertain terms that she was not averse to resorting to violence should they ever harass my brother and me again.  As she walked away, one of the boys called Mom an ugly name.  Mom whirled around, and much to my horror, ran straight at the two thugs, who at that moment made the better choice of running for their lives.  I had no idea Mom could run that fast.  I feared for my mother’s safety, but it wasn’t until some years later that I realized I should have feared for the safety of the two boys.  Had she caught them she might well have made good her threat of physical violence.  That was the last time we ever saw those two boys in our neighborhood, and they never bothered us again. 

Character, kindness, compassion, a fighting spirit that says “I will not give up,” and the Christian faith to which I have devoted my life, I owe to my godly mother.    

Thanks Mom, for everything.  I hope you have a great Mother’s Day.   

You deserve it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Finding Comfort Through the Lord

If ye love me, keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.  –John 14:15-17 (KJV) 

(To my readers: Sorry I missed yesterday’s devotional thought.  We were away meeting with the surgeon about Andrea’s upcoming cancer surgery.  We greatly appreciate your concern and prayers during this time.)

In the King James Version of the Scriptures, we find where Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Comforter.”  I have always thought that this was a wonderful translation, for it describes perfectly one of the main functions of the Holy Spirit.  When we face troubled times we have comfort through Christ.  As we encounter trials, heartache, and problems of all sorts, the Holy Spirit is there to provide us with a divine and supernatural kind of comfort.  Anytime we feel afraid or uncertain, the Holy Spirit will assure us of God’s presence and will bring us that indescribable comfort that somehow transcends human reason.  In other words, we know that under normal circumstances we would terrified, but instead we have a blessed assurance and comfort knowing that the Lord is with us. 

I recall many years ago hearing the word “comforter” used to describe a type of thick, heavy blanket.  These are used as the top covering of a bed, but they also make a great blanket to keep you warm on a chilly and rainy night.  Should the power go out some cold winter night, one might also take this comforter and wrap oneself up in it and stay warm and yes – cozy.  Indeed, there is something comforting about being wrapped up in a thick and warm blanket. 

The next time you feel yourself getting discouraged or fearful, remember that the Holy Spirit can envelope us and bring comfort in the midst of whatever storm we are facing.  A wonderful comfort for the troubled soul is always found in a relationship with Christ.  He will comfort us in all the storms of life.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lifting the Weight of a Troubled Conscience

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  –Psalm 32:1-3 
The conscience is a powerful force in our lives.  Most of us know the terrible weight of carrying unresolved guilt.  That weight can affect every aspect of our lives to the point that we cannot properly function until the matter is resolved.  This explains why the age old truth about confession being good for the soul is still as relevant today as it ever was.  When we confess our sins to God, and if need be to one another, and we then take steps to settle whatever the problem was, we are on our way to the blessed peace the Bible refers to in Psalm 32.  To confess our sin to God and find forgiveness will indeed lift a great burden from us.  True peace is found when we receive God’s forgiveness.  Otherwise the weight remains, peace will elude us, and we remain unfulfilled. 

A missionary friend of mine once told me of an incident that had taken place many years ago when he was a teenager.  One night in a moment of teenage thoughtlessness, he and another boy stole a case of soft drinks from a neighbor’s back porch.  He said that he knew it was wrong, but he went along with it.  As the years passed, my friend grew up, was called into the ministry, and eventually went to the mission fiend in another country.  However, that incident from his youth always lingered in the back of his mind.  Finally, he knew he had to do something.  So he wrote the neighbor a letter detailing what had happened all those years ago and asking for forgiveness.  My friend even enclosed a check to cover the amount of the soft drinks that were stolen.  A short time later my friend received a letter from the neighbor thanking him for his confession and assuring him that all was forgiven.  Furthermore, the man returned the check my friend had sent and had enclosed another to help with the mission work. 

Like David in the Psalm, when we keep silent it’s as though we waste away and groan in discomfort.  Resolution comes when we settle the matter between us and God, and between those we may have wronged. 

There is no better comfort for the troubled soul than seeking God’s grace, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.  The Lord stands ready to offer grace –  grace that is freely given through Jesus Christ.   

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Finding True Hope in Christ

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  –I Peter 3:15

Like countless people, you may have waked up this morning and heard what seems to be only bad news.  There are floods in the Midwest that have devastated entire communities, an oil spill off the Louisiana coast that no one seems to know how to stop, rumors that gasoline prices are about to rise – again, and we always live with the threat of terrorist attacks.  Unless we are resolved to get up and face the day, we might just feel like pulling the covers over our heads and staying in bed.  Indeed, all of the trouble in the world can easily leave us feeling saddened and defeated.

The Scripture challenges us, however, not to set our hearts on the trials and struggles that are right in front of us, but rather on the Lord Jesus Christ.  When our hearts are set upon Christ, we can find the courage and strength to move forward through life with confidence that God is with us and will help to be Christ’s witnesses in a world darkened by sin and tragedy.  When we are walking with the Lord and relying upon His grace and strength, we will be empowered to shine His light even in the midst of all of life’s challenges.

The idea is that those who do not have the Lord in their lives will see our faith and will want to know how we can be so hopeful in the middle of all the terrible events taking place in the world.  We then have the opportunity to tell them: My hope is not based upon me, the world, my circumstances, or my own abilities, but my hope is built upon the Lord Jesus Christ.  Hope is a blessed resource that will keep us moving forward when we might otherwise have given up.  Hope in Christ is the most secure and prevailing hope available to anyone – and it is that: available to all.

The best remedy for the troubled soul is to look to the Lord, and find hope in Him.     

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Knowing and Believing The Word of God

Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.  But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." -Matthew 22:29-32

In this passage of the Bible we find an instance where some religious leaders tried to draw the Lord Jesus into an argument.  The argument came from a religious group known as the Sadducees, and we find out in Scripture that they held to a belief that there is no resurrection.  This goes against what we find in the New Testament where the Scripture clearly teaches that a great resurrection will take place one day: “Behold, I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed…the trump will sound and the dead in Christ shall rise and we shall be changed" (I Corinthians 15:51, 52).

The Sadducees failed to comprehend that God has the power to raise the dead.  What had Jesus been teaching?  He had taught that the Son of Man would be crucified and then on the third day He would rise again.  Such talk got these religious leaders upset.  So they tried to use some bizarre illustration, something they didn’t believe themselves, to trap Jesus in His words.  Matthew 22:23-28 describes their illustration, which involved this odd story about a man who had 6 brothers; his wife died, the next brother married her, then he died, then the next married her, and so on until finally the woman died.  So whose wife would she be after the resurrection?  Oh my; what a silly argument these supposedly educated men tried to throw at the Lord.  Not only were they attacking the Lord, but they were distorting and belittling the Word of God.  

Jesus pointed out to them that they were in error, and He pointed this out to them in no uncertain terms.  They neither knew the Scriptures or the power of God.  These religious men had studied the Scriptures, but they didn't know them.  Indeed there is a difference.  If we truly know the Scriptures then we will have them in our hearts and will accept the truth God has given.  To have the power of God working is us we must know the Scriptures and we must as much as is possible comprehend the power of God.  He is able to not only raise the dead, but to sustain the living.  The power of God not only sustains us through life, but will keep us through all eternity.

Some years ago someone posed to me a question; he asked me if God could create a boulder that He Himself could not lift.  I gently said that I would not be lured into some pointless circular argument – that was what the Sadducees tried to do with Jesus.  However, I told the man who posed the question that God can create a boulder that only He can lift.  

True faith does not seek to question God, but rather accepts God’s Word without question.  The power of God can be made real in us as we trust Christ each day and walk in His grace and strength.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Unique Ministry of Every Congregation

If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else.  -Galatians 6:3, 4

The Bible teaches that if we begin to think more highly of ourselves than we should then we are deceived.  As Christians, we can best determine our self-worth and our place in the world through our relationship with Christ.  The Scripture teaches that when the Lord is at the center of our lives then all other aspects of our lives will line up in their proper place.  When we begin to look at life from that perspective we will be better equipped for keeping an attitude of humility which is vital for our Christian growth and ministry.  Verse four in the above passage carries this concept a step further: We are to demonstrate our place in the world, and God's kingdom, based upon our own gifts, talents, abilities, and our own unique personalities.  This is far more productive and positive than comparing ourselves with everyone else.  Those of us in ministry can truly get caught up in this. What preacher among us is Billy Graham?  I’m not him and he isn’t me.  We are both called to our own unique ministries based upon our own unique personalities.  No two of us are alike, are we?  So why do we tend to compare ourselves with others?  This same truth holds with individual congregations.  We are defined based upon our relationship with Christ Jesus.  All individual congregations can have a unique ministry in the community, and while we can learn from other congregations, we are called to be a vital part of the Body of Christ in the world.  Rather than wish we were someone else or wish we were like this or that congregation, we can rejoice in who we are in Christ, not in who we wish we were. 
When we take on such godly, humble, and Christ-like attitudes we are better equipped to be about the ministry of reaching the lost.  Are there lost sinners out there in the community around our churches?  Oh my, they are like a prime fishing spot that has been stocked.  I have a friend who is a police officer, and occasionally I will run into him out in public.  I asked him recently how things were in the police business.  "Booming," he replied.  The same can be said of the ministry of reaching the lost.  The sinners, backsliders, unbelievers, and those who need restored to the fold are everywhere.  We are called to reach out to them, not in judgment, but in love that they might be restored to the fellowship of the church or come to faith in Christ.

Reach out in the name of Jesus as we are called to do.  We are all to be doing just that – reaching out to the sinner. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Seeing Past our Problems to God's Power

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.  Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.  The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.  Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp. -Psalm 147:4-7

When are we in need of the power of the Holy Spirit?  How about every day and all of the time?  That Holy Spirit power is what moves us forward in spiritual victory.  One of our problems is that we can become so fixed on our circumstances that we fail to see the bigger picture of God’s purpose and power.  Anytime we take our eyes off of Christ and set our focus on our problems then the result is discouragement.  Suddenly the problems, situations, and circumstances begin to look much worse.  Like a driving rain or a blinding snow, we can easily lose sight of the Savior as He urges us onward toward Him.  But through faith in Christ we can keep an outlook that sees beyond the wind and rain, past the trials and burdens, and sees the Lord Jesus with His hand outstretched. 

When we are able to see past our problems to the outstretched hand of the Lord Jesus, then we can know that somehow everything is going to be all right.  One way or another, the Lord is going to work everything out.  He is able, He is all powerful, and He is perfectly willing to lend that strong and mighty hand to help and comfort us in our time of need.  Don’t focus on the storm; focus on the one who provides shelter in the storm.  Look to the one who holds our lives and everything else in His hands.  Life is hard.  Life is difficult, and we need all of the help and strength we can get.  The Lord is willing and able to provide just that. 

I am not sure where we ever got the idea that the Lord is somehow stingy in His giving of help and comfort.  Does God withhold from us comfort and assurance?  Of course not!  God is more than willing to pour out upon us His love, grace, mercy, and compassion.  But we have to be willing to receive it.  However, the Lord will not force His mercy upon us; we have to open our hearts and receive it.  What is it that keeps people from opening their hearts and receiving the love and grace of God?  So often it is unbelief, pride, halfheartedness, but often it’s something else: A failure to believe that God would be so willing to give us so much.  Malachi 3: 10 says, "Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."

I know that this is true: The Lord is willing to bless us in some wonderful ways.  Trust in the Lord, be faithful, look to Him, and He will gladly pour out His blessings upon us.  But we have to first see beyond our circumstances to God’s greater power.  

The high call of God in Christ Jesus is to not be afraid and do not be discouraged; God is greater than all of our problems.  The Lord wants to encourage us today.   

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Value of the Power of God in us

The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel.  He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. -Psalm 147:2, 3

The Word of God shows us that through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the one who was once the outcast can be brought into the fold as a faithful and trusted part of God's family.  Such is the power of God in us.  That power becomes ours when we allow the Holy Spirit to do that good and perfect work in us.  Just as a skilled craftsman can take beautiful gemstones and place them in a setting – a ring, bracelet, or a necklace, so can the power of God set the goodness and grace of Jesus Christ in us.  Another thought to consider is this: The Lord is perfectly willing to give to us the full measure of His grace, love, mercy, and power.  God doesn’t hold anything back from us.  He pours it all out upon us and nothing is to be wasted.

The problems come when followers of Christ do not make good use of the gifts, talents, abilities, and opportunities the Lord has given us.  If someone was given a million dollars is there any guarantee that he or she will use that money wisely?  The answer is certainly not.  The person might squander every dollar.  Faith in Jesus Christ empowers us to make the best use of what the Lord has given us.  Nothing need be wasted or squandered.  Many years ago I had a friend who worked in Ohio at a small gold refinery.  At that refinery they would fashion raw gold into various forms of jewelry.  As you would imagine, the strictest security measures were taken.  My friend told me something I thought was most interesting: Due to the amount of gold dust in the air, the workers were required to take every tissue they used for blowing their noses or wiping their eyes and deposit them in a special container.  Then later, a special process would remove trace amounts of gold dust from the tissues.  The gold was of such great value that nothing was to be wasted.

We often find ourselves so battered by the trials of life that we begin to think we are of no value to God.  Not true!  The Scriptures says the Lord heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.  Imagine yourself sitting down, you see the emotional scars and wounds which life has inflicted, and you wonder if they can ever be healed.  Then picture the Lord Jesus, coming alongside you, pouring a healing balm upon those wounds, and then gently binding them up that they might begin to heal properly.  That is what He does for us.  

This is the power of God in us – power to heal and encourage us during those times when we think that we cannot go further.  We can claim that power in Christ every day.