Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Freedom From the Chains that Bind us

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.  Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.  For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.  –Psalm 96:1-4

I was watching a program once about all of the different religions of the country of India, and I was intrigued with what I saw about the religion of Hinduism.  This religion has countless gods and goddesses, all of whom must be appeased in different ways.  How would a person know which one to worship?  How would anyone know how to appease all of the different deities?  There is no way to honestly please all of them simply because there are so many.  As a follower of Jesus Christ, my prayer for the devotees of Hinduism is that would turn away from these idols and worship the One True God who has come into the world in Jesus Christ.  Then and only then can they be released and set free. 

What should be our attitudes toward those who follow other religions?  We would follow Jesus’  example and reach out to them in love, compassion, and grace.  What a blessing to demonstrate to those who have never trusted in Christ, whether they are Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, or atheists, that Jesus Christ is the true way.  God has not placed an impossible burden upon us, but rather He has come that we might place our burdens upon the Lord Jesus, as He has called us to do (Matthew 11:28-30).  In Jesus there is freedom from the burden of sin; in Jesus there is hope.

My prayer for anyone reading this today is that you also would be released from the chains that bind you.  They may be the chains of legalism from a false religion, or they may have come from addiction, or you may be battling depression or sorrow.  No matter that the problem there is deliverance to be found in Jesus Christ. 

The troubled soul can find peace and joy through Jesus Christ.  Do not give up and do not surrender.  Life is worth living and Christ specializes in giving new life when all appears hopeless. Look to Him today and find new life.   

Jesus will set you free.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Some Needed Hands-on Instruction

Then the king of Assyria gave this order: "Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires."  So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the LORD.  –II Kings 17:27, 28 

My grandfather passed away when I was about eleven years old, but I have a wonderful memory of him.  One summer he came to visit and it so happened that I was just old enough to begin attempting to ride a bicycle without training wheels.  For an entire morning my grandfather held the bike while I climbed on, then he pushed and got me started, and I would ride about 50 feet or so down the sidewalk.  I would then get off the bike, walk it back and we would start over again.  After a day of this I was able to ride the bike by myself.  I treasure that memory; I needed someone to show me how to ride a bicycle and some hands-on assistance is always best.

The Scripture says in II Kings 17 that the Israelites had been overtaken by the Assyrians, and after a time it was reported that the Israelite people in Samaria were no longer worshipping the Lord.  The king of Assyria, in an incredible act of sympathy for the people, sent a priest of the Lord to go and instruct them on how to worship God.  The priest of the Lord was then able to provide the people with hands-on instruction about how to worship the Living God.  Not everyone did worship and serve the Lord, but they had someone there to instruct those who desired to do so. 

Let us not forget that there are people all around us who lack a true understanding about what it means to truly worship the Lord.  They may have some vague notions about what goes on inside an evangelical church, but it all remains a mystery to them.  What is needed is a kind, compassionate, caring, and discerning person to show them the love of Jesus Christ and patiently instruct them in the faith.  No doubt there are people I our lives that could greatly benefit from some hands-on instruction in how to worship the Lord.

As we witness and reach out in the name of Jesus, pray about someone you know who doesn’t have a relationship with Christ.  Invite him or her to church, and then go along and offer patient and gentle instruction.  Just think; you and I can have the privilege being a sort of tour guide for someone who needs Jesus. 
We are always to be about reaching out in Jesus’ name.  By reaching out to others we become an active part of the gospel ministry.  My friends, that is always positive. 

Reach out in Jesus’  name today.   

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Overcoming Weaknesses by the Power of Christ

On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.       -II Corinthians 13:2b, 3

If you spend any time at all these days with the TV on you will notice some products that are making some amazing claims.  Take a certain pill, every day they tell you, and you will lose weight.  And you can eat all you want and anything you want.  Simply take that wonderful pill.  Don’t you believe it.  Try this new exercise machine and you are guaranteed to lose weight and have more energy.  I think my favorite is the tread mill.  Those are great for setting in the corner and hanging clothes on them or piling up various boxes of brick-a-brack and what not.  Another of my favorite is the miracle working milkshake I heard about.  All you have to do is drink a few of these milkshakes every day and you will lose weight and have more energy.  

I am no health and fitness expert, but I am extremely skeptical of all the above mentioned products.  If we want to lose weight, get in shape, and have more energy, that is going to take some discipline, commitment, and determination.  Those same principles can be applied to a relationship with the Lord.  Following Jesus Christ involves commitment, determination, a right attitude, faith, personal discipline, and a heart that is totally devoted to the Lordship of Christ.  Anything that is worth having is worth dedicating ourselves to and that certainly applies to a vibrant relationship with the Lord Jesus.  The problem comes when we allow our human weaknesses to interfere with and get in the way of what the Lord is calling us to do.  

Do you ever have problems with weaknesses?  I thought so; we all have them in varying degrees.  But the promise of God is that we have these treasures in jars of clay (II Corinthians 4:7).  God can take our weaknesses and He can turn them into strengths for His kingdom work and divine purposes. 

Don't allow weaknesses to keep you from rising up and becoming all that God intends for you to be.  Those weaknesses can be overcome and made into strengths.  The Lord can do wonderful and amazing works in flawed people like you and me.  Trust in the Lord, be faithful, let His light shine forth from our lives as evidence to those around us that He is working in us.  

The Lord is with us, and He will empower us to overcome anything that stands in the way of growing in grace, faith, and the love of the Lord Jesus.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Be a Threat to the Dark Forces of the World

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.  So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.  –John 12:9-11 

I read a story once about a man who was accused of committing a terrible string of violent crimes.  Some witnesses came forward to testify against him, and they had to be placed in protective custody because their lives were in danger.  The accused man was so powerful that he hired people to have the witnesses killed so that they could never testify against him.  

The Scripture says that after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead that the religious leaders not only wanted to kill Jesus, but they also wanted to kill Lazarus.  As long as Lazarus was alive he was a living testimony of the power of God.  Had they been able to kill him, they would have silenced his testimony as to what the Lord had done for him in bringing him back from the dead. 

Understand that as long as we are doing nothing for the kingdom of God and keeping our mouths closed as to what Christ has done for us then we pose no threat to the devil and his work.  However, when we begin to openly share, witness, and testify as to what Christ has done for us, then suddenly we are a threat to the dark forces of the world.  Our calling in Jesus Christ is to not be afraid, intimidated, or silenced, but rather we boldly and openly witness about Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers. 

As followers of Jesus Christ, let’s be certain that we are daily a threat to the dark forces that exist in the world.  Someone has said that rather than curse the darkness light a candle.  Let us hold forth the light of Jesus Christ that others may see and come to faith in Him.

Share His light, walk in the light, and boldly proclaim what the Lord has done.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Placing Human Need over the Letter of the Law

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels.  Some of the Pharisees asked, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" Jesus answered them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions."  Then Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." -Luke 6:1-5 

My next door neighbor has a garden which always produces an abundance of vegetables, and he is most generous in sharing with others.  He told me once that if I ever wanted anything out of his garden to feel free to pick whatever I wanted.  One day sometime later Andrea and I were preparing supper for our family and we realized that we needed a bell pepper.  Andrea suggested that I go and pick one out of our neighbor’s garden.  Afterwards, one of our sons heard Andrea and I talking about this and he asked me about the pepper I had brought home.  When I told him I had gotten it from our neighbor’s garden he asked me, “You stole it?” I assured him that I had expressed permission to enter the garden and take what I needed.  We had a good laugh about that, and so did my neighbor when I told him.

The Scripture shows Jesus and the disciples taking advantage of an Old Testament law that allowed the poor to go into the fields of someone else and pick enough food s that they would not starve (Leviticus 23:21-23).  Jesus and His disciples took advantage of this law in order to find something to eat.  However, the problem came when this took place on the Sabbath.  Again we find an example of the Pharisees placing the letter of the law over human need, something which Jesus always rejected.  Jesus consistently placed human need over and above the letter of the law.  The Lord then went on to remind them that king David, during a time of need, also placed human need over the letter of the law (I Samuel 21:6).

As we serve the Lord, let us always be about placing the needs of others first.  We can get bogged down with rules and regulations about what people are wearing, the kind of music being played in church, the color of the church carpet, Bible translations, and whether or not the pastor wears white shirts only as opposed to pastel colors.  All of that takes our focus off of what we should be doing, which is sharing Jesus Christ with others. 
Which will we choose; the letter of the law or human need?  Jesus chose human need every time.  Let us go and do likewise.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Telling Others About Jesus Christ

They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said.  –Acts 14:21, 22 

The Scriptures says in Acts 14 that a great revival was taking place among the people to whom Paul and Barnabas were preaching.  Scores of people were putting their faith in Christ and being transformed by the power of the gospel.  When I read this I think about how wonderful it would be if we saw a similar movement in the world today.  Would not it a great blessing to see thousands of people in our communities coming to faith in Jesus Christ?  When followers of Jesus Christ begin to pray earnestly for a movement of God’s Spirit the result is revival; people will come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Along with prayer comes a diligent sharing of our faith.  Paul and Barnabas had been preaching and speaking openly about what Christ has done for them.  I have a concern that many Christians today are not talking about their faith.  When something good happens to us a natural result is that we want to tell someone.  The gospel means “good news.” Coming to faith in Jesus Christ is the best thing that could ever happen to us.  Why would we want to keep it to ourselves?  We are called, like Paul and Barnabas, to tell others that they too may come to faith in the Lord. 

Some questions I have posed a number of times recently regarding the sharing of the gospel are: If not us, who?  If not now, when?  What are we waiting for?  Jesus has called us to go and tell.  He has commissioned us to share the good news that salvation is found in Him. 

Let us not delay, but rather let us be faithful to the task of telling others.  May we also earnestly pray that a great movement of God’s Spirit will take place, and that souls will come into the kingdom of God. 

Pray that it will happen, and pray that God will empower us to do what He has called us to do. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Message of the Gospel is True and Reasonable for the Believer

At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. "You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane."  "I am not insane, most excellent Festus," Paul replied. "What I am saying is true and reasonable.”  –Acts 26:24, 25 

I wonder how many people have trusted in Christ as Savior only to be accused by others of losing their minds.  Those who have never put their faith in the Lord may have a difficult time comprehending how followers of Christ have reached the conclusions at which we have arrived: that Jesus is the Son of God, He was crucified in our place, died on the cross, and rose on the third day.  Furthermore, people will have a hard time understanding our attending church, studying the Scripture and applying it to our lives, and seeking to be like Christ in our attitudes and conduct.  

As Paul the Apostle found himself before kings and rulers who wanted to silence him and stop the spread of Christianity, he was accused of being out of his mind.  Paul assured the King that what he was saying was perfectly reasonable.  We too will often try to assure those around us that our faith in Christ is perfectly reasonable.  We have examined the evidence and have reached a verdict: The Bible is the Word of God and Christ came into the world to save sinners.  Who are these sinners?  That’s me, you, and everyone else.  We all stand in need of the salvation Christ offers.  Will it all make sense?  It will, once a person has his or her eyes opened by the power of the Holy Spirit.  When that takes place, the person will see the absolute truth of the gospel.    

How frustrating it must have been for Paul to devote so much of his time and energy to reaching people for Christ only to be persecuted and accused of being insane.  We also will at times become discouraged by those who oppose our efforts to grow in our faith and share the gospel with others.  However, do not be discouraged and never give up; the Lord is with us and is on our side.  Christ will comfort, empower, and motivate us to keep on serving Him no matter what.  When met with opposition, Paul responded with grace, love, compassion, and the confidence that comes from the Holy Spirit. 

Keep serving the Lord and do not be dissuaded.  The Lord has marvelous plans for your life.  Trust Him today and keep on sharing the gospel and walking forward with the Lord. 
In Jesus there is victory.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Taste and See for Yourself

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.  –Psalm 34:8 

Sometimes when I think about my childhood I am reminded of an elderly lady, Mrs. C, who lived on my street.  What I recall about Mrs. C are these wonderful popcorn balls she used to make.  Now, there’s an odd association, right?  Maybe, but my, she could make popcorn balls unlike anyone.  They weren’t just the plain ones held together with that secret recipe involving corn syrup and some other key ingredients, but Mrs. C’s popcorn balls were dyed in an array of colors.  And she sometime made them for the kids in the neighborhood when it wasn’t even Halloween!  When you bit into one of those delicacies, you were transported to popcorn ball bliss.  A wonderful euphoria consumed you as you chewed with delight and hoped you didn’t lose a filling.  Yes, Mrs. C made some delightful popcorn balls.

Now, I can try my best to describe Mrs. C’s popcorn balls, but honestly, you would have had to taste them for yourself to truly get the full effect.  The Bible reminds us that such is the case with the goodness of God.  We must come to Him and by faith taste of His grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness to truly see just how good it all is.  People can talk about God, we can tell others what a relationship with Jesus Christ is like –  and we should for we are commanded by Christ to do so, but you must experience it all for yourself. 

The troubled soul can find wonderful peace, love, and joy by doing what the Bible says, which is to taste and see for yourself that the Lord is good.  Open God’s Word, receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, lift your voice in vibrant praise to the Lord, begin to walk in the power of His Spirit, and experience the victory that Jesus can bring to our lives every day. 

So, what are you waiting for?  Taste and see; you will not be disappointed.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hope for the Sinner in Jesus Christ

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  -II Corinthians 5:17 

Recently I was reflecting on a friend of mine from many years ago named John.* I have not seen him in many years and I am sad to say that I have no idea whatever became of him.  John and I met when we were working together at a warehouse in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio.  Early on I could see that John was struggling with a number of personal issues.  He was an alcoholic, a drug addict, and suffered from depression.  Eventually John was fired from his job at the warehouse due to his frequent absences and showing up for work either late, intoxicated, or both.  After he was fired I tried to keep in touch with him, but that was always a challenge.  His family rarely knew where he was, and he moved about almost constantly.

Despite my efforts to witness to John and lead him to faith in Christ, he continued to fall prey to the demons within himself.  He could not break the power those dark forces had upon him.  I told John to call me if I could ever help him out.  One night he took me up on my offer and showed up at my home, bleary-eyed and extremely strung out.  After several hours of prayer, strong coffee, and lots of talking, he became calm and appeared to sober up somewhat.  By then it was around 2:00 AM and John was in no condition to drive, so I invited him to sleep on my couch.  I gave him a pillow and a blanket and told him we would talk some more in the morning.    

The next morning I woke up to find that John had left.  Sadly, that was the last time I ever saw him.  Two years later a door of ministry opened up to Andrea and I in Cincinnati and we relocated there.  During return trips I tried numerous times to find John and find out how he was doing, but these attempts were unsuccessful.  My hope down through the years has been that John would heed the gospel message that was planted in his heart.  If John or anyone like him would put their faith in Jesus Christ they would find victory over the chains that bind them.    

All these years later I remember John, and I pray that he’s all right.  Is there someone like John in your life?  Never give up on this person; pray, seek God on his or her behalf, and continue to reach out in the name of Jesus.  Remember that Jesus Christ specializes in lost causes.  Anyone, no matter how far gone, can become a new person in Jesus Christ. 

Reach out, pray, and God will do the rest.  Our efforts to reach others are never in vain. 

*Name has been changed.  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Speaking That Which Encourages Others

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

Several years ago I had a conversation with a lady who lives in the community and I asked her about the church she attended.  “I no longer go to church there.”  She told me.  When I asked her why not, she said that she didn’t like the pastor.  She then went on to make some unkind remarks about the pastor as well as some characterizations which I knew were untrue.  The irony was that this pastor is a friend of mine; a fact I revealed to the woman.  She then apologized and said that she didn’t realize that he and I were friends.  After I walked away I began to think about how that I wasn’t the one she should have apologized to.  The better course would have been an apology to the one she had been slandering.

The Bible teaches that as followers of Christ we are to be about the work of encouraging one another rather tearing each other down.  When our focus is upon the Lord Jesus Christ we will be empowered to speak words that lift up and inspire.  Words that attack the character of another person have a negative effect on everyone involved; the speaker, anyone listening, and the one being attacked.  Such talk can cause great damage within the body of Christ spreading disunity and strife. 

The next time we find ourselves in a situation where someone is being slandered, resolved not to join in or listen.  A better approach would be to change the subject, suggest that you both pray for the one being spoken of, or remind them of the unfairness of such talk since the one being attacked is not present to defend himself.  Let us be about the work of lifting up Christ rather than tearing one another down.  When we are exalting Jesus there is no time for speaking unkind words about others. 

The love of Christ will win out every time.  Praise His name, exalt Him in prayer, and speak that which edifies and encourages others.  

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mountain Moving Faith

He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."  -Matthew 17:20

What will we do when confronted with problems, trials, crises, and anything else that puts our faith to the test?  Will we believe what the Lord has said, or will we go to pieces?  When we begin to question God we will find ourselves in a situation that we cannot win.  Our best response is always unquestioning faith; faith that believes, does not doubt, and trusts God at all times and in all situations.  We come against what seems impossible, believe upon the Lord.  We come against those mountains that stand in our way, believe the Lord.  We come against problems and heartache of all kinds, believe the Lord and do not doubt – ever!  

When the Lord says “Jump”  will we jump?  Or will we cling to our doubts?  There will come times when we must jump, for that is what the Lord is telling us to do.  I have an old friend who spent a number of years in the army as a paratrooper.  He was telling me about his first night jump and what an experience that was.  When the commander said "jump," he had to jump, even though he could not see where he was jumping.  He simply had to trust, obey, and believe.  What a relief, he said, when that chute opened, and he looked up and knew that all was going to be well. 

We can have that same sort of power; the power to jump even though the way seems dark and uncertain.  Our chute is going to deploy and we will land safely in the arms of the Lord.  He will not fail, and He will not let us down ever or at any time, for He is always faithful. 

That is the Lord’s promise to us.  Trust, believe, obey, and never doubt.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Powerful and Victorious Faith

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour.  -Matthew 8:10, 13

The man who came to Jesus had a servant who was in terrible suffering; a sort of painful paralysis common in those days.  The one with the request happened to be a Roman officer, someone who at that time might have been viewed with hostility by the Jewish people.  However, Jesus was perfectly willing to heal the servant.  This is a powerful lesson for us.  Will we look beyond our prejudices towards others and see them as people in need of salvation?  Is any race of people somehow undeserving of God’s grace through Jesus Christ?  The answer is certainly not.  When it comes to sharing the gospel and reaching out in Jesus’ name, let us always be color blind.  Do we believe that the gospel is for all people or not?  If we affirm that it is, then we will reach out to everyone regardless of their social standing, skin color or ethnic background.

Jesus modeled this principle for us by His willingness to heal the man’s servant.  However, the man spoke up and said that he was not worthy to have the Lord come under his roof.  Doesn’t this sound to you like a man who is on his way to coming to saving faith in Christ?  Absolutely.  This man believed with all of his heart that the Lord Jesus could heal his servant –  with a word.  Just say the word, Lord, and it will be done.  That is a marvelous kind of faith that we all do well to desire.

Do we so believe in the power of Christ that we know beyond any and all doubt that what He says will come to pass?  That is the essence of unquestioning faith.  Such faith doesn’t doubt, question, reason, or argue with God.  It just believes.  Isn’t this the kind of faith we as followers of Christ should desire?  It is, because when Jesus saw the man’s faith He commended him for it.

As followers of Christ, let us seek the kind of faith that trust the Lord at all times no matter what.  In that faith is a blessed walk of victory that lifts us above the mundane and onto the abundant life in Christ.  That faith is available to all who believe and trust in the Lord.  Seek the Lord today, and desire that wonderful and victorious faith.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Believing the Lord Without Question

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering."  Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him."  The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."  -Matthew 8:5-9

As I was pondering this passage of Scripture I was thinking about my old dog, Jenny.  She was the most obedient dog I have ever known.  Jenny could be walked without a leash, she would sit calmly beside me at Little League Games, and she would come immediately when I called her.  If I told her to stay she stayed, and if I told her to sit she obeyed.  Somehow in her limited intelligence she recognized me as a source of authority that was to be obeyed without question.

Here in Matthew 8 we see an example of one who understood authority.  The Bible shows us that when we recognize authority that we will obey without question and without hesitation.  Think for a moment; who are we willing to do that for?  If I was in a courtroom and a judge told me to be quiet, I had best do what he says. Otherwise I might wind up in jail, right?  I actually knew a man once who got into an argument with a judge over an impounded motorcycle.  That’s an argument you cannot win.  Since he could not keep his mouth shut he wound up spending about four days in jail; contempt of court, they call that, I believe.  

When we are in the presence of authority, we have to be willing to obey or face the consequences.  The Roman centurion was a man who understood perfectly the nature of authority, the reason being that he was a man of authority himself.  He transferred this understanding to a firm belief that the Lord had the authority over his servant's illness.  He believed upon the Lord without question, and in so doing he demonstrated the kind of faith that is desirable for followers of Christ.

When the Lord calls us will we come to Him?  When He sends us out to go and tell others of the salvation He offers will we go?  When we face the trials of life will we still believe and hold fast to our faith?  If our desire is vibrant and life-changing faith, then we will answer with an emphatic "yes."

Faith believes, trusts, and obeys God at all times.  Look to the Lord today and find the joy and blessings of genuine faith.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Truth is Always Better than Deception

A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but the LORD condemns a crafty man.  A man cannot be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted.   –Proverbs 12:2, 3 

A few years ago a man I had never met before stopped by the church one day and asked if he might speak with me.  He told me that he was new to the area and was wondering if the church might help him get on his feet with some financial help.  The man then told me how that he had begun work with a local company, and he then told me the name of his new employer.  “That’s great,” I told the man.  “I am familiar with this company and I happen to know the owner personally.”  The man told me he would get back with me within a few days.  Actually, that was the last time I ever saw him.

You can imagine what I did: I went immediately and called the business the man had mentioned and spoke with the owner.  He informed me that he had never heard of this individual and that he had indeed not hired anyone by that name.  For me, this was by no means an “Aha, I got you,” moment.  I felt some frustration that the man had so blatantly lied to me, but mostly I felt sadness that the man was not willing to just be honest.  Had he simply told me the truth then perhaps the church could have assisted him in some way.  Sadly, he thought that deception was the answer, but his ruse quickly unraveled. 

The Word of God teaches that when we seek the Lord and are persons of honesty and integrity that we obtain the Lord’s favor.  What does this mean?  Obtaining the Lord’s favor means that we walk with the blessing of God upon our lives; every area of life is positively affected.  We can move forward in confident faith without having to worry about some lie or past sin finally catching up with us.  What a wonderful experience to live in the Lord’s blessing with a clear conscience.  From this standpoint of victorious faith the light of the Lord Jesus Christ can shine freely from our lives.    

Living according to the principles found in God’s Word means that by faith we reject the ungodly ways of the world and instead seek after truth, integrity, humility, love for others, and love for the Lord.  This is the way that our lives are firmly rooted and established.  Faith in Jesus Christ will help us to become all that the Lord has called us to be and to accomplish all that He has called us to do. 

Never give in to the lie that deception is better that the truth.  The truth is always best, the way of godliness is always preferable, and the light of Jesus Christ is always to be desired.  Follow the Lord, walk in His ways, and you will be blessed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Stand in Awe of the Power of Christ

(To my dear and faithful readers: Sorry this is late today,  I have been dealing with technical problems related to my PC and Internet connection.  Thanks for your patience and faithfulness.  God bless you.)

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We're going to drown!"  He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!"  -Matthew 8:25-27 

As life goes on we must be aware of the tendency to become jaded.  Do you know what that means?  Jaded means that we get to a place where we are uncaring, bored, and we have lost our zeal for living.  How does this happen?  I think I know the answer: we allow the trials, problems, and stresses of life to wear us down to the point where we stop caring.  We reach a place where nothing excites us anymore.  Life goes on and somehow we lose the wonder of being alive and experiencing all that God has in store for us.

Over the years I have become keenly aware of how this desensitizing process comes about.  Life isn’t always fair, our plans don’t always turn out like we had hoped, people will sometimes let us down, and we feel bombarded on every side with problems and stress.  The challenge is to trust God, rise up, move forward, and recapture the joy of living.  This is not an impossible task, but rather through faith in Jesus Christ can be accomplished – today and every day.  Whatever you are facing right now might appear bleak and maybe hopeless, but I assure you it isn’t.  As the Lord has promised, He will bring you through whatever storm you are facing and will lift you on to a brighter day. 

Jesus’ disciples were human beings with flaws, problems, and shortcomings just like me and you.  One aspect of their character that was in their favor, however, was that they never lost their child-like wonder at the amazing power of the Lord.  After seeing Jesus perform miracles of healing and speak unlike anyone they had ever met, they were still stunned at His power to calm the wind and waves of the sea.  With a word the storm they were facing become calm and peace was restored.    

My personal prayer is that I too never lose that wonder at the power of God working in my life.  God forbid that we yawn in the face of the marvelous works of the Lord and stop being amazed at the power of His grace.  Today is a new day, life is waiting, new experiences are there for the taking, and new victories are within our grasp.  By faith we can rise up and attain the blessings that Christ has in store for us. 

Feeling down and defeated?  Jesus calls to us from within the storm to fear not.  With a word He can calm the storm and howling winds of doubt and fear that assault us.  All will be peace and calm with the Lord Jesus. 

Never stop being in awe at the wonder of His power.  

Monday, August 16, 2010

Reach out in Love Today

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.  –Matthew 10:42 

During these tough economic times it’s encouraging to see people coming together for the cause of helping others who are in need.  Just the other day I was watching the local news and saw how that a medical relief agency is going into rural areas and offering free medical, dental, and eye care to people who otherwise could not afford it.  Food banks and benevolent organizations are also doing what they can to help those in need.  The needs are so great that these groups’ resources are truly being stretched to the limit. 

When I consider good the work these groups are doing I also have to think about the ministry we as individual Christians are to be involved with every day as we go through our daily lives.  Obviously no one person among us can feed every hungry person or assist all who need medical care, but we can join hands with others to reach and help as many as possible.  Indeed, we can accomplish so much more together than we can by ourselves.  Along with this, we can also be about the work of spreading the love of Christ as we go through each day.  All around us are people who have some physical need, but they also have personal needs as well. 

Who knows what the person you talk with today is facing.  The one who waits on you at the bank or grocery store may be facing some terrible personal struggle.  God forbid that we add to this person’s burden by being rude and hateful.  Try giving this individual a kind word of encouragement or at the very least a warm smile.  Doing so can be a wonderful demonstration of the love of Christ which is functioning in us.  Spread that love all around and never tire of sharing it with others. 

Do not forget today that kindness, compassion, grace, love, and mercy and never out of style and are always appropriate behavior for followers of Jesus.  Reach out in His name to those around us in any way possible. 
Some troubled soul is waiting to be blessed by you today.  Make the most of that opportunity, for blessing waits in doing so.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Asking, Seeking, and Knocking

Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.  -Matthew 7:7

The other day I heard the amusing account of Sue Baker of Reading, England.  Back in the mid 1960’s Ms. Baker was a 15 year old girl and a huge fan of a popular band called the Beatles (You have probably heard of them - they were fairly famous).  She said that she was determined to meet the band members, so she somehow found out where Paul McCartney lived, went to his house one day, and knocked on the door.

After doing this several times without success, one day Mr. McCartney himself answered the door.  She said he was very pleasant, and she took numerous pictures of him.  She went back a number of times and he asked her if she would like to meet the rest of the group, she said yes, and she took pictures of the others as well.  Now, 45 years later, those photos are about to auctioned off for a fortune.  The part of this story that stuck in my mind, however, was what the interviewer asked her: “How did you meet those famous young men?” Her answer: “I just went to the door and knocked, and kept on knocking.”  

Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”  Do you want to grow, have spiritual power, and see God do miracles in your life?  All you have to do is ask in faith, and God will answer.  Oh, how we miss out when we fail to ask God in faith to do great and wonderful works in our lives.  The Lord stands ready to answer, ready to act, and ready to bless us on our behalf.  When we trust the Lord we find that He will work in our lives - to His glory and our benefit.

Trust in Christ today and experience His grace and power in your life.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Serving the Right Master

No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.  –Luke 16:13 

Serving the Lord and storing up treasure in heaven as Jesus instructed us to do is always a good idea.  However, many people, even Christians, do not have a firm grasp on what this means, especially the latter commandment.  One Sunday evening during a sermon I pointed out that failing to store up treasure in heaven is like planning for retirement by purchasing lottery tickets.  Truly this would be an insecure way of planning for the future.  Jesus made it clear that when our priorities are on serving Him, then our way will be secure as will be our future.  When we make that faith decision to serve the Lord and do all that He has commanded and called us to do, then we are on the path to storing up treasure in heaven.

Back to that lottery situation I mentioned.  The lure of the lottery is the possibility, however, remote, that the purchaser of the ticker will win millions of dollars.  Someone said to me once, “Well, someone has to win.”  I replied, “That’s true, but it won’t be you.”  Any one of us is far more likely to be struck by lightning than win the lottery.  Sadly, even those who have won millions of dollars found out all too soon that those millions brought a curse to their lives.  Many lottery winners squandered the money, overspent, found themselves heavily in debt, became at odds with their loved ones, and in the end wished they had never won all that money. 

Jesus cautioned us on the impossibility of trying to serve two masters.  We will eventually love one and hate the other.  If our top priority is making money and hoarding it away, then we will become miserable, miserly, and without peace in the world.  However, when we place Jesus Christ first in our lives we discover the joy of serving him, walking with Him, and helping those around us who are in need.  The Lord knows we have financial needs, and as we walk with Christ, work diligently, and make wise financial decisions, He will bless us in some marvelous ways. 

By serving Christ we come to understand the blessings that all the money in the world cannot buy.  We have blessed peace, love in our hearts, joy in the midst of life’s storms, and the light of Christ shining from our lives.  We reach out in love to those around us: encouraging, helping, serving, witnessing, and living as the Lord has said.  All the while we are storing up a treasure in heaven that will be waiting when we get there. 

Who will be the master of our lives?  Will it be Christ or our bank account?  Choose to serve the Lord and you will not be disappointed.  

Trust in Him today.

Friday, August 13, 2010

True Verses Artificial Comfort

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  –Matthew 11:28, 29

I recall how about two years ago I was having an extremely bad day.  Nothing seemed to be going my way, problems were piling up, stress was building, and I felt as tense and ready to pop as I had in a long, long time.  After some careful thought I came to a conclusion; it was time do something drastic and out of character.  I went to the grocery store and purchased a tub of vanilla ice cream and a pound bag of M&M’s.  After arriving home I proceeded to scoop out a liberal portion of ice cream in a bowl and then poured on top about a fourth of the bag of M&M’s which I mixed furiously with a spoon.  

A little while later, my wife found me in the living room watching TV and eating that monstrous bowl of ice cream and M&M’s.  “What are you doing?” she asked.  “Are you going to eat that entire bowl of ice cream?” “Listen honey,” I calmly explained.  “I don’t drink, so ice cream is all I’ve got at the moment.” She just rolled her eyes and left the room.  It’s funny, though; that bowl of ice cream was fairly comforting. 
Now, I am not advocating gluttony, although we all probably understand the meaning of “comfort food,”  right?  Sometimes when we are down and out a piece of cake, some cookies, a candy bar, chocolate fudge, or my ice cream and M&M’s concoction can truly hit the spot and bring some temporary comfort.  Sadly, countless people daily look to far more dangerous forms of relief and comfort.  They turn to drugs and alcohol, both of which only compound their existing problems.  When the trials of life become too much and the burdens we bear become too heavy, then the best relief is found in placing our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus promised that He would gladly lift our burdens from our shoulders.  If we will hand our problems and stresses over to Him we will find a blessed release.  We do not have to bear our burdens alone, for Christ is perfectly willing to make our load a little lighter.  The problems will not disappear, but we will have a strength which we previously did not possess.
What is troubling you today?  Where are you looking for comfort?  Lay aside any synthetic form of comfort you may be contemplating and look to Jesus Christ.  Do not give up and do not surrender.  The Lord knows and He understands.  Look to Him today. 

Jesus is waiting to offer true and real help.  You will not be disappointed. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Of Vultures and Hummingbirds

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  –Ephesians 4:22-24 

One pursuit that keeps me fascinated and intrigued all summer long is watching the hummingbirds that live around our house.  I keep two feeders; one by the carport and another hanging in a tree near the back fence.  Early morning and late evening are great times to sit and observe the hummingbirds chasing each other, bickering over the feeders, and putting on a show that outdoes any bird in the forest.  Honestly, I could watch them all day.

I have read that in the southwestern United States there are hummingbirds that have adapted to the hot arid climates common to those regions.  Also found there are vultures; they too have adapted well.  Vultures fly high above the ground in search of anything that has died so they might scavenge for food.  They thrive on the decaying carcasses of dead animals.  However, hummingbirds are always on the lookout for the colorful blossoms of desert plants.  They thrive on life, sweetness, and the beauty that is before them.  Someone has said that both birds always find exactly what they are looking for. 

People function in similar fashion; some are always looking for the dead and decaying remnants of the past and proceed to pick at it, while others are always looking for new life and the appeal of beauty and new growth.  Just like the vultures and humming birds, both approaches will yield a result.  Consider for a moment your own personal approach to life: Are you picking at the remains of what was, or are you seeking out the glory of what can be?  The high call of God in Christ Jesus is to put behind us the old sins of the past and put on Christ that we might walk with Him in the abundant life He has promised. 
If you are finding yourself always looking for the negative, reliving bad memories, and picking apart yourself and others, then now is the time to stop.  Claim the power of Christ to begin being that Spirit-led person of vibrant and victorious faith.  Now is the time, today is the day.  Get rid of those old rotten and cynical attitudes and begin to see life through the eyes of a heart changed by the power of the Lord Jesus.

So, which are you; vulture or hummingbird?  Think about it.  And if you’re not a hummingbird, well, there’s room for you on our team.  We’d be delighted to welcome you aboard.
New life is waiting.  A new perspective is available.  Why not start right now?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Down in a Well of Despair

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan.  But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.  "Here comes that dreamer!" they said to each other.  "Come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we'll see what comes of his dreams." -Genesis 37:17-20

Have you even been down in a well of despair?  If you never have been in such a terrible frame of mind, then count yourself extremely fortunate.  However, most of us know what this is like, for we have been there at one time or another.  We know from experience that heartache, sorrow, and hopelessness are most unpleasant and can leave us drained and discouraged.  To be in the depths of despair is to be filled with all sorts of terrible feelings and forebodings.  Falling down into those depths can be brought on by any number of factors.  The problem may be physiological – some sort of chemical imbalance that causes depression.  It can be emotional, caused my some trauma such as sickness, or the death of a spouse or a loved one.  Or it can come about from circumstances that just seem to overwhelming to handle.    

Whatever the causes, we must realize that none of us are immune to despair.  The trials of life can sometimes push us down into those depths.  When this happens it sometimes causes us to do some questioning.  We begin to ask God why He has allowed something bad to happen in our lives.  We might find ourselves questioning God, His will, and His plan for us.  We might even get angry with God and lash out at Him and those around us.  If we ever find ourselves down in the depths of despair there is only one proper response; cling to the solid rock that will not move.  This rock is Jesus Christ, and in Him we find hope, healing, help, and the assurance that He is still there with us. 

Joseph had to trust God in the midst of some trying and painful circumstances.  He couldn’t see it at the time, but God was guiding and directing him all along.  Even when the situation looked hopeless and he was in a literal well of despair, the Lord was there to comfort and send help.  Because Joseph did not give up, nor did he abandon his faith in God, the Lord blessed him and placed him where he was supposed to be. 

Only you and the Lord know what you are facing right now.  Perhaps you feel that like Joseph you have been thrown down into a dark and terrible place.  Do not give up, and do not abandon your faith.  The Lord Jesus knows, cares, understands, and will see you through this trial. 

Trust in the Lord, for He will lift you up and onto solid ground.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Asking and Believing

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.  –James 1:5-8 

From the time I was a small boy on through my twenties, I could ride just about any ride found at amusement parks.  Roller coasters, tilt-a-whirls, Ferris wheels, or the scrambler, I could ride them all with little to no ill effects.  All that changed, however, as I approached the age of thirty.  Somewhere along the line those rides I had dared all the years began to have a most unpleasant affect on me.  I started getting nauseated and I knew my days of amusement park rides were over.  Eventually I got to the place where I could barely look at them without feeling queasy.  Truly it was the end of an era.   

Life can be like those amusement park rides in that we sometimes get shaken, spun around in circles, and flipped upside down.  We begin to wonder if it’s ever going to stop.  We walk away from painful experiences feeling that there is no way we can even face those problems and challenges again.  When life leaves us feeling queasy and defeated, we can find renewed hope and strength in Jesus Christ.  He will empower us to stand up and face whatever trials and crises come our way, and we will not simply survive them, but we will overcome them through faith in the Lord.    

Being able to stand firm and live in victory is available to all who will by faith trust the Lord and ask for His help and strength.  Failure to ask, or asking and then doubting, makes us like that wave tossed about on the sea; unstable and double-minded.  Ask God in firm and unquestioning faith and we can expect great results.  However, if we doubt and fail to take Christ at His word, then let’s not be surprised if we remain where we are; unstable, doubting, unfulfilled, and tossed around like the tilt-a-whirl.
Jesus Christ specializes in the impossible, and bringing us through the trials of life is what He does best.  Whatever you lack today; wisdom, faith, peace, joy, or spiritual strength, ask the Lord to bring these attributes into your life, and then claim the promise of Christ that when we ask we will receive (Matthew 7:7).  Don’t settle for instability and spiritual defeat.  Move instead toward vibrant and victorious faith.

Victory is ours in Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Spending Time Alone With God

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?  -Psalm 8:3, 4

I can’t help but think that the modern age of high tech media has thrown everyone a little off balance.  I mean, what did we do before the time of computers, cell phones, and IPods?  If my memory serves me correctly, we probable spent more time talking to people face to face as opposed to texting and chatting on line. We also spent more time outside exercising and enjoying the beauty of creation.  I know; someone will accuse me of being a hypocrite because here I am typing on this keyboard rather than walking the dog, visiting with my wife, or exercising.  Please; let me defend myself.  For one thing, it’s a little after midnight and my wife is asleep.  Secondly, I am still an avid reader.  And thirdly, I do 20-30 minutes of calisthenics nearly every day.  So hopefully you will believe when I say that modern technology has not taken me over completely.

I was reminded just the other day of the value of walking away from the TV, cell phone, and laptop for a while and simply spending some time outdoors.  I took the day off last Friday, packed some bottled water and granola bars in a knapsack, loaded Ada (my dog) in the car, and headed to Marion, Virginia, about an hour away, for an afternoon of hiking around beautiful and scenic Hungry Mother Park.  Ada was ecstatic from the get-go and couldn’t wait to hike the trails and plunge into the lake.  There was a fairly good amount of people there, but once we headed back into the trails we saw almost no one. 

As we walked along I kept thinking about what a beautiful place the park is: the rolling hills, the sun reflecting off the lake, the breeze blowing through the forest, and the serenity that permeated our every step.  Once we were back in the woods I let Ada off her leash, which adds to her thrill of hiking.  She runs ahead, but looks back often to make sure I am still behind her.  The deeper we hiked in the woods the closer I felt I was walking with God.  The Lord and I had a wonderful conversation.  For a blessed few hours I allowed myself the pleasure of pondering only my God, His grace, and the wonder of His creation.  All my problems would be waiting for me when I came back.  At one point I was actually singing – and hardly realized it!    

What a great day.  If we are too busy to spend time with the Lord, then we are too busy.  Go ahead; take some time off, even a few hours, and commune with our Lord. 

I am going back – real soon.  Ada can hardly wait.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Avoiding Potential Slip Ups

The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.  -Proverbs 10:9 
One of the many memorable events of my childhood was “The Great Water Balloon Fight.”  This historic event began one hot summer day when I was around 12 years old.  Someone had the brilliant idea that a great way to cool off would be to have a water balloon fight.  We decided that the combatants would be the older boys of the neighborhood against the younger boys.  I was, of course in the younger player’s camp while my brother Tom was in the elder group.  The rules were simple: Both teams had an allotted amount of time to stockpile their water balloons, and then at a designated signal, the fight would begin.  One of the more innovative boys on my team had the idea of inventing defensive weapons.  The top of a TV tray was procured for this purpose thus providing my teammate with a passable shield.  Another boy from my team hastily acquired a football helmet, and we were ready.

The fight began in earnest with both sides flinging balloons filled to bursting with deadly accuracy.  At some point, however, one of the boys from the older team became angry over a water balloon that struck him in the face (a rule against this tactic had not been specified; therefore the throw was ruled perfectly legal).  This older boy, in a fit of rage, ran after my teammate with what appeared to be mayhem in mind.  The boy being pursued dropped the TV tray he had been using for a shield and ran for his life.  The older boy, not seeing the tray in time, slipped on it; his feet shot out from under him and he landed hard on his back.  The rest of us could only stand by in horror as this terrible scene played out.  The older boy limped home vowing vengeance as the younger one taunted him from a safe distance.  That pretty much ended the water balloon fight.  My brother Tom and I still laugh about this even now. 

The Bible says that the man of integrity walks securely.  When we are walking with Christ and seeking to do His will, our steps will be secure; we will see the potential pitfalls that come before us and we will be able to maneuver around them.  The devil has a subtle way of placing temptations before us, much like the TV tray that caused such problems in the aforementioned story.  However, as we walk with the Lord, He will empower us to be aware of temptation that we might continue walking securely. 

Be careful as to the evil that is all around us.  When we walk with the Lord in His strength and power, we are blessed with the peace of God in our hearts.  Obstacles are moved away and potential trouble spots are recognized.  The result is daily victory in the Lord.

Do not walk in defeat; walk in the victory Jesus Christ offers.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Growing and Becoming Spiritually Mature

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.   
-I Corinthians 2: 6, 7 (KJV)

Paul the Apostle was not being sarcastic here at all when he referred to those who are perfect.  He was talking about those who are spiritually mature.  Attaining spiritual maturity is a lifelong process of walking with Christ and seeking His will.  Spiritual maturity comes when we put on Jesus Christ and His attitudes in all situations of life.  Think for a moment about how serious this is: I know of a young man, a High School student, who aspires to become a pro golfer.  This young man can be found on a golf course every day.  He lives, breathes, thinks, eats, and sleeps golf.  That is pretty much his life.  And let’s face it; that is the only way he stands a chance at making it as a pro golfer as the competition is so fierce. 

Spiritual maturity requires that we take the same approach to the Christian life.  We must live, think, breath, and talk Jesus Christ.  We place Christ at the center of our lives.  This is the key to becoming spiritually mature.  A great many people in the world are extremely centered, but they are centered on themselves.  Being self-absorbed and self-centered is a sure-fire recipe for remaining spiritually immature.  Placing Jesus Christ at the center of our lives moves us toward spiritual maturity.  With that maturity comes resolve to grow, thrive, and be all that the Lord intends for us to be.  Phrases like, “I can’t do this, it can’t be done, this problem is too big, I will never amount to anything, and this will never work,” begin to be removed from our vocabulary.  Such defeating statements are replaced with faith that God can do the impossible; in me, in you, in your congregation, and all around us.  The spiritually mature desire the will of God to be done and we desire it with all our hearts.  

By faith and the power of God we can speak openly about that which the world doesn’t understand and doesn’t believe - "The wisdom of God in a mystery."  The message is that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Salvation is through Him.  New life is in Him.  Nothing is too hard for God.  Reach out and by faith obtain the abundant life Jesus promised.  Walk forward in faith and grow into the person God has called you to be.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Giving and Receiving Encouragement

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 4:36, 37 

Let’s come back to this topic of the ministry of encouragement.  Everyone can greatly benefit from receiving some encouragement.  In fact, it takes numerous positive statements to counteract the damage done by one thoughtless and negative remark.  The more encouraging words we receive the better.  However, in order to be encouraged we must be willing to give encouragement.  If we are critical of others, pessimistic in our outlook, and hateful towards those around us, then we will have a hard time receiving the encouragement others might try to offer.  A critical spirit acts as a force field that keeps us from reaping the benefit of the encouragement of others.  On the other hand, when we seek to be optimistic, kind, compassionate, and loving toward others, we will be empowered to benefit to the full potential the encouragement offered to us.  We will also be able to provide sincere encouragement to people as they go through the difficulties and trials of life.

Barnabas of the New Testament was a man with such an encouraging and compassionate spirit that he earned the nickname “Son of Encouragement.”  There are a lot worse names a guy could be called, right?  Consider that Barnabas did not earn this title overnight.  Rather, he demonstrated the characteristics of an encourager consistently over the long haul.  He could always be counted on to offer a kind remark, a positive viewpoint, and an encouraging word.  Such persons have the gift of ministering to us in our time of need.  Their words of hope, compassion and encouragement bring healing to our spirits like a soothing balm poured on an open wound. 

How about you?  Can you be counted on to offer encouragement?  Or do those near you hesitate to share their ideas and dreams with you for fear of having them shot down or ridiculed?  Encouragers who are Spirit-filled and walking with Christ will always be sensitive to the needs and struggles of those around them.  They are willing to listen, offer comfort, hope, prayer, kindness, and if needed a gentle rebuke whenever the situation calls for it.   

Troubled and hurting people are all around us.  As followers of Christ, let us be willing to stop and listen, and then offer encouraging words to persons in need.  Let’s lovingly point them to the One in whom they can trust: The Lord Jesus Christ.  In Jesus there is hope.  In Jesus there is encouragement. 

Encourage someone today in Jesus’ name.  

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Ministry of Encouragement

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  –Romans 15:5, 6
People can certainly make odd statements, but I probably don’t need to tell you that.  No doubt you have endured some insensitive remarks from people who either weren’t thinking or simply didn’t care.  Either way those unkind words can be hurtful.  Many years ago while serving at a church in another state I was taking part in a church fellowship.  Door prizes were awarded and I won five free trips to a local tanning salon; the irony being that I almost never win anything and I never go to tanning salons.  A lady next to me observed my prize and I said to her, “Hey, what do you think of this?  I won five trips to a tanning salon.”   “Well, you need it,” she replied, “you always look so pale and sickly.”

I guess I could have had my feelings hurt over that mean comment, but I didn’t.  Instead, I was so taken back by the odd abruptness of it that I burst out laughing.  I’ve been chuckling now about that remark for nearly 20 years and the thought of it still makes me smile.  I considered that the person who said it was probably dealing with some hard issues that would attribute to her overall negative outlook on life.  That made me sad for her – to the point that I could feel no ill will toward her at all.  Indeed, she was missing out on the joy of Christ that could have been hers. 

Followers of Christ are called to be encouragers; not discouragers.  An encourager is one who seeks to lift others up, help them stand firm, and assure them that by God’s power whatever they are facing will work out to God’s glory and their benefit.  Being an encourager is a wonderful part of the ministry of love toward one another and all those around us.  A negative and critical spirit is contrary to what Christ has called us to demonstrate.  With the Lord’s help we can daily be about the work of encouraging those around us as opposed to tearing them down.

Ask yourself; am I am encourager or a discourager?  Seek the Lord’s help to cease from being critical and to begin encouraging others in the name of the Lord.  Offer some troubled soul a word of encouragement today.  You will be blessed and the one you encourage will be strengthened.   

As we encourage others, the Lord will encourage us – every day and through all circumstances. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Safe in the Lord's Flock

I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.  The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.   
–John 10:1, 2 

I grew up in a city, but I have always been fascinated with farms.  As a boy, one of my favorite places to visit was the home of my aunt and uncle who lived on a farm in the town of Ripley, Ohio.  I enjoyed seeing the cattle, horses, and chickens, but I also loved to play with the numerous dogs and cats that roamed freely about.  Everything about that farm was a wonder to me: the farmhouse, the barn, the animals, and the beautiful rolling countryside.  All my memories of those visits bring back a flood of wonderful feelings.  

One kind of animal my aunt and uncle did not keep was sheep.  I cannot recall ever seeing any on their farm.  Had they kept them, I am confident that would have known how to raise and care for them.  My knowledge of livestock is limited, but I have heard it said that sheep always need care.  They are vulnerable to attack from predators, they will wander away from the flock, and they can easily become lost.  Without someone to look after them they would not stand much chance of survival. 

Jesus lovingly referred to His followers as His sheep.  In Christ we are a part of His flock, and as a part of the flock we are under His care.  The Lord will always be there for us to shepherd us through the trials and problems of life.  Understand also that the Lord is most protective of us; when the devil tries to sneak in and lure us away, the Lord is there is protect us.  Were we to wander away, Jesus promised to come looking for us just as a good shepherd would go looking for a lost sheep.  All are important in the flock of the Lord.   

Do not give into the false idea that you are somehow not important to Christ.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A good shepherd knows every sheep by name and cares for each one.  So it is with us.  Christ knows you, me, and all in His flock on a first-name basis.  He knows all that causes us fear, worry, pain, and heartache, and He is there is comfort and guide. 

The troubled soul can find comfort in the Lord’s flock.  Look to Him today, and rest in the knowledge that He cares for you.