Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Amazing Power of a Smile

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

Some days is seems that nothing is going right: problems begin piling up, those around us start to get on our nerves, and we find that wearing a smile is next to impossible.  On such a day did you find yourself not only failing to smile, but you were nearly snarling at anyone who crossed your path?  Indeed, we have all had days like that at one time or another.  How is it possible to rise above such an outlook and brighten our mood even when nothing appears to be going our way?  The answer lies in looking to the Lord to empower us to change our attitude.

My wife, Andrea, is able to smile in the worst of circumstances.  I know because I watched her endure months of chemotherapy and radiation, followed by cancer surgery, and she smiled all the way through.  But me?  I’m not so sure.  However, I have been told that I smile often.  In fact, a gentleman I used to see at the Little League field when my sons played baseball approached me once and said, “Dan, I don’t know how you do it; you are always smiling.” Wow; that was one of the nicest comments anyone ever said to me – seriously!  I do try to smile regularly, but I confess that I have to work at it. 

Here is my point: smiling can have a wonderfully powerful affect on our mood and outlook.  If you are having a rough day, pray for God’s help and smile; you will begin to feel better.  When problems and stress are mounting in your life, pray and ask the Lord to give you the power to handle it all and then smile at those around you; again, you will begin to feel better.  You see, when we smile, what follows tends to be positive words and kindness rather than mean and hateful words.  I am much more likely to be kind to those around me when I am smiling than if I am frowning.  If I am smiling I am far more likely to make positive statements than negative. 

The next time someone you don’t want to talk to calls you one the phone, make yourself smile throughout the conversation.  The person on the other end will “hear”  the smile in your tone of voice.  By the end of the conversation you will feel much better than you did at the beginning.  Such is the power of a “cheerful face” as described in the book of Proverbs.   

As followers of Christ we are commanded by the Lord Jesus to be salt and light in a troubled and hateful world (Matthew 5:13, 14).  Let others see Jesus Christ in us.  

Here’s a great way to help make that happen: smile.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Penny for Your Thoughts?

Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught… -Psalm 55:1, 2 

Many years ago I had a friend who was struggling with his Christian faith.  He possessed the desire to live an honorable life before God, but he lacked the will to do so consistently.  He told me on one occasion how that he struggled in the area of prayer.  “When I try to pray,”  he said, “my mind is filled with the most terrible thoughts –  things I should not be thinking about.”  Clearly his was a spiritual battle against the dark forces that come against us when we seek the Lord.  When we become serious about getting our hearts and our minds in the right place, we will find ourselves in a spiritual battle.  Human nature, which the Bible refers to as the flesh, goes against God, but the Holy Spirit empowers us to resist the flesh and follow the leading of God’s Spirit.

What about this issue of keeping our thoughts in their proper place?  That can be a tremendous challenge.  Jesus warned us to be careful about the thoughts we allow into our minds.  In Matthew 5:28 Jesus said that for a man to look upon a woman lustfully is like committing adultery in the heart.  A thought can become a word we later regret, and it can also lead to the very act.  Either situation can cause lasting damage to a person’s life as well as his or her Christian testimony.  The psalmist in Psalm 55 asked God to hear his prayer, for his thoughts were causing him terrible distress.  It certainly sounds like he was fighting a similar battle as the one my friend was facing. 

The best way to keep our thoughts in the right place is through the daily discipline of prayer and Bible reading.  As we grow in prayer and the Word of God, the Lord will empower us to keep our minds centered on Christ, which in turn keeps our thoughts in a good and positive place.  Philippians 4:8 gives us a list of the kind of thoughts that honor God and will assist us in keeping our minds where they need to be:   

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Consider the above list, and anytime you find yourself contemplating something that doesn’t meet that criteria, then quickly move away from it.  Ask God to replace the bad thought with something positive.

God is faithful and will empower us to have our minds in the right place.  From there we are empowered to speak and conduct ourselves in a manner that brings joy to our hearts, produces a better attitude, brings spiritual victory, and lets the light of Christ shine forth. 

Tomorrow’s Blog: The power of the smile and how it enhances our mood.  Don’t miss it! 


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Co-laborers; Not Competitors

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.  Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.  –II Thessalonians 1:3, 4 

I heard a story once about two men who were hiking through the woods.  As they walked along they saw a bear some distance ahead.  Both men stopped and stood still, but the bear saw them and began charging toward them.  One of the men quickly reached into his backpack and pulled out a pair of running shoes which he proceeded to hurriedly put on.  As the men ran from the bear the one asked the other, “So, do you think those running shoes will help you run faster than the bear?”  I don’t have to run faster than the bear,” the man replied, “I just have to run faster than you.”  

As I ponder that silly story I am inclined to consider the way believers sometimes think that we are in competition with each other.  So often we feel perhaps some envy toward another congregation that is growing faster than ours, baptizing more people, is larger, or has more programs.  Such feelings can not only get in the way of the love we are to hold in our hearts for one another, but it can also hinder the work of the church in which we serve.  Paul the Apostle told the believers in II Thessalonians chapter one that he was thankful to God that their faith was growing as was their love for one another.  From that faith and love grew perseverance in the midst of the trials they were facing.  Such an attitude fosters the love of Christ in our hearts which facilitates increased fellowship in the church. 

When our hearts are set upon the Lord Jesus and our focus is upon Him, we will not become caught up in feelings of envy or strife toward another believer or congregation.  Instead, we will take Paul’s attitude and rejoice that the Lord is working in their midst. We are brothers and sisters in Christ sharing a common goal: Reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Anytime we hear of another church in the community that is proclaiming the gospel, baptizing people, and growing in the faith, our response is to be one of praise and rejoicing.  We can also pray that such a spirit of revival will take place in our fellowship as well.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you do not have to try to run faster than me and I will not try to run faster than you.  Instead, let us seek to walk together in shared fellowship and service to the Lord.  Let's strive to encourage one another along the way.  When you are being blessed I will rejoice.  And I pray that as the Lord works in my life that you will rejoice along with me. 

Be of good cheer and be encouraged today.  We are indeed co-laborers in Christ Jesus. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bloom Where you are Planted

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  –Ephesians 4:1, 2 

I was reflecting recently on when I first began ministry as a vocation in 1985.  I served for three and a half years as Youth Minister at First Baptist Church of Dent in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I have some wonderful memories from serving in that church.  Every so often I would lead a worship service on Saturday morning for the residents of a local nursing home.  One Saturday I was getting ready to start the service and I overheard two ladies talking nearby.  They probably thought they were whispering, but I could hear every word.  One of them said, “Who is that young man leading the service today?”  The other replied, “That’s the Reverend Birchfield!”  “Reverend Birchfield?”  I thought; it seemed odd hearing myself being referred to with that title.  That was the first time I recall being confronted with who I had become in regards to my calling.  For those dear elderly residents at the nursing home I wasn’t “Dan” or “Mr. Birchfield;” rather, I was “Reverend Birchfield.” Honestly, that took some getting used to.

As followers of Christ, this issue of the call of God upon our lives is extremely important.  We are all called to serve the Lord in some capacity based upon the spiritual gifts with which the Lord has blessed us.  For me it was a call to preach the gospel and be a pastor, but for you it may be something else.  The Lord doesn’t call everyone to be preachers, but He does call us to some form of ministry.  For you it might be singing in the choir, teaching a Sunday school class, working with children in the nursery, working with Sr. Adults, helping out with the youth, serving on a committee, or leading outreach visitation.  The possibilities are numerous.  Consider also that as followers of Christ we are all called to serve the Lord where we are.  Regardless of whether you are a teacher, banker, plumber, construction worker, salesman, mechanic, farmer, doctor, or a lawyer, God can empower you to be a witness within your vocation.    

Many years ago a lady in another church I was serving told me that her desire was to “bloom where I’m planted.”  That is a nice thought, isn’t it?  Wherever you are and wherever God has placed you, be the best witness for Jesus Christ you can possibly be.  We are called to serve the Lord with glad hearts and to let His light shine from our lives.  As we are doing so, let us strive to live in such a manner that Christ is honored.  In Jesus we have received a blessed calling; to serve Him with integrity and faithfulness. 

Wherever you are, serve the Lord with joy and be faithful.  Let the light of Jesus shine through.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Joy, Peace, and Happiness can be Experienced Today

The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.  You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.  –Psalm 104:19, 20

Fall is one of my favorite times of year.  The colors are amazing, the cooler temperatures are a welcome relief from the heat of July and August, and there is a freshness in the air.  Yes, I realize that winter is just around the corner, but remember that right after that comes spring, another beautiful time of year.  Don’t worry about the colder weather that’s coming, but try instead to enjoy what we have right now.  I find that this illustrates a common attitude toward life; instead of seeking to enjoy the moment, many people instead worry about what may or may not happen in the future.  That worrisome attitude can rob us of some wonderful peace which can be experienced in the here and now.

Could it be that many of us get hung up on some big event in our lives that we hope will bring us some peace and happiness?  We wait for it in the hopeful anticipation that when it comes, then we will be happy.  So, what are we waiting for?  The list could get extensive: the kids to grow up, retirement to come, that vacation in the Bahamas, that trip to Europe, the new car you’ve always wanted, the right person to come along, or some major problem to be resolved.  Waiting for some future happiness that may or may not come is a risky endeavor.  Those future plans just may come to pass, and they will most likely bring a measure of joy.  But how about trying to be happy, peaceful, and joyful right here and right now? 

Consider that God has placed before us some wonderful blessings.  What does it take to make me happy?  What sorts of pursuits bring enjoyment to my life?  My answer to those questions has become amazingly streamlined in recent years.  I enjoy sitting on my carport early in the morning and watching the hummingbirds.  I also find tremendous fulfillment in spending time with family, especially my grandson.  Walking the dog in the evening is also a wonderful time.  Sometimes on my day off, Ada (my dog) and I head for one of our local parks and spend a morning hiking and enjoying the beautiful scenery of southwest Virginia.  Call me odd, but these days I will take a day of hiking in the woods to three on the beach.

Hopefully, you see my point.  Joy, peace, happiness, and the wonder of life are right before us and waiting to be experienced.  And in many instances it’s all free.  So, stop and take a look around.  God has given us a wonderful gift; salvation in Jesus Christ.  From a relationship with Christ we find the abundant life Jesus promised.
   
So what are you waiting for?  Life is waiting; start living it today.   

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Never Underestimate the Power of the Devil

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.  -I Corinthians 16:13, 14  
  
Something I have learned about sports, from youth sports to professional, is that sometimes the underdog can rise and utterly trounce the favorite.  We go into the game certain that our team can beat the other team.  Our team is better, we have never been beaten, we have better talent, and the other team is known for their poor winning record.  And then suddenly those guys we were certain we’d whip come alive and give the champs a thrashing.  Yes, I have seen that happen more times than I can remember.  It’s those teams we are certain we can beat that we need to watch out for.

At the close of the book of I Corinthians, Paul the Apostle gave a strong warning to the believers: “Be on your guard.” That is sound advice that followers of Christ do well to take to heart.  Here was a group of believers that had let their guard down and the results had been a disaster.  Doctrinal error, divisions, strife, and immorality had crept into the church and nearly wrecked their fellowship.  If they were to recover and get back into a right relationship with God they would have to from then in be on their guard.  Perhaps the church had become lured into thinking that the temptations and problems they faced could be easily defeated.  They quickly found out that those enticements they believed would be so easily overcome rose up and nearly defeated them. 

My advice for growing in the faith and walking in spiritual victory has long been to never take an attitude of “that will never happen to me.”  Many believers have been nearly destroyed by sins they thought they could have defeated.  When we find ourselves standing on the solid rock of Christ and our lives are heading in a positive direction, then be on our guard and resolve to stay there – by Christ’s power.  When we are standing firm the devil will do his level best to dislodge us from that stance. 

Walk forward in grace, prayer, humility, and the spiritual power that comes from a close and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Trust in Him each day to give us victory over that which would otherwise have brought us down.  Never underestimate the power of the devil.  But also remember that God is greater and more powerful than any evil and temptation we will face. Trust the Lord and walk in that blessed spiritual power –  today and every day.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Written Any Letters Lately?

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.  If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.  My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.  –I Corinthians 16:21-24

Back before the days of email when we had to find pen and paper, and then sit down and write a letter, I always enjoyed doing so.  I did not write a great many letters, but I have written a few, and still do if the person doesn’t have a computer or is never on the Internet.  We call this old fashioned way of communicating “snail mail,” right?  If you are anything like me you have probably sent hundreds more emails than letters.  It’s so much easier isn’t it?  With a letter, you have to find the address, write it on the envelope, secure a stamp, and get the letter in the mail.  When you compare that with an email it all does indeed seem complicated.  Today we type the email, press “send,” and its there – just like that.  

And you know something?  I sort of miss sitting down and writing letters.  Could it be that when we had to write out a letter by hand that we were perhaps a little more thoughtful with that we said?  Maybe we spent a little more time considering how best to convey our feelings.  I dare say that many, if not most of us, could benefit from taking the time to send a good old-fashioned letter once in a while.  You might even find it to be therapeutic.   

At the end of the New Testament book of I Corinthians, Paul the Apostle indicated that he wrote this letter with his own hand.  He would have used some sort of quill pen, ink, and a parchment scroll to communicate to the believers what the Lord had laid upon his heart.  And he did so with the greatest of care, thoughtfulness, and prayerful consideration.  He closed out his letter with an earnest prayer that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ would be upon the church.  Paul also reminded them of how much he loved them. 
 
Is there someone who could benefit from hearing from you today; an old friend or a relative, perhaps?  Think about what a blessing it could be, and a pleasant surprise, for someone to receive a kind or encouraging word from you in the form of a letter.  A face-to-face visit can be wonderful, a phone call is good, an email is something, but a letter can be most special.  “What would I say?  How would I begin?” You may wonder.  I am confident that once you get started that the Lord will give you the words you need.

Let someone know today how much you care.  Remind the person also that the Lord cares as well.  A troubled soul is out there and you may be just the one God has called to bring encouragement today.  There are tremendous blessings in reaching out to someone today.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

God's Word Will Daily Bring Light to our Lives

I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.  I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.  –Psalm 119:104-106

As I have stated before, I am deeply grateful for the people who faithfully read this blog and find encouragement through it.  There are literally millions of blogs on the Internet dealing with just about any topic imaginable.  One web site reported that there are an estimated 133,000,000 blogs on the Internet and that the number of people reading those blogs (as of 2008) is around 346,000,000.  That’s a lot of blogs and lot of readers.  In fact, if you are anything like me, you kind of have trouble getting your mind around such large numbers.  A good many of us who use computers every day can recall a time in the recent past where no one had a computer in their home.  The times are indeed changing. 

One aspect of our lives that I hope the Internet has not changed and will not change is the desire to open the Word of God and let its truths speak to our hearts.  With all of this vast information at our fingertips, let’s not forget that the Bible remains our greatest source for what we need to live the kind of lives that honor the Lord.  As followers of Christ we are called to daily let the deeper truths of God’s Word speak to our hearts that we might grow into the people the Lord would have us to be.  Some might think that sitting down and opening a book is old fashioned or obsolete, but doing so is as vital as relevant as ever.

How many Bibles are there in your house right now?  Are we spending more time in front of a keyboard than with the Word in front of us?  If so, then let me challenge you today to reverse that trend.  Take time daily to open God’s Word and explore the wonderful treasures it contains.  The Lord has promised that His Word will be a light that guides our way and enlightens our hearts and minds.   

The troubled soul always finds comfort in God’s holy Word.  Trust the Lord and seek Him today.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Understanding the Meaning of True Riches

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  –Colossians 2:2, 3 

Whenever I have to drive south on I-81 here in Bristol, I pass a sign that advertises the Virginia lottery.  In large, bold numbers anyone driving by can see how high the current jackpot has grown.  Apparently, if no one wins each week, that number nearly doubles.  As I have said before, people often justify purchasing tickets on the belief that “someone has to win, right?”  My response remains the same: “That’s true, but it won’t be you.”  Still, it’s hard not to imagine what we might do with all those millions.  But is that real treasure?  The Bible shows us what constitutes true riches.

The Word of God speaks of the riches of complete understanding and the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  These are treasures from God that will benefit and bless our lives in countless ways.  When we trust the Lord, remain in His Word, and walk with Him, we acquire a wonderful knowledge that empowers us toward victorious living.  When we face hard times we have the knowledge of God which reminds us that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  When trials, crises, problems, frustrations, disappointments, family troubles, difficulties with children, and temptations come our way we can have the peace of knowing that the Lord will bring us through.  At the risk of sounding cliché, I will say that the peace Christ gives is worth its weight in gold.    

Having acquired this blessed treasure of the knowledge of God, we can add to it daily through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Here is this treasure of which the Scripture speaks working in us; we do not fall apart when the trials come, but rather we are made stronger in the midst of them.  As we gather this treasure here, Jesus said that we are also storing it up in heaven where it will not rust or decay (Matthew 6:20).  Am I laying aside some funds which I can live on when I retire someday?  Of course; not doing so would be irresponsible.  However, I am laying up another treasure of even greater value; a blessed relationship with Jesus Christ which will carry me through the long haul of life. 

Trust in the Lord and discover the spiritual riches of a life devoted to Him.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Don’t Give up on Developing Self-control

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.  For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  –I Thessalonians 5:6-9 
  
For someone like me, who tries to watch what I eat and maintain a healthy diet, we are coming into a dangerous time of year.  In recent weeks we have purchased numerous boxes of cookie dough from various students selling them for local fund raisers.  It seems that at least a few nights a week I come home and find the kitchen smelling like a bakery.  Oh my, but those cookies are delicious.  And it gets worse.  Thanksgiving is not too far off with all the rich foods that accompany that day.  This then leads into the Christmas season during which I have someone placing a plate of pie, cake, homemade candy, or cookies in front me about every five minutes.  If we don’t want to pack on some unwanted pounds during this time of year, then self-control must be the order of the day.

This issue of self-control is relevant at all times; not just in regards to our eating habits, but to many other aspects of life as well.  Our thought processes, personal conduct, how we handle conflict, and how we relate to others are all affected by how we manage self-control.  The Word of God challenges us to be alert and self-controlled.  There is never to be a time when our spiritual guard is let down.  Self-control comes when we feel like blowing up at someone, but we instead respond with Christ-like patience.  There will be moments when we feel like saying something unkind to a family member or co-worker.  We might even begin to think in terms of getting even with someone who has wronged us.  The power of Christ, functioning in us, compels us to rise above such self-centered impulses and follow instead the power of the Holy Spirit.  Self-control is a must when we feel the urge to do anything that compromises our principles and integrity.    

Do you suppose you will have some opportunities to practice God ordained self-control today?  The answer is obvious: of course you will.  As we walk through daily life we are commanded by the Lord to let His light shine from our lives.  The light of Christ shines brightest from us when we are daily practicing self-control which leads to spiritual victory.  Do not be discouraged and do not become disheartened if you have failed in some areas.  Remember that God isn’t through with us yet.  As followers of Christ, we are all a work in progress. 

Move forward, trust the Lord, and let His light shine through.  Joy, peace, and spiritual victories are waiting for you today.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Old Has Gone, the New Has Come

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  –II Corinthians 5:17  
  
This past weekend was exhausting, but wonderful.  We had some of our family and friends in town to join us for the annual Rhythm and Roots Reunion right here in Bristol, which in case you didn’t know it, is the true birthplace of country music.  The annual music festival celebrates that rich heritage.  I got in so late Saturday night that I was simply too exhausted to sit down and write a blog for Sunday.  Sorry about that.  My desire is to have a new devotional thought every day, but sometimes a tight schedule makes that difficult.  To all my faithful readers, thanks for your patience and understanding.

Speaking of the music festival, we heard as always some wonderful music from some familiar groups as well as some we had never heard before.  The highlight of the weekend for me, however, was getting to meet Tommy Ramone of the 70’s punk rock band “The Ramones.” He is now “Uncle Monk” and plays bluegrass / folk music.  Who would have thought that, right?  That’s quite a departure from the punk rock he played back in the 1970’s.  I met him as he was exiting the artists’ souvenir building and we had a brief, but nice chat.  He was more than willing to stop for a moment and talk with someone who remembered his former punk rock days.   

For those of you who remember The Ramones, Tommy was the original drummer.  If you saw him today you probably would not recognize him.  Along with being much older, he has traded his black leather jacket for a work shirt and suspenders.  And instead of playing the drums he strums a mandolin.  His bluegrass / folk music style is melodic, soulful, and fit right in with the theme of the Bristol music festival.  “My goodness,” I thought; what an amazing transformation.  

As I ponder this I am brought back to the Scripture which speaks of the transforming power of God in the life of the believer.  That person we used to be has been overshadowed by the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.  When we put our faith in Christ the change that comes about can often leave a person with little resemblance to his or her former self.  The old person with all the bitterness, hatred, bad attitudes, destructive habits, baggage, and negative outlook is replaced with an individual of faith, character, love, compassion, and a new outlook.  As the Scripture says, “The old has gone, the new has come!”  

In Jesus Christ we are not the same; we are far better than we used to be.  Trust the Lord today and let Him make you into that vibrant and hopeful person you can be.  With Christ it can be done. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Claiming Christ’s Power Over Past Sins

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  -Romans 6:1, 2 

I heard a story many years ago about a man who lived a sinful life.  Every so often he would come to church, fall upon his knees and cry, “Fill me Lord, fill me!”  After this, however, he would soon return to his sinful ways.  This pattern continued for some time until one Sunday when the man came forward crying, “Fill me Lord, fill me!” the pastor said, “Don’t do it Lord; he leaks!”  

The Word of God poses a stirring question regarding how we conduct ourselves after we have come to faith in Jesus Christ.  Shall we keep in sinning?  The answer is clear: “God forbid!” (KJV).  Having come to faith in Christ we are called to leave behind that sinful lifestyle we once practiced.  Imagine going out to your garbage can on a hot July day and sorting through the trash you had thrown out the week before.  What are the odds of finding anything in there you might want to bring back into the house?  Not too good!  You got rid of it because it is garbage.  It now smells, is nasty, is full of germs and filth, and picking it up and bringing it back into the house would be unthinkable.
 
For the follower of Christ, this should be our attitude regarding any ungodly practices we engaged in before coming to faith in Him.  Whatever goes against God’s Word, compromises our faith, does damage to our witness, or harms us or others, we are to toss it aside and not pick it up again.  Many people wonder if they can accomplish such a task.  The drug addict, the alcoholic, the one given to violence and profanity, or the person who has committed a host of crimes, might believe that salvation and deliverance from those behaviors is impossible.  Listen carefully: With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).  Nothing is too hard for God, and Jesus Christ has the power to break the chains of whatever destructive behaviors are holding us back.

Do not allow the past to take power over you today.  Whatever has happened in the past, whatever it may be, can be overcome by the power of Christ.  Jesus’  shed blood upon the cross can wash away the vilest sins or the most painful memories.  In Jesus there is deliverance, salvation, and hope. 
 
Look to Jesus and claim the victory.  He will fill us with His Spirit – and we will not leak.   

Friday, September 17, 2010

Be Sure to Encourage Someone Today

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  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 15:4-6

We are fast approaching a year since I began this daily blog, and the support and encouragement for keeping it going has been tremendous.  A number of people from the congregation where I am pastor keep telling me that the blog is a blessing to them, and often I hear from people in the community who have been reading.  In recent weeks I have also received some wonderful feedback from people as far away as Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Texas, and Illinois.  God bless you all for reading and for the encouragement you have given me.  I am deeply humbled that the Lord is using these daily thoughts to encourage you in your faith.  That in turn encourages me and inspires me to continue writing.  Again I say God bless you, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

When we as followers of Christ are serious about growing in our faith, we will find unlimited resources for doing so.  The Word of God challenges us to grow in grace, love, and commitment to Christ.  As we grow in the Word we also have the blessed fellowship and encouragement found within the body of Christ, which is the church.  Within the church we discover that we do not go through the difficult times of life alone, but we have a network of support to stand with us and offer us comfort and encouragement.  This is something we all need especially through the trials and difficulties we face. 

As the Lord encourages me through His Word, the church, and people I know, I then desire to encourage others.  My prayer is that we as followers of Christ will share in the unity of which the Scripture speaks.  Pray for one another, look for ways to support and minister to one another, and be always seeking to offer a kind word of comfort and encouragement.  From this network of support we are strengthened to go and share our faith with those who have not yet heard about the wonderful love of Jesus Christ. 

Have you been encouraged today through God’s Word and these thoughts?  If so, I praise the Lord for that and I give all glory to Christ.  Now go and share that encouragement with others.  No doubt someone you know needs the spiritual support you can offer.
  
May the Lord richly bless you and strengthen you today. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Lesson in Grace

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  –Romans 8:1, 2 

I heard a story once about a teacher who many years ago was sent to a rural area to teach in an old fashioned one-room schoolhouse.  The boys he taught were a rough group and were unused to discipline and learning. The boys stated that they didn’t care for rules, so the new teacher gave them a challenge: You decide yourselves what the rules will be and what the consequences are for not following them.  After some deliberation, the boys came up with some basic rules: no homework, fifteen minutes longer for lunch, and anyone caught stealing had to be whipped with a stick across his back.  The teacher decided that in an effort to get this group to learn something he would allow their rules to stand.

A few weeks later it was determined that someone’s lunch had been stolen.  A search of everyone’s desks revealed the guilty party; a scrawny little boy who dressed in rags and seldom had proper food.  “Well,” the teacher said, “You all know the rules; this boy must be whipped.”  A chorus a protest went up from the group.  “No teacher!”  They said, “He took the lunch because he was hungry.  You can’t whip a little boy for taking food because he was hungry, can you?  And besides; look at how scrawny and pitiful he is.”  “I’m sorry,” The teacher replied.  “But you made the rules and the rules have to be enforced.”  At that moment the biggest, roughest boy in the school stepped forward: “Teacher,” He said, “There’s no rule that says someone can’t take this boy’s punishment for him.” The young man then proceeded to pull off his shirt and surrender his own back to take the blows intended for the guilty boy.  The teacher brought out the whipping stick, and after three or four blows stopped.  The teacher then took the stick and broke it across his knee.  It was never needed again, for the group learned that most valuable lesson about love, grace, and compassion.    

The Scripture reminds us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  We would have been condemned, but Christ stepped forward, at just the right moment, and took the punishment intended for us.  In doing so He set us free from sin and death.  Let us be thankful for the grace shown to us through Christ who died upon the cross in our place.
 
The troubled soul finds grace and compassion with the Lord.  Do you think that no one loves or cares for you?  Think again; Jesus Christ cares.  So much so that He bore the punishment meant for us.  Thanks be to God for such grace and mercy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spiritual Victory and Godly Self-control

"Everything is permissible for me"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"—but I will not be mastered by anything.  –I Corinthians 6:12 

I was listening to the news this morning about some American hikers who were hiking near the border of Iran.  They inadvertently crossed the border and were arrested and have been detained for some time.  I join with countless people across the country as we pray for their release and safe return home.  As I consider this situation, I have to think about the risks involved with such a pursuit.  It could be argued that hiking near the Iranian border during such turbulent times as these is extremely dangerous.  One could say that doing so is permissible, but not advisable.  As you know from recent blog posts that I enjoy hiking, and I am sure those Americans being detained in Iran saw some beautiful country.  However, I will stay within a safer region for the time being. 

Paul the Apostle applied this thinking to our ongoing behavior as followers of Christ.  We are free to engage in all sorts of pursuits, but not everything we would do is beneficial.  For example, I do not drink alcohol in any form; that is my personal preference and choice.  However, I certainly could if I chose to, right?  That would be, as the Scripture says, “permissible.” The question is would it be beneficial?  The answer is again taken from the Scripture: No, for it wouldn’t be beneficial.  As a pastor, church leader, a spiritual leader in the community, and father, I have to consider the impact of such behavior on my witness for Christ and my reputation in the community.  God forbid that I do anything that would tarnish my witness or the example I desire to set for others.   

There are a world of behaviors in which I could engage, but I realize that doing so would not be beneficial.  These could range in everything from overeating, using profanity, and viewing pornography.  However, none of those behaviors would be beneficial, but quite the opposite. The Word of God is clear on that point: “I will not be mastered by anything.” In submission to Christ we not only find spiritual freedom, but we also experience the liberating power over anything that might otherwise have controlled us.  Here we see this great principle at work: Christ can release us from the chains that bind us and empower us to walk forward through life with peace, confidence, joy, and spiritual victory. 

This divine process begins by trusting the Lord and making godly choices regarding our personal conduct.  What are you considering doing today?  What have you been doing?  It is beneficial?  If not, the Lord will let you know, and He will give you power over it.

The troubled soul finds victory in Christ over the chains that bind us.  Trust the Lord today and walk in the victory He brings.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More Evidence of the Wonder of God’s Creation

They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.  –Psalm 104:11-13

As we move into the fall of the year I am reminded of how much I enjoy this season.  The air begins to get cooler, the leaves begin to change, and even though the days are getting shorter, the sun seems to shine brighter this time of year.  I am always sad, however, when I have to take down my hummingbird feeders and store them away until next season.  As I discussed in a recent blog, I could watch the hummingbirds for hours as they hover, fly, and put on a show unlike any other species of bird.  I imagine that many people have taken their feeders down by now, but I will leave mine up a little longer.  In fact, I filled both of them earlier today.  I figure, why not?  Give the stragglers who haven’t started south yet some extra fuel for their long flight.

I recall a few years ago about this time of year I was having a conversation with another person who, like me, loves to watch the hummingbirds.  When she found out that I had not taken down my feeders she told me I had best do so, for I might keep some of the birds from flying south.  I went home and did some reading about that and according to one expert on the subject, leaving our hummingbird feeders out longer into the fall will have no impact whatsoever on whether or not the hummingbirds fly south.  One source stated that leaving the feeder up longer will not delay migration, for they are driven by forces stronger than hunger.  In other words, let’s not flatter ourselves into thinking that we might somehow override the powerful forces inborn in these wonderful birds.  Some will stay around all winter; others will leave when they are ready.  That is the way God created them and it has nothing to do with us. 

This phenomenon is to me one more piece of evidence as to the creative power of God.  Take time this fall to look around and enjoy the beauty that is all around us.  Stop and take in the wonders of creation; the fall colors, the beautiful sunsets, and the clear fall nights.  Within the plan of creation, you and I are a vital part. 

Seek the Lord, give thanks, and move forward in the confidence that we are here for a reason and a divine purpose.  Be glad and enjoy the day.

Monday, September 13, 2010

God’s Judgment is Right

Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.  Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced.  –I Chronicles 16:11, 12 

For the next three months I am scheduled to be on call for jury duty.  I have no idea whether I will placed on a jury or not, but if that happens I am confident that I will not discuss the case on my blog.  Something tells me the powers that be might frown on that.  I recently heard about a juror who was involved in some sort of criminal case.  The jury reached a verdict, and the juror then proceeded to post the verdict on his Facebook page – before it was announced!  Again, the powers that be were not amused.  The last I heard this unthinking person was about to be charged with contempt of court.  Don’t worry; I will not do anything like that.  I promise.

We know that in our courts of law that a person accused of some crime must face the judgment of the court.  Most of the time our system works correctly; the guilty are punished and the innocent are exonerated.  Unfortunately, there may be times when the guilty go free and the person escapes judgment.  Such a guilty person will only elude that judgment for a while, however, for no one escapes the judgment of God.  We will all face that divine judgment at some point, if not in this life, then in the next.  Rest assured that God’s judgments are right, pure, perfect, and fair.    

The best way to prepare for that day when we must stand before God is to get our hearts ready right here and now.  This is done through faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus came into the world to pay the penalty for our sins through His death upon the cross.  The guilt of sin that is upon us all is washed away by the cleansing power of Christ.  We can then move through life with the peace of knowing that we have been forgiven by God.  Because of Christ we need not fear that day when it comes. 

How about your heart today?  Is it heavy with the burden of unresolved sin?  Christ stands ready to offer forgiveness, grace, and a brand new start.  The troubled soul can find new life by trusting Christ and discovering the abundant life He offers.  There is no reason to walk around carrying that burden any longer.  Trust in Christ and find forgiveness.  With that forgiveness is spiritual freedom.   

Trust the Lord and experience new life starting right now.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Faith More Powerful Than Doubt

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."  "Come," he said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"  -Matthew 14:28-31

I know that the Lord has said that to me many times what He said to Peter: "You of little faith. Why did you doubt?"  Why do we so often doubt what the Lord tells us?  Faith is always more powerful that doubt, but isn’t it amazing how quickly doubt can establish itself in the human heart?  It reminds me a smaller man who is able to whip a much larger man simply because he knows his opponent’s weaknesses and he has a better fighting technique.  This is why Jesus challenged us to have more faith.  Faith is our principle technique and strategy for fighting the devil.  Do you think that the devil has a technique, weapons, and a strategy?  You had better believe he does, and he will use them against us each and every day.  The Scripture says that we have weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left (II Corinthians 6:7).  We must be able and willing to use them.

I am smart enough to know not to try and take on the devil hand-to-hand.  I am going to use the weapons the Lord has provided.  Ephesians 6 outlines for us exactly what they are: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and prayer (Ephesians 6:14-18).  Step out on faith and claim the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ.  When we fail to do that the Lord will say to us what He told some others, “Why did you doubt, oh ye of little faith?”  

On two different occasions in Matthew the Lord said that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move mountains.  Matthew 17:20 says, "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."  Again in Matthew 21:21: "Jesus replied, 'I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done."

Remember that doubt is like pouring water on hot coals.  It puts out the fire the Lord is doing in our lives.  Faith will move us forward, but doubt will always hold us back.  Doubt and unbelief have ever been the enemy of vibrant and growing faith.  Get rid of doubt and unbelief, and anything else that is hindering our growth and faith in Jesus and we will be ready to move mountains. 
 
It can be done.  Nothing will be impossible; for me, for you, and for the church.  The Lord will provide; in His time and in His way. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Does God Notice our Faith?

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. -II Peter 1:5-8

If you read some of my recent posts you will recall my saying how much I have lately been enjoying some hiking.  One of the drawbacks of hiking this time of year, among other things (heat, mud, mosquitoes), are the spider webs that stretch across the trail.  You don’t always see them until you have walked right into them.  I am constantly amazed at the strength of those tiny webs.  If those spider webs were on the same scale for us as the insects they ensnare they would be the equivalent of stout ropes wrapped around us from which we could not escape.  The spider’s web seems to be fragile, but yet it is amazingly strong.  So it is with faith.  It may not always seem like much, but the power of faith is astounding.  Faith in Jesus Christ can lead us to do that which we would otherwise believed to be impossible.  

Does God take notice of our faith?  I believe that the answer is yes.  Jesus was frequently taking notice of the faith of those around Him, and sometimes He chastised people for not having enough faith.  
-Matthew 6:30 reminds us that God will provide: "And if God takes care of the birds of the air and clothes the flowers of the field, will He not provide for us – oh ye of little faith?" (KJV)   
-Matthew chapter 8 shows how it took a Roman centurion to show those who claimed to believe God what true faith looked like.  Jesus said He had yet to see such faith in all of Israel.  
-In Matthew 8:26 Jesus rebuked the storm and all was calm.  Then He rebuked the disciples and said, “Why were you afraid?  Oh ye of little faith.”  (KJV)
-Matthew 13:57, 58 shows how that Jesus would not do many miracles in His hometown of Nazareth because of the peoples’  lack of faith.   

The Lord Jesus often took notice of peoples’ faith, and He either commended them for it, or challenged them to seek after more.  Faith in God is something the believer cannot have enough of.  And we can always benefit from more.  Faith is that blessed power and force in our lives that enables us to rise up and seek that higher ground in Jesus Christ.  I love the theme of higher ground.  The follower of Christ must at all times remain and keep the higher ground.  Here is a term that I had never heard before, but the Lord gave it to me: Moral high ground.  This is where our lives are characterized by absolute moral integrity.  Getting to and maintaining the moral high ground is a faith walk; one that takes place each and every day.  The devil is alive and well and will continually be trying to dislodge us from the moral high ground.

Faith in Christ leads to some powerful and wonderful blessings in our lives.  When we add to our faith the Christlike qualities described in God's Word such as goodness, knowledge, and self-control, then we are empowered to let the light of Christ shine from our lives.

Do not settle for dull and lifeless faith.  Rise up in the power of Christ and seek faith that moves us forward in spiritual victory.  Take heart, have hope, and be of good cheer; victory is ours through faith in Christ.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The True Nature of the Church

On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.  And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.  –Acts 14:27, 28 

There are a number of places I hope to visit someday and one of them is England.  My sister has traveled extensively across England and every time she travels there she always enjoys visiting some of the churches.  Many church buildings across England have stood for centuries.  My sister told me of one such church building which was constructed in the fourteenth century.  Down through the years services continued to be held, but in recent years the attendance declined to the point that the building had become more of a museum.  That changed, however, when an evangelical congregation obtained permission to hold services in the church.  They brought with them a renewed sense of vision, preaching, and ministry.  My sister commented on how interesting it was to attend a worship service in an 700 year old church and hear vibrant praise music and evangelical preaching.  I was blessed as well as intrigued to learn of how the gospel was going out in that part of the world.

This story reminds me of the fact the church does not consist of the building, but rather the church is composed of the people who have been redeemed through faith in Jesus Christ.  The church where I am the pastor is East Bristol Baptist, but the church is made up of the people, not the bricks and woodwork of the building.  Acts 14 shows some of the trials and blessings Paul the Apostle encountered as he proclaimed the gospel of Christ.  The latter part of the chapter tells of Paul and Barnabas’ arrival at the church in Antioch and how they reported all that had happened.  Note that the Scripture says that “they gathered the church together.” This was not a gathering of buildings, but of people. 

When we speak of the church let’s be sure we realize that the church is the living body of Christ in the world, composed of those who have put their faith in Him.  As the church is therefore living, it is meant to grow and thrive.  Pray that the church, those redeemed in Jesus Christ, will always be about the working of letting the world know that Jesus is Lord.

What a blessed ministry we have been given; that of sharing the Good News with the world.  Let the light of Christ shine forth and pray for a great revival of faith across the land.   

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Faith Refined and Strengthened Through the Trials of Life

These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 
–I Peter 1:7 

We have all probably heard the old saying in regards to exercise about “no pain no gain.”  That illustration is perfectly applied to faith.  When we go through difficult times our faith is strengthened.  It can be a painful process and one which might test the absolute limits of what we can endure.  However, when our focus is upon Christ and not ourselves or our problems, then we will be strengthened in ways we would not have imagined possible.  No problem we face is too big for God, and no stress we encounter is too overwhelming for the Lord to bring us through.  When we are faithful and hold fast to the promise of God that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6), then we grow and are strengthened in the process, regardless of how painful it seems at the time.  

Faith in the Lord is a precious commodity in our lives.  Through faith we become victors over the challenges of life – not mere survivors.  So often our thinking is that if we can just get through this we will be all right.  The Lord will bring us through, but that’s not all; we will be empowered to rise up in victorious faith that stands firm and doesn’t give up.  When we take on the power of Christ in us we become more than survivors; we are transformed into over-comers.
   
The Scripture teaches that this refining process of our faith is for our benefit that we grow stronger, have vibrant faith, and the abundant life in the midst of life’s struggles, but the process has another purpose: That our lives reflect to those around us the power of Christ in us.  Followers of Jesus Christ have been given a bad name in recent years.  The insincerity and extremism of some has caused many to believe we are all that way.  When the love of Jesus shines through, the true meaning of faith in Christ is demonstrated; Jesus came to bring salvation, life, love, and peace.  Following Jesus has never been about hatred and bitterness.

Are you going through difficult time right now?  Do you believe that your faith is being tested?  In all likelihood it is.  If our faith is never put to the test then we would never grow.  Learn to trust the Lord one day at a time.  Do not grow bitter, discouraged, or overwhelmed.  The love of Christ will overcome through faith in Him. 

Walk forward and let the light of Christ shine through.  You are growing, and will continue to do so.  Joy, peace, and grace are waiting to be shared in the midst of whatever you are suffering.  Hold fast to Christ and stand firm!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Speaking up for Someone in Need

When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.  –Acts 9:26, 27 

Over the years I have been asked many times if I could be listed as a reference on someone’s job application.  Usually I am able to provide a positive reference for the person.  When potential employers call and ask me to describe the qualities of the person and if I think he or she would be a good employee, it’s always nice to be able to answer in the affirmative.  Consider that if we have someone willing to do that on our behalf, then that is a blessing.  Someone believes in us and is willing to stand up and say so.

After Paul the Apostle’s conversion to Christianity (See Acts 9:1-22) the change in him was so dramatic that people were at first skeptical.  Some had a hard time believing that the same man who had been persecuting the faith was now proclaiming it.  Few people of Paul’s day had attacked the church with such zeal and ferocity.  When the news came that he had begun to preach the very message he had previously tried to destroy, it’s normal that some would be doubtful.  In fact, some within the church thought that it was some sort of trick designed to entrap more followers of Christ.  Thanks to a brother in Christ named Barnabas, who brought Paul (formerly called Saul) before the church leaders and testified as to his sincerity, the church welcomed him. 

No doubt there has been a time when you needed someone to step up and speak on your behalf.  Wasn’t it positive and affirming to have someone who was willing to do that for you?  What a blessing to know that someone believes in us so much that they will testify as to our sincerity, honesty, and work ethic.  Consider also that there may be someone in need of an affirming word and you or I may be the one needed to speak on his or her behalf.  Doing this for someone might just be the lifeline someone needs to keep trying and to keep moving forward.

Pray for those you know who need a positive word of encouragement.  Some troubled soul can benefit from your willingness to speak on his or her behalf.  You will be blessed and those in need will be reminded of their worth and potential.  Reach out today in the name of the Lord.  Someone needs a helping hand, a kind word, and a gentle affirmation. 

God will bless us when we reach out in love.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Running to Get the Prize

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  –I Corinthians 9:24 
 
If you have ever participated in or at least watched a marathon, you will notice that spectators on the sidelines frequently hand out cups of water to the runners.  As competitors run by, people are there to hold out to them these cups full of water which refreshes the runners as they run the race.  As I have pondered this I am brought back to what the Scripture says about the Christian life being akin to running a race.  We are called to run our race with integrity, commitment, and discipline.  As the Bible says, we run in such as way as to get the prize –  that being eternal life with the Lord.

Like those holding out cups of cool water to the runners, we also have many blessings along the way as we run the race.  Many times the blessings come from unexpected sources.  They just appear before us and we are refreshed as we pass by.  The blessings can come in the form of a kind word from someone, an encouraging note, a favorite song on the radio, a phone call from an old friend, or a feeling of peace that comes when we need it the most.  All of these are like those refreshing cups of water that bring strength to us during troubled times.  When these seemingly small blessings come, don’t take them for granted or downplay their importance.  These are given to us from the hand of God; take them seriously, give thanks, and enjoy the blessings they provide. 

Those blessings that will come can empower us to keep on running and to not give up.  We are challenged in Scripture to run like those who are expecting to win the race.  That means that we will not settle for anything less than total commitment.  Let us not fall prey to an attitude that settles for a half-hearted approach to faith in Christ.  Run all out and give it all we have with the strength that the Lord provides.

Whatever you are facing today, stand firm and do not be discouraged.  Keep moving forward and do not give up.  Christ is near and He will send a blessing your way to encourage you today.  Somewhere today the Lord will hold out a cup of water in the form of a blessing.  When it comes reach out for it and receive it gladly.
   
Keep on running.  There are many blessings to be shared along the way.  Take time to be thankful for them.  Remember; a prize is waiting.  Keep going!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Lord is Exalted Over all the Earth

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.  Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered. –Psalm 108:5, 6 

I wonder how often we take for granted the beauty of God’s creation?  Could it be that we sometimes become so caught up in the routines of our daily lives that we fail to reflect upon the glory of God that is all round us?  I have no doubt that this is frequently the case.  Many of us have every intention of getting away from our hectic schedules once in a while and taking time to appreciate the wonder of God’s handiwork, but we don’t do so nearly as often as we should.  Why would we in the first place?  I could write dozens of pages in response to that question, but let me narrow it down and say that getting out of our routines occasionally and taking in the beauty of the world is an amazingly therapeutic pursuit.  We can become refreshed, renewed, and develop a deeper sense of God’s presence.


The psalmist lifted up his voice in praise and stated that the glory of God is over all the earth.  He did not arrive at such knowledge on his own, but was enlightened through the power of the Holy Spirit.  As he sought the Lord, prayed, and worshipped, he came to a deeper understanding of the power of God.  No doubt the psalmist looked beyond his own day-to-day routine and saw the glory of God – in the majestic mountains, the rolling hills, the verdant valleys full of wildflowers, and the wide expanse of sky above.  He did not take it all for granted and somehow assume that the earth came about as the result of some cosmic accident, but instead gave glory to God; the author of creation and the architect of the universe.  Doing so gave him a deeper sense of his place in the world.

Such contemplation can do the same for us.  We also can develop a renewed understanding of why we are here.  Like the psalmist, we can reach the understanding that we are not here by accident, but rather God has placed us here for a divine purpose.  You and I are vital parts of the kingdom of God; we have a place and God has called us to reach out to others in His name.   


Your schedule may not permit you to take time off this week and hike the Red River Gorge as I was blessed to do so last week, but you can rise early tomorrow and watch the sun rise.  Or you can marvel at the beauty of sunset which will occur later today.  When we begin to stop and look around us we will see the glory of God and His creative power.  The Lord will help us.  Salvation has come in Jesus Christ. 

Look to the Lord and praise His name, for He is over all the earth.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Evidence of God in Creation

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  –Psalm 102:25 

This past week as I hiked through a portion of Red River Gorge in Kentucky, I was taken with the awesome grandeur of the sandstone cliffs and the beauty of the hills and valleys.  Truly I witnessed the wonder of God’s handiwork as demonstrated in this beautiful place.  As I gazed out upon the rock cliffs, visible from my vantage point on the top of the gorge, I considered that this is part of the foundation of the earth as described in Scripture.  Numerous times I sat and communed with God; I could hear His voice in the gentle breeze reminding me that He is the author of the universe and the sustainer of life.  The knowledge that the same God who created the world cares for you and me in such a personal way is truly a humbling thought.


I also wondered about the people who had gone before, who have stood where I stood, saw what I was seeing, and viewed the majestic rock formations and lofty heights.  I am not talking about people from this season or even five, ten, or twenty years ago.  No, I thought about past people and cultures; explorers of the 1600 and 1700’s, and even further back – the Indians who inhabited Kentucky, known by the Iroquois as Kentahten, which means "land of tomorrow."  When they stood upon the upper rim of the Red River Gorge and witnessed the view I would see all those centuries later, did they too consider that God Almighty had in that place laid the foundations of the earth?  No one can say for certain, but I can testify that I saw the glory of the creation of Almighty God.  


Wherever you go today and whatever you do, stop and consider that the same God who set the planets in motion knows us personally and desires a close and vibrant relationship with us.  Christ came into the world that we might have salvation and commune with God as friend to friend.  While I enjoyed communing with God during my hiking trip, I can also talk with Him each morning during my daily devotional time, and I can rely upon His strength and grace to carry me through the day.  When my day isn’t going so well, God is always willing to listen to my problems and offer His help. 

Look to the Lord today and rejoice in His salvation.  The Lord is a constant source of comfort, joy, peace, and life.  Praise His holy name!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Value of Hard Work

We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.  –I Corinthians 11:12, 13a 

I just returned yesterday from a three day trip into eastern Kentucky where I spent two days hiking through the Daniel Boone National Forest.  No doubt you’ll be reading about this trip in some blog posts later in the week (I also plan to post some pictures).  What a wonderful and blessed time I had – but more about that later.  Some might wonder how my blog posts continued even while I was away.  Ah, the wonder of modern technology.  I have at times taken a laptop with me and posted them while I traveled, but this time I posted them in advance; each day scheduled to appear at the appointed time.  That way, those who receive a blessing from these posting may continue to do so – even when I am taking some time off.

Anyone who has done some writing will understand that while it can be a relaxing and enjoyable pursuit, writing is also hard work.  It requires tremendous emotional and spiritual energy to achieve.  However, when the work is through there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment.  This is the nature of any sort of honest work; when we are finished we have that sense of time well spent, which produces some positive feelings.  This can apply not only to our vocation, but also to work we do around the house such as cutting the grass.  We are perhaps tired when we are done, but it’s a good kind of tired. 

The Bible speaks of engaging in hard work – the kind which brings about a positive result.  Work that is honest, provides for our families, and is done with a right attitude will be blessed by God.  Nowhere in the Scriptures will we find that God blesses laziness and a half-hearted attitude.  Rather, the opposite is true; God always blesses honest and hard work done with integrity and dedication.  This will apply to all walks of life and any occupation.  The problem comes when we begin to rely upon ourselves and our on abilities for satisfaction in life.  We will soon come up empty and feeling like we aren’t accomplishing much.

Trust in the Lord and seek a personal relationship with Him.  Through that blessed walk with Christ we find fulfillment, joy, peace, and happiness in life.  The work we do can come alive in some fresh and wonderful ways when Jesus Christ is at the center of our lives.
 
So, what is your occupation?  Seek the Lord first, and the rest will fall into place.  Christ will empower you to be the best you can possibly be in whatever station in life He has placed you.  From that position of faith you can have the light of Christ shining through. 

You are vital to the kingdom of God.  Never forget that.