Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Welcome Grace Fans

(Read: Romans 12:1-5) 

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.  -Romans 12:3 (KJV) 

For many years churches have maintained signs on their premises which provide the church name and other basic information.  Many of these signs also have a place where sayings, Scripture references, and brief announcements may be shared with the community. It’s the announcements and sayings which tend to be problematic.  In an effort to be clever or witty many a church sign has come across in a manner other than what was intended. 

I did see a nice saying on a church sign just the other day.  All last week here in Bristol it was race week as NASCAR came to Bristol Motor Speedway.  All over town restaurants and gas stations posted signs which read, “Welcome Race Fans.”  The church sign I am referring to posted on their marquee read “Welcome Grace Fans.”  Now, that one made me think.  A house of worship should indeed be a place where fans of God’s grace are welcome. 

What does it mean to be a “grace fan?”  This is a follower of Christ who seeks to daily walk in the grace of the Lord Jesus.  God has demonstrated His love for us in that while were still sinners Christ died on the cross for our sins (Romans 5:8).  Having experienced the grace of God first hand we then strive to share this wonderful grace with a lost and hurting world. 

A fan of grace is a person who is Christ-like, gentle, kind, self-controlled, forgiving, Christ-centered (as opposed to self-centered), joyful, peaceful, and willing to give sacrificially in the name of Christ.  These traits are an outgrowth of the grace of God functioning in us. 

So, are you a grace fan?  If so then share the grace of God with those around you.  Reach out in Jesus’ name and let His light, and grace, shine.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What Goes Around…

(Read: Romans 2:5-11) 

9Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; 10But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: 11For there is no respect of persons with God. -Romans 2:9-11 (KJV) 

There is a saying my wife refers to from time to time.  When someone does something bad, unkind, or downright evil she will say, “What goes around comes around.”  This is indeed a true statement.  The good we do in life will come back to us and the evil we do will come back to us as well.  As followers of Christ we are called to sew goodness, kindness, gentleness, and the blessed gospel to a world which is wallowing in the mire of sin.  Practice being Christ-like and our efforts will come back to us in countless blessings.   

I am not just referring to the larger works we do.  There are an infinite number of smaller acts of goodness we can practice which will bring about wonderful heavenly rewards.  Someone might do something heroic like save another person’s life, and for this there would indeed be a reward of some sort.  Yet, consider also the rewards of being a kinder, gentler person as we go about our daily lives.  Take time to smile at those around you, practice saying “thank you,” more often, and offer a word of encouragement to the one who is feeling down.   Seek to be a more optimistic and giving person.  God’s Word promises we will receive manifold blessings from God when we put Christ-like qualities into practice.   

God’s Word reminds us of how the Lord shows no favoritism.  He rewards and blesses those who seek to do His will.  Conversely, those who willfully choose to go against God will also suffer the consequences of their actions.  Seek today to go about shining the light of Jesus Christ.  Do not allow the devil to gain a foothold.  Instead, claim the power of Christ to let His light shine from our lives.  The Lord sees, knows, and will pour His goodness upon us. 

Remember that Jesus Christ is our refuge and strength during the trials of life.  Let His light shine from us.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Wanted: Laborers for the Lord’s Harvest

Read: Matthew 9:27-38

37Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; 38Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest. -Matthew 9:37, 38 (KJV)

Several years ago I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in New York City.  As I saw all the incredible sights there I was overwhelmed with just how large and populous this city actually is.  Walking through places like Times Square where the traffic never slows down and the people are always out and about I was struck with a thought; I recalled the words of Jesus when He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” All over the city I saw people who no doubt need to know there is hope in Jesus Christ.

Wherever we live and wherever we go we will encounter people who need to know that there is hope in the Lord.  All around us are people who are barely holding onto life.  They are overwhelmed, exhausted, and discouraged.  Perhaps this describes you right now.  If so then take heart, for in Jesus Christ there is hope for right now and hope for a brighter day which is surely coming.  Christ leads us to the blessed assurance that in Him we can find the strength and the power to keep going forward.  Through Christ our problems will not destroy us.  Instead we will overcome and walk forward in spiritual victory.

I have no way of knowing what sort of trials you are facing right now.  Yet I am confident of the Lord’s ability to provide hope, comfort, and salvation.  Do not give up and do not despair, for the Lord is with us.  Let us share the love of Christ with those around us, for those who need to know Him are everywhere.

Will you become a worker in the Lord’s harvest?  The time to begin is right now. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Danger of an Empty Heart

(Read Luke 11:21-26)

24When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out.  25And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished.
 26Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.-Luke 11:24-26 (KJV)

We find Jesus in this passage giving a word to those who try to fill their hearts with anything other than God and the things of God.  We can build into our lives all sorts of pursuits which are harmless.  People have all kinds of hobbies, pastimes and pursuits which can even be of great benefit.  These might include fishing, stamp collecting, needlepoint, or woodworking.  These pursuits will occupy our time and they will bring us some measure of joy, yet they cannot fill the heart.  Only Jesus Christ can accomplish this.  Try to fill our hearts with anything else and we will come up empty.  

Isn’t it something how in the Old Testament even before the time when the grace of God was given in Jesus Christ the saints of old understood this?  The other morning I was reading from Ecclesiastes 11 where the Bible speaks of casting our bread upon the water and in many days it will come back to us.  Here is a principle at work; the good we do will come back to us in some way and the evil we do will also come back to us in like manner.  

We reap what we sew, what goes around comes around, and do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  In essence the principle is the same.  Jesus also spoke of how out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45).  I love the book of Ecclesiastes because of the conclusion Solomon finally reached.  You can spend a lifetime trying to fill your heart with worldly possessions, yet the heart can only be truly filled by what the Lord brings to our lives.

Make sure your heart is filled with the good things of God.  Otherwise, it will be and will remain empty. We can try to fill it with something other than God, but it’s going to leak right out.  It’s like a tire with a hole in it.  Eventually the air is going to run out and will create all sorts of problems for us.  When the heart is filled with Jesus Christ we are empowered to stand and to remain standing during the trials and hard times of life.  Don’t try to fill the heart with what we want, but rather fill our hearts with what God wants for us. Then we know it cannot be wrong, for God is the author of it.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No Permission to Quit

(Read, John 6:58-69) 

66From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.  67Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?  68Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.  69And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. –John 6:66-69 (KJV) 

As I was reading this passage I reflected on a time when my ministry was not going well.  The church where I was serving was facing intense internal conflict.  Factions within the church were warring with each other, tensions were high, and business meetings had become heated and nearly unbearable.  I had become so discouraged I was seriously considering finding another church and tendering my resignation.  Should another church not come available I was considering other options such as secular employment. 

Over lunch one day I confided in an older, wiser, and trusted pastor friend my feelings.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking he might say something like, “Dan, you have done all you can in this church.  In fact, if you were to resign or even quit the ministry for a while the Lord would surely understand.” However, my friend would not allow the subject of resignation to be discussed.  Instead, he looked at me from across the table and said gently but firmly, “Dan, God has called you to this church.  You must trust Him to lead you through this storm.  Someone has to lead them – that someone is you!”  He flatly refused to give me permission to quit. 

I confess I did not want to hear this, yet I knew my friend was right and the Lord was speaking to me through him.  Like the disciples who were contemplating leaving Jesus, where would I go?  The Lord had called me to preach, and this was where I would remain.  I am glad to report I did not resign, but instead stayed on two more years until the Lord opened another door of ministry.  During the two year period the church experienced a wonderful healing process. 

What are you facing today which is causing you to entertain thoughts of quitting?  Is it a troubled relationship, a job which isn’t going well, or a church which is going through a storm of strife and disunity?  Perhaps you are contemplating abandoning your faith in Christ altogether.  Consider the words of the disciples; “Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life.”   

If God has called you then He will empower you to remain in His will and calling.  Trust the Lord, look to Him, and keep going forward in faith.  Stand firm and do not quit. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Of Faith and Obedience to the Lord

(Read Luke 7:1-10) 

9When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.  10And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick. -Luke 7:9, 10 (KJV) 

If you love dogs as much as I do you will understand how every once in a while, maybe even once a lifetime, you have the privilege of owning what I call your “dream dog.”  This is the dog you always wanted because he or she is obedient, loyal, and because of the dog’s good nature does not require much in the way of discipline.  For 10 years we as a family were blessed with just such a dog.  Jenny was the dog I had always wanted.  She was a pound rescue collie mix of varying breeds, and she devoted her life to showing her gratitude for our having taken her in. 

One of Jenny’s strengths, among others, was her natural obedience.  I could take her for walks without a leash (I did keep the leash handy, however, as I didn’t want to run afoul of the authorities), she would attend little league games with us and she would lie quietly in the grass beside my chair, and she maintained an attitude which I can only describe as humble.  Sadly, Jenny passed away from complications from lung cancer in December of 2008.  Yes, dogs can indeed get lung cancer. 

When Jesus learned of the faith of the Roman Centurion who had requested that Jesus heal his servant the Lord was amazed.  The Centurion told Jesus how he understood what authority meant.  Authority means you tell someone to do something and he does it.  You say to one “go” and he goes.  You say to another “come” and he comes at your bidding –  without question.  The Centurion told Jesus that He indeed possessed such authority to heal.  “…but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed (v 7).”  So great was the Centurion’s faith that he knew all Jesus had to do was give the command and it would be done. 

Jesus then explained how He had not seen such great faith in all Israel.  The Lord then gave the word and the servant was healed.  This is an example of true faith.  Let us posses such strong and unquestioning faith in Christ.  When the Lord calls us let’s be ready to go.  When He bids us come to Him let’s be ready to do what He tells us. 

Are you listening for the Lord’s call today?  When he calls will you obey?  Do so and blessings and spiritual wonders will follow.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Appreciating the Gift of Sight

4Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: 5The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  6And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. -Matthew 11:4-6 (KJV) 

Isn’t it something how the Lord can get our attention and teach us important lessons about life?  When I was a seminary student in Louisville, Kentucky I would occasionally slip away during a break and visit a doughnut shop near the campus.  One morning I had just ordered my doughnuts and coffee and was getting ready to leave when a group of children, all between 7 to 10 years old, came in to enjoy some doughnuts. 

What was unique about these children was they were all from the school for the blind which was just down the street.  They came in, led by their teacher, and they all were holding hands in a sort of human chain.  What I noticed right away was how happy and talkative they were.  No doubt they were excited about the delicious treats they were about to enjoy.  Each child was given a small bag containing a few doughnuts.  I watched, transfixed, as many of the children opened their bags and lifted them to their faces and breathed in the sweet smell of the doughnuts.  I realized since these children have no sight they make the best use possible of their other senses such as smell and taste.   

After they had gone I left also, but with a new appreciation of my eyesight.  I got in my car and before eating my doughnuts I thanked God for my sight, and I asked God’s forgiveness for having taken it for granted.  But by the grace of God I could either have been born blind or lost my eyesight in some way as those precious children had.  Truly we sometimes take for granted these blessings which we have been given. 

If you are reading this, then stop and be thankful for eyesight which enables you to do so.  And remember those who do not have this gift.  I thank God also for our Savior, Jesus Christ, who made blind eyes see and lame legs walk, and one day in heaven will give us bodies which will never grow old or be infirm in any way. 

Until that day, give thanks and walk forward in faith.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Wellspring of Life Christ Provides

2Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.  3Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation. -Isaiah 12:2, 3 (KJV) 

My persistence has paid off.  The hummingbirds are back!  I have no idea why they left for a while or where they might have gone, but as of this past week I have had a time keeping my two feeders full.  Their visits to the smaller feeder I keep near the back fence have been so frequent I have to fill it about every couple of days.  As I have said, I love watching the hummingbirds, so trying different strategies to get them to come back was definitely worth it.  Was it anything I did?  The answer is I may never know.  I just know they have returned for the time being and for this I am glad. 

The Word of God speaks of how the Lord is our salvation, our strength, our song, and through Him will walk forward by faith and not by fear.  The power the Lord provides will be like a well of sweet and pure water from which we may draw and drink all we want.  The spiritual water Jesus Christ provides is pure and satisfying.  However, it’s up to us to come to the Lord and receive what He offers.  If we wander away from Christ we have no one but ourselves to blame.  Just as I was with the hummingbirds the Lord will not give up on us.  He will continue to reach out to us, love us, and draw us to Him.   

What a blessing it is to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and to daily walk in His grace.  Each day we can, as the Scripture says, draw from this wellspring of life.  We have in Jesus Christ a well which will never run dry, for the Lord always keeps it full.  We need not question the Lord.  Instead let us drink freely of His grace and mercy. 

Do you suppose as my hummingbirds (yes, they are “my” hummingbirds) drink from the feeders I provide they are thinking, “Hmm, I wonder who puts these out here for us and if it’s okay to drink from them?  I mean, is this for real?” No, the hummingbirds simply come and drink freely of the sweet water I willingly provide.   

My friends, do not question the Lord and the salvation He has so willingly provided.  Christ has provided a wellspring of life.  Come to Him, receive Him as Savior, and drink freely of the abundant life He has promised.   

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a hummingbird feeder to fill.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Keep a Daily Routine of Prayer and Time in the Word

21This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.  22It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  23They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.  24The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. -Lamentations 3:21-24 (KJV) 

Last month I visited my parents in Ohio.  We had a nice visit and I was also able to get caught up on some badly needed rest.  While I was there I continued to observe my early morning daily devotional time as well as maintaining my daily exercise routine.  That week the temperature soared to near 100 degrees each day and working out early in the morning was definitely a good choice.  Any later in the day and I might have run the risk of a heat stroke. 

One area of our lives from which we should never take a vacation is our devotion to God.  I know it’s a challenge to maintain a daily prayer and Bible reading time while on vacation, yet doing so is vitally important.  We are blessed for keeping our daily prayer time ongoing and this will also enhance time away from the challenges we daily face back home.  When the Bible speaks of morning by morning experiencing the blessings of God this is intended to be taken literally.  We can indeed experience the grace of God each day as we spend sacred time in prayer and devotion to Him. 

Life is always a challenge even in the best of times.  The time we spend with God each day empowers us to stand firm and not fall apart when the troubled times come.  Ephesians 6:10-18 outlines the components of our spiritual armor: The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet covered with the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and prayer.  Prayer is the force which holds it all together.  To me prayer is like the leather straps which hold our spiritual armor in place. 

Don’t even think about going out and facing the world without your armor.  We have our weapon for doing battle with temptation, sin, evil, fear, and discouragement.  We have the Word of God, prayer, worship, and fellowship with other believers.  Use these weapons every day, and day-by-day experience the power and grace of God.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Loving our Enemies

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;  -Matthew 5:44 (KJV) 

In January of 1991 what was known as “Operation Desert Storm” began.  This was the offensive, lead by the United States, to liberate the nation of Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion.  I was a seminary student in Louisville, Kentucky at the time and the day after the war started I attended a chapel service at the seminary.  I recall one of the professors, Dr. Glenn Hinson, leading in prayer.  He prayed for a swift end to the conflict, protection for our solders, and then he did something which startled me.  He prayed, “Oh Lord, we remember today the people of Iraq.  What about them, Lord?  We pray today for the people of Iraq.” 

At that moment I experienced the most wonderful epiphany.  I realized in a powerful moment of clarity that when the Lord Jesus told us to pray for our enemies He meant for us to literally do so.  Dr. Hinson was putting into practice exactly what the Lord has commanded us to do, which is to pray for those we might consider to be our enemies.  I was so caught up in praying for our own soldiers, their protection, and for their families back home that I forgot this important Christian principle.  Obviously, there have always been people in Iraq who are innocent and want war no more than we do.  There are also those who do in fact hate the United States and see us as an evil threat.  In either case it had not entered my mind to remember these people in prayer. 

We can also apply this principle to those who don’t like us and for whatever reason consider themselves to be our enemies.  We probably all have such persons in our lives.  The question is, have we put into practice the commandment of our Lord and prayed for them?  I will say from personal experience that it’s very difficult to feel ill will toward someone for whom you are fervently praying. 

The more we pray for others the more we love them, and the more we love the more we reach out in Jesus’ name.  The love of Jesus Christ drives hatred from our hearts, and this is a wonderfully liberating experience.  Let Christ fill our hearts with love, for in His love we find true peace and joy as we walk forward in faith.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Forgiveness Only Christ can Offer

47Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.  48And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.  49And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? -Luke 7:47-49 (KJV) 

Several years ago at the close of a Sunday morning worship service a woman came forward and asked me if she might share a prayer request with the congregation.  I consented and the woman began to confess of a sin she had committed.  She wept and told of her struggle to overcome, the weight of her guilt, and her need for forgiveness.  As she spoke I could sense the discomfort of the congregation.  I too found myself feeling uncomfortable as this woman so openly bore her soul.  After she spoke I lead in prayer and asked the Lord to show her His grace and forgiveness.  I prayed also that we would offer the same forgiveness.  Following the service the woman was assured by many that she was indeed forgiven. 

The event made me think about the time a woman who had lived a sinful life interrupted the dinner party Jesus was attending.  Imagine the discomfort the guests felt as the woman sought the forgiveness which only Christ could offer.  Jesus assured her that her sins, though many, were indeed forgiven.  It was a dinner party not to be forgotten. 

Sometimes we as followers of Christ need to be shaken up a little.  We need reminded of the real struggles countless people are experiencing every day.  The world is composed of people, and as such we are prone to mistakes, flaws, and failures.  As one person so aptly put it, “There was only one perfect man, and they crucified Him.”  Sometimes these folks will interrupt our lives and cause us discomfort with the sheer magnitude of the sins they are carrying.  When they seek to unburden themselves will we respond like Jesus, with love, mercy, compassion, and grace?  Our faith in the Lord Jesus compels us to do just that. 

The hurting, broken, wounded, and afflicted are all around us.  Let us be about the work of sharing with them the love of the One who is capable of providing the forgiveness they need.  Bring them to Jesus.  He is able to heal, forgive, and give them a brand new start.  He did so for you and me, and He will do so others. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Letting Others see Jesus in us

41For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.  42And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. -Mark 9:41, 42 (KJV) 

I recall reading a story about the devastation of England after WWII and how many children had been left orphaned and homeless.  One day a little boy was standing outside a bakery looking in the window.  The bakers inside were making bread, pastries, doughnuts, and a variety of other treats which were unavailable to the child since he had no money.  As the child stood there, hungry, forlorn, mouth watering, and feeling hopeless a military jeep pulled up by the curb and parked.  Out of the jeep stepped an American soldier who was about to go inside the bakery.  Seeing the boy standing there and surmising the situation, the soldier felt pity for him and went inside and purchased a dozen doughnuts.  The soldier then walked outside and placed the bag of doughnuts, still hot and fresh in the boy’s hand.   

“Here you go.” The soldier said as he handed the boy the doughnuts.  The child accepted the gift and could only stare at the man in disbelief.  The soldier then turned and was about to get into the jeep when the child spoke.  “Sir,” the child asked, “are you God?”   

My friends, we are most like the Lord when we are reaching out in kindness and compassion in His name.  Whether we are helping someone in need, taking time to listen to the cares of another, visiting the sick, witnessing to the lost, or simply giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name others will see Christ in us.  Look around and we see the needs are everywhere and the needs are great.  Take time today to reach out in the name of the Lord.  One act of kindness, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can count for all eternity.   

Reach out today in Jesus’  name.  Let others see Jesus in us.  Someone needs to know that the Lord still cares and in Him there is hope.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Idols we Create

1Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast.  2They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity… 9Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.  -Isaiah 46:1-2, 9 (KJV) 

The other morning I had gotten up around 5:00 AM to have my morning prayer and Bible study time and it must have taken a little longer than usual for my eyes to completely focus.  The passage I intended to read was from Psalm 46, which begins, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).  However, I somehow ended up in Isaiah 46 and as I read I was thinking to myself, “Hmm, this doesn’t look like Psalm 46.” It was then I saw that I was reading from the prophet Isaiah chapter 46.  As I said, it was 5:00 AM and I was still trying to wake up. 

Isn’t it something how God takes our frailties and our weaknesses and uses them for His glory and our benefit?  God will take our mistakes, no matter how large or small, and if we are faithful He will bring us through to a deeper understanding of His Word and how it applies to our lives.  Isaiah 46 is a passage which confronted the idolatry of God’s people the Israelites.  In a twist of bitter irony God reminded the people how even the idols they had bowed down to were also going to be carried away into captivity by the enemies of Israel. 

This is a lesson which is indeed applicable for today.  Countless people continue to look to the things of the world to bring them peace, joy, and fulfillment, yet in the end they are enslaved by them.  Like the ancient Israelites, the idols we make for ourselves and then bow down to will only bring about our downfall.  Alcohol, drugs, lust, and a focus on self will only result in bringing us down and away from the abundant life the Lord desires us to have. 

The good news is Jesus Christ, our Savior, is greater than all our sins and the idols of the world.  He is able to deliver us from them and bring us into the light of His joy and presence.  Resolve today to walk in the light of Jesus Christ.  Trust in the Lord who is willing and able to deliver us from the chains which bind us.  With God’s help the idols which have enslaved us can be torn down.  Trust Christ today and begin living the abundant life in Him.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Changed by the Power of Christ

21Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; 22And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: 23But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.  24And they glorified God in me.  -Galatians 1:21-24 (KJV) 

Galatians is a book of the Bible in which we get to see a side of Paul the Apostle which we don’t get to see too often.  He was deeply distressed over the problems being experienced by the church in Galatia which had been lead astray from the true gospel.  Paul reminded them of his conversion; a conversion so powerful and complete that he was nearly unrecognizable to his former self.  He had been a man who had once tried to destroy Christianity.  However, through the power of Jesus Christ Paul was transformed into a committed and passionate defender of the faith. 

Paul’s conversion and subsequent transformation causes me to think about a young man I was friends with in my youth.  Cliff had always worn his hair long and down to his shoulders.  One day, and much to the surprise to everyone, he had shaved his long hair down to what was commonly known as a burr haircut.  No one in my circle of friends could find it in our hearts to make fun of Cliff’s new hairstyle, partly because we were a little afraid of him (he was a fairly rough young man and not afraid of a fight), but mainly because we were profoundly impressed. It took guts to go from shoulder length hair to a military style buzz cut.  He was nearly unrecognizable to his former self. 

As followers of Christ we too become new creations in Jesus.  We may not go through such a dramatic transformation as Paul the Apostle or my friend Cliff, yet we are changed completely in Jesus from the inside out.  Our attitudes, outlook, thought processes, desires, and priorities go through a radical transformation.  We were lost and on our way to hell, yet we are now walking with Christ and have a home in glory.  We have become Christ’s witnesses in a sin-darkened world.  Never believe your conversion was inconsequential or unimportant.  You have become a new person in Jesus Christ.  Peace and joy are yours, salvation is certain, walking in the light is for every day, you have a message to share, and heaven is your home. 

Thanks be to God who has given us new life in Jesus Christ. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Pure Fountain of God’s Word

9For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.  10O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.  -Psalm 36:9, 10 (KJV) 

This past weekend I observed a sight which brought joy to my heart.  I saw a hummingbird flittering around the carport where I used to keep one of my hummingbird feeders.  He was clearly hovering around searching for the feeder.  The reason this made me glad is because I was fearful they had moved on and were not coming back.  Apparently, and much to my delight, they have returned.  I had moved my main feeder near the fence where our backyard meets the woods.  This, my friends, proved to be a mistake. 

After seeing the hummingbird I retrieved the feeder I had placed near the woods and I was dismayed to see it in poor condition.  It was full of ants, dead yellow jackets, and the sugar water was so contaminated that no hummers would want to feed from it.  I had a time cleaning it out and getting it suitable for use.  I’m glad to report the feeder is now clean, filled with fresh nectar, and hanging on its usual place on the carport.  Now all I have to do is wait to again see my beloved hummingbirds. 

We can be thankful that what we receive from the Lord is pure, trustworthy, and always to our benefit.  Should we deprive ourselves of the rich fountain of God’s grace, available to us every day in God’s Word and prayer, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.   Each day we may come to the Lord and partake of the spiritual riches which He so willingly provides.  We have spiritual food which is there for the taking.  Let us not deprive ourselves of these blessings. 

Have you put on your spiritual armor today?  Have to taken into your soul the sweetness of God’s Word?  Did you arise this morning and partake of the fountain of God’s grace?  Be sure to begin each day with prayer and time in God’s Word.  It is not too late to take up the 40 day challenge of arising earlier than ever before to spend more time in prayer and meditation on God’s Word.  You will be blessed in doing so, and the Lord will lead you to stronger faith. 

Seek the Lord today and walk forward in the power of Christ.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Overcoming our Fears

(Dear friends: Sorry I have gotten behind on my blog posts this past week.  It's been a hectic and busy week and I am sure you can relate.  Please go back and read the posts from Wednesday of this week forward until today as they are now caught up.  Thanks for your support and patience.  This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice!)

5I called upon the LORD in distress: the LORD answered me, and set me in a large place.  6The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?  -Psalm 118:5, 6 (KJV) 

Numerous times in the Bible we find where God comforted people by telling them to not be afraid.  With this comes the assurance of the Lord’s presence and what He will do for us.  When the Lord tells us to fear not what follows is the reason we are not to be afraid.  God is going to work it out, He will be with us, and He is going to bring about resolution to the problem whatever it may be. 

The psalmist said in verse 5 that when he was in anguish he cried out to God and the Lord answered by setting him free.  The Lord “set me in a larger place.”  I love this terminology.  It’s a word picture which speaks of being brought out of the confinement of worry, doubt, and fear.  We have all these fears and pressures and they can easily crowd in around us.  The Lord can lift us up spiritually and set us in a larger place.  This is the place of peace, for the Lord is there with us reminding us of His presence.   

Fear can work all sorts of negative processes in our lives.  We can lose our appetite, food loses its taste, we are doing something which should bring us enjoyment, yet we cannot stop thinking about the problems we are facing.  On a physical level fear can cause stomach problems, high blood pressure, and insomnia.  Fear will rule our every waking moment if we let it.  This is why the Lord has come to us telling us not to be afraid.  When we place our faith in the Lord He brings us to the place where we have peace – even though the problem has not gone away and may not for a while.  This is the larger place of which the Bible speaks.  The Bible reminds us how the Lord is with us.  “The Lord is on my side.” Don’t you think we sometimes forget this?  We forget the truth of scripture which reminds us that if "God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). 

The Lord has not called us to walk in fear.  Christ has called us to walk in faith –  vibrant, joyful, and victorious faith.  My friend, do not be ruled by fear.  Instead, be guided by faith in Jesus Christ.  He is with us, and His power is greater than any problem we will face.  Trust the Lord today and let Him bring you to this larger place of His peace.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Treasure of Godly Wisdom

19My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver.  20I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment: 21That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures. -Proverbs 8:19-21 (KJV) 

I was commenting in a recent worship service how countless people spend their entire lives searching for happiness and fulfillment and yet they come up empty.  The problem comes when they search in the wrong places.  People will look for fulfillment in jobs, relationships, hobbies, and money, and while there is actually nothing wrong with these things they will not bring us complete fulfillment.  True fulfillment comes when our hearts are right with God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

When we trust in the Lord and walk in His ways He brings into our lives godly wisdom for daily living and for getting our priorities straight.  The book of Proverbs has wisdom crying out like a person inviting people to leave their lives of recklessness and follow the good way which is the way of godly wisdom.  For followers of Christ the good and desirable way is the way of the cross.  According to the Word of God wisdom is crying out.  Yet, we wonder if anyone is listening.  All around us are people who have chosen to tackle life on their own strength and resources.  Godly wisdom leads us to understand the power of choosing instead to follow God and the principles set down in the Bible. 

A lack of wisdom will lead people to do all sorts of odd behaviors.  I read about a man who was at an airport and he ended up being late for his flight.  Having found out his luggage was on the plane which had just taken off the man told the airline personnel they needed to bring the plane back immediately.  His reason?  He said there was a bomb in his suitcase.  There was no bomb; the man just thought at the time this would get his flight turned around.  The man ended up taking a trip all right –  to the federal authorities who were not at all amused by his hoax. 

I think of people who live desperate lives and carry out bizarre schemes.  Godly wisdom leads us to live lives of truth, integrity, and honestly.  Choose the good way.  Choose to walk in God’s wisdom.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Praying for Your Pastor

18Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; 19And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.  -Ephesians 6:18, 19 (KJV) 

As I reflect on how I have been pastor of the same church for the last 15 and a half years I realize just what a blessing this truly is.  To be the pastor of a church where you are loved and appreciated is a wonderful experience.  I have to consider the fact that this is not always the case and sometimes a pastor and the congregation do not get along well with each other.  This can produce some painful and unfortunate circumstances.  It makes me think of the bulletin announcement I heard about which read, “Today Pastor Jack will preach his farewell sermon after which the choir will sing, ‘Burst Forth into Joy.’”  No doubt this sums up many situations fairly well. 

Paul the Apostle knew he was loved and appreciated by the Ephesian believers.  He asked them as they prayed to remember to pray for him that God would give him words to speak, boldness in preaching, and understanding of the deeper truths of the gospel.  This is an appropriate prayer for today’s pastor.  Wherever you go to church please take time to pray daily for your pastor.  The items you can pray for are numerous, yet Paul’s request is a great place to start. 

You might also pray for your pastor to have increased faith and wisdom to guide him through the trials he will face.  Pray for the pastor’s family that he will be able to give them the time and attention they always need.  Pray his children will not be resentful of the church and the demands placed on their father.  Pray that church members unhappy with the pastor’s job performance will have softened hearts to understand that while called into the ministry he still struggles with the same issues as anyone else. 

All congregations need strong leadership.  All pastors need prayer.  The more the pastor prays and the more the church prays for the pastor the more the ministry thrives.  Take time today to pray earnestly for your pastor.  He needs those prayers and can feel the power of God in them.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reaching out to Others In Jesus’ Name

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.  -Acts 1:8 (KJV) 

My wife Andrea and I just returned with our son Ben from a whirlwind tour of two prospective Virginia colleges, the University of Virginia and James Madison University.  Both schools offer academic excellence and a rich tradition of educating the best and brightest students of Virginia and other states.  We were profoundly impressed with both schools.  Either would be a great choice for Ben. Of that we are certain.

Something which quickly captured our attention about the University of Virginia is the history which encompasses the entire grounds of the university.  Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, he chose to design the school with a different philosophy from other colleges of the day.  For example, he chose not to call the school grounds a “campus” preferring instead to call it the “grounds” a term still used today.  Jefferson thought the term campus would be too inclusive of the university.  He desired for the students to always be connected to the larger community. 

As I pondered this I realize this is how we as followers of Christ are to view the church.  Let’s be sure not to cut ourselves off from the larger community, preferring instead to do as Jesus said and be His witnesses nearby, across the region, and all over the world.  Let us always seek to be salt and light to those around us – to people who need to experience the love and grace of the Lord Jesus.  We are to take this light to them demonstrating that Jesus is the light of the world, and through Him we find salvation, peace, joy, and life eternal. 

Too often we have allowed ourselves to be inclusive of the church itself.  It’s easy to become possessive of the church to the point where we almost resent the thought of “outsiders”  coming into our fellowship.  If this has been our attitude then let us repent of such spiritual arrogance.  Let’s make a concentrated effort to get back on track with reaching out to others in the name of Jesus.  The gospel has always been intended to be shared.  The church is to be the center from which we equip believers to go out and reach the lost in bringing them into the fellowship of the church. 

Those without Christ are all around us.  In the name of Jesus let’s be His witnesses in a world which needs to hear about the love of Christ.  Be encouraged and be of good cheer today.  The Lord has a plan and He has called us to go and be a part of it. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Big and Tall

4And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span…49And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.  -I Samuel 17:4, 49 (KJV) 

The other day I was in a department store and was shopping for some new clothes, which is something I am not too fond of doing in the first place.  I stopped by a rack of shirts which were on sale and began to browse through them.  As I looked at the shirts I was thinking how large they were.  “For a medium that’s a big shirt.” I thought.  “You could fit two of me in there.”  It was then I looked up and realized I had unknowingly wandered into the “Big and Tall” section.  This explained the oversized shirts. 

I can’t help but be amused by the term “Big and Tall” at the clothing stores.  I guess this is because it’s a reminder that I am neither.  Of course, when David stood on the battlefield and faced a giant named Goliath, a man who definitely fit the category of “big and tall” he may have felt the same way.  David at the time was a young man who was neither big nor tall, yet he possessed something of far greater power, which was the power of the Living God. 

David overcame the giant because of pure and unquestioning faith in God.  The Lord empowered David to take on a giant no one else would dare confront.  What sort of giants are you facing right now?  Does the situation appear hopeless and out of control?  Take heart, for God is greater than any problem we will ever face.  He will bring us through to victory if we will place our faith in Him. 

The high call of God in Jesus Christ is to not be afraid and trust the Lord completely.  Do not allow yourself to be ruled by fear, but instead be guided by unquestioning faith in God.  Jesus Christ has come that we might have salvation, and with salvation comes spiritual victory every day.  “Every day?” you might ask?  Yes; the Lord will bring spiritual victory every day. 

Claim the victory which is ours in Christ.  No matter how big and tall our troubles and challenges might seem God is greater.  Take heart and walk forward today in confident faith.