Friday, September 30, 2011

Life Under Pressure

1Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  -Romans 5:1, 2 (KJV) 

When I was a boy it seemed I spent most of my time either in school or in church.  I had to become an adult to realize the benefits of both.  Yet when you are ten or eleven years old the years stretch out before you like the millennium and hours lay ahead like years.  The couple of hours I was in church every Sunday sometimes felt like days.  During a long sermon a friend of mine, Ricky, would often entertain me in quiet and subtle ways.  He was often the amateur artist and would sneak play dough into the worship time by means of concealment in his pocket.  This was then used to make angels, cars, warriors, and the occasional representation of the devil himself.  Indeed, Ricky was frequently inspired. 

One Sunday morning I recall Ricky produced a roll of Lifesaver candy from his pocket.  I know for a fact his mother frisked him before Sunday school every week, yet even she could not guess all his hiding places.  I watched, fascinated, as Ricky unrolled the entire pack of Lifesavers.  I was wondering when he would offer one to me when he did the most incredible thing; he placed the entire pack between his thumb and index finger and squeezed.  We found out too late how fragile Lifesavers actually are.  The result was a sort of explosion with Lifesavers shooting into the air and then showering the worshippers around us as far as several feet away.  Our parents were not amused.  Ricky and I did not sit together for several weeks after that event. 
As I reflect on how fragility of Lifesavers and how they cracked under pressure I realize people can suffer a similar fate.  We too can so feel the strain of life that we feel we will explode.  Sadly people sometimes do crack under the pressure.  Here we see the need for calm, stability, peace, and joy in the midst of life’s struggles.  Dr. Charles Stanley once said we are either in a storm, coming out of a storm, or getting ready to go through one.  If life is calm right now and your situation is where you want it to be, then be on your guard and be ready, for a storm may come at any moment. 

The best way to be prepared for the storms and not to crack under the pressure is to have our lives centered on Christ.  The Lord brings joy, calm, and wonderful peace during the difficulties of life.  Perhaps you are going through the stress of a terrible life storm even as you read this.  Stop right now and seek the peace God offers.  He is there, willing, ready, and able to help by offering comfort and strength. 

Do not suffer alone, do not quit, and do not surrender.  There is hope in Christ.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Standing on the Solid Rock

24Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. -Matthew 7:24, 25 (KJV) 

Have you ever had the situation of not being able to find your car in a large parking lot?  This may happen to you from time to time.  Whenever this happens to me my first thought is, “Has someone stolen my car?” I then follow this up with the thought, “Who’d want it?” Thirteen year old cars with 177,000 plus miles on them are hardly the first choice of car thieves.   

Now, let’s go back to this wandering around a parking lot searching for your car.  This is an unpleasant feeling due to the uncertainty of it.  Failing to follow godly wisdom has a similar effect.  We are left wandering, confused, and uncertain of what we will do – it’s all very unsettling.  Jesus’ parable about building a house with a strong foundation is a parable about life and how we will live.  What will be our life strategy?  Will we employ worldly or godly wisdom?  Building our lives on the solid rock of Jesus Christ is the employing of godly wisdom in making decisions, relating to others, and handling life’s problems.  No worldly wisdom can compare with it.   

The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a poem on this theme. 

“Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!”

The houses built upon solid foundations will stand the test of time.  We will not fall or falter when the storms of life come.  From a worldly point of view our houses don’t look like much.  But I’d take this house built on the solid rock of Jesus over the shining palaces of the world any day.  We will stand upon the rock and we keep standing even when the storms come.   

You may believe you are weak, yet in Christ you are stronger than you think you are 

Jesus is the rock.
The Lord will not let us down.
People will change, yet the Lord will never change. 

Keep standing on the solid rock.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beware the Pitfalls of Daily Life

(Background passage: Psalm 37:17-25) 

23The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.  24Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.  -Psalm 37:24, 25 (KJV) 

Summer is about over and with the coming of fall my grass cutting responsibilities will be curtailed dramatically.  While I don’t mind a little yard work I honestly am not too upset about putting away the lawn mower for the winter.  I was reflecting on a time a few years ago when I was cutting the grass with the riding mower and an insect of some sort flew into my face.  As I was waving my arms wildly about and beating at the errant pest I nearly crashed the riding mower into the front porch.  It was close, yet I recovered control just in time.  How amazing something so small can create such havoc.   
As we go about our daily lives we do well to always be on our guard against the seemingly small pitfalls we encounter.  One minor frustration can be the last straw in a series of frustrations which sends us over the edge.  We may end up saying something we deeply regret later.  The person who catches us at a bad moment might wonder what she or he did to cause us to blow all our circuits and behave like a ranting raving lunatic.  I didn’t like the tone of her voice, he looked at me the wrong way, the sales clerk was rude, or the boss was condescending.  Any of these have the potential to send us spiritually crashing into the porch.   

The Word of God speaks of how the Lord orders the steps of those who trust in God.  We will encounter problems of all shapes and sizes, yet we maintain an even step as we go through our daily lives.  Through faith in Christ we are empowered to steadiness and stability which keeps us walking forward in the midst of our trials. 

Did you lose your temper today?  Take heart, for the Lord will teach you greater patience and endurance.  Did you behave in a manner which you now regret?  Find comfort in the all encompassing power of God’s abundant grace.  Resolve to trust the Lord and rise to the higher plane of Christ-like character and conduct.  In Christ there is peace, joy, and the overcoming power of walking in with Him. 

In the Lord we are not cast down completely, for the Lord holds us by His hand.  Claim the promise today.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Gentle Call of God

(Background passage: I Samuel 3:1-10) 

And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.  -I Samuel 3:10 (KJV) 

As I have said in previous blogs, I grew up in the crowded suburbs of Dayton, Ohio and there were a number of interesting and colorful people in my neighborhood.  The house in which I grew up and the one behind it were separated by a narrow alley, and for a time there was a family who dwelt there and they had a son who went by the name of Butch.  From time to time we could hear the father summoning young Butch to come in for the evening meal. 

“Butch!  Time for supper.” Young Master Butch, obviously too distracted with other matters to be bothered with something as trivial as a family meal, typically did not appear.  The father would call him again. “Butch! (Louder this time) Come for supper Butch!” Around this time the father’s tone and volume would reach a dangerous crescendo; “Time for supper Butch!  I’ll brain you Butchie!” I always felt sorry for Butch at this point.  Whether the threat was ever carried out I cannot say.  Even to this day when we are together with family for Christmas dinner should I linger in coming to the table my brother will call for me and say, “Butch!  Time for supper. I’ll brain you Butchie!”  

The call of God is nothing like this aggressive and impatient summons.  Instead, God’s call upon our lives is gentle, kind, and patient.  God is not in the habit of threatening us should we not answer the call quickly enough.  Instead, the Lord will continually extend the invitation to respond in faith to the call. 

Do not think the Lord has never called you.  The Lord knows you by name and is reaching out that you might experience His grace and compassion.  Life is hard and will probably get harder.  In Christ there is the hope of a brighter day.  The call comes in the gentlest of whispers.  It’s the gentle tugging of the heart in which we feel the Lord’s blessed presence.  Do not turn Him away.  

Answer the call today.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spiritual Growth Over the Long Haul

(Background passage: II Timothy 4:1-7)

6For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.  -II Timothy 4:6, 7 (KJV)

I know a man who is a great mechanic.  The best part of this relationship is he is honest and will work on my car in a fair and reasonable manner.  I have little doubt he could take an engine apart and put it back together again right before your eyes.  Yes, he is a regular Goober Pyle (My Andy Griffith Show friends will understand).  Understand, however, that my friend did not acquire his skill at mechanics overnight.  His is a skill honed and perfected over many years of trial, error, and hands-on experience.  Gaining such knowledge and ability will only come with committed effort and dedication.

 The same can be said of the Christian life and spiritual growth.  The Word of God reminds us of how Christianity is a lifelong experience meant to be lived over the long haul.  We can’t rush spiritual growth any more than we can rush personal growth.  It happens over time and can be a painful process.  I have to experience disappointments to better appreciate the victories.  I have to go through some tough times to better appreciate the better times. Consider the following statements in regards to Christ's power in turning adversity into spiritual and personal growth.  Through faith in Christ our:

-trials strengthen our spiritual muscles.
-problems bring about a greater awareness of God’s presence.
-heartaches lead us to a deeper understanding of God’s power.
-failures bring us to a greater realization of God’s grace.
-misfortunes have a way of producing blessings in our lives.

The problem comes when we get impatient in the process. We have a way of sometimes asking God the same things kids ask their parents on a long trip; “Are we there yet?”  We are not there yet.  We will be one day, yet it’s going to take time.  We are called to look to the Lord in faith.  We are not to be ruled by doubt, fear, or desperation.   Jesus is the light and we are called to shine Jesus all around us.  Keep the light burning and let it shine brightly.  The light shines brightest when the fire is stoked.  Our trials and trusting God through them have a way of stoking the fires of the Holy Spirit in us. 

Trust the Lord today and wait upon Him.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Learning From Past Mistakes

26Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered... 28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose... 31What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? -Romans 8:26, 28, 31 (KJV)

The above three verses are ones which I keep going back to again and again.  They remind me of how the Holy Spirit assists us with our prayer time especially during the trials we face.  Furthermore, all the circumstances of our lives, even the bad ones, can eventually become blessings.  And with the Lord on our side we will be empowered to face the toughest challenges of life knowing the Lord will bring us through.  Claim these promises from God's Word and you will face the challenges of the future with renewed confidence, boldness, and peace.

Notice verse 28 says “All things work together.”  It is not a matter of some of the circumstances of our lives working, but rather all things; all areas of our lives begin to work together when we are in Christ Jesus.  One aspect of this is how God shows us how what has happened in the past, even our mistakes, can work good in us today.  The devil likes to remind me of past mistakes (and I have plenty) and throw them up in my face as a reminder of how worthless I actually am.  God does not do that.  God never does that.  If I recall a mistake of my youth the Lord will remind me first of how I am forgiven, and secondly how I have learned from that mistake.  This becomes a part of the “all things” which the Bible is talking about. 

Even the saints of old had sins in their past for which they sought the Lord's forgiveness.  David, whom the Scripture refers to as man after God's own heart prayed, "Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness' sake, O LORD" (Psalm 25:7).  God is not in the habit of dragging up our past mistakes and reminding us of them.  We are the ones who do that to ourselves.

Resolve today to stop beating yourself up over the past.  Claim the Lord's abundant forgiveness, walk forward in faith, and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us wisdom so we do not fall into these mistakes again.  Christ is merciful and He loves you - very much. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

God Will Work it Out

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28 (KJV)

Romans 8:28 makes an extremely bold statement.  All things, everything, will work to the good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes.  The implications of this are staggering.  The Bible is telling us that all our troubles, disappointments, heartaches, tragedies, and everything else which causes us pain will somehow work out to our benefit.  Now, we might easily question this.  How does something bad work out to my benefit?  I don’t have the answer for this, yet God does have the answer and He will reveal it in His time and in His way.  What this means is we will most likely have to do some waiting on the Lord for what we are facing to work out and become a blessing. 

I made a statement in a recent sermon which the Lord placed on my heart, and here is what I said; by the power of Christ all my problems and trials will somehow and some way become blessings.  In Jesus Christ we do not just get through it, but we come through it with Christ on our side, and in Him there is victory, peace, love, and joy.  

The believer can say with all confidence that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes.  Claim this in the midst of a new problem and we find peace we would not have had.  God is going to work this out. 

Perhaps you are so discouraged you feel like giving up.  Stand on the promises of God that He will bring you through whatever you are facing.  There is light at the end of whatever dark tunnel in which you have found yourself.  Keep moving forward, keep trusting the Lord, and claim His power.  Jesus Christ will not let you down.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Filled With Joy and Peace

(Background passage: Romans 15:6-13) 

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.  -Romans 15:13 (KJV) 

As a follower of Jesus Christ I know the Lord is able to carry my burdens for me.  Christ is perfectly willing to do this great work in my life.  Honestly, this is not what amazes me.  What does amaze me is my tenacity in hanging on to my problems when I have the blessed option of giving them over to the Lord.  I recall hearing a story about a place in the world where monkeys were captured using a bottle filled with nuts.  The monkey would reach into the bottle, but with its hand full of nuts could not bring out its hand.  The monkey’s unwillingness to let go of what it was holding would be its undoing, for the monkey could then be easily captured.   

I find I am like this myself at times.  I will hold onto problems, worries, fears, anxieties, guilt, and host of other issues when all the while I could be handing these over to the Lord.  When we seek the Lord in prayer and give our burdens to Him we are flooded with peace, for our burdens are lifted and the load we are carrying becomes lighter.  Worry and fear have a way of wrapping around us like a wet garment.  We have no joy or peace until they are cast from us.  The joy we then experience is wonderfully liberating. 

What are you clinging to today?  Why keep holding to anxiety and fears when you can hand these over to the Lord?  By giving our problems and fears to the Lord we find spiritual victory and lightness in our step which leads us forward into the abundant life Jesus promised.  No one’s life is perfect.  Problems will come.  Life is hard and will probably get harder.  Take heart, for there is hope in the Lord.  He will forgive, empower, and come alongside us in our darkest hours reminding us of His presence. 

Claim the Lord’s power, and delight in the hope which is meant to be ours in Christ.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Beware of Lies and False Gospels

(Background passage: Galatians 1:1-9) 

6I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.  -Galatians 1:6, 7 (KJV) 

In the mid 1980’s I had the opportunity to see in person Christian comedian Jerry Clower.  His humor was told with his southern charm and some unique Mississippi phrases which always left his audience falling over with laughter.  I recall a story he told about two men who had a bet about whether one of them could eat an entire watermelon.  The one who had been given the challenge looked over the watermelon carefully.  He then told his friend to wait a few minutes until he had gone to his house.  After a short while the man returned and stated he was ready for the challenge.  The man then proceeded to cut up the watermelon and eat it, piece by piece, all the way to the rind.  

Afterwards the other man, impressed by his friend’s accomplishment, asked what he had done at his house. “Well,” the man replied, “I had a watermelon just the same size as this one at home.  I ran to the house and ate all of it, and so I figured if I could eat that one I could surely eat this one.”  People are a great deal like this with the falsehoods which often come our way.  Countless people will believe one untruth only to be quickly taken in by another.  Paul the Apostle was grieved over the Galatians’ willingness to be led astray by a false gospel, which as Paul said was no gospel at all.  Paul made the bold statement that even if an angel from heaven preached some other gospel then let him be accursed (vv 8, 9).   

People will believe false gospels, and even believers can be taken in by other falsehoods.  One of the most prevalent I see these days is the lie that you are worthless and of no importance to God.  From this comes a nagging feeling of hopelessness which drags us down into a pit of despair and discouragement.  Do not give in to the lie which says you are worthless.  In God’s eyes you are a unique individual of immeasurable worth and potential.  You have abilities, talents, and much good to share with the world. 

Do not fall prey to the lies and false gospels of the world.  Look to Jesus Christ, claim His promise of new life, and walk forward in victorious faith.  When doubt creeps in take a firm stand upon God’s Word.  The Lord will, through faith in Him, drive doubt and fear from us. 

Stop doubting, start believing, and know that you have a place in God’s kingdom.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Responding to the Call

(Background passage: I Corinthians 1:8-10) 

God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  -I Corinthians 1:9 (KJV) 

I used to have a friend in high school who always wanted the guys to give him “five” or the “high five.”  I tend to agree with comedian Jerry Seinfeld who said the high five is the lowest form of male communication.  If you didn’t give my friend five he would say, “Hey; don’t leave me hanging!”  When I consider the call of God in my life to be a follower of Christ and then to preach the gospel I realize had I not responded I would, in a sense, have left the Lord hanging. 

People have long struggled with what we refer to as the call of God.  All through the Bible there are instances of where the Lord called people into His service.  Abraham heard the call when the Lord told him to, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee” (Genesis 12:1).  Moses heard the call when the Lord spoke to him on Mount Sinai.  “And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I” (Exodus 3:4).  The examples of this in Scripture are numerous.

There were those in the Bible who heard the voice of God as plainly as we hear someone speaking to us, yet most of the time the call of God is far more subtle.  The call of God comes as a firm conviction in the heart that trusting Christ and following Him in faith is the right choice.  I believe the Lord was speaking to my heart as a small boy when I would sit in church and listen to the pastor as he preached.  I recall thinking to myself, “I believe I could do that.”  As I grew older the call became actualized as I decided to follow what I felt the Lord was leading me to do, which was to preach the gospel. 

God is still calling people into His service.  The Lord calls people out of the darkness of sin, sorrow, bitterness, anger, and hatred and into the glorious light of Jesus Christ.  If you have never received Christ as Savior then I invite you to stop and listen for the still small voice of the Lord.  God is calling.  Don’t leave Him hanging.  Say yes, and commit to follow Him today.  The abundant life in Jesus Christ is waiting.  Experience the peace, joy, grace, and mercy which Christ brings.   

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Keeping a Straight Path

(Read: Hebrews 12:12-14) 
And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.  -Hebrews 12:13 (KJV) 

Having lived in Bristol, Virginia now for nearly 16 years we have of course gotten to know our way around town very well.  However, when we first moved to the area I had to learn the layout of the town.  One day I was driving through a nearby neighborhood and there is a sharp curve in the road.  As I made the curve I must have been distracted because I veered a little into the left lane.  A car was heading the other direction and the driver quickly swerved to avoid a collision. Imagine my surprise when I realized I had nearly crashed into the Bristol chief of police.  It was close, but there was no contact so he must have not felt the need to stop and cite me for reckless operation of a motor vehicle or something.  From then on I have always been careful on that particular curve. 

The Word of God challenges us to keep ourselves heading in a straight path.  For followers of Christ this means keeping a close walk with the Lord lest we fall into sins which will keep us from the spiritual victory intended to be ours.  Walking with Christ on the straight path is the way which leads to the blessings of God abiding in our lives.   

What sort of temptations are you struggling with these days?  Your struggle may involve attitudes which hinder being a positive witness for others.  Perhaps you are having difficulty keeping a good attitude in your service to the Lord.  Or maybe you are having trouble maintaining a vibrant and fulfilled daily prayer time.  Whatever the struggles may be know the Lord will empower us to keep us in His will. 

If you have gotten off track seek the Lord and claim His power to get back on course.  Do not keep drifting away from the Lord.  Instead, take the Lord at His Word and come back into fellowship with Him.  Blessings, spiritual victory, joy, and peace are waiting in abundance.