Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Humility and the Peace of Christ

And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.  –Mark 9:35 (KJV)

It’s human nature to want to pat ourselves on the back every once in a while or toot our own horns, as the old saying goes.  Someone has suggested the reason God created us as He did is so that we cannot reach back and pat our own backs.  Jesus reminded His disciples in Mark 9 that if we seek to be great we must first become servants to all.  This is a hard pill for many of us to swallow.  So, if I want to be great in God’s kingdom, I must get there be being everyone’s servant.  Bingo.  Jesus taught that if we exalt ourselves we are going to be humbled.  One the other hand, if we humble ourselves we will be exalted. 

Jesus also said in Luke 14:7-11 that if we are invited to a banquet do not choose the seat of honor.  The host might tell you in front of everyone that you are in the wrong seat and you will be embarrassed (humbled) at having to move.  Instead, choose a seat away from the head table.  The host might then come to you and invite you to a better seat, and there in the presence of all the guests you are honored.  Jesus was using this parable as an illustration as to how we are to approach everyday life.  If we truly seek to walk in the power of Christ each day then humility is a must.  Humility involves a humble heart, attitude, and spirit.  Humility is always more concerned about the needs of others over our own.

I mentioned in another post about how contented people are also connected to people.  If we have built into our lives meaningful relationships through which we can minister and encourage others we will be blessed. Let me add to this contented people are also humble people.  Humility frees us from the burden of always trying to place ourselves ahead of everyone else.  The contentment which comes from a humble spirit is the joy of being released from always having to be first.  What follows is a blessed formula for peace.  Humility produces patience, which brings calm, which creates stability, which equals peace.  Christ makes all this possible through faith in Him.  Humility allows us to focus on what truly needs done without getting bogged down in life’s minor irritations. 

By the power of Christ we have the ability to step back and allow others to have the glory and recognition.  We are empowered to rest in the knowledge that the Lord knows of our accomplishments, which is enough, and He will give us recognition at the proper time.  Therefore, relax, walk forward in faith, develop the humble spirit Jesus was talking about, and stop worrying.  God has a plan, and you are a vital part of it.

God bless you

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Energizing Effect of Serving Others

Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.  –Ephesians 6:6-8 (KJV)

Countless people serve the Lord in all sorts of ways and their only compensation is the satisfaction derived from giving of themselves.  We typically think in terms of being paid for services rendered, yet we do a variety of tasks in service to God for the sake of being faithful.  There are people who volunteer their time helping with children, serving meals, visiting the sick, assisting the elderly, and participating in the overall ministries of the church.  Even those being compensated such as pastors, music ministers, youth ministers, and administrative capacities also give of themselves in a variety of ways that go beyond their ministries to the church.  I share this because reaching out in Jesus’ name, regardless of the task, carries with it tremendous blessings.

I have mentioned in this blog how easy it is to become sorrowful during these dreary and cold winter months.  A wonderful way to combat the winter blues is to get out and give of ourselves in service to others.  Paul the Apostle reminded the believers in his letter to the Ephesians that whatever good we do in service to others we will receive back from the Lord.  Giving of ourselves in service to others lifts our spirits during the winter months and also the entire year round.  Life can be draining and exhausting, and yet when we give of ourselves in service to the Lord we are spiritually energized in the process.  The temptation is to withdraw from others, and there is certainly a time for this as we all need proper rest.  However, getting out among people who need the light of Christ shined into their lives is a wonderful pursuit. 

The happiest and most contented people I know are also the most connected.  Conversely, the most unhappy and discontented people I know are those who have shut themselves off from others.  I often visit shit-ins who because of physical limitations are rarely able to leave their homes.  Often times I find such persons up, sometimes even brightly dressed, the curtains drawn back to let in the sunlight, and enjoying their lives as best as they can.  They are truly making the most of a difficult situation. 

What about you today?  Are you struggling with the temptation to lock yourself away from others and languish in the hopeless feelings which may be overwhelming you?  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is about getting out and shining His light to a lost and hurting world.  Doing so blesses us and also blesses those to whom we minister.  Regardless of whether you are an introvert and an extrovert you can, by the power of Christ, rise up and meet the challenges of the day.

Do not withdraw and give up.  Christ calls us to go forth and reach out to others.  The effect is energizing on many levels – spiritually, mentally, physically, and psychologically.  God will provide the strength and motivation.  Rise up and walk forward in His strength.

God bless you today.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Pursuit of an Honorable Life

As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honour is not seemly for a fool.  –Proverbs 26:1 (KJV)

We have had quite a weather experience here in southwest Virginia.  A week ago we had a few inches of heavy wet snow, and yesterday came an ice storm followed by a period of light snow.  I guess a smart approach to this weather would be to stay inside and watch it snow, but in my house we always want to get out in it if only for a little while.  Andrea and I could not resist a walk around the neighborhood, but our two dogs, Ada and Leon, had to stay behind as trying to walk them in such icy conditions could be tricky.  They settled for staying behind in the yard, but they weren’t happy about it. 

Snowy, icy, and dreary weather can be difficult, yet I tolerate it better by reminding myself that spring is only a short time away.  I appreciate spring more when I have gone through a hard winter, and here in southwest Virginia we have the most beautiful springtime I have ever witnessed.  This is the season of winter, right?  Therefore, we should not be surprised when harsh weather comes our way, including snow, ice, and blistering cold winds.  Yet, when it happens we often act surprised.  “Wow, can you believe this cold weather?  Look at all the snow!” What would truly surprise us, and throw us for a loop, would be a snowstorm in July.  Now that would be an occurrence.

The Word of God reminds us that snow in the winter is as common as foolish people behaving dishonorably.  Those without Christ who are living for themselves and lacking the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit will usually conduct themselves accordingly.  The examples of foolish behavior we see each day are too numerous to begin to list here.  We need only watch the evening news to find them.  I think of the man I read about who tried to rob a bank.  He went in the bank, handed the teller a note demanding cash and claiming he had a weapon, and then he fled with an undetermined amount of cash.  There was one problem.  He accidently left behind his note, which he had written on the back of one of his own deposit tickets.  The police went to his house a little while later and arrested him. 

Those desiring to live honest, decent, honorable lives seek to be upright in all their ways.  When guided by the Spirit of God, our conduct of righteousness is as common as the snow as winter.  We are blessed when we walk in godliness and integrity.  Perhaps you have failed in these areas.  Know there is grace in Christ and He is willing to help us to our feet and get us back on the right track.  Do not give up on living an honorable life.  With God’s help it can be done.

God bless you today.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Beware the Small Distractions

12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.  13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance:  -I Peter 1:12-14 (KJV)

Have you ever had the experience of getting a small cut on your finger which caused a surprising amount of discomfort?  Paper cuts may be the worst, but any sort of cut, no matter how small can be painful.  We must have a large number of sensitive nerves in our fingertips because these small injuries can be troublesome.  A few days ago I sliced the tip of my thumb on my right hand and this has bothered me all week.  I am still not certain how it happened.  Try doing anything without using your thumb.  My, that little appendage is far more important than we realize.  This tiny cut causes pain just about every time I use my hand.

The Word of God warns us of the need to be sober, prepared, and ready to face the challenges life daily throws our way.  We are called in Jesus Christ to walk forward in faith rather than fear, and to live daily in the blessed grace God has give through Christ.  The grace of God in Christ is spiritual power which inspires us to humility and steadfastness.  Each day we have an opportunity to grow in our walk with God.  Instead of being brought down by the trials of life we are instead made stronger.  We often think of the bigger problems as having the potential to knock us off our feet, spiritually speaking, and indeed they can.  However, be aware of the seemingly smaller issues which can create larger problems for us as well.

Be careful of allowing a small sight, an unkind word, an immoral thought, or some perceived lack of consideration to derail us from the spiritual victory God intends for us.  Life is a veritable minefield of temptations, distractions, and irritations.  Sometimes the seemingly smallest problem can become a landslide that throws us into confusion.  Many years ago a friend of mine was working as a delivery driver for an auto parts company.  The weather was warm one day and he was driving his rounds with the window down.  A bumble bee made its way into the van and attempted to land on my friend’s face.  As he swatted the bee away he lost control of the van and crashed.  The van ended up on its side, but fortunately my friend was uninjured.  This is an extreme example, yet even the smallest distractions have the potential to take our attention from what we truly need to be focusing upon.

I have no way of knowing what sort of day you are having right now, yet I know the power of Christ is awesome power for rising above the problems we face and walking in spiritual victory.  A relationship with Christ is all about going forward.  Walk ahead today in confidence that the Lord is with you and will empower you to spiritual victory.  It’s going to be a great day.

God bless you.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Prayer Time or Technology?

31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.  –Matthew 6:31-34 (KJV)

I sometimes wonder what God thinks about all our technology.  Something our technology has done is cause us to be a little more distracted than we already are.  Have you had a cell phone go off in church lately?  Was your prayer time interrupted by an incoming text message?  What about a conversation with a friend which was interrupted by a text or call?  Did the conversation you were having cease while one of you replied or took the call?  Are you like millions of Facebook users who admit to checking their status first thing in the morning even ahead of going to the bathroom?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions then you indeed need a break from the daily distractions of technology.  Personally, I have moments where I would not mind if we still used 8-track tapes and rotary phones.  Anyone under 30 reading this is probably thinking, “What are 8-track tapes?”  I also tend to stay a few years behind the latest technology.  My cell phone does not have a camera (I know many of you just let out an audible gasp of disbelief), I do not have an Ipad (another gasp), and the desktop PC in my home office runs Windows XP.  That last one probably made some of you fall right out of your chairs.

Admittedly, I am living in the dark ages, technologically speaking.  I will not even get into the fact that my TV cable only has about 18 channels and we still do not have caller ID on our phone, but that’s all fodder for another blog post.  The point of all this is a daily walk with Christ involves taking time to commune with the Lord – each day.  Take a bold step of faith and allow all this technology to lay idle a little while so that you may commune with God as friend to friend.  I have always spent time every day in prayer, but two years ago I recommitted myself to this vital spiritual discipline.  I began rising earlier each day, well before daylight, for the sole purpose of prayer and meditation on the Scriptures.   This practice has had a profound influence on my attitude, outlook, ministry, family relationships, and my relationship with the Lord.  If I can do this, then so can you.  I am confident it will make all the difference in your life.

Jesus said to seek Him first.  When we do this, everything else lines up in its proper place.  You will not regret spending more time in prayer and in the Word. 

God bless you today.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Gospel for all People

35 And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.  36 But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.  –Matthew 9:35, 36 (KJV)

This past Monday, our nation observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  This observance always causes me to reflect on events of my childhood which helped formulate many of the attitudes and beliefs to which I hold today.  Growing up in Dayton, Ohio in the 1960’s and 70’s, I attended an elementary school that while predominately white had numerous African American children.  By the time I reached high school the school I attended was fully integrated with a fairly even number of black and white students.  There were few race-related problems there during that time.  We were just kids going to school, getting along with one another, and sharing the similar struggles involved with finding our places in the world.  Had Dr. King lived to walk the halls of Colonel White High School while I was a student there he would have rejoiced to know his efforts were not in vain. 

Along with my school experience was my attendance at a large Baptist church where we sang songs such as “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” (the line about “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight” made an indelible impression) and I heard countless sermons about the gospel of Jesus Christ being for all people regardless of skin color. 

At some point in my youth I came to the realization that the gospel is for all people, therefore none should be excluded.  Following this was my personal decision to turn away from the ugliness of racism.  I believe both these attitudes came together in a manner that helped me see others as people in need of Christ and deserving of fair and equal treatment regardless of skin color.  I hold these views as vital in preaching the gospel and reaching out to a lost and hurting world.  The Bible says when Jesus went about proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, it is clear He did so with the intention of reaching all who would receive Him.  Any who desired to turn from sin and trust Christ could receive the salvation Christ offered.

Consider how that “whosoever” (John 3:16) means you and me.  Christ came to save sinners. He looked at our need, not the color of our skin, and we are saved through faith in Him.  Rejoice and be glad today, for the gospel is for us.  Jesus loves us, not because our skin is a certain color, but because His loves reaches all who will by faith receive Him.  We in turn share His love with others.  

God bless you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Human Need and the Letter of the Law

20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?  23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.  –Colossians 2:20-23 (KJV)

Legalism is the enemy of grace.  The grace of God in Jesus Christ is what has brought about spiritual freedom.  In Christ we are freed from the burden of trying to save ourselves by our good works.  We are also freed from the Old Testament law and its rigid requirements.  This is the nature of the grace Christ has made possible.  Without the grace Jesus brings we easily develop what I think of as kind of spiritual OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).  Rather than walk in the peace and joy Christ brings we live in fear of doing something to cause God’s anger.  You may think comparing legalism with OCD is extreme, but think again.

-I once heard of a pastor who began wearing pastel colored shirts.  A number of people in the congregation complained this was unacceptable and the pastor should wear only white shirts.
-Another pastor had the habit of placing his Bible on the communion table after the sermon as he closed the worship time.  A group in the church complained on the grounds the communion table is “sacred” and should not have anything sat on in it including the pastor’s Bible. 
-I know of churches that will not allow visiting women missionaries to stand in the pulpit while speaking about their missions work as this could be construed as a woman preaching. 
-Several years ago I visited a man in the community who told me he no longer attended church and probably would not again.  When I asked why, he told of a time he visited a church on a Sunday evening service.  He happened to be wearing a pair of short pants, the kind that come to about the knees.  Before the service began, the pastor of the church told the man he was welcome to visit provided he went home and put on acceptable clothes.  This was the last time the man had been inside a church.

All of these situations are forms of legalism.  This is where we allow the letter of the law to interfere with addressing human need.  We find in the Gospels that Jesus always placed human need over keeping the letter of the law.  For example, no work was allowed on the Sabbath and this included any kind of healing (except what was necessary for saving someone’s life).  However, we find instances where Jesus did heal on the Sabbath as He did not want someone to suffer any longer.  Again, human need took precedence over the letter of the law.

Grace is spiritual freedom which allows us to reach out in Jesus' name without being hindered by ritual or tradition.  As Paul the apostle told the Colossians, the gospel is not about keeping a rigid set of rules; “Touch not, taste not, handle not.”  The gospel is salvation in Jesus Christ and walking forward in faith; the kind of vibrant faith which produces peace, love, and joy.

God bless you today.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

God is our Shield

After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.  –Genesis  15:1 (KJV)

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.  –Psalm 28:7 (KJV)

I have never done any mountain climbing, but I am fascinated with Mount Everest.  Every year an average of 150 climbers travel to Nepal to tackle this mountain, the tallest on our planet, with the full knowledge they may not make it back home.  On average, five die in the attempt.  A large number of people have died in the pursuit of climbing Everest and their bodies rest there to this day.  Even if one survives the climb, there are multiple opportunities for serious injury.  I read about a man who made it to the summit and wanted to take a few pictures.  This is understandable as you would not have a view like that every day.  He removed his gloves for only a minute or two to take the pictures, but this proved a costly mistake.  The ensuing frostbite resulted in the amputation of most of his fingers later on.  Removing the protective shield of his gloves was not a wise decision.

The Word of God speaks of God being a shield to those that trust in Him.  The Lord appeared to Abraham of the Old Testament and promised to be a shield to Him.  The psalmist spoke of God being his shield and how he would rejoice over the Lord’s help in his life.  We too have the promise of the Lord being with us at all times and through all circumstances.  God’s promise to us is that we do not have to face the trials of life alone, for He will guide, empower, and shield us.  

This process of shielding us does not mean the absence of problems and difficulties.  The implication for us is we have the Lord to shield us during the trials we face.  We will still face the challenges life brings our way, yet we have the Lord acting as a shield of spiritual power going before us.  Without the spiritual shield God brings we become vulnerable to attack from the dark forces of the world.  Moreover, we are left to confront our troubles in our own strength, which leaves us shaken and discouraged.  With God’s help, acting as our shield, we have the power to walk forward in faith rather than fear.  

As I have sought to emphasize many times, fear holds us back, but faith moves us forward.  Through faith in God all the challenges we face can be overcome.  As the Bible says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  The emphasis here is fully on Christ and His power working in us.  I thank the Lord daily for His patience and grace, for He understands we are frail and flawed people, prone to want to remove our spiritual protection and try it alone.  This is the human condition against which we struggle every day.

Keep the shield of faith before you today.  Allow God to be your shield as you face the challenges of life.  Do not be afraid, for we serve a risen Savior who has overcome death and hell on our behalf.  Walk forward in confident faith.

God bless you today.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Living the Life of Faith

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  For by it the elders obtained a good report.  Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.  –Hebrews 11:1-3 (KJV)

A life of faith in Christ involves daily surrender to Christ while simultaneously putting off the values and philosophies of the world.  This does not mean for a moment followers of Christ hide themselves from the world – quite the contrary.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:14 we are “the light of the world,” for a “city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.”  The world has always needed people of faith to shine Jesus’ light and to show the world there is hope in the Lord.  Admittedly, we have not always done a great job.  Christian people are flawed human beings and we often fall short of what God would have us to do.  Yet, we are plan A in God’s strategy for reaching the world with the gospel.  If we fail in our task or refuse it altogether then the work is unfinished.

Putting off the values and philosophies of the world means we live daily by faith in Christ and God’s Word.  The Word of God is the basis for our values, beliefs, outlook, goals, and morals.  Faith in Christ brings true life, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, compassion, patience, and self-control.  Does this sound familiar?  It should for here we have the fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22, 23.  In Jesus Christ, we are free to practice these and live them out in ever-increasing measure. 

One major problem is the flesh, which always tries to interfere with living a life of faith.  Christians must make a conscious, daily effort to take up the cross and follow Jesus.  Unless we do this, we will fall short of the full life of faith and become overwhelmed with the problems and cares of life.  Sadly, I have known too many believers who were as morose and unhappy as anyone without Christ was.  Many years ago, I was attending a revival meeting and the guest evangelist told the congregation, “You all certainly do not look happy.  I have seen happier faces on bottles of poison.”  I am going to make a bold statement here; followers of Jesus Christ ought to be the happiest, brightest, most outgoing, positive, energetic, hard-working, and honest people in the world.  This is a tall order to be sure, yet the Holy Spirit provides power for rising above the draining effects of our problems and shining the light of Jesus Christ – each day.

Consider what others see when they look at you.  Do they perceive a self-centered person who is always complaining, moaning about problems, critical of others, pessimistic, and generally unhappy?  If so, please know that faith in Jesus Christ can reverse all these negative attributes.  The life of faith empowers us to be Christ-centered rather than self-centered.  In turn, we become hopeful, optimistic, patient, and compassionate towards others.  We cease from our moaning and complaining and start praising and rejoicing.  Remember, with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). 

Resolve to stop complaining and focusing on the negative.  Start focusing on Christ.  The life of faith is the good life in Christ.  Begin living it today.

God bless you.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Not Strangers, but Children of God

And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.  –Genesis 17:8 (KJV)

Next month my family and I will have been living here in Bristol, Virginia for 17 years.  This also marks the same number of years of my tenure as pastor of East Bristol Baptist.  We feel extremely blessed to have enjoyed such a long ministry in the same church.  Pastors often move from place to place, yet God has allowed us to settle in the community and make this our home.  From the time we arrived we never felt like strangers.  If you have ever moved to a new location, you understand the uncertainty of it all.  You have to learn your way around the area, get used to new people, and your children are for a while the “new kids”  in the school, which can be difficult for them.  However, we never felt like strangers here.  Having been here for so many years now, people treat as if we were from this area. 

The Word of God says that Abraham was a stranger in the land of Canaan.  He traveled among people he did not know in a land not his own as he waited for the fulfillment of God’s promise.  The Lord allowed Abraham a look into a time when he would dwell in the land not as a stranger, but as a welcome resident.  Yet, until this time came, Abraham would have to trust God completely in the midst of what seemed impossible.  God appeared to Abraham and instructed him to “Walk before me and be thou perfect (Genesis 17:1).” At a time when many men might be contemplating setting down (Abraham was 99 years old), God was telling him that the time of service and faithfulness was in full force.  Retirement was a long way off for Abraham.

Eventually, the promise of God happened.  A year later, when Abraham was 100 years old and his wife Sarah was 99 a child was born to them.  Sarah had chuckled over what the angel had said, and we can hardly blame her, but in the end she gave birth in her old age to a healthy baby boy whom they named Isaac.  The name means in Hebrew, “he laughs.” Sarah’s attitude was that she might as laugh with joy, and all who heard of it would laugh and rejoice with her.  I am trying to picture myself becoming a father again at the age of 100 and my wife at 99.  Yes, I suppose all you could do at that point is laugh. 

God is faithful my friends.  He welcomes us into His blessings and makes us vital to His plan and purposes.  We are not strangers in God’s kingdom, but instead children.  Moreover, if we are God’s children, we are heir to the promises of God. 

Walk forward in faith today and claim the blessed promises of God.  Do not be afraid, for God is always faithful.

God bless you today.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Overcoming the Power of Hatred

44 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; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?  -Matthew 5:44-46 (KJV)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus placed before us the most overwhelming component of grace we can imagine; we are to love our enemies.  This flies in the face of all human reason, for we naturally desire to love those who love us and hate those who hate us.  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ compels us to cast off the chains of human reason and be indwelt with the Holy Spirit.  Through faith in the Lord, we put on Christ like a protective garment against the hateful human attitudes of the world.  Galatians 3:27 reminds us, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  Having put on Christ, we then walk forward with a new heart, mind, attitude, and outlook. 

Christ understood perfectly that the natural way for relating to those who have wronged, misused, or harmed us is to hate them.  When Jesus instructed His followers to love their enemies, He was leading them toward spiritual freedom in Him.  Hatred drags us down, smothers us with bitterness, and drains peace from us.  Just as putting on Christ liberates, putting on hatred imprisons.  Rather than walking forward in victory we end up stifled and held back by our hatred.  Do not make the mistake of believing we can accomplish this spiritual principle on our own.  We are unable to do so.  However, the Holy Spirit provides spiritual power to do what we otherwise would have been unable to accomplish.  This includes getting rid of hatred.

Anytime we realize we dislike someone, we do well to consider that our dislike can easily and quickly degenerate into full-blown hatred.  We might begin to look for perceived slights or insults from the person when in reality none was ever intended.  All the while, the devil is providing the fuel needed to create a blaze of hatred.  There are also those who may have seriously wronged us.  It is always easy to hate such persons.  Understand, however, that hating others gives them a certain amount of control over us.  Hatred will rob of us sleep, peace, joy, and will interrupt the pleasant pursuits we enjoy such as time with family or a good meal.  Jesus Christ provides release from and victory over the insidious powers of hatred.  We are then free to worship God, love others, and walk forward unfettered by the shackles of a hateful and vengeful spirit.

What is in your heart today?  Are the uncomfortable weights of hatred and an unforgiving spirit filling your heart?  On the other hand, are you free in Jesus to walk forward in love, joy, peace, and contentment?  Allow Christ to fill you with His Spirit, for in Him there is freedom from the chains that bind us.

God bless you today.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Complaining or Praising?

I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.  O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.  –Psalm 34:1-3 (KJV)

Something I have learned about keeping a positive attitude is it involves a good amount of work.  The psalmist said in Psalm 34 that he would bless the Lord, which means praise the Lord, at all times.  The praises of God would continually be upon his lips.  That certainly sounds like a tall order.  Yet, he knew that by the power of God he could rise above whatever problems he was facing and live from day to day in an attitude of praise and thankfulness to God.

Those who take the opposite approach to life have a draining effect on those around them.  Their complaining, griping, and critical comments are like cold water thrown on us as we strive to be pleasant and optimistic.  Now more than ever, I make a conscious effort not to complain or criticize others.  I dislike myself the most when I realize I am complaining.  I confess I sometimes do a bit of complaining when I am all alone, yet this too is problematic.  I believe we should be careful what we say to ourselves because the words have a way of bursting from our mouths when we least expect it.  Therefore, if we find we are complaining, yet no one is around to hear it, we do well to pause and give thanks to God instead.

If being with someone who complains is a draining experience, consider the difficulty of spending time with someone who is endlessly bragging about all he or she has done.  Such people always seem to be trying to “top” our stories and experiences.  If you have been to the Bahamas, they were there last summer.  If you went skydiving, they did that years ago.  If you have climbed Mount Everest, they have done that too – in winter, during a blizzard, and were bored to death!  You get the idea. 

A wonderful life strategy is to praise God rather than complain.  Moreover, when we feel the need to boast, tell instead of the wondrous love and grace of God.  Testify of the blessed works the Lord has brought about in our lives and how knowing Jesus Christ as Savior is truly wonderful.  Praising God and giving Him all the glory has a powerfully energizing result.  We are empowered to look beyond our present difficulties to God’s greater plan and purpose.  Such perspective is available only to the faithful.  Those willing to go deeper into the divine truths of God’s Word will reap the rewards of walking with Christ in spiritual power. 

Have you complained any today?  Try praising God instead.

God bless you today.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Value of Integrity

Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.
–Proverbs 19:1 (KJV)

Proverbs 19:1 speaks of a person being better off poor and having integrity than to be a fool with perverse lips.  I have heard people speak of being poor, but then there is also dirt poor, which is apparently as poor as a person can be.  The Word of God says you are better off being poor, dirt poor, and a person of integrity than being a fool with ungodliness coming from your mouth.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is available to anyone regardless of social status or where we are from, because the gospel is for all people.  When Jesus said “whosoever” in John 3:16, He meant anyone who would believe on Him.  Do not allow any sort of hang-ups about where you are from, what you do for a living, or a perceived lack of ability keep you from accomplishing great works in the kingdom of God.

Consider Jesus’ disciples.  A more bumbling, rag-tag group of miscreants you will never find.  Yet, Jesus took those men and brought them along, worked with them, taught them, and showed them the power of the gospel.  Eleven of them (Judas the traitor hung himself) went on to turn the world upside down with the message of the gospel.  How did they accomplish this?  The answer is they were faithful, but they also discovered the spiritual power of walking in integrity.  Integrity means honesty, truthfulness, honor, and uprightness.  All of those should be characteristic of the believer.  We are honest in our dealings with others and we are honest in our relationship with Christ. 

Christ has entrusted us with a valuable gift, which is the gospel.  The Lord has commanded us to share the gospel with others and to do so by letting Christ shine from us.  Therefore, we are to take our calling in Christ with the utmost seriousness.  We have received a great treasure in Jesus Christ.  Integrity is the key to how we handle this wonderful treasure.  Perhaps you are questioning your worth in God’s kingdom.  Do not surrender to the false notion that you are of little or no value to God.  You are of far greater value than you may realize.  You and I are integral to the work of sharing the gospel with a lost and hurting world.

The troubled world in which we live needs people of integrity to shine the light of Christ.  People everywhere are looking for answers to the hard questions of life.  As we live lives of integrity, we can show them there is hope in the Lord.  Do not give up on living for the Lord.  God has a wonderful plan for your life.  Walk forward in faith, keep looking to Christ, and do not give up on living the Christian life.  God loves you and you are vitally important to Him.

God bless you today.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Peace in the Midst of a Confusing World

17 Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.  18 He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: for there were many with me.  –Psalm 55:17, 18 (KJV)

The weather today in southwest Virginia is supposed to be near 70 degrees, which is warm for January.  I will not complain about this as I enjoy warmer weather.  What I cannot say is what this temperature translates into on the Celsius scale.  All I know about Celsius is that 32 degrees Fahrenheit is the same as 0 degrees Celsius.  Beyond that, I am lost.  I recall being in the 3rd or 4th grade and just beginning to grasp the concept of distance and measurements.  The light began to shine in my mind about millimeters, feet, yards, and miles.  I was feeling very proud of myself.  Then, I began hearing rumors about our nation converting to some bizarre system of measurement called the metric system, and this certainly changed everything.  “Whose idea was this?”  I thought frantically.  “I was just getting the hang of it and now you are changing it?”
There was a teacher or two, who probably did not comprehend it any better than I did, who made passing references to the metric system, but eventually the talk about it ceased altogether.  We gave it a go in later years when interstate road signs showed miles and kilometers, but the powers that be must have decided we Americans are too set in our ways to become like the Europeans, so they ended that experiment too.  Perhaps future generations will tackle it, but for the time being it seems to have lost steam.

I remember how confused I was about the entire system, for my way of viewing the world, was changing.  The thought filled me with dread.  Life can take a similar turn when problems, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future crowds into our minds.  Where and how do we find peace in the midst of it all?  The Word of God reminds us that God hears us when we seek Him, and He is able to delivers us from the personal struggles we often encounter.  God will deliver us, make us stronger, and fill us with His peace in the process.  We know we live an evil and fallen world, and if we are faithful, we will look to the Lord for empowerment and strength to help us through and give us the peace we desire. 

Whatever you are facing today, whether is it problems related to family, finances, employment, depression, anxiety, or plain old worry, please know you are not alone.  Christ came into the world to bear our sins and our struggles.  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ helps us to make sense of the troubled world in which we live.  Seek the Lord, for He will hear.  Look to God, for He cares for you and will bring you through whatever you are facing.  Do not give up.

God bless you today.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Responding to Christ’s Call

18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.  19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.  20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.  –Matthew 4:18-20 (KJV)

Growing up in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio meant you often overheard what went on in the neighborhood whether you wanted to or not.  A family I never actually knew occupied the house behind ours, and they had a son named Butch.  The reason I remember his name is the method employed by his father for summoning Butch home for supper.  Around 5:00 PM the father would open the back door of the house and call, “Butch, time for supper.”  If Butch did not make a quick appearance, the father would call again, louder this time.  “Butch, I said time for supper!”  Invariably, the young man would fail to arrive at which point the father’s voice would rise to a dangerous crescendo.  “Time for supper, Butch!  I’ll brain you Butchy!” 

I never knew whether the threat was carried out, I hope it was not, but this daily ritual gave my brother and me many a laugh.  All these years later my brother Tom will call out, for no apparent reason, “I’ll brain you Butchy!” 

Think for a moment about the call of God in our lives.  When Jesus went about calling disciples, He extended an invitation for them to follow Him.  Following Jesus meant a step of faith, leaving a comfort zone, and trusting God completely.  The same principles apply to us today.  Perhaps you have been struggling with finding your place in the world.  Remember that Christ has extended a call to follow Him.  For Peter and Andrew this meant leaving their profession of fishermen.  Jesus told them that from then on they would be casting out the net of the gospel and catching souls for God’s kingdom.  They took the first step of faith in following Christ and their lives were forever changed.

Responding to God’s call is the best way for finding our place in life.  The Lord may not be calling you to leave your profession, yet He is calling you to be His disciple.  Christ invites us to step out on faith and be the best we can possibly be wherever He has placed us.  Responding to the call means shining Jesus’ light to a dark and lonely world that needs to hear there is hope.  Christ’s call energizes us out of an otherwise mundane existence to a life of vibrant faith and spiritual victory.

Stop surviving life and start living it to the fullest.  The Lord has a plan for a brighter day that comes when we walk with Christ.  Go forward in faith.

God bless you today.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Freedom in Jesus Means Hope for Tomorrow

25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.  26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  –Galatians 3:25-28 (KJV)

As I write this today, I reflect back on the time when I experienced my “face in my hands” morning.  This is the morning about 12 years ago when I sat on the side of my bed with my face in hands wondering how I was going to get up and deal with the world.  This was the beginning of six long years of my personal battle with clinical depression.  I later wrote extensively about those dark days in my book, “The Invitation: Embracing a Happier Life.”  During the spring of 2006, the Lord began to work in my life in powerful ways, which resulted in recovery from depression and the development of strategies for coping with this condition.  I continue to practice these strategies every day, one of which is writing this blog. 

If you are in a similar cave of despair, please know the Lord loves you and will lift you out of whatever dark place you have found yourself.  Keep going forward and do not give up.  There is hope in Jesus Christ for a brighter day – I believe this with all my heart!

Part of my recovery and ongoing plan for managing depressive symptoms is to focus on Jesus Christ and the freedom He offers.  As I have said before, our freedom in Christ involves freedom to serve God with a full heart unencumbered by the chains of sin and guilt.  Christ has overcome these for us through His redemptive work on the cross and His resurrection.  Our freedom is never to be a license to sin or be rebellious.  Instead, we are free to love, forgive one another, walk in faith without the weight of coping with life in our strength.  I know from personal experience that we cannot face life’s struggles in our power.  The power of Christ is more than sufficient for us and He will empower us to face the trials of life.

When we try to please God by trying to be good, we end up becoming bound up in the chains of legalism.  This is where we try to be in God’s will by obeying certain rules and regulations.  We think that if we try to obey the Ten Commandments enough that God will be happy with us.  Paul the Apostle referred to the law, of trying to keep the commandments, as our “schoolmaster.”  In Jesus Christ, we are free from this old master, which we can never live up to, and have become the “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”  As the old hymn says, “Freed from the law, oh happy condition.” 

God loves you, my friend.  You cannot save yourself; neither can you live up to God’s perfect standards.  However, Jesus Christ has solved this problem, for in Him there is hope, life, redemption, and salvation.  Yes, you have problems, faults, and hang-ups.  God loves you anyway!

God bless you today.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Balancing our Time Between Work and Rest

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.  –Psalm 91:1, 2 (KJV)

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.  –Proverbs 6:6-8 (KJV)

In the midst of our hectic and fast-paced lives, one of the most effective strategies we can employ is to get some rest.  Rest is not laziness.  There is a difference between what the Bible refers to as slothfulness and rest.  The former is a deliberate effort to avoid work and productivity.  The book of Proverbs calls a person who fits this description a “sluggard.” This one sleeps during planting season, lounges about all summer, and then snoozes a little more during harvest time.  When the cold and unforgiving winds of winter set in, the sluggard finds he is starving and wonders how it happened.  Proverbs 6:6 commands such an idle person to spend some time observing the ant.  The tiny insect has no master, yet it is always working, laboring, and preparing for winter.  Many people in the world today would do well to take such humble lessons to heart about acquiring such a solid work ethic.

Rest, on the other hand, is rejuvenation that the important matters involved with productivity can continue.  Our culture seems to reward those who work themselves to death.  We refer to someone who works all the time as a “workaholic.” I am not sure when this word came about, but it is applicable to many a person who works to the detriment of their health, family relationships, and devotion to God.  This is not what Solomon had in mind either when he instructed the sluggard to go and observe the ways of the ant.  Hard and honest work must be balanced between devotion to God, family, and one’s own health, which will involve taking time to rest. 

These days I am learning that when 9:00 PM or so rolls around that I need to start winding down my day.  If I am in bed by 9:30 or 10:00 PM this will allow me the proper rest I need to begin my day at 5:00 AM.  I can then tackle the new day with a body and mind rested and ready for the challenges that lie ahead.  How hard are you pushing yourself?  Are you pushing yourself enough?  The Lord will provide wisdom for knowing how hard to work and how much to rest.  Honest work honors God, yet so does adequate rest.

Rest also involves spending time with family, pursuit of a hobby, and just being outside enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.  We wonder how all this can fall into place.  Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:33 to seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto us.  Place Christ first in our lives and everything else will line up in its proper place. 

Be encouraged today and trust God for a great work in your life.

God bless you today.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The True Bread of Life

33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.  34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.  35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.  –John 6:33-35 (KJV)

Last summer a friend of mine offered to give me a bag of Amish friendship bread starter.  Have you ever had one of those moments where you felt inspired and far braver than you actually are, so you agreed to try something a little out of the ordinary?  I had one of those moments and so I decided to try my hand at making Amish friendship bread.  My readers who are experienced in this area will understand when I say that making this bread can quickly become a chore.  You have to work with it a little every day for about ten days, and then you make the bread, which is no small task.  I was about half way through the process when I came home one day to discover one of our dogs, I think Leon was the culprit, had managed to get the bag of started off the counter.  The bag was in tatters, the sweet sticky starter had been licked from the floor, and even the instructions had apparently been eaten.  Both of our dogs, Ada and Leon, looked guilty, but they had obviously enjoyed themselves very much.

I thought this was the end of my Amish friendship bread experience, but not so.  My friend happened to have another bag of starter, which she gladly gave me.  In the end I made Amish friendship bread, I had five bags of starter to give away, and few people were willing to take them off my hands.  I now understand why.

When I think of the work involved with this bread, I cannot help but consider what Jesus said about being the bread that gives life to the world.  Jesus referred in John 6 to the manna God used to feed His people the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.  They ate of this divine bread, yet they became hungry again.  Jesus said that the bread He offers, which is Himself, would fully satisfy the hunger and longing of the human soul.  Our hearts are filled to overflowing when we partake of the bread Jesus Christ offers, which is a personal relationship with Him.  Nothing will fill the void of our lives like Jesus Christ.  Anything else we try will leave us unfulfilled, but Christ indeed fills our lives with the blessings of God and the abundant life.

I have no way of knowing what sort of difficulties and problems you are facing right now.  However, I do know there is hope in the Lord.  Jesus promised to help, empower, comfort, and strengthen us as we walk the troubled roads of life.  We do not have to walk in fear and anxiety, for the Spirit of God will give us give us power to walk in victory.  When we are looking to the Lord and trusting Him our problems, as many as there are, somehow seem smaller and more manageable. 

Keep your eyes on Jesus today.  Focus on Him and His power.  The promise of God is that He will bring us through whatever trial we are facing, and we will come through stronger on the other side.

God bless you today.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Shining the Light of Christ

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.  –John 8:12 (KJV)

I know of a pastor who several years ago accepted the call to a church in Alaska.  He and his family made the move and began their ministry.  Unfortunately, they only lasted about two years.  Neither the pastor nor his family could handle the long winters and continual nights.  He became depressed and sorrowful and eventually sought out a ministry back down here in the lower 48.  I could certainly relate to this, because I too thrive on sunshine and brighter weather.

During these months of winter, there are strategies we can employ to stay on top of our moods such as exercise and a healthy diet.  Let me add to this the importance of prayer and staying in the Word of God.  When we lack the nicer weather we prefer it is imperative that we seek the light of Christ in our daily lives.  John 8 relays the situation where an angry mob was ready to stone to death a woman caught in adultery.  They brought her to Jesus and demanded that He state His views on the problem.  They did this, of course, in an attempt to trap Him, but Jesus confronted the crowd with their own hypocrisy.  “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (V 7).” The mob, now pierced by the realization of being unworthy to condemn the woman, withdrew.  Jesus then told the woman to “go and sin no more.”

Following this tense exchange, Jesus addressed any that remained with a powerful truth; Christ is the light of the world.  Whoever follows Him will not walk in spiritual darkness, but will possess the light of Christ.  As Jesus’ followers, we have the light of Christ in us.  This light can shine in us, around us, and from us even in the darkest of days.  Rather than surrender to despair and hopelessness, which is so common during these bleak days, we can instead walk forward in faith.  One way we shine the light of Christ is to reach out in tangible ways to those around us.  Helping others is a wonderful way to beat the winter blues.  Hospitals, nursing homes, and homeless shelters are always looking for volunteers.  Shine the light of Jesus Christ by taking part in such an organization. 

There are also those right next door and on our street who need the love of Christ shown to them.  Stopping by to visit an elderly neighbor can make all the difference to someone.  According to Jesus’ definition of our neighbor, this is anyone who has a need we are able to address.  Becoming so proactive in our approach to reaching out to others will take us out of our comfort zones, and it is by such steps of faith we grow and discover peace and fulfillment we previously did not think was possible.  Practice shining the light of Christ to others and you will find the bleak days of winter seem brighter.

I spoke with a man I know who is going through a difficult time.  I am going to stop and check on him today and try to encourage him to stay strong and trust God.  Well, what do you know?  My day seems brighter already!

God bless you today.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Faith Made Stronger Through Trials

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:  -I Peter 1:6, 7 (KJV)

This is a difficult time of year for countless people.  The days are shorter, sunshine is minimal, and the cold air can just about cut you in half.  If you are anything like me you may find yourself longing for spring and the warmer, longer, brighter days it brings.  The Bible speaks of being in heaviness because of many trials and difficulties.  Often times our problems and struggles hang over us like the bleak days of winter.  We have a choice to make; we can surrender or we can rise up and move forward.  As I have said many times, faith moves us forward, but fear holds us back.  Christ calls us to arise, not in our strength, but in His power and face the challenges before us.  I know from personal experience that avoiding our problems only makes them worse.  Facing them head-on makes us stronger in the end.

No doubt you are going through many challenges and difficulties right now.  The trials we encounter can begin to pile up in our lives leaving us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.  The promise of God is that in Him there is hope and strength.  The Lord knows exactly what we are going through and He is willing to provide help in our time of need.  Have you ever heard someone say, “Someday we will look back on this and laugh?”  These days I often think, “Why wait until some uncertain time in the future to laugh about all the stress and problems I am facing?  Why not smile and laugh about it all right now?”  As difficult as this may sound, the Lord provides wonderful peace in the middle of life’s storms and when we trust the Lord completely we can smile and find joy right now rather than in some distant time that may or may not arrive.

The Word of God teaches in I Peter 1 that our faith, which is more precious than gold, is made stronger and even more valuable when tested.  Again, I understand how challenging this is, yet when we stop and realize that the difficulties we face will eventually make us stronger we begin to make sense out of it all.  Stronger faith equals greater peace, which makes for a happier, contented, more productive person. 

Do not give up, my friends, for the Lord is with us.  Walk forward today in faith, hope, and victory.

God bless you today.