Saturday, March 30, 2013

Will you Freely Confess?

And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest:67 And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. 68 But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew.  –Mark 14:66-68 (KJV)

Confessing Jesus Christ as savior appears on the surface to be an uncomplicated matter.  If we know Him, we will admit to the fact, and freely confess we are followers.  However, we know this confession is not always so easy.  In countries around the world the confession might get you arrested, persecuted, beaten, or killed.  But even in places such as the United States where we enjoy religious freedom we often fail to freely confess as we should.  Does a failure to confess constitute a denial of Christ?  The answer lies in whether or not we left any doubt in the minds of those to whom we are called to witness.  As we walk through our daily lives we are not exactly wearing signs which identify us as Christ’s followers, even though they will know us by our fruits, as Jesus said (Matthew 7:16, 20).  Demonstrating we are followers of Jesus by the way we live is mandatory, but more subtle.  Often times an open confession is required. 

Many years ago when I was in college, I was acquainted with a student from India whose name was Darshana.  She possessed many Christ-like characteristics; she was kind, considerate, patient, and careful with her speech.  One day I asked her if she held any spiritual beliefs.  She stated she believed nothing and held no spiritual or religious beliefs of any kind.  I asked her if she did, was there any spiritual beliefs she might consider.  She said if she were to pursue any religious or spiritual beliefs it would probably be Buddhism.  I encouraged her to become a Christian, but she politely declined.  I have no idea whatever became of her, but I pray my confession of Christ might one day take root in her life.

Never assume people know we are followers of Christ, for we must let them know through godly examples and verbal testimonies.  Simon Peter, Jesus’ disciple, had an opportunity to confess Jesus Christ.  However, he allowed fear and the uncertainty of what would happen to discourage him.  Peter was so fearful that he actually denied knowing Christ.  I am certain as the events unfolded before him, the trial, flogging, and crucifixion of Jesus that Peter was a miserable man. 

Following the resurrection, Peter found redemption and forgiveness for his denial.  Later, when the early church began in earnest, Peter became one of its most outspoken advocates.  Tradition holds the authorities crucified Peter upside down because of his confession of Christ.  As we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, let us commit ourselves anew to witnessing for the Lord and telling others about the blessings of having a relationship with Him.  Confess freely – Jesus is Lord.

God bless you this Easter weekend.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Seeking a Deeper Walk With Christ

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.  –Matthew 26:41 (KJV)

I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.  –Philippians 4:13 (KJV)

As I type this I reflect on how my faith, outlook on life, and my coping strategies have grown in the last couple of years.  What has made the difference?  For me, the difference is more time devoted each day to prayer and God’s Word.  Up until two years ago I was not what you would describe as a morning person.  I would have daily prayer and time in the Word, but rarely before sunrise.  Over time the Lord began to work in my heart a gentle conviction that this simply was not enough.  I needed to go deeper in my walk with God. 

Two years ago after much prayer and consideration, I undertook a challenge to rise each day at 4:00 AM for 40 days for the sole purpose of prayer and meditation on God’s Word.  This was for me a life changing experience.  I continue the practice of rising each day well before sunrise for time alone with the Lord.  The result is deeper insight into the truths of God’s Word and stronger faith.  If I can do this, so can you.  But enough about me; let’s talk about you.

Allow me to challenge you to seek a new and fresh perspective on the time you spend each day in prayer and meditation on God’s Word.  Countless believers are only scratching the surface in terms of their personal devotion to Christ.  I have read a number of troubling statistics about pastors walking away from the ministry and Christians in general becoming stagnant in their faith.  This would change if followers of Christ would commit themselves anew to prayer and time in the Word.  My friends, do not settle for a hurried prayer and Bible verse here and there.  Instead, seek to go deeper into prayer and the Word.  This will require setting aside a daily time for this purpose and perhaps a complete reorienting of your schedule.  Believe me when I say the rewards are well worth the effort.

God is calling His people to go deeper into their walk with Him.  Not only is faith strengthened, but we also become more calm, relaxed, and patient with others.  Do not be like the man I read about who was pulled over one day by the police on suspicion of driving a stolen car.  The driver was incredulous and asked the officer why in the world he thought the car was stolen.  The officer relied, “Well, I noticed you had a bumper sticker which read, ‘Honk if you love Jesus,’ and another that says, ‘Follow me to Sunday school,’ and I also see you have a Jesus fish attached to your windshield.  Then, when I saw how you yelled at that other driver a few miles back, made an obscene gesture, and then called him a vulgar name I just assumed the car was stolen.”

Let us strive to be positive witnesses for Christ as we walk each day in faith and integrity, shining the light of Jesus to a lost and hurting world.

God bless you today.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Process of Growing in Faith

Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. 11 And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? 12 And he said, Certainly I will be with thee… -Exodus 3:10-12 (KJV)

Faith which is being tested is faith that is growing.  Conversely, faith not being tested is faith which is not growing.  Consider in your own life times when your faith was put to the test.  This could have happened as the result of a problem, crisis, sickness, or a challenge which stretched the limits of your abilities.  Your faith had been put to the test and the result was a stretching process.  Anytime faith is stretched the result is spiritual growth.  This process is difficult, yet this is how we grow in faith and spiritual knowledge.  Combine this process with daily prayer and time in God’s Word and we become a spiritual force against the powers of darkness.

Two years ago I began doing volunteer chaplaincy work at a local hospital.  On three different occasions when I was on call I have been summoned to the emergency room to minister to families who had a loved one to pass away.  Two were suicides and one was the result of a car accident.  In each situation I felt very inadequate to the task, yet the presence of the Lord was there in the midst of terrible grief, and God moved and worked despite my feelings of inadequacy.  Many times I have faced challenges that left me asking God if He was certain I was the one He had called to do the job.  Each time the Lord calmed my fears with a gentle whisper of assurance and each time the Lord proved His faithfulness.  A relationship with God is like that; He always demonstrates His faithfulness when we trust in Him.

Moses, a great leader of the Israelites, struggled with God’s call in His life.  He asked a question familiar to many of us; “Who am I that I should go?”  In the face of a new and overwhelming challenge it is easy to begin to believe that maybe the Lord was mistaken when He called us to some task.  When it comes to God’s call upon our lives He does not make mistakes, nor does He choose the wrong person.  If God has called you or me to a specific ministry, then He will provide us with what we need to do the work.  I love how the Lord works in our lives in spite of our own perceived weaknesses and faults. 

Consider what challenges and difficulties you are facing right now.  What sort of possibilities for ministry and personal growth lie before you?  Seek to view these as opportunities for spiritual growth.  Remember when faith is tested the result is growth.  And when we grow in faith we grow in our spiritual power for walking forward in spiritual victory.

Rise up and walk forward in faith.  God is with you, my friend.  Believe and do not doubt God – ever.

God bless you today.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Blessings of an Even Temper

The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression. 
–Proverbs 19:11 (NKJV)

Several years ago one of my sons was involved with little league baseball and I became acquainted with a man whose son also played on the team.  Many times I arrived for a game either coming from a church responsibility or on my way to one.  This meant I was often wearing a dress shirt and tie, which is not typical dress for a baseball game.  The man I spoke of would often see me dressed this way and address me as “Dapper Dan.” It went something like this, “Well, hey there, Dapper Dan.” I suppose some men might have grown weary of this, but I always took it good naturedly.  I never asked, but I just thought it was a lighthearted commentary on my choice of clothing. 

The word dapper is an old English expression for neat, trim, and smart; a man who wears nice and stylish clothing which fits well.  I began to take my new nickname as a compliment.  What’s funny is how I sometimes wore casual clothing, like jeans and a t-shirt, but the man wouldn’t be at the game.  Then, the next time I happened to be there, dressed to the nines, he would of course show up.  I began to wonder if the man realized I didn’t always dress like a New York lawyer.  Both our sons have grown beyond the little league baseball years and are now in college, and whenever I see this man, you guessed it; he still calls me Dapper Dan. 

The Word of God says in Proverbs 19:11 that a man of discretion is slow to anger and a wise man overlooks an insult.  It is to a man’s glory, or it demonstrates his integrity, to not allow a perceived insult to bother him.  How often have we allowed a perceived insult or slight to get under our skin?  Many times we let something bother us when in reality it was not worth getting upset over.  I have heard all my life the expression about people wearing their feelings on their sleeves.  This is a hard way to go through life, because such persons are always looking for an offense in any situation.  As a result, they become offended over situations where no offense was ever intended.

As I reflect on the man who had his nickname for me, I realize that no one else has ever called me this.  He and I became friends and he is actually a very kind and good natured person.  I believe he honestly never intended to offend me. If I had allowed myself to be offended, I would have missed out on becoming friends with a goodhearted and decent man.  When we walk by faith and in the power of Christ, we are at peace and the joy of the Lord resides in our hearts.

We also realize life is too short to spend it upset and irritated over matters which have little bearing on the greater issues of life.  As I have said before, relax, lighten up, and be at peace in Jesus.

God bless you today.

Friday, March 22, 2013

God’s Restoring Power

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  –II Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)

I suppose every man reaches a point where he gets in his head the idea of restoring an old car.  I confess this hit me a couple of years ago despite the fact I know little about working on cars.  After much thought, I settled on finding a 1974 Plymouth Satellite.  The reason being I had one from the time I was 17 until my early twenties.  It was a beautiful car and I regret I ever sold it.  The problem with finding this particular model car today is if you find one at all they vary between two extremes.  They are either in a junkyard and would take an expert restorer and thousands of dollars to rebuild, or they have already been meticulously restored and cost more than I could ever afford.  Sadly, I abandoned my hope of restoring a 74 Plymouth Satellite.

It’s funny, but often what we desire is right before us.  Since 1998 I drove a Plymouth Breeze, which we had bought brand new that year.  Last year the car blew a head gasket, which for a car approaching 200,000 miles means more spent on repair than the car is worth.  The car has sat in our driveway for months and I was considering sending it to the junkyard.  But then I had an epiphany of sorts.  “This is the car I will restore.” I thought.  So, I have been doing a good amount of reading and also getting advice from a mechanic friend, and if all goes well I just may fix the blown head gasket myself.  This involves practically taking the entire engine apart, but after tinkering with it my confidence is growing.  If I get this problem fixed and the car running, then I am on my way to a full on restoration project, which is most exciting. 

I share this because God is in the business of taking lives which appear to be worthless, beyond repair, and beyond restoration and making them new creations in Him.  People will often believe someone is beyond hope.  We wonder if the person will ever get his or her life together and on the right track.  No doubt you know someone who fits this description.  Let me challenge you to pray relentlessly for this individual.  As long as people live ad breath there is hope they will experience the life changing power of Jesus Christ.  I have personally known people who were in this category of what people refer to as beyond hope.  Yet, through the power of Christ, they turned their lives around and began living lives of vibrant faith and living hope.

Before writing someone off, write his or her name instead on a piece of paper and place it in your Bible.  This will be a way of remembering to pray for the person.  Pray in faith for the person to receive Christ.  Look for opportunities to share the love of Christ with the person.  Keep praying and do not give up, for the Lord will honor His Word and the prayers of His people. 

God bless you today.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Value of Exercising the Spirit and the Body

For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.  –I Timothy 4:8 (KJV)

Throughout most of my adult life I have done at least some form of exercise.  In my 20’s ad 30’s I was a runner and stayed very active.  However, in my 40’s the task of raising children and pursuing ministry became so time consuming that I began neglecting my physical health.  I paid a terrible price for this.  I put on weight, became discouraged, and ended up suffering six long years of clinical depression.  Several years ago the Lord pulled me out of this depressed condition in a wonderful way and I then began developing strategies for being more positive and healthy.  The strategies I have learned and practice involve daily prayer and meditation on the Scriptures, a strict regimen of diet and exercise, and a conscious decision to be a more upbeat and positive person. 

In addition, around four years ago I began working out for 30-45 minutes at a time about five times a week.  This has been a rediscovering of the benefits of regular exercise.  As I approach the age of 52 I am enjoying the best health of my life.  These days I am spreading the word among my fellow pastors and anyone else who will listen to get back into prayer, the Word, and a healthy lifestyle.  At first this will seem like climbing Mount Everest, but if I can do it, so can you.  The benefits of spiritual discipline and physical exercise are well worth the effort.

As I read Paul’s words in I Timothy 4: 8 I have to reconcile what appears to be an attempt to dissuade believers from pursuing exercise.  I do not believe the Bible is telling us here not to exercise.  Instead, I believe this is a caution about pursing physical health over spirituality.  If we do as Jesus said and seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), then we are empowered to get other aspects of life in their proper place.  For me, seeking a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine is an outgrowth of keeping my life right with God.  Here is how this works; the more time we spend in prayer and in God’s Word the more we are empowered to seek healthy habits.  The result is increased energy and focus for ministry and sharing Christ with others. 

Consider also the positive benefits of personal growth.  All around us are people who are discouraged, depressed, and living in spiritual defeat.  As we grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord (II Peter 3:18) we are strengthened to keep moving forward in those times when we feel like giving up.  God is faithful and will give us the power we need to keep serving Him and walking in spiritual victory.  Do not lie down in defeat; rise up in the power of Christ and walk forward in vibrant and confident faith.  The result will be a more positive, healthy, happy, joyful, and relaxed person. 

Christ is calling us to the abundant life (John 10:10), not survival.  Why not begin today?

God bless you.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Keeping Wealth in Proper Perspective

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  –I Timothy 6:10 (KJV)

The other day I was reading an online article about famous athletes who once had millions of dollars in their possession, but are now broke.  They lost everything through poor financial decisions combined with reckless and extravagant spending.  Many of them squandered fortunes of 100 million or more.  As I read the article I pondered again the elusiveness of wealth.  Most of us cannot imagine having such riches at our disposal and we conclude we would surely do better.  I am reminded how countless people have had the same thought, yet when financial blessings came their way their too lacked the wisdom to properly manage it.

The Word of God reminds us of how money is a root of all evil.  Wealth has the potential to quickly corrupt us and pull us away from God’s will for our lives.  When managed with wisdom, integrity, and perspective, wealth does not control us.  But if we lack godly wisdom for managing our finances we end up letting our money control us which in turn creates frustration and pain.  As I have said before, I have known people who possessed tremendous wealth, yet they were unhappy and bitter.  On the other hand, I have known, and do know, many people who are not what we might call wealthy, but they are contented and living life to the fullest all the while grateful for what they have.  Truly, it’s about having a right relationship with Christ, which empowers us to keep life, our problems, and our possessions in proper perspective. 

Solomon, one of the wealthiest men who ever lived, looked at all his money and possessions and declared, “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).  Solomon came to realize that true peace, joy, and happiness do not rest in the fortunes we acquire, but in a right relationship with God.  From this platform of wisdom comes a view of life which allows us to distinguish between what is important and what is not.  During these tough economic times you may feel frustrated over your finances.  God calls us to trust Him, use good judgment, and learn to be contented with what we have rather than upset over what we do not have. 

God is faithful, and as we trust in Him and walk by faith He will empower us to wisdom in regards to our finances.  Do not despair, but instead be thankful.  It’s new day with unlimited possibilities.  Look to the Lord and walk forward in faith and with a glad and joyful heart.

God bless you today. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Assurance of God’s Presence

And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. 17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.  –Genesis 28:16, 17 (KJV)

Jacob of the Old Testament experienced a startling vision.  While he was on the run from his vengeful brother, Esau, Jacob lay down and as he slept he saw a vision of a ladder reaching into heaven with angels descending and ascending upon it.  He then heard the voice of the Lord God promising to guide, help, and bring him back to his home.  When Jacob awoke, he realized he had been in the presence of the Lord.  He then expressed a wondrous awe over what God had done in his life. 

As I consider this I think of the times I have been praying or meditating on the Scripture, and I felt a powerful, yet peaceful presence of the Lord.  God has a way of coming to us in the midst of our struggles and gently reminding us of His presence.  However, I also realize not everyone feels the presence of God in this way.  Consequently, they question whether the Lord is with them, and they might even question the very existence of God.  This is where we are compelled to take a vital faith step of trusting and believing God even when we may not feel His presence as powerfully as we would like.  Remember that even a few saints of the Bible had moments when they too wondered if the Lord was with them.

David prayed in Psalm 22:1, 2, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?...O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not.”  Gideon said in Judges 6:13, “But now the Lord hath forsaken us.”  Throughout the book of Job we find Job wondering why God had allowed such calamity to come upon him and if the Lord still cared for him at all.  Perhaps you also have gone through similar difficulties in seeking God.  There may have been a time when you cried out in anguish like David wondering if God was still there.  Take heart, for in each case, the prophets found the blessed presence of God in a crucial faith step which declares belief no matter what.  The same can happen for us.

This is where our faith meets the harsh realities of life.  Faith says I will believe no matter what and regardless of the circumstances.  In my darkest hour, the light of God’s presence will break through and shine into my heart.  Someone has said that faith is knowing there is an ocean because I have seen a river.  Our faith in God functions in like manner.  The evidence of the Lord is near.  We see Him in creation, a sunny day, the gentle wind, a beautiful sunrise, the beating of our hearts, and the air we breathe. 

God may not shake the ground beneath your feet, yet through faith He will speak in a gentle whisper or a still small voice assuring that He is with us.  Believe and do not doubt.  We will then be like Jacob who said, “Surely the Lord is in this place.” 

God bless you today as you walk forward in calm and certain faith.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Chance or Divine Guidance?

20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: -Genesis 28:20-21 (KJV)

I enjoy having conversation with people, yet I also enjoy listening as others talk about their lives. These days I try to allow others around me to speak without my feeling I have to interject something into the conversation.  This stems from a personal discipline I am developing of being a better listener and allowing others the simple joy of telling their stories.  So often we feel the need to speak up and tell our stories.  Someone has suggested the reason we have trouble listening to others is that so often the discussion is not about us, so we seek to remedy this by insinuating ourselves into it.  When we allow others to speak, tell their stories, and bask in the joy of the telling, we discover a wonderful tension is gone from our lives.  We get to relax and let others experience the joy of talking about their lives.

I cannot take credit for this (hopefully I would have figured it out eventually), for I discovered the strategy in a book by psychologist Richard Carlson, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and it’s all Small Suff.”  Dr. Carlson suggests we become more relaxed persons when we sit back and allow others to speak and tell their stories.  He assures us we will get our chance and he is absolutely correct.  The other day I was practicing this and listening as two other people were speaking around me.  One of them was reflecting on her life and the key events which brought her to where she is right now.  She spoke of a time around 30 years ago when she was working in a small restaurant.  She met a man who would often come in and have lunch.  The man saw she possessed good people skills, was motivated, and appeared to be a hard worker.  He suggested she come and work for him.  She applied for a job with his company and has been there ever since.

All of us have met people, been in certain situations on a given day, and because of one event our lives were changed.  The question is, do we think of this as chance or divine guidance?  As followers of Jesus Christ we are compelled to believe our lives are being guided by the loving, yet firm hand of God.  Even when we get off track, the Lord will bring us back to where He wants us to be.  As we walk in faith God continues to guide our lives.

Jacob of the Old Testament knew God was with him and guiding his steps.  He made a covenant with God that as the Lord continued to prove His guidance that he would hold to the Lord as his God.  Perhaps you feel as though you have been wandering through life.  Take heart and know the Lord is with you.  Even if you have strayed far from God it is not too late to return to Him.  Keep walking forward in faith, for the Lord will guide you as He has all along.

God bless you today.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Power of Forgiveness and reconciliation

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.  II Peter 3:15, 16 (KJV)

As I read the words of Peter in regards to Paul the Apostle, I recall a disagreement I had a number of years ago with a man in our church.  We had a sharp disagreement over a matter in the church and while we did not resort to insults or anything of the sort we did become upset with each other.  After a period of time I felt moved to go to this brother and in a spirit of Christ-like forgiveness seek to resolve the situation.  Imagine my relief when my brother in the Lord was openly receptive to my apologies and expressed a sincere desire to put the matter behind us and move forward.  I asked him if I might embrace him as a brother in Christ.  He readily agreed, and we did embrace one another.  This was a moment I will never forget.

Ever since that time, this man and I have gotten along better than we ever had before.  We have now worked together on a number of projects in the church and while we may not agree on every detail we do work together in a spirit of cooperation and unity.  Galatians chapter 2 shows how Peter and Paul went through a sharp disagreement over ministry to the gentiles.  Paul believed Peter was behaving one way toward gentile believers, but was different toward them in the presence of his fellow Jews.  Paul rightly viewed this as a form of hypocrisy on Peter’s part.  We can only imagine what sort of feelings the two men then felt from then on.  However, we come to II Peter 3 and we find the two men had apparently worked it out.

Just as I was relieved to be reconciled with my brother Christian at our church, I am relieved when I read how Peter referred to Paul as “Brother Paul.”  We sense here that the two had reached some sort of mutual respect and shared brotherhood.  Their disagreements, however severe, were overcome by the love of Jesus Christ working in their hearts.  This is the power of Christ in us.  We no longer have to carry around ill-will, grudges, and bad feelings for other people.  These are overcome through faith in the Lord.

No doubt you have gone through a disagreement with someone to the point of hurt feelings.  I would urge you not to give up on the person and of somehow being reconciled.  When we do as Jesus said and pray for others, even those who have spitefully mistreated us (Matthew 5:44), we gain peace in our hearts regardless of the outcome.  Then, if we are reconciled to our brother or sister in Christ, we have overcome the dark forces which so often divide us.  This will never be easy, yet it is indeed possible.  Pray for others no matter what, and you will find peace and spiritual victory.

May the Lord richly bless you today. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Ongoing Challenge of Well Doing

Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. 13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.  –II Thessalonians 3:12, 13 (KJV)

I have joked before about how if I didn’t have to sleep I could get more accomplished.  The problem is we all have to sleep, for this is how the Lord created us.  We may view this as a problem when it is in fact an asset.  Sleep refreshes us and allows our minds and bodies time to rest.  When we are in need of rest, we certainly know it, for we feel fatigue which only rest and sleep will remedy.  The Word of God speaks of being weary, which refers also to desiring to cease from a certain practice or habit.  God’s Word challenges us not to grow weary of well doing.  We are never to allow ourselves to grow tired of doing what is right and honorable before God.  The problem comes with keeping this up over the long haul of life.

Life can be extremely tiring as is the ongoing challenge of always seeking to do what is right before God.  If we are honest, we will admit that we sometimes struggle with always doing what is right.  This is because doing God’s will, walking the straight and narrow path Jesus described, and being a person of integrity requires tremendous energy.  The strength needed to continue such an upright pursuit of life does not happen in our strength.  Instead, such a noble life comes through the resources of prayer, God’s Word, and faith in Christ.  Apart from these vital resources, we will soon become weary with striving to be Christ-like in all areas of life.  Paul the Apostle spoke of serving the Lord, doing His will, and going about our daily lives with “quietness.”  Do you ever feel you could use more quiet time in your life?

I sometimes here people speak of needing to get away from the hectic pace of their daily routines.  I am sympathetic to this because I too need time away now and then.  Here is where we find the benefit of daily prayer and meditation on God’s Word.  Just as sleep refreshes our physical bodies, prayer and the Word of God refresh our spirits.  We are then empowered to continue serving the Lord with energy, which comes from the Holy Spirit and not ourselves.  Along with my daily prayer time I have an additional strategy for spiritual growth.  There is a stretch of woods behind our house, and once or twice a week I take a walk into those woods for a brief time of quiet reflection.  The landowner has cleared an area of the forest and has left behind several logs, one of which I use for a seat.  This is my place to find brief periods of quietness and reflection.  I hear the birds singing, I feel the sun on my face, I talk with God, and He listens.  I always return ready to continue the ongoing task of well doing.

My friends, do not cease from well doing.  The world desperately needs your Christ-like witness and faith.  Resist the temptation to believe you are not making a difference, for you indeed are.  Make prayer and time in the Word a priority.  God will give you energy to go forward in faith.

God bless you today.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Faith for Overcoming Fear

And Jonathan said unto his armourbearer, Come up after me: for the Lord hath delivered them into the hand of Israel. 13 And Jonathan climbed up upon his hands and upon his feet, and his armourbearer after him: and they fell before Jonathan; and his armourbearer slew after him. 14 And that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armourbearer made, was about twenty men, within as it were an half acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plow.  –I Samuel 14:12-14 (KJV)

As I read this passage where an Israelite named Jonathan, along with his armor bearer, defeated 20 men, I am amazed at his courage and fortitude.  At the time, the Israelites were being oppressed by their enemies the Philistines.  God’s people were also being led by an inept king named Saul, who was Jonathan’s father.  Jonathan grew weary of waiting for the enemy to attack and so he decided to take the fight to the enemy.  Such courage is born of faith in God and a firm conviction that with God victory is possible.  I can only imagine what Jonathan was thinking as he approached a group of soldiers who outnumbered him ten to one and would gladly have hung his head on a pike.  Few men would have undertaken such a challenge, but Jonathan was a young man of faith and integrity.  He believed God would bring a victory.

What sort of struggles are you facing right now?  Are you at times cowering in fear or are you walking forward in bold and confident faith?  I confess in my own life there have been times when I have not only cowered in fear, but I wanted to hide under the covers of my bed curled up in a fetal position.  Fear will have such an effect on us.  Should fear take hold in our lives the result is spiritual paralysis and physically exhaustion.  Being afraid all the time simply wears us out and stalls our forward momentum.  I see a powerful lesson in Jonathan.  He grew so tired of being afraid that he decided to rise up and face the enemy. 

Understand that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ confronts fear and drives it out of our way.  The faith Jesus spoke of, the kind which moves mountains from our lives (Matthew 17:20), is faith unfettered by the chains of fear.  Faith in Christ overcomes the fear of stepping forward into a deeper walk with the Lord and greater devotion to Him.  The world is filled with people who desire to walk daily in spiritual victory, but they allow fear to hinder them.  Let me challenge you to begin thinking in terms of faith rather than fear, of seeking God’s will rather than your own, and of confronting challenges rather than avoiding them.  As Jesus said, “And nothing shall be impossible for you (Matthew 17:20b).” 

You are a beloved child of God.  We have been given new life in Christ and the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Do not allow fear to keep you from moving forward in faith.  Perhaps a new ministry is waiting.  Maybe a long desired educational goal is possible.  A loved one who doesn’t know Christ needs His loved demonstrated.  The possibilities are endless, but the Lord knows which ones are intended for you.  Do not delay; move forward in faith.

God bless you today.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Learning to Properly Manage Stress

A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.  –Proverns 29:11 (KJV)

Proverbs 29:11 states that a foolish man gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.  Something I have learned over the years is the importance of building into our lives strategies for properly managing stress.  First on the list is daily prayer and meditation on the Word of God.  Next on the list is a healthy diet combined with regular exercise.  Along with these add proper rest, a healthy sense of humor, pursuing a hobby, and leaning to keep life and its problems in proper perspective.  All these empower us to be more contented, relaxed, and capable of keeping ourselves under control rather than blowing up at someone who happened to push us over the edge.
Around 20 years ago I was the pastor of a church in another state.  One morning while studying at the church office I received a call from a telemarketer.  These days I am usually hanging up about the time the telemarketer is saying, “Good morning Mr. Birchfi…”  However, back then I was younger and willing to listen to the entire spiel before telling him or her I wasn’t interested and to have a nice day.  This individual was with a Christian based company which sold video Bible study materials.  The man proceeded to explain to me how by purchasing this video series and showing them to the church I could increase attendance and revolutionize the church’s ministry. 

The video series was several hundred dollars, but I could examine them for free, after which time I was certain to be convinced.  My ministry at this church was not going well at that time.  The congregation was divided, there were factions working against each other, and a general sense of discontentment seemed to pervade everything I was seeking to accomplish.  Add to this the fact the church was strapped financially.  I began to explain to the man that we could not purchase the video series and I lacked the time to review them anyway.  The man’s tone became what I perceived as combative.  He accused me of not caring about the church or whether or not it grew. 

 He went on in this vein for a few more moments when I interrupted him.  I said something like this; “So, you mean to tell me all I have to do is buy these videos and this will fix everything? (I think I was shouting)  How dare you sit in an office 500 miles away and tell me what will and will not work in this church.  I am ending this conversation – goodbye!”  I slammed the phone down on the receiver.  I was so agitated I had to walk around the church grounds a while to gain my composure.  Later I recalled what the scripture says about a wise man keeping himself under control.  I had not done that.  All that poor telemarketer could do was sit there and listen as I blew all my circuits.  I am grateful the Lord has since then taught me how to better handle stress, lest I blow up at someone like I did the telemarketer. 

No doubt you too are having to deal with stress in your life.  God understands and will empower you to better cope with what you are facing.  Seek the Lord each day and do not beat yourself up over past mistakes.  There is a brighter day coming as you walk in faith and victory over the stresses in your life. 

God bless you today.