Friday, June 28, 2013

Watch out for the Bears

Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly.  –Proverbs 17:12 (KJV)

This week, Andrea and I are enjoying a visit with family in Ohio.  On our way here the other day we stopped for a picnic lunch at the beautiful Cumberland Gap Welcome Center in Middlesboro, Kentucky.  As we sat in the picnic area enjoying our lunch, my attention was directed to information affixed to the tables which provided instructions on how to keep the bears away.  It stated that such foods as hotdogs, chicken, and watermelon rinds are among the most poisonous substances known to bears.  This makes sense as the bears’ systems would be unused to such foods and could not digest them.  It is not like bears have enough sense to think, “My, I had better not eat these hotdogs.  They might upset my stomach.”  

I also noticed the suggestions on what to do if a bear wanders into the picnic area.  I would have thought, “Run away quickly” might be on the list, but I could not find it.  The list said to try waving your arms, yelling, banging metal lids together (good luck finding these in your picnic basket), and throwing rocks at the bear.  There was no suggestion as to what to do should these fail.  I was thinking maybe toss the bear a sandwich and run for your life.  Fortunately, bear attacks in that part of the country are rare.

God’s Word says that meeting a bear robbed of her cubs is preferable to meeting a fool in his folly.  Here we find the danger of getting needlessly involved in the affairs of foolish people, or those who have no regard for the righteous ways of God.  My mother used to remind me when I was growing up about being careful of the company I keep.  She was right; we are known by and influenced by those around us.  Surround ourselves with godly people and we will be positively influenced by them.  This is not to say we should never be with those who do not know Christ - quite the contrary.  We are to shine the light in the darkness of peoples’ lives.

This passage has an application for making our closest friendships with people who will be solid, godly, and helpful influences in our lives.  They help strengthen and inspire us to good decisions and godly approaches to life and its problems.  As we shine the light to a troubled world, let us make sure we are walking the good road with the Lord as our constant guide.  In this way we are kept from being ensnared by the troubled ways of the world, or the fool in his folly.

Walk in faith, look up, go forward, and trust the Lord for guidance.  And while you’re at it, watch out for those bears.

God bless you today.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Waiting on the Lord

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.  –Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)

I recall when my brother and I were small boys we were given a gift of Superman costumes complete with capes.  It was not Halloween, so I figure we must have pestered our parents to the point they relented and bought us the suits.  Superman was popular at the time, so the suits were all the rage.  I wish I had those costumes today in good condition as they might fetch a good price at an online auction.  My brother and I wore the suits for a number of days running around the house and the yard before the novelty wore off.  Something that also stands out in my memory of our Superman suit phase is the warning label on the costumes.  It read, “Warning, wearing these suits does NOT give the wearer the ability to fly.”

I was probably about eight at the time, and while I was no precocious genius, I remember thinking, “Are they serious?  Is this a joke?”  Even then, I could picture some poor kid climbing to the roof of the house and thinking that because he was wearing the Superman costume he could fly.  The results of such an experiment would have been at least tragic.  This may explain the eventual disappearance of the Superman costumes.

God’s Word promises that when we wait on the Lord our strength is renewed.  God is the One who renews us.  We are then empowered to soar upward and above whatever trial we are facing.  God strengthens us when we wait on Him and His perfect will.  This promised strengthening encompasses spiritual, physical, and emotional strength for moving forward and facing the challenges of life. 

So often we feel like giving up, yet God tells us to wait.  Many years ago, an older and wise pastor shared with me some wonderful advice.  He said that when I find myself facing challenges and problems in the church, do not start looking for another church.  “Wait,” he said.  “Wait on the Lord and see what happens.  Don’t leave, but instead wait and see.” I have practiced this more times than I can recall and the result is over 17 years of ministry in the same church.  God has truly brought us through many trials and it is because of waiting upon Him and His will to be done.  This advice works well in everyday life.  Wait on the Lord.  Do not panic and jump ship.  Instead, pray, seek God, be calm, stay in the Word, move forward in faith, and wait on the Lord.  God will work it out to His glory and your benefit.

No doubt you are facing problems of one kind or another.  Trust God, be patient, and wait on the Lord.

God bless you today.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Overcoming Temptation

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.  –I Corinthians 10:13 (KJV)

I heard a story about a little boy whose mother told him not to eat any cookies because it was so close to supper.  A little while later, she walked into the kitchen and found the boy on the counter with his hand in the cookie jar.  She said, “What are you doing?”  The boy replied, “Resisting temptation!”  That, my friends, is complete surrender, not resistance.  We laugh at such a story and rightly so, yet the issue of standing firm in the face of temptations that can derail our lives is no laughing matter.  As Christ’s followers, we have a mandate from the Lord to live lives characterized by godliness, integrity, honestly, and righteousness.  This is a tall order, I know, yet the Lord has promised to give us spiritual power to resist the temptations which so easily ensnare us.

Each day we are tempted to do something that goes against our Christian convictions.  The temptations might involve vengeful thoughts or hateful attitudes, yet they might also be the temptation to engage in a behavior or act that has the potential to ruin our lives.  How many people have lost all that is important to them because they surrendered to some temptation?  We cannot know, for the numbers are too many to count.  God calls us to stand firm and keep walking forward and He has promised to give us strength and power to do so.  Some of you will remember comedian Flip Wilson and his alter ego Geraldine, whose was known for the line, “The devil made me do it!”

In reality, the devil never made anyone do anything.  He simply provides the occasion.  We are the ones who fall into the trap.  No matter what temptations you are facing, know that the Lord will provide a way out as He has promised.  Prayer, God’s Word, fellowship with other believers, and abiding faith in Christ are our best defenses for overcoming the temptations we face.  In Christ there is victory.  Claim the victory and walk forward in it today.  With each victory comes continued resolve and growing faith.  Keep your spiritual armor on and intact (Ephesians 6:10-18).  Victory in Christ, not defeat, is just ahead.

God bless you today.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Breaking out of the Routine

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.  –Luke 5:1-3 (KJV)

I admire my wife for many reasons, but one trait that continually amazes me is her ability to go to bed when she is tired and fall to sleep with little preparation.  On the other hand, I have a series of rituals I have to observe before I can relax and actually go to sleep.  No matter how tired I am, I cannot go to bed unless I have prepared the coffee pot for the next morning, and then flossed and brushed my teeth, in that order.  I like to sleep with my cell phone, glasses, and wristwatch on the nightstand.  I can fall asleep once these tasks are completed and these key items properly arranged.  At this point, you are probably thinking I am suffering from a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Do not worry, for this is the only time of day I adhere to such a seemingly odd routine. 

Speaking of routine, a man named Simon had his routine interrupted in a big way the day Jesus used one of his boats as an impromptu pulpit, with the shore serving as an amphitheater.  Simon too probably had a routine that involved mending nets, preparing fish for the market – provided they had caught any, and doing maintenance on the ships.  Have you ever been going about your routine and had it interrupted?  How did you feel about that?  Did you mind, or were you perturbed?  All we know about Simon is he allowed the Lord to sit in the boat and teach the people. 

After the teaching time, Jesus instructed Simon to have another go at fishing, which was a suggestion the man had a little trouble following due to the lack of success the previous night.  However, he was obedient, and the result was a catch unlike anything he or his partners had ever seen.  Simon then fell at Jesus’ feet with a cry of confession.  He said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord (Luke 5:8).”  Obedience to Christ, when coupled with the power of grace in our lives, results in a renewed sense of God’s power and our unworthiness.  We too feel the need to fall prostrate before Christ with a similar confession.  “Lord, I am unworthy of such grace, love, and spiritual power.”

The Lord has a wonderful way of getting us on our feet in such circumstances and infusing strength and purpose into our lives.  For Simon, later called Peter, it was the promise of a new beginning.  “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men (v10).”  Jesus Christ changed Simon’s routine forever, for his life had taken a wonderful turn from the mundane to the glorious depths of walking with Christ.

Do not fear allowing a closer walk with Christ alter your routine.  Let the Lord transform you into all He intends for you to be – a new creation filled with wonderful potential. 

God bless you today.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Walking in the Spirit

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.  –Galatians 5:16 (KJV)

Many years ago, I knew an elderly man who shared with me powerful insight regarding the struggle between the Spirit and the flesh.  He likened this battle to two dogs, a white one and a black one, and the two dogs would fight each day.  “Which of the two dogs wins the fight?”  He asked.  My friend then supplied the answer; “The one I feed.”  Of course, the black dog represents the flesh, while the white dog represents the Spirit.  What my wise friend shared was true; the winner of the daily battle depends upon which one we feed.

Many Christians lose the spiritual battles because they starve the Holy Spirit within them.  How do they do this?  They starve the Spirit by neglecting prayer, time in the Word, and fellowship with other believers.  On the other hand, when we feed the Spirit within us with these divine pursuits we increase in spiritual strength and are thus empowered to resist evil and walk in victory.  The spiritual battles will come our way.  Therefore, be prepared for them.  This is why Scripture challenges us to walk in the Spirit, which leads to overcoming the flesh, or the sinful nature. 

Be careful not to equate walking in the Spirit of God with a sad, sorrowful, stuffy, and self-righteous way of thinking and living, for nothing could be father from the truth.  Walking in the Spirit is walking forward in faith, which produces joy, peace, comfort, confidence, and power over those dark forces that otherwise bring us down.  Through the power of Christ in us we cease from being hung up on problems and irritations that in the broad scope of God’s kingdom have little bearing.  Instead, we focus on Jesus Christ, who in turn leads us to look up and beyond the trials of life to God’s greater plan and purposes.  The result of such a spiritual walk is ceasing from worrying about what we cannot control and rejoicing in God’s grace and power. 

As we walk in the power of the Spirit we grow stronger spiritually.  Each day as we delve deeper into God’s Word, prayer, worship, and fellowship with other believers we continue to gain what I like to call spiritual muscle.  This is not an easy process, for it requires commitment, sacrifice, focus, and energy.  Yet, the rewards are well worth it.  There is an old saying about exercise; no pain, no gain.  The same is true with growing in spiritual power.  A dear woman in our church who has lately undergone many trials in her life told me of the wonderful grace of God she has experienced.  She spoke of the trials she has faced as a pruning process the Lord is doing.  Such pruning is painful, yet indeed leads to growth.

Do not despair my friend, and do not give up.  Walk forward in faith and God will empower you to spiritual heights you had not imagined.

God bless you today.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Peace and Calm in the Storms of Life

He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.  –Psalm 107:29 (KJV)

As I write this I am typing furiously trying to “stay ahead of the weather,” as they say.  Storms are hitting all across southwest Virginia, and one is apparently about to unleash its fury on us at any moment.  When the thunder and lightning starts, all computers in the house are powered down.  We learned the hard way what electrical storms are capable of doing.  About ten years ago a tree behind our house took a direct hit from a lightning strike (it sounded like an explosion) and not only did it kill the tree, but it fried our television and microwave oven.  We only had one computer at the time and it was off and equipped with a surge protector.  Sadly, the TV and microwave didn’t make it. 

Storms have the potential to be frightening.  This time of year there is also the possibility of hail or even a tornado.  The noise from a storm can also be unnerving.  We are fortunate in that our two dogs, Ada and Leon, do not seem to mind a storm at all and usually sleep through them.  Yes, storms have the power to frighten and disrupt our lives.  The storms of life function in like manner.  We all face various trials and problems – storms, and if we are not in one now we know one is waiting for us around the corner.  If you are in a calm time, be thankful and use it as a time for preparing spiritually for those storms that are surely coming.  Prayer, God’s Word, and unshakable faith are our best defenses during life’s storms.  God has promised in His Word to calm the storms so that even the waves crashing around us become still. 

The writer of the psalm understood the comparison of our lives with the storms that often rage around us.  Christ is our anchor who will give us the strength, composure, and stability we need as we navigate the storms we face.  No matter what you are facing, know the Lord is with you and will guide you through – not crawling, but walking forward in faith and victory.

Speaking of storms, the rain is picking up outside and this storm may be upon us.  I had better power down this PC.

God bless you today.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Life Changing Power of Christ

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  –John 3:16, 17 (KJV)

Both of my parents were born and raised in the mountains of eastern Kentucky and I have heard many colorful stories from their respective childhoods.  My father told me of a neighbor who lived next door to my dad’s family.  The man’s name was Oliver and his lifestyle stood in stark contrast to my grandfather who was a God fearing and upright person.  According to my father, Oliver was a raging alcoholic whose hard drinking was legendary in their small community.  Oliver would go on drinking binges where he would stay drunk for days on end.  My dad said he recalled going to the house one day to visit one of Oliver’s sons and finding Oliver just climbing out of a featherbed after an extended binge.  Dad described Oliver’s disheveled appearance as being complete with ragged overalls and feathers clinging to his hair and beard.  He was at least a sight.

Oliver’s hard drinking ways continued for many years resulting in the loss of his marriage and many family relationships.  However, toward the end of his life a light shined in Oliver’s heart and he trusted Jesus Christ as Savior.  Dad reported Oliver was a changed man who never again drank and lived a clean and sober life.  Later on, as Oliver lay dying in a hospital bed, he sang praises to God for His grace and mercy and he glorified Christ for the salvation granted to a sinner like him. 

I relate this story to demonstrate again the incredible power of God’s grace.  Jesus came to save sinners just like Oliver, not condemn them.  No one is out of God’s reach or beyond hope.  As a man such as Oliver could testify, the power of Christ overcomes all sin. 

I am deeply thankful for God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  I trust you are as well.  Be encouraged, be thankful, for Christ loves you, and will make all the difference in your life.

God bless you today.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Rise up, Go Forward, Make a Difference

10 For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. 11 Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. 12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.  –Psalm 49:10-12 (KJV)

Ask about anyone over the age of 50 and they will know who Bill Haley was.  Bill Haley was one of the pioneers of rock and roll music.  His early influence on the genre became legendary and his songs sold millions of copies.  Many people dream of what they would do if they ever attained such fame and wealth.  However, reports indicate Bill Haley died a recluse with little contact with the world.  One source stated he lived the latter years of his life in such solitary seclusion that upon his death his neighbors did not know who he was.  Most of them did not realize they were living near a music legend.

God’s Word reminds us of how people from all walks of life die each day.  Those with great wealth then leave their riches to others.  Many mistakenly believe their wealth will sustain them and provide happiness and security through their lives.  Sadly, they realize this is not the case, as people like Mr. Haley demonstrate.  In the end, their great wealth could not provide the peace, joy, and happiness people typically desire.  How do I know Bill Haley was an unhappy man?  The answer is I do not.  I only know that shutting ourselves off from other people and living lives of seclusion usually indicates inner turmoil.  I have known people who were always seeking to give of themselves and strived to make a continual positive difference in the world.  These persons are by all indications happy and well adjusted. 

Christ calls us to step out on faith and be a part of the world by making a positive difference in it.  As long as we are physically able, we benefit from rising up each day and seizing the opportunities before us for personal and spiritual growth.  We shine the light of Christ to a lost and hurting world through being out among those who need this light, not by shutting ourselves off from the world.  I have no idea the struggles you may be facing right now.  Yet, I do know that withdrawing from others and the light of day will only dampen your outlook.  Christ empowers us to stand and move forward to the brighter day He has promised. 

Jesus Christ helps us to overcome the mountains we face.  Christ empowers us to go forward when we feel like giving up.  Resist the urge to quit.  Stand firm and go forward.  You have much to live for.  Go forward in Jesus’ name.

God bless you today.