Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Our Confidence in the Lord

4 And Rabshakeh said unto them, Say ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? 5 I say, sayest thou, (but they are but vain words) I have counsel and strength for war: now on whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me? -Isaiah 5:4, 5 (KJV) 

When faced with overwhelming problems, what do we do? People often panic, fall apart, look to something else, or look to God. This is what Hezekiah and the people had to do in order to face the threats from the Assyrian army. The commander who brought the message asked the people on what were they basing their confidence (v 4). Our confidence is not in ourselves, but in God. Do we have confidence that the Lord is with us? We may say we have faith in God, but are we willing to put our faith into action by trusting God completely? God will grant us assurance of His presence and let us make sure our confidence is in Him and not in ourselves. It is not undesirable or wrong to reflect on past victories when faced with a new challenge. God has brought us through trials and challenges before, and He will do so again. He has empowered us and He will do so again at just the right time.

Do not be afraid to consider past victories and say, “God brought me through, He will do so again.” How soon we forget this vital truth. The commander was trying to get the people to turn away from God and stop following King Hezekiah, a man devoted to God. He said in verse 5 that all they had were empty words. He said the Assyrian king was the one to trust, for he possessed proper counsel. The world, the devil, makes similar statements. The devil is fond of saying. “All you have are empty words. Trust me, for I can make you happy.” We trust the living God. We place our faith in Jesus Christ, not empty words. We stand on the solid rock, and we have God’s Word the ultimate truth.

The devil will always try to reduce our faith and he will attempt to pour water on any confidence we have in God as our help and deliverer. The clarion call of unbelievers and scoffers is that God will not deliver you. Our reply is He already has. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Trust in Christ, not in ourselves. Deliverance comes for the faithful, and God is greater than any problem we face. God loves it when His people trust Him no matter what and in the face of impossible odds. Do not give up. Walk forward in faith, for the Lord is with you.

God bless you today.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Moving Toward the Breakthrough

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.  –Psalm 55:22 (KJV)

I have begun to wonder about the drainage system at the church parsonage where my family and I have lived for the last 17 and half years.  The shower drain in particular is interesting.  For years, it drained perfectly, and then a few years ago it began backing up regularly.  I tried liquid drain cleaner, which would work for a week or two, and then the problem reoccurred.  We called a plumber who ended up replacing a length of pipe in the basement and gave us the assurance the problem would no longer trouble us.  I tried to hide what I knew was a suspicious look on my face, but I thanked the plumber and told him we would call him if the problem happened again.  He confidently told us us it would not.  “Okay, thanks.” I said with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  About a week later, the shower drain started backing up again.

This time, rather than call the plumber I hit it hard with liquid plumber, and again this did the trick for a while.  Bear with me now, because here is where the story takes an odd turn.  The drain began backing up again and we were so irritated we were about to call the plumber.  Then one morning while I was showering, I heard the drain make an odd bubbling sound, then a sort of pop, and as if by some miracle, the water began to drain smoothly.  This was several months ago and so far no drainage problems.  Perhaps whatever was causing the obstruction finally broke loose and the pipe became clear. 

As I ponder this, I consider the trials and challenges all of us must face.  Often these difficulties leave us wondering if we will ever overcome them and have the peace we so desire.  Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the weight of your struggles?  No doubt, you know what this feels like.  God’s Word challenges us to cast our burdens upon the Lord and He will sustain us.  God will give us strength, divine strength through faith in Jesus Christ, to meet head on the problems coming our way.  Some difficulties will reoccur.  These may come in the form of a rebellious child, a difficult boss, a troublesome relative, or a recurring illness.  Whatever the problem may be, know that faith in Jesus Christ is our greatest resource for facing and overcoming these challenges. 

Walking daily by faith is a challenge as well.  Staying in God’s Word consistently also requires commitment.  Stay with it, my friend, and do not give up.  When we are faithful, about the time we think the problem or our weakness will not budge –  pop, we experience a breakthrough.  This blessed and divine breakthrough is by no means from us, but rather it is always from our Lord whose loving hand is upon us all of the time.

Keep walking forward in faith and move toward a breakthrough, which is victory over whatever trial you are facing.

God bless you today.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Stand in Awe of God

Let all the earth fear the Lord: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.  –Psalm 33:8 (KJV)

I am amazed at a child’s capacity to be in awe of the world.  Children will view the world with all its wonders in utter astonishment.  They never tire of experiencing the smells, tastes, and feel of the world around them.  This explains why children love to play in the rain, mud, or snow.  It is all new, exciting, and they cannot get enough of this wonderful place we call the world.  What happens as we grow older and the world loses for us its wonder?  Why, after a short 20 or 30 years on this planet does it all become so commonplace and boring?  Perhaps we simply get used to the same sights and sounds and we come to take it all for granted.  This is sad, because God’s creation need never lose it awe to us.

One problem with boredom is we begin to find other ways to fill the emptiness in our lives.  The results of our quest for fulfillment can be destructive and difficult.  Countless people turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, and anything else that might overcome their loss of interest in life.  Here is where we find the power of seeking God.  Coming to faith in Christ is the beginning of rediscovering the wonder of life, which includes creation.  If we know the source of life, God, and we realize the author of salvation, Jesus Christ, then life takes on new richness and meaning. We move from existing to living life to the fullest. 

When we learn to stand in awe of God, we also learn to stand in awe of life itself.  No more will we see a sunrise or sunset as something that just happens.  Instead, we understand that God set the world in motion and we are part of the vast universe governed by our Creator.  Each day we live is no longer a mundane going through the motions routine.  Rather, we begin to see ourselves as vital parts of God’s greater plan and purposes.  If we hold to the worldview that everything around us all happened by chance, then we eventually conclude there is no God who created it.  Faith in God brings purpose to life that unbelief cannot touch or compare. 

Speaking for myself, I testify I am a better man for having come to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.  I know many people who will testify to the same experience.  God’s Word challenges us to stand in awe of God, for in doing so we reach a deeper understanding of our purpose.  God does have a plan for your life.  Trust the Lord, keep going, do not give up, and have faith.  Stand in awe of God.  A brighter day will follow.

God bless you today.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Results of our Labor in the Lord

Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.  –Psalm 128:1, 2 (KJV)

I know there are countless people in the world who love yard work.  While I enjoy working in the yard, my enjoyment fails to rise to the level of a woman I know who described yard work as her passion.  However, I do find fulfillment in mowing the lawn and weed trimming because the results of such work are immediate.  Often when I cut the grass around our house, I work until sunset, sometimes frantically hurrying to finish before nightfall.  When this happens, I have to wait until the next morning to appreciate what I have accomplished.  I think this is why most of us cut the grass and work in the garden in the first place; we get to see results right away.

What I just described does not apply the work of the ministry.  Serving Christ and seeing results in our efforts usually takes many years, sometimes decades, to see the fruits of our labors.  Growing in faith, wisdom, and the knowledge of God takes place over a lifetime.  This explains why followers of Christ sometimes become weary in the work and either drop out of church or fall away from the faith.  They become restless with their apparent lack of accomplishment.  This is true of church leadership.  Many a pastor has walked away from the pastorate partly because of the demands of the calling, but also because seeing results takes a long time.

I am experiencing God doing wonderful works in my personal life, my family, and my ministry, and for this, I greatly rejoice.  I also realize it has taken many years for these blessings to come to fruition.  Of course, the process is ongoing, for there is never a time when God’s servants can sit back and say, “Well, I have served the Lord long enough; I think I will stop serving Christ and sit back and relax.”  Sorry my friend, but serving Jesus Christ is a lifetime commitment lived out over the long haul of life.  As for my experience, what I am seeing taking place are blessings I have been praying for and working toward since God called me into the ministry 28 years ago.  While the church where I am pastor is not exactly busting down the walls with growth, we are seeing new people, young families, and persons professing faith in Christ.  Had I given up, I would not have seen these desires of my heart become reality. 

As I reflect back over the years, I clearly see the hand of God at work.  Many times I have become exhausted and discouraged, questioning whether I could continue.  I also wondered if I was making a difference.  Each time, the Lord has proven to be faithful.  He has a wonderful way of reminding us it is not about us, but about Christ.  It is not about our power, but Christ’s power in us.

I share this to encourage you in your walk with Christ.  Do not quit and do not give up.  Keep going forward in faith, for your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  As the Psalmist said, walk with the Lord in His ways, and you will see the fruit of your labors.  You will be happy, and it will go well with you.

God bless you today.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Crying out to God

5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. 6 In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. –Psalm 18:5, 6 (KJV)

The other day at the grocery store, I saw something that got my attention. As I passed by the dining area, I witnessed a man sitting alone, his elbows on the table, and his face in his hands. Something in this scene spoke of sorrow and exhaustion. I kept walking by wishing I could do something for the man, but I could not say he was in distress. However, everything about his body language and posture suggested a negative situation. The reason this touched me is I know what it is like to sit with my face in my hands wondering how I will meet the challenges before me. When we find ourselves feeling defeated, worn out, exhausted, drained, and ready to give up, we might cry out to God with a prayer that sounds like this:

“Lord, I cannot do this anymore.” Have you ever prayed such a prayer? The “this” you were referring to could be problems in your family, stress at work, financial issues, health problems, or all the above. Anytime the trials of life pile up around us we may find ourselves crying out to God and seeking deliverance. Unless we seek the Lord, we run the risk of a crisis of faith. This is where we begin to doubt God’s presence and love for us. We may even begin to question God’s existence. The psalmist described his situation as being in the sorrows of hell with the snares of death encircling him. Perhaps you can relate to this level of anguish. However, rather than become bitter, blame God, or reject the Lord, the psalmist received by faith the comfort of God’s presence. 

He claimed the promise that when we call to God He will hear and respond. No pit of despair is too deep for God’s reach. Moreover, the Lord will reach down and pull us from whatever pit we may have fallen. All of us are going to face trials and difficulties of all kinds. We have no way of knowing what awaits us around the next bend in the road of life. However, take heart, for God knows and will bring us through to victory. Claim the promise of God and receive the strength and comfort the Lord provides.

I do not know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow.

God bless you today.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

No Longer Condemned

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.  –Romans 8:1, 2 (KJV)

We have heard in recent years about cases where someone was condemned for a crime, and then through DNA testing was found innocent.  Imagine how that must have felt.  A court of law had condemned you, but then against all odds and against all hope you were exonerated. According to God’s Word, this was the condition for those who are in Christ Jesus.  We were guilty, had been found guilty, and had been condemned, but in Jesus Christ we have forgiveness and we are no longer condemned.  This merits celebrating, right? 

If that is the case, then why are so many followers of Christ walking around acting as if they are still enslaved and still under the bondage and mastery of sin?  Rather than walking forward in the victory Jesus has promised, they are surrendering in defeat.  According to the Bible, this is not God’s plan.  The abundant life Jesus promised does not come by laying down in defeat, but rather the abundant life comes when we by faith rise up, get going, trust Jesus, and start acting like conquerors and over-comers.  I look around and I see followers of Jesus Christ cowering in fear, and you know something?  I have done that myself – too many times.  The over-arching theme of God’s grace in the Bible is spiritual victory over what enslaves us.  Jesus said in John 10:10 that He has come that we might have life and have it more abundantly.  The abundant life means spiritual victory.

The high call of God in Christ Jesus is to walk forward in victory rather than defeat.  We begin to sink when we allow our focus to be on our problems, the world, and ourselves.  This reminds me of Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples when the Lord invited Him to step out of the boat and walk on the water (Matthew 14:22-33).  The moment Peter took his eyes off Jesus he began to sink. Do not set our eyes on the storms of life, but instead set our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  We were condemned, but we now have new life, freedom, and victory in Christ.  Life is too short to spend it wrapped in fear and worry.

Christ invites us to step out of the boat and experience the fullness of His grace and power.  Do not be afraid, but instead claim the peace and joy that is ours in Christ.

God Bless you today.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hearing and Then Doing God’s Word

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.  –James 1:22 (KJV)

As followers of Christ, we must understand the importance of applying the truths of God’s Word to our lives.  It is one matter to read the Word, but we must then heed it, which means doing what it says.  James 1:22 speaks of being doers of the word and not hearers only.  If we are simply hearers then we deceive ourselves.  For example, if we look at the commandments and we take them seriously we will seek to put the values they teach into practice.  We will seek to put God first, worship and serve Him only, and reject the idols of the world.  We also seek to live lives of honesty and integrity.  We find all of these principles in the Ten Commandments.  Furthermore, when we begin to examine the teachings of Jesus, we find we are to love God and love one another sacrificially.  Let us not just hear the Word, but also let us put it into practice by doing what it says. 

When we are serious about following Jesus Christ, we make a commitment to serve Him with such integrity that we will never, for any reason compromise ourselves.  This means we will not compromise our faith, beliefs, morals, or values, and neither will we compromise our stand upon God’s Word.  When I was a student in Louisville, Kentucky, there was a water main break not far from the seminary.  For two days, we had no running water.  However, we got by with bottled water that was distributed to the students.  Later, I remember hearing that somehow a link between two main pipes had weakened and the pressure had caused it to break.  How applicable that is to the human experience.  Doing anything out of God’s will compromises our faith, and we are prone to break.  The break might involve doing something that can ruin a reputation, do irreparable damage to a marriage, or destroy relationships with family. 

Unless we have prayer and God’s Word to daily enrich our lives, we face problems, frustrations, and temptations on our own strength.  Reading the Word of God is good and uplifting, but God calls us to apply its truths to our thought processes and actions.  This comes through an ongoing process of letting the Word penetrate into our consciousness.  We are then doing what the Scripture says by hiding God’s Word in our hearts that we might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).  Be careful about doing anything that creates weaknesses in the links of our lives.  Instead, do what strengthens and keeps us going forward in vibrant and living faith. 

Christ calls us to be faithful, stay in the Word, pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17), and walk humbly before God (Micah 6:8), as the Scripture teaches.

God bless you today.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Prisoners of Christ

1I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; –Ephesians 4:1 (KJV)

What do you think of Paul the Apostle referring to himself as a prisoner?  Does this seem strange?  The problem is we always associate being a prisoner in a negative sense.  However, here Paul uses it in the positive.  Christ will not let him go.  He is bound to remain in Christ’s service for the rest of his life.  When it comes to serving the Lord, ours is a life sentence.  Following Christ is to be our life’s work.  From Paul’s perspective, being a prisoner for the Lord is a positive condition and a statement of his commitment to serving the Lord throughout his life.  Christ calls all believers to adopt this stance on committing our lives to Him.

The challenge given in God’s Word is to live lives worthy of the calling we have received.  Let us be careful not to squander the fortune of grace we have received through Christ.  I read about a young man who came from an extremely wealthy family.  The tradition was that everyone born into the family received a great sum of money on their 21st birthday.  The idea was that they could then put the money to work to add to the family fortune.  The young man received his inheritance and unfortunately squandered it (Do you see any similarities to Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15?).  The challenge given to us in God’s Word is to put the grace of God to good use.  We begin by living lives worthy of the Lord Jesus.

People have wrong ideas about the Christian life.  They mistakenly think that following Jesus involves some sort of legalistic, solitary, stone-faced, almost monastic existence where we never laugh or do anything enjoyable.  This is ridiculous and a gross misunderstanding of the Christian life.  Embracing the Lordship of Christ involves shunning the ungodly attitudes and practices of those who have rejected the Lord.  We rid ourselves of evil, hatred, envy, strife, jealousy, lust, and ungodliness (See Galatians 5:19-23) while adopting the attitudes of the Lord Jesus.  We love, forgive, witness, serve, and reach out to a lost and dying world. 

Jesus Christ transforms our minds from carnal to spiritual.  Only Christ Jesus can do this in us.  We cannot do it for ourselves.  Let us be careful to live lives worthy of the blessing we have received.  Do not fear being Christ’s prisoner, for here again is the great paradox of faith.  As Christ’s prisoners, He makes us free.  As Christ’s servants, He liberates us.  Through surrender, we have victory.  Claim the victory today and walk forward in vibrant and liberating faith.

God bless you today.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Personal Responsibility

20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. 21 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.  –Ezekiel 18:20, 21 (KJV)

All of us have at least some understanding of personal responsibility.  Eventually, we come to understand that doing right carries with it certain rewards and positive consequences.  We also learn there are negative consequences for doing what is wrong.  So, why do we go ahead and do what we know is wrong?  This is the age-old struggle against the sinful nature, which is what the Bible calls the flesh.  The Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit leads us to do what is right in God’s eyes, but the flesh leads us to go against God.  How much does it take to satisfy the flesh?  You probably know the answer; the flesh is never satisfied.  It always wants more.  We might temporarily pacify the sinful nature, but we cannot fulfill it. 

The power of the Holy Spirit, which comes through faith in Christ, breaks the power of the flesh for Christ is stronger.  Therefore, as followers of Christ we are to grow in grace, faith, and spiritual strength.  Grow in Christ and we can withstand the assaults of the flesh.  The Bible says in Ezekiel 18:20 that the soul that sins will die – spiritually and physically.  In the book of Ezekiel, God spoke to His people on a deeply personal level.  For a long time God worked among His people Israel as a group.  As long as the remnant was faithful, God spared them and they would not all suffer the same consequences.  With the coming of the prophet Ezekiel, this began to change.  Doing what was right in God’s eyes became a matter a personal responsibility.  Every man and woman had to seek God based on his or her own faith. 

God still loved His people, would still seek to draw them unto Himself, but they were to begin seeking the Lord, if not as a nation, then as individuals.  Why would God begin to move this way among His people?  This was a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ into the world.  Faith in Jesus Christ is profoundly personal.  No one can come to faith in Christ for you, for you must experience the Lord for yourself.  Therefore, we have a personal responsibility to do what is right, and we further have the personal responsibility to trust in the Lord.

Each day we have to make a decision; will I follow Christ or will I follow self?  When the power of Christ is working in us in all its fullness, then we are empowered to do right.  Keep in God’s Word by daily meditating upon it and storing its truths in your heart.  Take time to pray, be faithful, do as Christ commanded and let His light shine, let the world know we are His disciples by loving one another.

God bless you today. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pushing Through

19 I should have been as though I had not been; I should have been carried from the womb to the grave. 20 Are not my days few? cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little, 21 Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death;  -Job 10:19-21 (KJV)

Try to imagine a level of discouragement and despair so severe that the comforting presence of God begins to feel more like oppression than blessing.  This is where we find Job of the Old Testament as he poured out his heart to God and made known his complaint.  In his frustration, Job asked God to turn away and leave him alone so he could enjoy a little peace before he died.  Wow, it is hard to comprehend a follower of God reaching such depths of misery.  God’s Word shows us this stark picture of despair so we might better understand how down and out people can become when the trials of life are overwhelming them. 

Perhaps you have felt discouragement to the point of becoming angry with God.  You may not have asked God to leave you alone as Job did, but you felt upset and bitter with the circumstances of life.  Such overwhelming feelings can come upon us as the result of the stresses we so often face.  Rather than become bitter as Job did (he later resolved his feelings), try instead to see the greater picture of God’s plan.  It is true we do endure trials and suffering in life.  However, we have the comforting presence of God and the power of His Spirit to guide and help us through.  Push through it, my friends, and do not give up.

In essence, this is what Job did; he pushed through it.  At 52, I have become keenly aware of the need to stay physically fit and doing so requires discipline and commitment.  Many days when I am working out, I recall the advice of my son, who is a health enthusiast, about pushing through.  He contends that during a workout, when you feel you have gone as far as you can go, you must experience the power of pushing through.  This is where your body is telling you that you cannot do any more repetitions of a certain exercise.  However, rather than give up, you push through it and continue.  Pushing through is not to be confused with overdoing it, which is inadvisable.  Instead, it is about finding the strength to do what you were certain you could not have accomplished.*

There will be times in our lives as we seek to grow in Christ where we feel we have gone as far as we can go.  Christ compels us to push through to the deeper walk with Him.  The typical scenario of spiritual growth is holding to our faith in the hard times of life and yes, you guessed it, pushing through with God’s help. 

Keep going, keep your faith, be strong in the Lord and by the power of Jesus Christ push through to that higher, nobler plane where we walk with God in victory.

God bless you today.

*Be sure to  check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Faith and the Power of God

And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.  –Acts 28:3-5 (KJV)

The other day I was clearing grass and weeds along the fence line in the backyard.  Suddenly, I experienced what felt like a needle piercing my thigh.  I looked down and saw a yellow jacket on my leg.  Before I could react, another stung me further down my leg and another got me on the hand.  By then I was running away and brushing them off.  I had been on my knees, but a bee sting will get you on your feet in a hurry.  I was right beside a nest and did not know it and those yellow jackets were not pleased to see me.

There are countless people in the world that three bites from yellow jackets would prove fatal.  Fortunately, I am not one of them.  For Paul the Apostle, the snakebite he received went beyond immunity.  The Lord watched over him, protected him, and God was going to lead Paul to his destination.  God had a plan and as long as Paul was faithful, God would make it happen.  The power of God in our lives remains and is active when we are faithful.  God will work in our lives even when we are not faithful, but then it becomes a drawing back to His will.  This is where life becomes very painful.  Any believer who thinks life is hard now does not want to experience life out of God’s will.  The Lord has ways of getting our attention.  We are His, we belong to Him, and He will not let us go.

Recently, I was having a discussion with a few people from church on Proverbs 22:6, which speaks of training a child up in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.  For a number of years a statistic has remained constant among young people who grow up in church.  Seven out of ten will walk away from church after high school.  This is across the board in all denominations.  However, we hold to the promise of God that they will not depart from godly instruction.  Something we are seeing, however, is a number of them coming back later on.  Many young people reach their twenties and begin to see the need for the stability the church offers.  Let us pray for them while they are away and let us be there to welcome them back.  Like the father who welcomed the prodigal son with a ring, a robe, and a party with the fatted calf (Luke 15:22, 23), we should do likewise. 

Just as Paul had faith and his faith brought the power of God in his life, so we too have faith and our faith brings the power of God into our lives.  Walk forward in faith today and do not doubt.

God bless you.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Continued Challenge to Overcome Bitterness

(This is the conclusion of my recent study on overcoming bitterness.  I pray it is an encouragement.) 

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.  –Hebrews 12:6-8 (KJV)

Trials and the problems of life often cause people to become bitter.  These trials may include sickness, death, depression, broken relationships, family conflicts, day-to-day stress and pressure, and anything else that causes us pain.  Frequently people become angry with God because life is not turning out as they had planned.  This will lead to bitterness as well.  Rather than get angry with God, a better approach is to seek to learn what the Lord is trying to teach us.  God will make us stronger in our trials if we trust in Him.

These verses (6-8) remind me of how the Lord has taken me to the woodshed many times by convicting me of something in my life that was not quite right.  This is the Lord’s way of reminding me I am His child.  If God did not chastise me, do you know what that would make me?  I would be an illegitimate son (v 8).  The King James Bible uses more colorful language, but the point is clear.  God’s chastisement reminds me I am His child.  God moves, acts, works, and convicts for my benefit according to His will and purpose for my life.  This is something I have held to for a long time and it goes hand in hand with Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

The trials we face are an “all thing” according to the Word of God, and if we are in His will, we are blessed and strengthened.  If all things work together for the good, and they do, then God will work it all out to His glory and our benefit.  Do not allow bitterness to rule, but rather be lead by the Spirit of God.  The Bible says in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Similarly, do not be overcome with bitterness, but be filled with the Spirit of God, and seek to overcome in Jesus Christ. 

The high call of God in Jesus Christ is walk in victory, not defeat.

God bless you today.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Overcoming Bitterness (Continued)

(Today’s blog is a continuation of yesterday’s, which is adapted from a recent study I led on the problem of bitterness.)

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  –Hebrews 12:1, 2 (KJV)

What causes bitterness to set in?  We need to look at some other parts of Hebrews 12:1, 2 to find out.  Verse one speaks of this great cloud of witnesses surrounding us.  These are the saints of old as described in Holy Scripture, and it is the church.  God and His Word surround us.  Let them encourage us.  Bitterness is a refusal to let these viable resources refresh us.  Bitterness is a terrible weight, but what does verse one tell us to do with every weight?  Lay them aside, along with the sin, which so easily besets us.  Sin has a way of knocking us backward in terms of our spiritual growth.  You have heard about taking one step forward and three steps back.  This is what sin does to us.  Ungodly behavior and attitudes contrary to the mind of Christ stifle our growth, peace of mind, relationship with Christ, and relationship with family.  Jesus Christ calls us to overcome sin and anything else that holds us back.  Following Christ’s call is walking in victory, not in defeat. 

We cannot cast off the weight of sin by ourselves and on our strength.  We can only do this by the power of the Holy Spirit.  When people try to overcome sin and the trials of life on their own they become discouraged, and if they are not careful bitterness begins to set in.  We might find ourselves saying, “Here I am trying to live right and I keep falling down all of the time.”  
We are to do what verse two says and look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.  We look to Jesus, not to the world or ourselves.  Christ overcame sin for us.  He endured the cross so we would not have to.  He died in our place and rose on the third day.  Since He has overcome death, hell, and the grave He is able to overcome our problems, fears, and anxieties.  We all have plenty of those, right? 

Be careful of that root of bitterness springing up among us.  How do we know when a root of bitterness is springing up?  We know it because it is a demonic attack.  We begin to feel overcome and overwhelmed by our problems.  A discerning believer will get in the Word and prayer rather than cower in fear.  Instead of running, we stand and face our problems.  Rather than surrendering to defeat we stand firm in the power of Christ. 

This root of bitterness (Verse 15) has defiled many as the Bible says.  It defiles because it robs us of the abundant life God means for us to have.  The abundant life is an overcoming life in the power of Christ.  We are able to stand firm because we have Holy Spirit power.  What a difference Christ makes.  Do not surrender to bitterness, but instead trust the Lord and claim His promises.

God bless you today.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Overcoming Bitterness

(The following blog post is an excerpt from a recent Bible study I led on how to overcome bitterness. I pray it is an encouragement to you in overcoming this insidious condition, which steals our joy and clouds our outlook.)   

14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; -Hebrews 12:14, 15 (KJV)

This passage of the Bible in Hebrews 12 deals with the problem of bitterness, which is a condition that affects countless people. Bitterness is the result of losing the joy of living. Following this loss of joy is anger. The anger then overflows into a generally gloomy, sorrowful, and mean disposition. We call this bitterness. Are you a bitter person? Examine yourself and your attitudes and see if any of these traits look familiar.  

Bitter people tear down rather than build up. The last person you should expect to build you up spiritually or emotionally is a bitter person. The reason is bitter people center their lives on their own problems and bleak outlook. You might say you are not feeling so well, and the bitter person might say, “Of course you’re not. Just look at you; you don’t eat right, you sleep too much, you’re a workaholic, and you don’t care about anyone but yourself.” Ouch! Such comments leave us looking for a quick exit.

Bitter people discourage rather than encourage. Do not expect bitter people to encourage you, because they will not. Instead, they will probably give you more reason to feel discouraged. A bitter person will typically shoot down any new idea you have. They will tell you it is a waste of time and will never work so do us all a big favor and do not even try, because you cannot do it. I am certain people told two young men from my hometown of Dayton, Ohio that airborne flight was impossible. However, Orville and Wilbur Wright kept at it until they flew an airplane. The rest, as they say, is history. These days, when someone comes to me and tells me of a dream of going to college, playing sports, or becoming a doctor or lawyer I encourage him or her to go after that dream as the Lord leads. Christ calls us to be the encouragers in the world.

Bitter people drain us rather than fill us up. Bitter people are exhausting to be around because they drain us emotionally and spiritually. They drain us because it is all about them and their problems. I am ever learning and developing the art (maybe it’s a gift) of listening and allowing others to tell their stories. I am certain I will have my chance. When someone needs to speak, let him or her speak. Allow people around you to verbalize their dreams, fears, and hopes. Do not expect a bitter person to do this.

Christ calls us to be encouragers, and we accomplish this through daily focusing on the Lord as we navigate our way through life’s problems. Be the light of Jesus Christ in the world. Fight the urge to become bitter. Come back tomorrow for more on this subject.

God bless you today.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Pursuing a God-inspired Vision

I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest. 10 I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.  –Psalm 40:9, 10 (KJV)

I find we often become so fixed on our problems that we forget the blessings God is willing to pour out on us. Followers of Christ must catch a vision of what we can do, accomplish, and become in Jesus’ name. Allow God to plant a vision in our hearts and let the vision come into our minds. By faith, God will make the vision a reality. I have to be careful with this, because I do not want to sound like positive thinking is enough. Positive thinking is great as long as we are prayerfully moving forward in faith. God gives a vision, we take hold of the vision, picture the vision becoming a reality, and then prayerfully and faithfully move forward.

Over a year ago, I decided to try something I had pondered for several years, but never had the nerve to try. One day, I went to the eye doctor for an exam, and I announced I wanted to try contact lenses. The eye doctor, bless her heart, was delighted, and said there was no reason I could not. She taught me how to wear them, gave me the contacts, and sent me off. The first month I came close to giving up. However, I persevered; I imagined myself wearing contact lenses and reveling in the freedom of not wearing glasses. Over a year later and I am enjoying wearing contacts. A blessing came because I pursued a vision. This seems like a small thing, but it gave me a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

Often times we give up on a vision without ever trying. When God gives the vision He makes a way for it to become reality. The reason David was empowered to do God’s will was because he loved God, God’s Word was in his heart, and he desired to do God’s will. I wonder if when David, as a teenager, walked onto the battlefield to fight Goliath, if he pictured in his mind a victory. I believe he did just that. By faith, he took down a giant with a sling and a stone. God gave him the vision of what could happen if he was faithful, and the Lord made it a reality.

None of this comes about without faithfulness and sacrifice. If walking in spiritual victory were easy, everyone would be doing it. Are all believers walking in power and victory? The answer is no, because doing so is costly, challenging, and takes us way out of our comfort zones. John Henry Jowett said, “Ministry that costs nothing, accomplishes nothing.” To this I say, “Amen.”

God bless you today.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Many Blessings of Freedom

45 And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts. 46 I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.  –Psalm 119:45, 46 (KJV)

I hope everyone had a nice fourth of July.  Each year on this day I again thank the Lord for the freedoms we hold dear.  Have you considered how fortunate we are?  We are free to worship God as we see fit without government intrusion or interference.  This Sunday we are free to worship in the church of our choice.  On the other hand, we are free not to worship.  Such is the nature of religious freedom.  Many countries around the world lack such freedom.  Let us pray we are able to keep this freedom which was paid for by the sacrifices of many. 

Many years ago, I worked for a company alongside someone who was not a person of faith.  One day we were having a conversation and she said something I thought to be singularly profound.  She said, “Dan, I may not agree with what you say about God and religion, but I will fight to the death your right to say it.” It occurred to me that if my right to say I believe in God is taken away, then ultimately her right to say she doesn’t believe is threatened as well.  I lost touch with her after moving to another state, so I do not know if she ever came to faith in Christ, but I still recall her words.

Just the other night in Wednesday prayer meeting at church, we were discussing how we win people to Christ.  As Christians, we will never reach people through coercion, threats, harassment, or intimidation.  Instead, we show them the love of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, we are free to reach out to those around us in love as a demonstration of faith put into action.  Feed the poor, minister to the sick, visit the prisoners, encourage the afflicted, clothe the needy, lift up the fallen, and live out the teachings of Jesus. 

Be thankful for our freedom, for it was purchased at great cost.  Also, be thankful for salvation in Jesus Christ, for He paid a great price as well – His life for ours. 

God bless you today.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Freedom Christ Brings

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.  –John 8:32 (KJV)

When I read this passage in the Bible where Jesus made this wonderful statement about knowing the truth and the truth shall make you free, I cannot help but think about what came later when the Lord stood before a man known as Pontius Pilate.  Jesus was on trial and headed for the cross where He would bear the sins of the entire world.  There before the Roman Governor Pilate, Jesus said this: “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice (John 18:37).”  Pilate responded to this with these words, “What is truth?” Do not believe for a moment the Roman Governor was searching for truth or that he wanted to understand the truth of God.  No, his was a cynical statement which reflects the worldly believe that truth is nothing more than relevant to the situation.  Pilate spoke of truth, but his words showed he had no concern for the truth of God’s Word, the Living Word, who stood before him at that moment. 

I share this because the world still holds this attitude today.  Countless people hold to the belief that truth is what we make it to be and the truth changes depending on the situation and the prevailing circumstances.  When people find themselves miserable, drifting, alone, and without hope I want to ask them how is this view of truth is working out for them.  People need truth in their lives.  I am referring to truth which does not change and does not alter depending on the circumstances.  We all need an anchor that will guide us through the storms of life, provide us with stability in the dark times, and peace in the hard times.  We have direct access to truth, the ultimate truth, He has a name, and His name is Jesus Christ. 

We have the ultimate truth, which is the Word of God.  The Bible says the Word, which was God, became flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14).  Jesus Christ is the embodiment of this truth.  When Jesus said if we know the truth and the truth will set us free, He was talking about Himself.  When we know Him, Christ sets us free from the chains that bind us.

Claim Christ’s power today over those trials that would otherwise bring you down.  Walk forward in faith.  A better and brighter day is coming.

God bless you today.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Walking in the Power of Faith

1And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered…14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.  –Luke 4:1, 2, 14 (KJV)

It has been a number of years since I have done any fasting.  In years past, I would fast occasionally for no more than a day at a time.  However, these days if I miss even one meal I became almost physically sick, so I confess I do not fast at this time.  I have had conversations with people about the subject and I do not know of anyone who practices this discipline.  Of course, those who do fast would hopefully do as Jesus said in Matthew 6:16 and go about with a joyful look on their faces so as not to let anyone know they are fasting.  Therefore, perhaps some people I know do fast, but they keep it to themselves – as they should.

Consider how Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness.  This is one of those “do not try this at home” passages.  A day or two of fasting, even three, is possible, yet fasting of the kind Jesus did is dangerous.  The Scripture says Jesus was filled with the Holy Ghost and went into the wilderness for this time of fasting.  Following this, verse 14 says Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit.

Here we see the power of walking forward in faith.  Through faith we walk in spiritual strength; the Holy Spirit indwells and fills us.  Moreover, when our faith is tested, the Holy Spirit fills us with power.  This is spiritual power for walking in victory over the trials and temptations which otherwise would have brought us down.  Faith tested is growing faith.  In a recent sermon, I preached about how as a Christian I must always be doing what requires faith.  If the life I am living requires no faith, then I am out of God’s will.  Living the Christian life in sincerity and integrity requires faith.  The challenge is to keep doing what takes faith. 

I understand perfectly how exhausting this can be at times.  The Lord never promised carrying His cross would be easy.  However, the Lord did promise to be with us and to give us strength.  This thought reminds me of a hymn:

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

Do not despair, for the Lord is with you and will give you strength.  The trials you are facing will only make your stronger as you trust Christ.