Thursday, August 29, 2013

Growth Through Trials

The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  –Psalm 92:12 (KJV)

No doubt you have a number of photographs sitting somewhere in your home, maybe in a box or a drawer.  If you are anything like me, you have thought for years about putting those pictures in an album.  I admire anyone who accomplishes this, yet these days the entire process has evolved into something much larger.  For countless people, it is not enough place the photos in an album, but instead they are “scrap-booked.” Each picture appears on the page of a scrapbook with designs, quotes, and other artistic elements relative to the scene.  My wife and some of her friends pursue these photo scrapbooks and the results are impressive.  I observe with great admiration, but that is about it.  I am still doing well to get the picture in a photo album.

I share this because God is always working to take us deeper; the Lord takes us deeper into His Word, prayer, ministry, love, and spiritual gifts.  God grows and stretches us.  He becomes involved in the day-to-day processes of our lives all the while empowering us to walk forward in life-changing, vibrant faith.  He does not put our picture in a drawer and forget us.  I read a quote many years ago that said, “If God had a mantle, your picture would be on it.” God does indeed love us personally and deeply.

Only you and the Lord know what struggles you are facing right now.  Allow me to encourage you with the assurance that the Lord knows, cares, and understands exactly what you are going through.  God cares and will give you peace and joy in the midst of whatever you are facing.  Seek to grow in this trial.  Seek a closer relationship with Christ as you walk forward through whatever difficulty you are encountering. 

Be faithful, keep your eyes on Christ, and believe upon His Word.  Do not surrender to doubt and fear.  A better and brighter day is coming.

God bless you today.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Stand in Awe of God

Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.  –Psalm 4:4, 5 (KJV)

I wonder if followers of Christ understand what it means to stand in awe of God?  This is a spiritual concept in which we come to realize the holiness of God.  As we grow in this understanding, we grow in spiritual wisdom, for we come to better appreciate the power such wisdom brings.  We stand in awe of God when we do the following:

  • Praise the Lord for who He is.
  • Praise the Lord for what He has done. 
  • Exalt Him in praise and prayer at all times.  Psalm 34:1 says, “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” 
  • Praise and thank God no matter the circumstances of our lives.  Recall Job’s attitude when unimaginable trials come upon him.  He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”
  • Be willing to listen when God speaks – and He will speak if we are listening. 
Standing in awe of God is that wonderful experience of knowing Christ as Lord, God is on His throne, He is in control, for us to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21), and if God is for us who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?  Standing in this position has the effect of giving us wonderful peace, for the Lord reminds us of His presence.  From this position of peace, we are more effective for God’s service than if fear binds us.  We can get some work done if we are afraid, but far more if we are practicing bold faith. 

Standing in awe of God brings to mind an increase of spiritual strength, wisdom, power, guidance, hope, peace, and joy.  We are not just sitting there waiting for life to happen, but rather we are walking boldly forward in faith.  Of course, there are times when we do nothing except wait, but even then, we are doing something; we are waiting on the Lord.  Moreover, as we wait, we do so with expectation, faith, patience, and the firm belief God will do something bigger than we thought

Are you discouraged today?  Go to God in prayer, get into His Word, do not worry, do not fret, and do not be afraid.  Try trusting in the Lord and stand in awe of Him.  You are going to be amazed.

God bless you today.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Spiritual Lift

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.  -I Corinthians 2:4 (KJV)

Not many of us would deliberately put a finger into an electrical outlet, yet I heard about a young man who nearly did.  Many years ago, a friend told of how as a young boy he once dared another boy to stick a piece of wire into an electrical outlet.  Well, you know the old saying about how boys will be boys.  The young man proceeded to take up the dare and received a painful jolt.  Fortunately, he was not injured, yet he no doubt learned a lesson about the power of electricity.

There will be times in our lives when we feel we need a jolt, a spark, or something to get us going.  This explains at least in part the success of energy drinks.  This multimillion dollar industry caters to those who feel they need that extra lift to help them through the day.  I confess I have drunk an energy drink or two, but they failed to produce the desired effect.  I felt a lift for an hour or so, but then I wanted to take a nap.  So, I have decided when I need a lift I will perhaps drink a cup of coffee, a glass of water, take a brisk walk, or better yet, engage in a vigorous workout.  This works well for the physical, but we know we also daily need a spiritual lift as well.

God’s Word speaks of the power of Christ in us given through the Holy Spirit.  Paul the Apostle spoke of how his preaching was nothing fancy nor did he seek to use human wisdom as a means for reaching people with the gospel.  Instead, he stated his preaching was a demonstration of Holy Spirit power.  It worked, because Paul led countless people to Jesus Christ and began churches all across the ancient Mediterranean world.  He did not allow his own weaknesses or human frailties to keep him from accomplishing the work God had given him to do.

Often we feel unable to do what the Lord has called us to accomplish.  Like Paul, Christ calls us to rely upon His power rather than our own.  Here we have access to a wonderful lift in Jesus Christ.  He empowers us to do His work, and He gives power for day-to-day living.  God knows life is challenging, and no doubt you are facing numerous challenges right now.  By the power of Christ, we move forward despite weaknesses, failings, and yes, plain old fatigue. 

Walk with the Lord each day in faith.  Learn to view problems as opportunities to grow in Christ.  Each new challenge we face is a possibility for personal and spiritual growth.  Seek the Lord each day in prayer and meditation on His Word, and then walk forward in spiritual victory.  A blessed spiritual “lift”  is certain to come.

God bless you today.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What True Joy Does for us

Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. –Psalm 30:4 (KJV)  

If ever there was a time when believers needed to claim the joy of the Lord the time is now. Life is difficult, and will probably become more so. The joy of the Lord empowers us to smile when we feel like frowning and to laugh when we feel like crying. Joy also helps us laugh when we feel like telling someone off. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 12:16 that a wise man overlooks an insult. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool uttereth all his mind, but a wise man keepeth it in until afterwards.” Proverbs 31:25 speaks of the woman of God and says she is clothed with strength and dignity and she can laugh at the days to come. This is the joy of having the Lord in our hearts.

The beginning of true joy is God’s response to our cry for help. When the sinner cries, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner,” the Lord responds. He lifts us up, hears us, and heals us. One of the worst fates that could befall someone in the ancient world was to have your enemies gloating over your downfall. David praised God this did not happen to him. The last chapter of I Samuel tells of Israel’s defeat and how the Philistines took the bodies of King Saul and his sons and after they had decapitated them hung them on the walls of their capital city. This was an extreme gloating over their enemies.

When Jesus hung on the cross, the religious leaders shook their heads and said, “If you are the Son of God come down from the cross and we will believe in you (Matthew 27:40).” They also said, “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself (Matthew 27:42).” Jesus’ response was to pray for them; “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).” Notice no one was gloating or laughing on the third day. The tomb was empty! Notice also after the resurrection Jesus did not go and gloat over His triumph. He could have gone to the entire Sanhedrin and said, “See, I told you; here I am.” Instead, He told us to go and tell the world that He lives. Jesus told us in Matthew 28:19 to, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations.”

This is our job, our task, our calling, and our goal to go and tell the world Jesus Christ lives – He is the Savior, the Son of God who died for our sins and lives again. May we not grow weary in the work we have of shining Christ’s light to a dark and hurting world that desperately needs hope.

God bless you today.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Heart of Spiritual Victory

O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me. O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. –Psalm 30:2, 3 (KJV) 

Here in these verses we find the essence of spiritual victory. Sin, the devil, ungodliness, and human nature (the flesh) do not have the last word and no longer have victory over us. We no longer lay there like spiritual dishrags, but instead we rise up in the power of Christ, we put on our spiritual armor as the Bible says in Ephesians 6, and with the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, we walk forward moving mountains, winning spiritual battles, and rebuking the devil in Jesus’ name. Spiritual victory is joy in the Lord. There is no joy in spiritual defeat.

When was the last time you stood firmly against temptation and ungodliness and rebuked the devil in Jesus’ name? If you have not done this lately let me give you a warning; the devil is crouching at your door and he is stalking you like a hungry lion (I Peter 5:8). Moreover, he is setting traps in your path, which he hopes will cause you to stumble. Therefore, we heed God’s Word, which says to be sober and vigilant lest we fall into one of these snares.

People might wonder why the devil is so interested in them. The answer is he is not interested in you until you begin living for the Lord. Job wondered why God was so interested in him to the point of watching his every move (Job 10:14-16). Job resolved this by realizing God is interested in him because God created him, loved him, and would not let him go (Job 42:1-6). When we are in Christ, we have the same situation. Once we are His children we belong to Him and He will not let us go. Do not get any ideas about simply walking away and God losing interest in you. He promises He will not do that.

The victory Jesus brings reminds us that through Him we overcome. The Bible says we are not just victors, but we are more than conquerors through Christ. Romans 8:31 says, “What shall we say to these things? If God be for us who can be against us?” Romans 8:37-39 says, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Victory is just the beginning; we walk forward in ongoing faith, victory, and the joy of the Lord.

God bless you today.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Power and Joy of Forgiveness

I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up…  -Psalm 30:1 (KJV)

Have ever considered the power of forgiveness?  Countless people in the world have become hardened in their hearts.  Their hearts, as the Bible says, have become seared as with a hot iron (I Tim. 4:2).  At some point they become so hardened and calloused that they no longer feel remorse for the sins they have committed.  What does it take to become so hard hearted?  It is the result of years, maybe decades, of pushing away the gentle tug and draw of God’s Spirit.  It is also the result of allowing the pain of life to fester to the point of bitterness.  A hardened shell forms around the heart lest it suffer any more pain. 

Another question to consider is what does it take to soften, melt, and then pierce a heart so calloused and cold?  Therapy and counseling can help, but this will not melt the heart hardened by sin, sorrow, and bitterness.  Will soul searching help?  It might, but many have done a great amount of soul searching and failed to produce any positive results.  So, what can get through to the cold, calloused heart of a sinner?  Jesus Christ is the answer.  Only Christ can get through to, melt, soften, and change the heart that has grown cold, embittered, and indifferent.  From there we learn the joy of forgiveness.  Since Christ has forgiven us, we are empowered to forgive others.  Christ lifts from us the weight and burden of all those years of collective sorrow and anger.  Jesus Christ frees us to walk forward in faith, new creations in Him, and we walk in divine, supernatural, Holy Spirit power.  You will only find this in Jesus Christ. 

In Jesus we are as the Psalmist said, lifted up.  Our feet are set on the solid rock, and this rock is Jesus.  Notice who does the lifting; God does the lifting.  This is not from any other source but the Lord.  We are incapable of accomplishing this on our own.  If you are down in the pit of sin and sorrow, you can try to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps as they say, but your efforts are going to falter.  Faith in the Lord lifts us up and when Christ lifts us up He does it right.  He sets us clear of the pit of sin, hell, death, and destruction.  Try the old bootstraps routine and you may find yourself on the very edge of the pit and maybe falling right back into it worse off than before.  Christ lifts us up, sets us clear, and sets us free in Him.  He then empowers us to walk forward in faith.  He gives the Holy Spirit to help us lest we stumble back into sin. 

Do not surrender to the dark forces of the world.  Instead, embrace the brighter, better, and happier life the Lord offers.  Are you in a pit of sorrow and trouble?  Reach out your hand and cry out to the Lord.  He will lift you up.

God bless you today.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Striving Together for the Faith, Part 2

30 Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; 31 That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints.  –Romans 15:30, 31 (KJV)

Paul worked under the understanding, notice I did not say assumption, that the church was praying for him.  Praying for one another is a vital aspect of Christianity.  Furthermore, like Paul the Apostle, we labor under the firm conviction that other believers are praying for us.  We need to know that prayer for the brethren is ongoing.  No matter what, we continue in prayer for the church and for one another’s individual needs.  Verse 30 speaks of striving together in prayer.  This is when we are praying with such intensity that we approach the level of prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane when He sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44).  Praying with that kind of power and depth is beyond my understanding, but we are to strive for such depths of intensity when we pray. 

There are two prayer requests in verse 31.  One is that God would deliver Paul from those in Judea who did not believe and who were against him.  This was an unenlightened world in those days.  Devout Jews were strongly opposed to Christianity and according to the book of Acts were willing commit violence against believers.  Those who persecuted the faith believed they were doing God’s will.  Most Jews today would be appalled at such an idea.  However, we know this is very much in the thinking of radical Islam.  There are also radical branches of Hinduism that endorses violent persecution of Christians in parts of India.  We are more enlightened than this.  I do not agree with the theology of Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I do not intend to harm them when they coming knocking on my door.  Therefore, in Christ-like faith and gentleness, Paul asked the church to pray fervently for him regarding those in Judea who did not believe.

Secondly, Paul asked them to pray that the saints in Jerusalem would accept him.  What was Paul doing that the church in Jerusalem was not?  He was taking the gospel to the Gentiles.  Many believers of the day thought this was only for the Jews.  Furthermore, they erroneously thought that if the Gentiles accepted Christ they had to adopt Jewish custom and practice.  This conflict was at the heart of the controversy in the book of Galatians.  Those believers were confused because they had tried to add Jewish customs to the practice of Christianity.  They had taken on a yoke, as the Bible says in Acts 15:10, which even the ancient Israelites could not bear.  Therefore, Paul prayed for acceptance of the ministry to which God had called him.

There may come a day when you find yourself praying a similar prayer.  Stepping out on faith and trusting Christ with all we have is radical in today’s world.  Christ calls us to strive for the faith and to walk forward in the confidence that the Lord is with us.  Remember, bold faith produces great results.  Halfhearted faith has little effect.  Pray big, believe big, and receive the fullness of God’s blessings. 

God bless you today.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Striving Together for the Faith

(The following is from a recent message I preached from Romans 15.  I trust it is a blessing and an encouragement to you.)

Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.  –Romans 15:30 (KJV)

What do you make of the word strive?  This is more than work and it is more than involvement.  This is intense labor and enduring commitment.  Striving is when we are involved in a cause and we are not going to turn back from it nor turn away from it.  Our cause is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  God’s challenges us in His Word to be involved in the work of the gospel; Jesus has commanded and God’s Word has challenged us not to just work, but to strive.  Strive also means to struggle, endeavor, go all out, and do our best.  Is anything in this description indicating a half-hearted approach to the gospel?  No, it indicates full commitment.  Just as Jesus has saved us completely, He calls us to commit ourselves fully to Him.  If we are committed to Christ, we are committed to the gospel.  We are striving together for the faith.

Paul’s request in verse 30 to the believers was a plea.  His was an earnest desire for them to go all out for the cause of Christ.  Hold nothing back in your commitment to Jesus Christ.  We might need to confess that many times we were sleeping on the job.  If you are a soldier and you are found sleeping at your post on guard duty, I am sure there would be a penalty for that, perhaps a severe penalty.  Jesus warned that the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).  To deny the flesh is to rise up earlier for prayer when we would rather be sleeping.  The body needs sleep and we know this is important, but if we will plan our days right we can get enough sleep and still arise early enough to spent ample time in prayer.

What are ways we strive for the gospel?  Here are examples:
Come out of our comfort zones.
Be willing to step out on faith.
Delve deeper into the Word than ever before.
Go deeper into prayer than ever before.
Get past our embarrassment or awkwardness about testifying for Christ.
Be involved in the work of the ministry.
Make worship and church involvement a priority.

We do this not for our sake, but for Christ’s sake.  Moreover, as the Bible says here, for the love of the Spirit.  How great is our love for God?  How great is our desire for the Spirit to control us rather than the flesh?  The answer to these questions will determine our willingness to strive for the faith and for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

God bless you today.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Joy Comes in the Morning

For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.  –Psalm 30:5 (KJV)

Have you ever had a night where you could not sleep?  You tossed, turned, tried sleeping in different positions, tried counting sheep, yet all your strategies failed?  Instead of sleep, you became even more agitated.  I have experienced many nights like this.  Rather than lie there unable to sleep, I usually get up and read, watch TV (good luck finding anything worth watching at 3:00 AM), or sit on the porch and listen to the night sounds.  My dogs, Ada and Leon, love it when this happens, as they are always eager for a little nighttime excursion outside, even in the middle of the night.  However, I am usually less enthusiastic as I simply want to get some sleep.

During nights such as this, we desire one of two conclusions; we hope for sleep or for the morning to come.  We know one of these two scenarios has to happen.  Waiting for it is another matter.  The Bible speaks of God’s anger enduring for a moment, but His favor is life – He sustains us through the dark times.  Consider a night where we cannot sleep as a call from God to arise and settle a matter with Him.  Perhaps there is sin that needs confessed or an attitude that needs adjusted.  These days when sleep eludes me, I often see this as a call from God inviting me to seek Him in prayer and meditation.  Once our hearts are right with God through confession and repentance, we are then able to rest in the peace the Lord provides.

Rest assured the Lord does not hold grudges.  Anytime we find we are out of God’s will, we may return to Him and find grace, mercy, and compassion.  The Lord stands ready to forgive, for as the Bible says, His anger lasts only a short while.  The weeping and sorrow we endure may feel like a night of endless insomnia, yet there is joy waiting with the cleansing power of forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Just as we are certain the sun will rise in the morning, so we are confident the Son of God has risen and overcome anything standing in the way of true life in Him.  Claim the power in Jesus Christ and experience the joy He offers. 

Last Sunday I reminded the congregation that prayer involves two-way communication between God and us.  Make sure we are not the ones doing all the talking.  Be willing to be still before God and listen for the still small voice of His Spirit gently convicting our hearts and reassuring us of His presence.  When we are walking with Christ in daily prayer, we may have nights where we are wakened at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and cannot go back to sleep.  Could God be calling you to an early and extended prayer time?  I believe this is possible.  Do not fear such a blessed encounter with God, but embrace it willingly. 

Okay, it is time I headed to bed.  Who knows, the Lord may wake me in a few hours to commune with Him.  Let it be so, dear Lord.

God bless you today.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A View From the Mountaintop

Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession. -Deuteronomy 32:49 (KJV)

God is stretching me these days, and what a wonderful experience this is. As I grow older, I find I am much more willing to step out on faith in ways I might not have done say 20 or even 10 years ago. To me, this is exciting, because I see so clearly see the hand of God at work all around me. The Lord is working in peoples’ lives in many ways and I have been praying for this and waiting for it for a long time. As I said in another post, it takes time, grace, patience, and devotion to God to see the fruits of our efforts come to pass. Do not give up, but keep moving forward in God’s will, for He has a plan and calls us to stay with it - not in our strength, but in His.

Consider Moses, who waited 40 long years of leading the people through the wilderness to finally make it to the Promised Land. Once they were on the verge of entering that sacred place, which God promised as a land flowing with milk and honey, Moses found the end of his journey. No doubt he recalled what God had said Numbers 20:12 that he would not see the Promised Land because of his disobedience. He knew all right. However, I cannot help but wonder if maybe he thought along the way the Lord might change His mind. God, in His wisdom, kept the promises He had made to Moses. The people entered into the land, yet Moses was only allowed to see it from a distance. 

Seeing the land from a distance is something, and we have no record of Moses showing any bitterness towards God over this, yet it had to be disappointing. I am thankful that not only have I been permitted to view a number of God’s promises from a distance, but I also have the indescribable blessing of seeing them up close as they have become reality. Do not think you can rush this process, my friends, for it takes a lifetime.

Please let me encourage you today to trust God to lead you through whatever difficulties you may be facing. There is a Promised land of God’s greatest blessings we often see from a distance, yet getting there takes time. I am seeing many of them, yet I believe there are more to follow. You see, entering the Promised Land of God’s blessings is ongoing; as we walk forward into the fullness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ we keep on walking until the day Christ calls us home to be with Him.  Until that day comes, walk forward, look up, keep the faith, be strong in the Lord, and praise His name, for God is with you.
God bless you today.