Tuesday, May 23, 2017

From Poverty to Generosity

If you could pinpoint the primary goal of the church you attend, what would that goal be? Why do churches exist?  Is it for the increasing numbers on the church roll? Is it for the money? Are we, as the Lord's church, giving our world a false impression for our existence?

Churches may be to blame for this, if they are more interested in the numbers than they are in being used by God to cultivate disciples. That is when we come up with churches full of members who have an altered concept of spiritual priorities. An example of this can be seen in the number of church members who feel like, "the church only wants my warm body to fill the pew on Sunday, and my money to fill the collection plate."  Lord, forgive us if that is the way we have made people feel in your church.

The church's stance on warm bodies filling the pew on Sunday should be  in line with the biblical pattern of Christians joining in a fellowship of worship and praise.  It is actually saved people getting together to encourage each other and glorify God.  It's not about what we wear or what we drive to church. It's not a social club where our presence will make us recognized as a vital part of the community. It's not a place to be seen to promote our business income.  It's a place for God's people and other sinners to gather and experience the presence of the Father while giving him praise for his love and grace. 

As far as the collection plate is concerned, yes, churches need funds to operate and pay the bills. They need dollars to maintain the physical structure of the church as well as those invisible things the church does in support of missions, teaching children, counseling the hopeless, and numerous ministries to serve the community and world.  And when are we going to get in through our heads that everything we have and everything we are already belongs to God anyway, and the gift we put in the plate on Sunday is a demonstration of our love toward him and our neighbors?  

If you are familiar with the biblical region of Macedonia, you know those people were poor. Long before entitlement programs people who could not afford to live, usually died. Paul describes them in 1 Corinthians 8:2, "They have been going through much trouble and hard times." But Paul continues his description of the Macedonians, "their wonderful joy and deep poverty have overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the gracious privilege of sharing in the gift for the Christians in Jerusalem."  How do people with so little give so much? Paul answers that in the following verse.....and that's the lesson we all need to learn. 

"Best of all, they went beyond our highest hopes, for their first action was to dedicate themselves to the Lord and to us for whatever directions God might give them."  1 Corinthians 8:5 (NLT)  When we are truly dedicated to the Lord and to his work, God blesses us with the resources to accomplish his will. 


Monday, May 22, 2017

Instruments in God's Hands

I read an interesting story about the renowned musical instruments made by, Antonio Stradivari.  Five of the instruments created by the work of his hands, were given to the Library of Congress. There are three violins, one violin-cello and a viola.  The really interesting part is seen in the conditions by which these instruments were donated. Stradivari gave these special instruments with orders for them to be played at some annual concerts through the years.

Contrast that with another similar story.  A man by the name of Paganini left his famous violin to the Italian city of Genoa. Over the years, that violin has been safely kept inside a glass display case for all to see.  Since the donation and display of that instrument, it has not been touched by human hands.  Therefore, after a number of years, it was discovered the violin had deteriorated.  Because of the lack of use, the once famous and valuable violin, became useless and without value.  It wasn't used, and it deteriorated. 

Everyone now understands the conditions by which Stradivari donated his musical instruments. He was smart in ordering them to be taken from their place of safety and put into the hands of gifted musicians from time to time, and they are still useful, quality musical instruments to this day. 

There is a lesson here for those of us in the Lord's church.  Paul teaches in Romans 12 the usefulness of every member of the body of Christ.  Look at verses 3-6:  " For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us."

As members of the body of Christ, we are all given gifts of the Spirit. These gifts enable us to function in our own gifted areas for the benefit of the whole church. All are important, all are useful, all are necessary for the church to function well.  The importance of each doing his/her part is seen in the teaching that a failure of one or some to do their part leads to the diminished value of the whole body. 

Likewise, when we consider the collective members of the church, functioning properly, the real effectiveness  and success comes only when we are obedient to the commands which instruct us to take the gospel to the entire world. Read Matthew 28:19-20.  The very nature of the gospel, and the commandments for us to share it with the world, demonstrate the need for us to be continually active to make the message known.  A failure on our part to tell others about Jesus will bring the same results as Paganini's violin, sealed up in a display case until it became useless. 

The beauty of the message occurs when God's people, by grace, equipped with his gifts, share the story which brings eternal life. 


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup......

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

The event which we know as the Lord's Supper is important in the lives of Christians.  There are probably as more differing opinions on the Lord's Supper than any other biblical subject. The when, where, how, and how often questions will probably never be settled. So the seemingly main event which Jesus left for us to observe together until his return, in many cases becomes a point for our division. 

In the scripture written above, Paul is instructing the Corinthian church on the importance of participating in the observance.  The words are reflective of the earlier scene in the upper room when Jesus and his disciples gathered together to celebrate Passover. That celebration had continued for centuries as the Jews remembered their deliverance from Egyptian bondage and passing through the Red Sea when God's power had parted the waters. To the ancient Jews, the observance of the Passover Supper was THE event that helped them to remember what God had done for them. 

At the end of the Passover, Jesus had told his disciples, "Do this in remembrance of me."  Paul was making sure the observance of remembering Jesus, and especially remembering Jesus' death, burial and resurrection which makes our salvation possible.

What do you usually think of while observing the Lord's Supper?  While we are commanded to observe the supper in remembrance of Jesus, there are several remembrances worthy of our consideration. For each individual Christian, perhaps it is a time for them to remember their life's journey since meeting Jesus.  It would be a time to remember the salvation experience, or to remember an answered prayer, or perhaps to remember when a new biblical truth was learned. It's actually a time for us to remember all of the interaction of Jesus in our hearts and lives. 

That leads me to expand on the thought of our remembrance  of what it means to have him living in us. His presence in us is a source of guidance in making decisions, comfort when we are sad, and strength when we need the spiritual power to work through a problem. In the observance of the supper, it is always uplifting to think of Jesus who lives in us. 

Of all the good things we can remember about Jesus, and especially when sharing the Lord's Supper with our spiritual family, it's a good time to remember Jesus has promised to come again. Christians are to live in expectation of the Lord's return. Just as real as the elements which are symbolic of his body and his blood, is the reality that he is coming back.  Remember who he is. And remember who we can become because of him.  


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Finding Comfort

49 Remember your word to your servant,
    for you have given me hope.
50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
    Your promise preserves my life.
51 The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
    but I do not turn from your law.
52 I remember, Lord, your ancient laws,
    and I find comfort in them.
53 Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
    who have forsaken your law.
54 Your decrees are the theme of my song
    wherever I lodge.
55 In the night, Lord, I remember your name,
    that I may keep your law.
56 This has been my practice:
    I obey your precepts.          
Psalm 119:49-56

After reading the selected verses above, pick one verse which speaks to you and your situation in life.  When you have a verse selected,  turn it into your personal prayer for the day.  To really make it meaningful, memorize the verse, repeating it verbally several times during the day. 

If I were to pick the first verse, which is verse 49 from Psalm 119, my prayer might sound something like this:

Lord, I delight in remembering your word to me, because your word gives me hope.  I confess to living with my hopes in things of this world and all it offers. I have placed my confidence in my own abilities to overcome, my trust has been in my strength.  Teach me, Lord, the hope that comes only through placing everything I am and have, in you. Continue to bless me and strengthen me in the knowledge of your word as I learn to receive the hope only you can give.  Amen.

As you read the verses again, you may choose to select more than one and go through the same routine of memorization and application in prayer form.  Feel free to go further and make your prayer from each of the verses. 
This exercise gives us all a glimpse into a practice called "praying the scriptures."  Devote yourself to reading and praying the words of scripture and you will see greater understanding of God's truth, as well as the joy of making the Word becoming more of a personal message to you. 

God bless, and I always like hearing stories from our readers.  Let us know how you are blessed from this exercise of prayer. 


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Set a Guard Over My Mouth

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
    hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
    may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
    keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
    so that I take part in wicked deeds.
                                                            Psalm 141:1-4

Have you ever prayed a desperate prayer?  In the moment of an emergency where human intervention just wasn't enough, have you fallen to your knees before God and sought his help?

That's the picture I get of David in the beginning of this Psalm.  He is obviously seeking God but in this case, David is seeking God's presence quickly. This time, David's emergency call to God was to get help in overcoming temptation. 

I also get a picture of David, while making this emergency prayer, involving descriptive words pertaining to incense and the lifting of his hands becoming similar to the evening sacrifice.  This picture I see when David prays this urgent prayer, is that he is placing himself in an attitude of worship as he utters his prayer. 

Now notice what he prays, "Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips."  Now I probably don't have to ask if there has ever been a need for us to say those exact words while praying. The answer would "yes!"  From personal experience and from the scripture we learn quickly how our words, often spoken in haste, are sometimes hateful, unloving and uncaring.  We, like David, should be on our knees often asking God's help with our speech.  David knew this was a problem for him when we see how he followed in the next verse....

"Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds."  David was a smart enough man to know when he committed sin, it would take him one step closer to being drawn to and involved in deeds that are not pure and right.  From his own heart he felt being drawn toward that which is evil. 

So here is the point of the message.  David prayed, perhaps more urgently than some of his other prayers because he saw how Satan could use the lips of God's people to lead them into a sinful lifestyle. He saw the progression of the workings of sin, and it became an urgent matter for God to see him through this difficult time. 

May we learn from David's prayer, and may we also give thanks to God for his guidance, to help us in knowing we must guard our speech, and not be drawn into Satan's schemes. 


Monday, May 15, 2017

Another Monday

What kind of a day are you anticipating? We've grown accustomed to Monday being a day where we wonder what happened to our weekend. It's more difficult to get into the swing of things on our jobs, in the classroom, and even on the home front. Do we drink one of those "boosting" drinks and face the world? or maybe a couple more cups of coffee? going back to bed is tempting. 

Just as we experienced the presence of God in worship yesterday, today we can know him more intimately when we invite him to be a part of our Monday. He wants to be there when we have tough decision to make in our jobs. He desires to be present when you face temptation. In the darkest corner of your Monday, He is there. 

Psalm 112:6-8
6 Surely he will never be shaken;
   a righteous man will be remembered forever.
7 He will have no fear of bad news;
   his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
8 His heart is secure, he will have no fear;
   in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.

Do you have days when you feel distant from God? If you feel that way, YOU are the one that moved. He has promised to never leave you, that he will remain with you. Take an inward look today, to see if there is distance between you and God.

Can we say, even on "downer" days, that our heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord, and our heart is secure in Him? True, the bad days are bound to happen. The answer according to the psalmist, is a "heart problem" on our part. He says we can have a heart that is steadfast and secure. 

The psalm says, "in the end, he will look in triumph on his foes."  He is telling us that the steadfast and secure heart that trusts in the Lord is going to experience triumph over Mondays and anything else that gives us a sense of defeat. Instead of being destined become a victim of loss and sorrow, our lives trusting in God, will bring success and victory. Consider again the distance between you and God. It's never God that makes that distance seem so far, it's us. And like the prodigal son in Luke 15 that was returning to his father, God will see us coming to him and run to meet us. Our God is a marvelous heart doctor.