Friday, November 30, 2012

Courage is in the heart

Over the past couple of years I have been indirectly associated with a young man that is fighting serious medical problems.  You will remember him from earlier blogs as Zack.  His medical problems consist of an inoperable brain aneurism.  Numerous medications have been used and medical procedures attempted to alleviate his pain and make his life more comfortable. Zack is a fighter. He know his prognosis is not good, but continues to be a blessing to every life he touches. 

In spite of his medical problems, Zack has been able to go to school and is now in the 6th grade.  Everyone from students to administrators continue to be amazed at his determination to make the best of his situation and enjoy life to the fullest.  Needless to say, Zack has good days and bad days, but through every day he continues to demonstrate his love for Jesus, and his willingness to make his life a testimony of the gospel.  You may remember from earlier blogs, Zack was asked which animal was his favorite. He replied, "The zebra, because he reminds me that the Bible teaches about Jesus, when it says, 'by his stripes we are healed.'"

Earlier this month, Zack was treated to a ride in a police car. That was an exciting time for him, as the police picked him up at school, did some driving around, and delivered him to his home. He talked about that for days. 

Yesterday, Zack received another surprise for a ride home. His ride was with the Kerrville Fire Department, and you can imagine his excitement. Arriving at home, Zack was telling his mom about the ride and made the statement that firemen are very courageous.  His mother said, "Yes, they are courageous, and so are you."  Zack replied, "Courage is in the heart, where hope lives, and that helps us to be courageous."

That isn't a direct quote from the Bible, but there are some verses that come real close.

Hebrews 13:5-6  For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we may boldly say: "The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"

2 Timothy 1:7  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

1 Corinthians 16:13   Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.

We owe Zack a lot, for giving us a great example of the way Christians are to be courageous.  Shall we take his example and become people with the courage to take a stand for the gospel?  Could we use a lesson in courage when it comes to telling others about Jesus?  Do we have the courage to seek God's help for our courage to grow? 

Thanks again Zack, for your faith and example for all of us. Please know we continue our prayers for you. 


Thursday, November 29, 2012

From the very start

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:1-14

Did you read all of that? The beginning of John's gospel gives us a flash version of what God has in  store for mankind.  Notice in these verses, the "Word," (that's Jesus), has been around since the very beginning. He was with God. Not only was Jesus with God, these verses want us to know Jesus WAS God.  That takes some comprehension and maybe some time to allow it to soak in. 

When Jesus came into the world, as Paul tells the Philippians, "He emptied himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross." But this Jesus, according to John was the maker of all things and without him, nothing was made. The life that was in him was the light of men. John testified, " The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world."

Further information in those verses advises us that Jesus was in the world, but the world didn't recognize him. His own did not receive him. The good news is that all who did receive him, those who believed in his name, he blessed them with the right to become children of God. The children of God are described as those who are born of God.
The glorious nature of the Word is revealed to us in verse 14. Look at it again, " The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

The message of God is Jesus. That means the message of God has been in existence since before anything else existed!  It also means that when God wanted us to know of his love, he sent  Jesus. When he wanted us to know of his forgiveness an salvation, he sent Jesus.  Remember above all else, "to all who received him, he gave the right to become children of God."


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dying for Jesus

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”  Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!"  John 13:34-38

Jesus was preparing his closest followers for his departure. Peter had been an important part of the events in Jesus' ministry, so it is not surprising to us to see that Peter wanted to follow Jesus where he was going. Even though Jesus had said that where he was going, you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later. Peter wouldn't stand for that. Notice what he said.  "Why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Jesus replied, "Will you really?  Will you lay down your life for me? The truth of the matter is, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times."

Peter had the same problem many of us have. He was making promises and declarations with his mouth which he really wasn't capable of keeping. We know the story, Peter ended up denying Jesus three times, just as Jesus as predicted.  While Peter might have had the understanding  that following Jesus could lead to his death, at that moment other things were pressing.  He was still wrestling with why he couldn't go with Jesus, and he was perplexed at Jesus' insistence that Peter was going to deny him three times before the rooster crows in the morning. 

We, too, might be ready and willing to let Jesus hear us say that we are willing to die for him, and go to be with him. In reality, we are like Peter and find our connection with this life is more powerful than our commitment to the Lord.  Even the strongest and closest followers of Jesus, in Bible times and in our day have difficulty in understanding our Lord's mission and methods. 

It hadn't been too long since the disciples were arguing among themselves about which one would be the greatest and have a seat of honor next to Jesus in his kingdom. We can detect jealousy in the ranks of the very ones Jesus had chosen to follow him.  Those who had witnessed his miracles, listened to his teaching, experienced his love, and heard all the parables, were still squabbling over prestigious positions.  Maybe we do not argue over the same things with our brethren today, but a major hindrance to the success of most churches stems from the way we treat each other.  And before we speak up first and loudest, that we are perhaps the only ones willing to lay down our lives for Jesus, we need a dose of reality and understanding that we probably wouldn't. 

With the departure announcement Jesus was making, we must hold on to his opening remarks on this matter.  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  No, Lord, I want to die for you! Jesus was telling Peter and us, " the better thing you can do for me is love each other. It is by your love for one another that all men will know you are my disciples."  Even greater that dying for Jesus, is living for him, being his disciple, and demonstrating his love. 


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sunsets, oceans, and church

I was a grown man before I ever saw an ocean. It's only a drive of 8 hours from my hometown in west Texas to the Gulf of Mexico, but I had never made the trip. Now, over the years, my travels have allowed me to see both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. 

My first look at the Pacific Ocean was one of those breath taking experiences. That evening I watched from the beach in Oregon as the sun was setting in the west.  I was in awe of the majesty and the power of God. His creation had brought me to experience him and know him more closely. 

Another time, a friend and I had secured permission to go fishing at a stock tank in west Texas and our afternoon and evening showed us the sun setting over mesquite trees and pasture land. My friend made a statement to me, indicating he can see God in a pretty sunset, but it is difficult sometimes to see him in church.  I thought for a moment and had to shamefully agree. 

I know the Scripture says, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork."  God is evident in all aspects of creation and lots of people make that their "church." But God has different plans.  Look at Ephesians 3:10-12:

" His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,  according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence."

There are many good things we can say about the church.  We are added to the church by the Lord. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the head of the church and he loves the church. Much of the New Testament  is composed of letters written to churches.  The verses above tell us something about the church that is of vital importance. Look again. Paul told the Ephesians it is" through the church, the wisdom of God should be made known to our rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms."  All of this is wrapped up in God's eternal purpose that has been accomplished in Jesus. 

I enjoy seeing God in church. You can see him in the lives of the church leaders who are chosen to lead us with wisdom, with love, and with a watchful eye for the security of the people. You can see God in the lives of those who contribute food items to be distributed to the needy. You can see him in those who attend to special projects which benefit those who are sick. You can see him in the smiles and cheerful greetings of those who welcome us to the assembly.  I will add, you will be able to see God just about anywhere you look for him. 

Yes, we can see God in his creation, but we must remember creation is not the object of our worship. The creator is. We need the church in order to accomplish the intended plans of God. In the church, we can individually and collectively praise and worship while the evidence of God in our lives becomes the greatest outreach for others. 


Monday, November 26, 2012

I am under vows to God

Take a couple minutes and read Psalm 56. It's only 13 verses long but it contains some principles by which our lives will be enriched. This is a Psalm written by David during a time when he was in fear because he was being captured by the Philistines. 

David cries out to God, "Be merciful to me."  He was under attack. There were men in hot pursuit and their success in making the capture was imminent. We can put ourselves in David's shoes and understand his fear.

Notice several items David teaches us as his cry to God reveals fear. 

1.  From verses 3 and 4, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?"  See the transition being made during David's prayer?  He confesses his fear which triggers his trust in God. He goes from saying, "I am afraid, so I will trust in God;" to " I trust in God, so I am not afraid." David finds strength and confidence in knowing mortal men can do nothing to him.

David knows he is dealing with those who twist his words and use them to cause him harm. He knows men are conspiring for his death.  His prayer is for God to deal with these enemies. His confidence is that the enemies will turn away because David is calling for God's help.  Here is some good advice for us. When faced with the evil which men can do to us, or attempt against us, it's God that can bring positive results from the negative actions and words of others.  David know this is God, who is on his side. He knows this is God, whose words he praises. God is his help, his strength, so what can men do to him?

2.  From verses 12 and 13, "I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life."  Repeat over and over the first part of verse 12. "I am under vows to you, O God." The events in which we find ourselves making wrong decisions would have right outcomes if we paused just long enough to base our decisions on that statement David made. It should be our statement, too. "I am under vows to you, O God." That places David and us in a position to offer thankful praise.
David knew God as his deliverer, because God had delivered him from death.  We, too, know of God's deliverance and his promises to be with us every step of our journey.  David knew it was God who kept him from stumbling, and when we realize that, our spiritual stumbles and failures will be turned into victories.

David praises God because he allows David to "walk before God in the light of life." It works that way for us, too.  We who are under vows to God, share with David in the confidence that God walks with us.