Friday, January 30, 2015

My friend Bob

Bob was always there to express encouragement.  I noticed this trait and practice about him very early in our friendship.  If ever there were an award called "The Mr. Encouragement Award," Bob would win it, hands down. 

Encouragement was not the only good trait of Bob.  He was my brother in the family of God, and was the first person I would call on to help with a problem.  It took a while for me to catch on, but Bob's main tactic in dealing with difficulty, was to minimize the problem.  If you went to him for help, he would listen as the situation was described, but would end with you knowing things were not as impossible as you imagined.  Then when you assessed the problem again, it would not seem to be as big as you thought it was. 

Bob would never sugar-coat the truth in his attempt to help.  If you had a wrong attitude or assumption toward the problem, he would be quick to call you to accountability for your part in creating the trouble. Even the way he did that was in letting you know it's not the end of the world for a person to fail.  Then he would encourage you in ways to deal with the difficulty, all the time building you up with kind words.

I think about Bob often, even though he has been with the Lord for lots of years.  The reason I thought of him today was in a phone conversation with someone who had made some wrong decisions and expressed there was no remedy.  I thought about throwing in my 2 cents worth of magnifying the blame and letting my friend know he had caused the situation so he should dig himself out it. 

Instead, I thought of Bob's Mr. Encouragement Award, and even used a phrase Bob had used in my presence more than once.  "I know you are a believer, and I have confidence that you and God, working as a team, can be the winner in this situation."  That was Bob's way of telling me and others, "You are a Christian and you have the answer to this and any other dilemma, alive and living inside you.  He is the one that says, 'Cast your cares on me, because I care for you.'"

I tell you about Bob and his gentle reprimands for forgetting God is on your side, in order to make you think about that this weekend.  We hear of problems and troubles every day.  We wonder where God is and why he is letting these bad things happen.  Why do good people get cancer?  Why did an innocent child die?  Why are the rumors targeting me?  Why can't  I catch my share of the breaks?

Bob's discussion would also lead you to an understanding of another scripture, from the pen of John, " You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."  1 John 4:4

So this weekend, armed with Bible truth, set out to be an encourager to at least one person every day.  It doesn't have to deal with big problems.  It works with small tasks, too.  Be the first to let someone know they and God can handle any situation.  That's an unstoppable team.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Stepping on Toes

It continues to amaze me at the way the Word of God, written ages ago, is relevant to my generation.  After all the years that have passed, every lesson God taught the earlier generations, are lessons we need, too.

Today's scripture text is a prime example.  The words come from the mouth of Ezekiel, and they come in one short verse.  "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”   Ezekiel 16:49

Those who were inspired by God to pen the scriptures, had a way of getting a message across to us, seemingly without regard to "stepping on toes."  The truth of their message was delivered  in a straight forward way and the importance of the message can be understood when we know these are the words from God who spoke through the prophets.

Look at their problem.  Ezekiel said it was the same problem of the people of Sodom.  Look again at the things Ezekiel used to describe them:

1.  Arrogance -- Don't we need to know today there is no place for arrogance when we stand before God?  If the sins of our lives have been forgiven because of the blood of Jesus, through the love and grace of God, where is there any room for arrogance?  We are delivered, not because we were strong enough, rich enough, smart enough, or important enough to make it happen.  It happened because God loves us even though we are sinners.

2.  Overfed -- While we are a people who love to eat, and sometimes to excess, look beyond just the eating part and understand this could also include any and all of our over indulgences.  Note also how the progressive nature of our list is growing.  Arrogance was the beginning point, then it grew into indulgences, and it keeps on growing.

3.  Lack of Concern -- Apparently Ezekiel was surrounded by a majority of people who simply did not care about others.  They were an unconcerned people.   Often, our words profess that we care, but our lack of concern shows through our facade when we do little or nothing help those who suffer, those who struggle, or those who have nowhere to turn.  

4.  They did not help the poor and needy --  We as a church are to be concerned with the needs of others. True, our message is the truth of the gospel, and we believe it, practice it, cling to it, and try to make it the core of our existence.  But what we say we believe and live by, loses its believability when we do not accompany it with whatever help we can provide.  Didn't Jesus spend most of his earthly ministry in the company of the poor and needy?  Additionally, it is good for the church to recognize the needs of others and assist when they can, but this message is much more personally applied.  Ask yourself, "What am I doing to help those who do not have enough food?  Those who are homeless?  Those who are sick?"  Think of someone you can help in some way, today.  Not only will you be a blessing to others, but you will be blessed, too.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mapping out the race....

The writer of Hebrews is nearing the end of his letter. He has covered some important issues in what he has written, some perhaps more difficult to understand and apply without some intense study.  However, one thing stands out above the rest and that is the supremacy of Jesus the Christ. 

Further, the Bible's best definition of faith comes from this letter.  Hebrews 11 begins, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  The rest of the chapter speaks of Biblical characters whose lives were testimonies of the working of faith in them.  

Some of the most powerful words of encouragement come to us in Hebrews.  Hebrews 12:1-2, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The final chapter, 13, is one that is filled with exhortation of doing right things. A reading of the entire 13th chapter is recommended as we see issues covered ranging from loving one another, to offering a sacrifice of praise to God.  Also issues from marriage to supporting our leaders. 

I want you to see how the Hebrew writer intends for you to appreciate and remember Jesus.  Read closely, as he is closing out the letter.  Hebrews 13:20-21 "May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

He really is a God of peace.

He really did bring Jesus back from the dead.

Jesus really is the great Shepherd of the sheep.

He really does equip us with every good thing to do his will. 

He really does work within us the things that are pleasing to him. 

To Him be glory for ever and ever. 


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Holy Huddle

The Great Commission, given by Jesus, is the command for Christians to spread the gospel to all people of all nations in our world.  Some will recognize the seriousness of Jesus' words, and begin the task with prayer and enthusiasm.  Others will not accept those same words of Jesus as their personal responsibility. 

At church, we were given a simple wrist bracelet that reminds each of us that "We are the body of Christ called to be Jesus in every neighborhood in our city and beyond."  It's a little reminder that goes with us to motivate us in a mission that is not limited to the four walls of a church building on a given street corner in the town where we live.  Our mission, Bible ordained by the Son of God himself, is to reach the world with the saving grace of God.

It probably goes without saying, that's a big job.  Perhaps the magnitude of the responsibility causes some to shy away or disregard the command completely. Others may pass the responsibility on to the "hired help," thinking the church has people hired to fulfill that job.  Then there may be some who dwell on the words of the Great Commission and actually take Jesus' command seriously, involving themselves in  a lifestyle of sharing Bible truth, Christian values, and even personal testimonies with everyone they meet.

One of the preachers used a phrase this past Sunday I hadn't heard or thought of in a long time.  He was describing some of the priorities of our church in teaching the lost, and referred to those who do not see the mission of the church being involved in the Great Commission.  The indication was those are the folks who are in "The Holy Huddle."   Perhaps football season is about over for this year, but picture your team, playing on offense, and making plans and strategies for their next move.  Usually someone on the sidelines will signal a play toward the huddle and the quarterback will tell the team in the huddle which play has been called.  That's a secret to the opposing defense and they are left with a guessing game as to the manner they will defend against the offensive play.

Are we like that when we are negligent in aligning ourselves to be people set on serving Jesus.  Do we who are  safely in the church and on our way to the promised land, huddle ourselves inside our churches, and keep the lost, the weak, the needy, the homeless, and those who do not fit the mold of what a church member should be, on the outside?   Are we in our "holy huddle," keeping the message of salvation a secret to those who really need him?

You may be the one God is calling on to lead a missionary effort in another country.  Maybe you have been put where you are, to reach the family living across the street from your house.  Perhaps you have the job you have because God put you there to be a witness to other workers.   I don't know all the where's or when's, not even the why's.  I just know Jesus expects each of us to share the gospel message of his loving sacrifice, and that mission reaches into your home, your school, your office, and your life.

May our prayer always be, "Here am I, Lord......send me."


Monday, January 26, 2015

This Time

Colossians 4:5

"Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time."  (KJV)

"Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity."  (NIV)

The same verse from two different translations, giving us the perspective from which Paul wrote on the way the Colossian Christians were using their time.   In speaking of redeeming the time, he was teaching them to make the most of every opportunity.

How about that subject matter, the subject of "time."  We live in a specific point in the picture of time when humans like you and me never seem to have enough time.   We have our digital watches, smart phones, microwave ovens, automatic this and that, all to give us more time.  All of the labor and time saving devices we use these days do a pretty good job of giving us more free time.  The problem lies in our lifestyle of trying to cram too much into the time we have.

We are all given the same amount of time in which we are to work, rest, play, learn, etc.  Yet some seem to have some time left over for leisure or "time on our hands."   So what about your use of time?

It's relatively easy for us to see why Paul would encourage making the most of time and opportunity when writing to the Colossians.  Apparently some of their time was devoted to celebrations and festivals, new moons, or sabbaths.   Paul considered these things a useless waste of time.  If he could see that as a problem in the Colossian church, is there a chance that we also have some time-wasting things going on in the church and in Christian lives today?   Consider these examples:

1.  When time isn't's wasted.  We've already noted that our generation is one that is obsessed with time-saving gadgets so now you are asked, what do you do with all that saved time?  You are living in the age that has the most wasted time, since time began.  It may be because of laziness, or non-productivity, or any number of things, but we have time given to us that we simply do not use.

2.  When time is's wasted .  How about you?  Do you ever realize after a specific time is passed, you could have done something more beneficial?  Maybe your time was not spent in sinful practices, but was rather spent in what has been described as a "profitless expenditure."  We certainly know what that means in regards to money, and it means the same thing in regard to time.  This does not mean we should never do anything fun, like leisure or recreation.  We need those things, too.

3.  When time is's wasted.   We all have busy seasons and times, and that's to be expected.  I'm referring to the one whose time is wasted when he becomes a workaholic.  Not that his work time is wasted, but his time with his family, his prayer time, his rest, even his values and priorities can be out of control.

Now we know why Paul told the Colossians and us, to redeem the time by making the most of every opportunity.   Seek the face of God in prayer, as you consider your use of time.


Friday, January 23, 2015

A Weekend of Love

This weekend, let's take a look at Bible verses dealing with love.  Read the list of scriptures and especially as they relate to you, your circumstances, your work, your hopes.

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

John 3:16  For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Romans 8:37-39  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 John 3:1  See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Each verse carries a special message, teaching us how much God loves us.  As you make your applications of these verses to your situations, you will catch a glimpse of how much God loves us individually and collectively.

Then spend some time in prayer, thanking God for his unending, unconditional love, which is a picture of how we are to love each other. 

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Let's Grow Up

It is no sin to be a spiritual infant.  When we begin our new life in Jesus, we may be strong and tall and abounding in intelligence.  We may have lots of friends, we may break records in sports, we may even drive the nicest of cars.  But escaping spiritual infancy isn't going to happen any more than escaping physical infancy. 

Problems arise when we develop physically but remain infants spiritually.  Sadly, many of our churches are filled with people who have been in membership for years, yet still are in their infancy when it comes to spiritual development.
In the letter Paul wrote to the Ephesian  Christians, he addresses this issue.  His discourse uses a phrase we are familiar with..the phrase, "Grow Up."  It is easy for us to understand a child doing childish things, but when an adult does them, he is told to "Grow Up."  Likewise, when Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus, he felt the need to tell the Christians there, "It's time to grow up." 
Look at Ephesians 4:14-16
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

A quick inspection on our part will tell us where we are in our spiritual growth process. There are some revealing questions we must ask ourselves if we are going to be brave enough to see where we are and where we need to be.  Do you feel a closer relationship with God now, compared to the relationship you had with him when you first became a Christian?  Is Bible reading more important to you now than 10 years ago?  Do you sense the guidance of the Holy Spirit  in your life more and more as you open yourself to Him?

When we are honest in our answers, we all easily see there are needed improvements.  The encouragement I get from reading the above passage is that when we speak the truth in love and grow up in Jesus, we are well on our way to the spiritual development that pleases God.

Each of us, using our God-given talents, doing our respective work which God has chosen for us, following closely after Jesus, are going to more fully appreciate verse 16.  Read it one more time, in the form of a prayer for your spiritual growth.  

"Lord, as we grow into your likeness, may we as your body of believers, each with different talents and gifts, use them as supporting ligaments for the body and build up the church in love.  Amen"


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A bit of acceptance

We were having the usual staff luncheon that week.  I think there were seven of us present and we had all ordered iced tea.  Soon, our waiter came from the kitchen carrying a tray with our tea glasses, and started passing them around.  He was standing behind me when the tray tipped to one side and the only remaining glass on the tray turned over, emptying the full glass down the collar of my shirt.  I shook all over and could only think of the Gatorade bath being administered by a team to their winning coach.

Without all the details, I will just say the tea and ice cubes drenched my back, and when it was all over, I was sitting in a chair that had caught a lot of the liquid.  I felt like I was sitting in a kiddy pool.  I do was COLD!

Waiters seemed to come from all directions with towels.  The waiter for our table assured me I didn't have to pay for my lunch that day, and there were apologies from all the employees.  I told everyone it was okay, and I knew it was accidental, but one by one they kept coming by to make sure I was good.

We went ahead with lunch, even though I was not real comfortable in my wet clothes.  They all kept apologizing and I kept assuring them I was fine.  But that was not the end of this story.

A couple of weeks later, I returned to the same restaurant for lunch and was met quickly by the waiter who had attempted to baptize me.  His words caught me off guard as he said, "I am so glad to see you here.  I didn't think you would ever come back here for lunch."   His words prompted me to say again, "I know it was an accident and you are forgiven." 

When the drenching took place, I could have easily voiced displeasure toward the waiter, demanded to see the manager, or even stormed out of the restaurant in a rage.  It causes me to wonder how many times I have reacted negatively in such situations.  Could I have thrown my fit, rightly so, because I had been wronged?  

I know some of the verses which Jesus taught about forgiveness, and they carry some implications that we can actually measure our "forgiveness level."   Look at the verse that teaches, "If you do not forgive another his trespasses, then you will not be forgiven your trespasses."  Another implication from the forgiveness verses  is really to the point.  "Ask for forgiveness only in the measure you are willing to extend forgiveness."

The words of the waiter taught me something, too.  When he said he didn't think I would ever return to that restaurant, it let me know, more than forgiveness, a bit of acceptance can extend forgiveness more than words. 

I still run into people who were in the restaurant that day.  Most of them have stated I handled the situation better than they would.   I just smile and remind everyone that all of us are subject to making mistakes.  And everyone needs to understand how God longs to forgive our mistakes, and that's how we should be forgiving to those who wrong us.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I have this problem...

I have this problem:

I want my life to be perfect..........but it's not.

I want to demonstrate nothing but good coming from my life...........but sometimes the bad shows up.

Paul is the one I turn to when I have these thoughts.  He says in Romans 7,  "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I  know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."

Am I alone in these feelings?  If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit even as Christians, the power of sin is still very healthy inside us.  I'm glad Paul didn't stop writing when he penned the above verses.  Our dilemma finds some answers in his words as they continue, "So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Knowing and actually believing these things relieves us from the battle of seeking perfection based on our own merits.  As much as I strive for my perfection, I will fail.  But there is more.

God would have us to know, in the middle of our attempts to be perfect and good, HE is the answer for which we search.  We find it easy to accept the fact of our failures, but so difficult to accept the sovereignty of God himself  as the help we really need.

Here is another verse which helps us see this truth, Psalm 103:19, "The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. "   (Even my imperfections and mistakes and blunders.)

Our problems grow in intensity when we forget who God is and all he is doing through us and for us.  His love continues to abide, and his presence with us elevates us above all the bad stuff.

Still another verse we need to absorb.  From Psalm 62:6-8, " Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge."

Problems with perfection and constant goodness?  Trust in him at all times!

Monday, January 19, 2015

How convenient!

The Apostle Paul took his Christianity seriously. After the conversion of this man Saul, and his new life in Jesus, he seemed so determined to make the good news of the gospel known to all. He took missionary journeys, and they are numbered and detailed in the maps section of most Bibles. All of these trips were for the purpose of preaching and teaching about Jesus, and it would seem that Paul would have smooth sailing as he worked so diligently to practice the Great Commission.  However, numerous readings from the Acts of the Apostles gives us the truth of all the hardships, near death experiences, and opposition that Paul faced. Your reading today comes from accusations against Paul and his defense in front of a judge, Felix. Please read the entire 24th chapter of Acts.  Then the part we wish to focus on is in verses 24 and 25:

24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”

Paul's preaching on righteousness, self-control and the judgment were apparently too uncomfortable for Felix to hear. Can you think of teaching from the scripture that has made you feel uncomfortable?

Felix is memorable to us because we can see through reading this chapter, he was sympathetic to the words of Paul's defense, and though imprisoned, Paul was given special privileges. But when the truth became more than Felix wanted to hear he said, "That's enough for now! You may leave, When I find it convenient, I will send for you."  Has our response, or lack of response to the Lord ever centered around similar excuses? .....we prefer a more convenient time?

In this case and in every case of adversity for Paul, he remained faithful to the gospel call. He realized that closed doors did not mean defeat as he bounced off of them till he was led to open doors of opportunity to spread the good news. In that, Paul is an example for you and me.

How much, we need to see the opportunities God puts in front of you so you can share the gospel.  It may or may not be convenient for you, but regardless, the people you encounter are loved by God, and just maybe, God wants you to tell them about your life in Jesus.  Experience has taught us personal testimony is more powerful than the sermons from the pulpit.  Talking and sharing, one on convenient is that?

Friday, January 16, 2015

A look back....

We are approaching our third anniversary in this blog.  With February approaching, I thought we might take a look at some of the earlier blogs, which will not only be a lesson through remembering, but will give a chance to the many newer readers, to see some of the earlier blogs.  Thanks to all for reading and for your words of encouragement.  --RonB


I grew up before the age of transformers. By transformers I am referring to the toy that might look like an automobile or a lawnmower, but you can twist the parts of the toy around in a certain way and you had a robot or a monster. I suppose it was good in that you got two toys for the price of one, but most of the transformed toys looked scary and violent to me.

God actually calls us to be a "transformed" people. Being transformed is what makes us different from the rest of the world. We talk of changes or adjustments in the way we live, but God is out to see that his people are noticeably a changed people.  Read carefully:

Romans 12:1-2
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The transformation is a process in which God cleans us up by washing us in the blood of Jesus, and continues to transform us through the maturing process. Satan attacks that process of change that God wants to see in us.  Here in Romans 12, we are encouraged to be changed by the renewing of our minds. Are you comfortable with your thoughts? In the area of your thinking, is there a need for you to seek God's help in renewing your mind?

For some, even the concept of offering our bodies as living sacrifices necessitates change or transformation. God calls it a spiritual act of worship. As you contemplate the idea of worship, think of ways you can offer your body to him as a living sacrifice.

The transformed life, Paul says, will be able to stand the test and approve what God's will is. In a time when we have so much difficulty discerning God's will for us, the result of the transformed life is that it will know his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Another passage advises us, "This is the day the LORD has made;  let us rejoice and be glad in it" Psalm 118:24.  It is only the life that has been transformed and experiencing God's good, pleasing and perfect will, that will be rejoicing in each day he gives us.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I'm wearing a new suit!

Isaiah 61:10-11
10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and  a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

There is wonderful peace and exceeding joy when we know that God has clothed us with garments of salvation, and arrayed us in a robe of righteousness. Christians today need to know and understand how much the goodness of God is manifest in his people when they know God's salvation and God's righteousness.

Satan will attack us in an attempt to bring us down by convincing us that we are not worthy, or that we really do not receive salvation from God.  Sinners that we are, Satan will constantly work on us, getting us to believe that God would never save us.

In addition to the outward attacks of Satan, there are some inward attacks that happen, too. Inward accusations meant to tear down and damage the influence of the church. These may come in several forms, but the most evident movement from within the body of Christ is legalism. It rears its ugly head when Christians, under the guise of being defenders of the truth, try to bind us with a strict adherence to their list of biblical laws. Anyone that steps out of line is immediately suspect of not being a "real" Christian at all. The legalist cannot see that he allows himself to become exactly like the Pharisees, which Jesus continually chastised for making God's rules and laws a burden instead of a blessing. 

None of us will ever be perfect, and for me, I am glad. I can latch hold of the claim of Jesus that he did not come to save the perfect, he came to save the imperfect. Those who are not sick do not need a doctor, but those who suffer spiritual sickness can always lean on Jesus, the Great Physician. 

Legalism leads to self-righteousness, and those who make such a venture through life will have us believing our salvation is based on something we do, rather than God's grace, which assures us that salvation is something God does. My righteousness will not save me. Only God's righteousness can do the job. The legalist will have us believing we are under condemnation because of our sin. God wants us to receive forgiveness through Jesus paying the price for our sins on the cross. "There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:1.  It's time we praise God by celebrating the freedom he has given. 


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"before amen"

You are probably familiar with the writings of Max Lucado.  Everywhere I go and get in a conversation with someone about spiritual things, especially the articles, websites, or books which they have recently read, Max's name comes up.  The popularity of Lucado's  books is evident, regardless of what the sign says on the church you attend. 

The latest of Max's publications is a book about prayer, "Before Amen," and has become the talk of the Christian community.  While I am not in the business of selling books, I am in the business of steering our readers in the direction of anything that will benefit them in their Christian walk.

Max, very early in his book, identifies himself as a recovering "prayer wimp."  And immediately we can relate, or even identify with that description.   Yes, I have known and still know there are folks who probably spend more time praying than any other activity in their lives.  This book will not turn you into a prayer robot, but it does introduce us to how simple prayers can be packed with power. 

I remember when Max was teaching on this subject in our church and introduced us to something he called a "pocket prayer."  The description has caught on, and the pocket prayer for most of us prayer wimps is simple yet complete, and the person who wrestles with what to say when talking to God, can come away with a daily 15 second prayer that addresses issues vital to life.  Here is the pocket prayer:


               you are good.

                              I need help. Heal me and forgive me.

                                             They need help.

                                                            Thank you.

                                                                           In Jesus' name, amen.


If, in fact, prayer is a conversation with God, this little prayer is a good start for each of us.  After you pray this pocket-sized prayer, realize its scope.  You have honored God, the Father.  You have recognized your need for his help, seeking his healing and forgiveness.  You have prayed for others. You have expressed thanksgiving to God,   Your prayer has been prayed in Jesus' name.

There is power in a simple prayer.  If your prayer life is small, lacking , or, using Max's description, if you are a prayer wimp, start with your own pocket prayer.  There is nothing to keep us from personalizing a prayer which we can pray several times each day.

There may be days when your heart is inclined to spend more times in prayers of thanksgiving.  There may be nights when you spend sleepless hours praying for forgiveness.  There is always some loved one that is sick, without a job, having family problems, or suffering from emotional disorders.  Remember these people to God in your prayers.  Just a moment of thinking and reflecting will give you  plenty to pray about.

I need this book.  Coupled with the scripture texts on the subject of prayer, perhaps I will not have to remain a prayer wimp.  And please, remember all who through print, online, or any other method of spreading God's message.  We not only need to learn more about prayer, we all need to be remembered in the prayers you pray.  


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

More than peanut butter.....

January has traditionally been a month where we focus on missions and this year has not been an exception.  Our church assembly the last two Sundays has been a blessing to see all 12 of the missionaries our church supports in various parts of the world. 

This past Sunday, the blessing was exceptional as we actually got to meet three such men who work with their respective churches in Brazil.   Each of the three were given a few minutes to talk about their congregations and the points of emphasis in their work, for which we could be praying.

This brought back a few memories of my younger years when an African missionary we chipped in to support would come home and tour the churches giving a slide presentation of events and worship in the foreign country.  As a young observer, I was always amazed at how much could be accomplished by such few workers with limited resources. 

Back to the current report, which was not a pressurized plea for tons of money, the ministers from the three locations in Brazil spoke, not about numbers or statistics or dollars, but about the changes they were witnessing in lives.  Yes, there are plans for continuing God's work in their respective cities, but the part that touched me deeply, were the stories of converted drug addicts and alcoholics, whose lives were changed.  When I use that word "changed"  I really mean there were changes that can be represented only by a 180 degree turn around.  These druggies profess and follow Jesus Christ as the power to bring about radical changes.  The best part of the story came as we were told their conversions led the previous addicts not only into loved members of the body of Christ, but people who were in training to be ministers and other church workers who would be leading communities to Jesus.

One "church" in Brazil has no building in which to meet, and doesn't want one.  Their weekly Sunday morning assembly is in a large park, outdoor church, and aims at ministry to the homeless.  They have a church service and encourage  the homeless to attend and stick around after church for lunch. 

Most of the time when we think of supporting missions, we think we are about to hear a sermon on more and more money.  Financial things come into play in mission work, but when you can catch a story of a life transformed from drug dealer to minister of the gospel, it's worth it. 

I was really taking in the joy with which the reports were given, and wishing I had unlimited funds to really support a work like that.  It was then I realized their message was aimed at people like me who feel like we have met the requirements of reaching out, by putting a jar of peanut butter in the grocery give-away box.  I am happy I can do that, but with just a little more effort toward supporting such ministries, and the dedication to be in prayer for continued success in the work of missionaries, I know we would be amazed at the changes in those people and in us. 

Jesus wanted us to know this was his will when he gave the Great Commission, 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”


Monday, January 12, 2015

The Youth Minister was late...

The Youth Minister was running late this morning.  Oh, we had church as usual and the things that prevented his arrival at the normal time were almost unbelievable.   He lives outside of town and down a country road in the Texas Hill Country.  Anyone that has traveled the country roads in Texas knows to expect something called "cattle guards."   If you are driving normal speed and hit a cattle guard it can shake the fillings from your teeth.

For our readers who do not live in cattle country.  A cattle guard is placed in the road, where it intersects a property line, providing access to drive through the country without having to open gates.  The actual cattle guard is usually made of pipe, the width of the road, but the pipes are spaced so the cattle cannot cross into someone else's property. 

That's what caused the Youth Minister's late arrival.  He was on his way to church and there was a not-so-smart-cow that had tried to walk across the cattle guard and had one of her legs wedged between the pipes and could not get out.  While I do not profess to know the whole story, I did hear before help could be summoned, the cow decided she would get herself out but before long all four of her legs were stuck between the pipes.  Now if you have this vision in your mind, you will understand not only is the cow in distress, she is blocking the road!

I don't know the details of freeing the cow, and I am suspicious of parts of the story as it was told during church, but we were assured the cow was set free and the travelers on the country road could continue to their destination.   While I am assured the details here are correct, I cannot help but think there just has to be some "stretching" of this story, and those details are probably enhanced every time the story is told to someone else.

I wrote about this story today because it comes very close to describing the predicament of mankind.  Most of us are in possession of some measure of intelligence, yet we get ourselves so entangled in the cares and problems of this world, we get stuck.  Just like the cow with one leg in a cattle guard, we think we are strong enough and smart enough to get ourselves out, but the more we try and the more we struggle, we end up learning the truth that we are beyond getting unstuck by ourselves.   It's usually then we cry out to God to save us.  I, too, have prayed for God's deliverance from problems and difficulties, from pain and sickness, even from the messes I have made in life.  It's always God's love and his grace that brings freedom from whatever causes our distress. 

It's then I ask myself, "Why didn't I seek God's answer before I was completely entrapped like the cow, with all four legs stuck?"   God is always there, always concerned, and always willing to help us through every snare we encounter.   Ask him......he will provide.

"He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;  he hears their cry and saves them."  Psalm 145:19


Friday, January 9, 2015

It's Time

A Time for Everything

3 There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

                                                                        Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Familiar words, lots of subject matter, excellent poetry.  Remembering these statements are a part of the Bible brings us to believe the basic truth of verse 1, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:"

Read each line in the verses above and see if there is an application for you.   In the first one we know there was a time for us to be born, but how was that time determined?  Was God's hand in it?  Did he actually determine our birth date, long before we were born?  Staggering questions, but there is a larger picture here.  It also says there is a time to die?  Does God determine that, too?  If we believe the beginning of our lives was under his direction, can we say the same about when our lives end?  More questions to ponder and search for answers.

The section of this scripture I want to focus on this weekend is the last line of verse 7,

"a time to be silent and a time to speak,"

This line about a time to be silent and a time to speak, often comes back to us when we say something and wish we hadn't said it.  We wish we could take the words back.  We realize there was a time when we should have been silent, and we were not.      

And how many of us remain silent and kick ourselves later for not speaking up?  These wise words from Ecclesiastes can cause us to look at our own lives and see some applications.  So again I encourage you, read each line and see if there is something God wants to bring to your heart.  There is truth here we all need.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

A message from the jail cell...

The letter of Paul to the Philippian church has been accurately called the epistle of joy. While Paul was in a Roman prison cell, the delivered messages from his friends at Philippi were sources of great joy as he remembered their faith and dedication to God. He wrote this letter of Philippians to those same folks, to let them know the happiness and joy he experienced when he learned of their work and the testimony of their lives.

In the third chapter of Philippians, Paul gives a discourse on what it means to really belong to Jesus, even citing some of his own personal history, which he thought at the time to be truthful and an accurate assessment of the things God was expecting of him. He called himself a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, Paul was always zealous for persecuting Christians and the church; and as for knowing and living the absolute truth, he claimed to be faultless.

Now Paul is saying that all of those accomplishments are nothing but rubbish, because the real substance of attaining righteousness is not of himself, but only through Jesus. Many changes had been made in Paul's life since his encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. He now knows that the sense of righteousness based on his own accomplishments isn't righteousness at all. Only that which comes from God through faith in Christ is the righteousness that saves.  That is what led Paul to proclaim in Philippians 3: 10-11, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Paul readily admitted that he had not yet achieved those things, nor did he consider himself perfect. He confesses that he is striving to press on and take hold of that for which Christ Jesus had taken hold of him. Then notice verses 13 and 14, "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

There is some good advice for the Philippians in Paul's statement following those words, "But one thing I do:"  Read them yourself because it's pretty good advice for you and me, too. 

Forgetting what is behind..... That means if you have accomplished great things, forget them. Your accomplishments cannot save you. If you have been successful in business, or education, or parenting, or generosity, or even ministry, those things are in the past! Forget what is behind you. Remember, we are pressing on.

Straining toward what is ahead.... What is ahead for us?  It's really a dedication to making the right decision to press on toward the goal; to win the prize in which God calls us toward heaven. Paul was saying this, not only for his benefit, but also for all Christians of all generations. Our main objective is to love and honor and praise God, because he is calling us heavenward. All else is futile, all else is rubbish.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"You have not followed my decrees" --God

Any reader of scripture will catch on quickly to a recurring problem between God and his people. God is faithful and just throughout all times, yet his people have the tendency to forget God and go after idols. Their sin is called idolatry and it meets with God's judgment over and over again. The idols might be in the form of a golden calf or a false God, but God has decreed the He alone is God.

In the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, there is an abundance of seemingly strange language of visions, being "lifted up by the Spirit," and events that are difficult to understand.  A lot of this is happening during a time when God's chosen people are openly devoted to idolatry.  The Bible chapter of Ezekiel 11 carries a topical title in my Bible that says, "God's Sure Judgment on Jerusalem."  The people which God had chosen as his own, were allowing other things to come between them and God.

The first part of Ezekiel 11 paints a dismal picture.  God is extending his judgment on them by driving them out of the city. Further, battles will be brought against them and they will be delivered into the hands of foreigners.  The sad summation of God's judgment is seen in Ezekiel 11:11-12:

"I will execute judgment on you at the borders of Israel.  And you will know that I am the Lord, for you have not followed my decrees or kept my laws but have conformed to the standards of the nations around you.”

Even in our lives today, God sees and knows when we place other things before him.  Just as his heart was saddened with those mentioned in Ezekiel 11, he is saddened today when we allow our lives to be motivated by worldly things rather than God's goodness and love. Or sometimes, perhaps we want to have the world AND the things of God. But we know better than that. We cannot serve God and the world's riches.

I'm glad this isn't the end of the story. Ezekiel 11 continues under the topical title of the second half of the chapter, "The Promise of Israel's Return."  God promises to gather his people from the nations and bring them back to the land of Israel again.  He says they will return to Israel and remove all its vile images and detestable idols.  Look at verses 19 and 20:

"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God."

That's what God wants with us, too. To give us an undivided heart and a new spirit.  You see, the heart that is divided between God and anything else, is an idolatrous heart.  The problem for Israel and for us, is heart trouble, but God is a fantastic spiritual cardiologist.  When we turn to him in love and trust and obedience, he blesses us with a new heart and leads us back to him. 


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It takes faith...

One of my Christmas presents was a book written by several from the Duck Dynasty family, centering around some of the parables of Jesus.  The book is called FAITH  COMMANDER, and comes with a DVD and study notes, making it an excellent resource for group study.

Probably, the number one parable Jesus spoke, and one of the easiest to read and understand, is the parable of the sower.  We know the story, how the seed was sown in four conditions of soil.  You can read the entire parable in Matthew 13:1-23.  There were seeds that were sown in soil that was packed hard, like the footpath around the property. Then Jesus mentioned the soil that was rocky, followed by the soil that already had weeds growing in it.  Then he talked about the soil that was good, containing no hardness, no rocks and no weeds.   It was from these descriptions Jesus began to make the application of truth for his audience.

The explanation of the parable begins with an understanding that the seed in this story is the Word of God.  And the four different soil conditions represent the conditions of the hearts of men who are receiving the word.

Do you think we have people today with hearts so hardened, the Word cannot establish itself in them? Are there those who will allow the Word to penetrate the surface of the heart, but live short-termed because those hearts are like rocky soil?  Are there those who receive the seed, the Word of God, whose lives have remained contaminated by the weeds of the world?  And have you personally met someone with a heart that is good and free from everything that would impede growth and maturity.

Learning who and what is at play in the parable, we can come to understand why Jesus would tell a story in this way.  He is actually trying to get each hearer in this multitude of people to see themselves.  That isn't always a fun thing to do.  And Jesus is calling on these people to examine their hearts, to take a look at the person they are....their motivations, their priorities, their wants, their attitudes......who they really are.

Jesus' audience that day had some people, no doubt, that could be identified by the hardened soil.  No matter what Jesus was teaching, their hard hearts would not accept it.  They were happy directing their own lives.  Also in that audience were those with shallow hearts.  They might receive the Word, but it was never alive for them.  These shallow lives would never allow the fullness of God to establish itself within them.  The third group, just didn't have room for Jesus and his ways.  Their lives were already occupied with other things and there was literally no room for the seed-Word of God to produce.

That fourth soil, good and pure and free of hindrances, brought an abundant crop and produced fruit. That's the heart that is prepared for and receptive of godly things, and yields itself to be directed by the Father.  The receiving heart is always open to God's presence and direction.

Jesus, in this parable is looking for faith from his hearers.  That takes a surrendered life, to cultivate a constantly growing faith, to bring about the hearts in which Jesus works.  Even if your faith is as small as a mustard seed, it can be powerful in the hands of Jesus.  Perhaps our constant prayer should be, "Lord, increase our faith."