Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Heart is Set

Psalm 119:105-112
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light for my path.
106 I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
    that I will follow your righteous laws.
107 I have suffered much;
    preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word.
108 Accept, O Lord, the willing praise of my mouth,
    and teach me your laws.
109 Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
    I will not forget your law.
110 The wicked have set a snare for me,
    but I have not strayed from your precepts.
111 Your statutes are my heritage forever;
    they are the joy of my heart.
112 My heart is set on keeping your decrees
    to the very end.

Reading the entire Psalm 119 is a lengthy read, but filled with word pictures of the psalmist's relationship to God. I've selected this section in order for us to see how close we should be to God and his ways.  As you read and meditate on the above verses, see if these are declarations you have made in your walk with God. Some are easy for us to say and believe, others may be more difficult.

Can we all say to God, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path?"  Of course we can. That one is easy to say and it sounds so biblical for us to have such a respect for the word of the Lord. 

The next verse considers the taking of an oath and confirming it. It is actually a promise to God of the determination and pledge that we are going to make God's way our way.  That one is easy to say, but sometimes a difficult promise to keep. 

I like verse 108, "Accept, O Lord, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws."  We all want God to accept our praise and our worship, but sometimes we are more concerned about how well it pleases us. 

Check over all these statements of declaration as we examine ourselves to see how closely we are believing and declaring them as truth for us.  Look again at the words of the psalmist, "My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end."


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Forgiving Others

Matthew 6:14-15
"14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Sound familiar?  It should.  Those two verses come from the Sermon on the Mount and are the words of Jesus immediately after the Lord's Prayer.  And remember, it is in the Lord's Prayer, where Jesus said, "This is how you should pray,"  and it includes the part where we are taught to pray for God's forgiveness in the same way we forgive one another.

What prohibits us from having this type of forgiveness toward others when we pray?  We who are so ready for God to forgive us, so ready to experience the freedom of his forgiveness, cannot come to grips with God's insistence for us to be forgiving toward others.  God says we either forgive those who sin against us, or he will not forgive our sins.

The remedy for this dilemma lies in the depth of our understanding of the love of God.  God must really love us because he keeps on forgiving us.  That should lead us into another truth.  The reason we have difficulty in forgiving those who sin against us is because we have not learned to love them.

We love our families, some of our neighbors, we love sports, we love cars, we love golf, we love fishing, we love God.  When it comes to someone sinning against us, we want justice.  They have acted in a way that does not deserve forgiveness.  They may try to make things right, but we have the tendency to hold their sin over their heads from now on. 

If you remember nothing else today, remember God forgives you, and in every sin you commit, you do not deserve his forgiveness.  He forgives you because he loves you.  You can only experience God's forgiveness when you are forgiving toward those who wrong you.

Draw close to God as you need and seek his forgiveness, but draw closer to each other as you are forgiving toward them. 


Friday, September 25, 2015

His face is hidden....

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,
    nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated
    you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
    so that he will not hear. 
Isaiah 59:1-2

There probably aren't any words in scripture which contain more sadness than these. Isaiah is among those prophets who gave the messages of doom and gloom because of the unfaithfulness of Israel. In these opening verses of Isaiah 59, several facts are established. 1. God has not lost his power to save, nor has he closed his ears to the prayers of his people. 2. People are separated from God because of sin. 3.  Sin hides his face from us so that he will not hear. 

If you want to really get depressed, keep reading about the situation of Israel.  Not only were they content in their sins, it seems as if there was no concern on the part of anyone that their present condition was leading to disaster. 

We are looking at intercessory prayer, the prayers we pray on behalf of others. Would you pray for a people like these?  When you pray, do you specifically mention those whose lives are separated from God?  For the people in Isaiah 59, it was the repetition of lifestyle they had grown accustomed to, the lifestyle of sin, confession, and redemption. Over and over again.

I mentioned these were among the saddest verses in scripture, but there is one observation that tops all the others when it comes to sadness. Verses 15-16, "Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene."

Did you catch that? No doubt God was displeased because of the absence of truth. There is no question that God was upset because there was no justice. The Bible says God was appalled that no one was interceding.
In an age where we are quick to judge others, speedy to spread the news of failure, and insistent on not making room for a second chance, I am wondering if God is asking his people, "Why haven't you prayed for them?  Why haven't they been the primary focus of your intercessory prayers?"

That gives us a new perspective on the importance of praying for each other. Surely there is a list of people you know who would appreciate you mentioning them to God when you pray. When the people of God talk to him on behalf of others, we are unleashing an unlimited source of power; the power to overcome, the power to forgive, and yes, the power to love as God loves us. 


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Help from the Lord...

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore. 
Psalm 121:1-8

I have some good news for you.  The government of your country is not your source.  The politicians in Washington, regardless of the party label they carry, are not the answer to our problems.  The bills and laws which are submitted to congress for approval or rejection, will never save you. 

I do not like to see all the turmoil our country is experiencing, and I certainly do not have all the answers, but I do know our God will never shut down his grace, his mercy, nor his love for us.  That is why the psalmist would write words which encourage us to our place our confidence and dependence on God, especially in times of trouble. 

Today I will pray, like every day, with full assurance God will hear and answer.
Today I will trust, like every day, in his direction for my life.
Today I will help, like every day, those who are hungry or hurting.
Today I will look, like every day, for opportunities to share my faith.
Today I will share, like every day, a kind word, a good deed, or a caring concern for someone who needs me.
Today I will be aware, like every day, of the presence of the Holy Spirit living in me, to lead, and direct me in right paths.
Today I will be thankful, like every day, to my Lord, Jesus, for giving his life to pay for my sins.

Things may be getting very serious for our country and its future. I will pray for America and her leaders to turn and seek the face of God as they lead us through these times.  

But, at all times, I yearn for all to know, " My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth."  


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

God Speaks.....Do We Listen?

Isaiah 51:1-3
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
 look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many.
 The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing."

Little Johnny informed his Bible class teacher that he had finally figured out the Old Testament.  She wanted to hear more, especially since there was a lot of the Old Testament their class hadn't studied.  Johnny said, "Well, after the story of creation, and the story of the flood, and the story of the Ten Commandments, the Old Testament is just a book about people disobeying God, and God sending someone to tell them they need to stop that.  It happens over and over and over."

Johnny may be onto something there. People who are blessed by God and become the chosen of God, do seem to have difficulty trusting God and maintaining their allegiance to Him. The Bible reference above is evidence of Johnny's analysis. It comes at a time when the prophet Isaiah has been commissioned by God to bring Israel back to Him.  Notice God speaking through Isaiah as chapter 51 begins, "Listen to me."  In this case, God was calling on them to remember their heritage, remember from whence you came.  That is a great step we take in our life's return to God also.  The memory in the mind of man is a strong force. We may hear it called conscience but it can simply be a time of remembering our roots and the spiritual formation from days gone by. 

God spoke again through Isaiah just a few verses later, and repeated the urgency by saying, "Listen to me."  In this instance God reminded Israel that His law would be proclaimed, and His justice would become a light to the people.  He wanted them to know that through His mercy and justice, their salvation was coming soon. 

Then God spoke again in the same chapter of Isaiah.  You guessed it, he started with "Listen to me," and this time he addresses those people who know right from wrong and have a love in their hearts for God's law. He further assures them His righteousness will endure forever and His salvation will spread from generation to generation. 

We, too, find ourselves on that roller-coaster of disobedience, and seeking forgiveness. We experience the ups and downs in our relationship with God. His message to us is the same as the one he gave through Isaiah,  "Listen to me."  Remembering our heritage, remembering God's decrees, and remembering His righteousness is forever, brings us to our knees in our search for Him. 


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

By their fruit...

Matthew 7:15-20
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them."

Jesus is nearing the end of his Sermon on the Mount. He has taught about everything imaginable, from being salt and light, to prayer and fasting. Some of the Bible's richest teaching come from this sermon in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.  Here in our verses for today, Jesus warns us about those who may come among us looking as harmless as sheep, but in reality they are dangerous as wolves. 

On the surface of this subject matter, we might have a problem with Jesus and his insistence that we judge the authenticity of those who teach us. After all, Matthew 7 begins with the stern warning that we not be judgmental toward others .  Jesus used the illustration of the speck in the eye of someone else, and we condemn them without noticing the log that is in our own eye. While the visual of that is somewhat humorous, Jesus wasn't teasing when he said we have no business judging what we call a little sin in others, while we still harbor big sins in our own life. We are treading on dangerous ground if we set ourselves up to determine who is a sinner, when we ourselves are sinners.  

Now, toward the end of chapter 7, we are told to watch out for false prophets, or those who come across as sheep but in reality are ferocious wolves.  That's going to be difficult for us to do without judging them, and Jesus doesn't want us judging others. 

In verse 16 of our text, Jesus says, "By their fruit you will recognize them."  That is the key phrase, and it is repeated again in verse 20. This is the important difference between being judgmental and discerning those who are genuine. Look at the spiritual fruit they produce. 

Jesus then asks the question, "Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?" Everyone already knows the answer. Grapes come from a grapevine, and figs come from a fig tree.  Jesus simplifies it even more by explaining a good tree will produce good fruit, and a bad tree will produce bad fruit.  He is drilling home the point that we can determine character and spiritual direction just by looking at the spiritual fruit a person produces. 

Years later, Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,"  Galatians 5:22 .

The way I see it, determining someone's motives, character, and direction can actually be accomplished by looking at the fruit produced. The added benefit is this:  It helps us also to be less judgmental of specks in our brother's eye, and it just might help us get rid of the log in ours. 


Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Art of Listening

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone, only to get the feeling they weren't really listening? Oh they might be able to repeat almost every word you said, but it was obvious they were not actually taking in the thoughts you were trying to express.   That is usually the type of person who prefers doing most of the talking and expressing his ideas and opinions at the exclusion of yours. There might be some label to put on someone like that, but usually the root of the problem is the person is too full of himself. 

I suppose it goes along with the job, but many preachers and teachers of the Word fall into that category, some to a greater degree than others. It is not surprising that there are classes taught in most seminaries on the art of listening.  While the person holding the position of doing most of the teaching to a church is energetic and enthusiastic about sharing the message, there is also a great need for the pulpit professionals to know how to listen to the people they teach. 

In conversations with our coworkers, our children, our spouse, our friends and even our neighbors, we need to cultivate the art of being a good listener.  We miss out on many close relationships that would be a benefit to the church and to us as individuals when we fail to listen. 

The Word of God, the Bible, is the primary means of God speaking to us and making his will known. The book of Hebrews opens with these words, "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe."

Luke's gospel gives the story of the events on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus took Peter, James and John with him up on the mountain. While they were there, the appearance of Jesus changed, and his clothing became as bright as lightning. Also appearing with Jesus were Moses and Elijah.  Immediately Peter blurted out, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” A cloud appeared over the mountain, and then a voice from the cloud spoke, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”  When the voice had stopped, Jesus was the only one remaining there with Peter, James and John. Lots of lessons and messages can come from that event but the basic one we need to understand is that God is placing his stamp of approval on Jesus by saying, "He is the one you need to listen to!"

Earlier, we talked of the frustration of trying to talk to people who hear us, but do not listen.  Now we find the same problem can happen and result in hearing but not listening to God's word.  If you think it's frustrating to you, can you imagine how we make God feel when he is attempting share with us the words of life? 

 What is God trying to say to you right now?  Could it be a verse or a command that you have read or heard hundreds of times, but really never listened?  Staying close to the word will bring new horizons to your relationship with the Father. 


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pick Your Day

Neil Clark Warren is the author of a book called God Said It, Don't Sweat It.  I have enjoyed reading his brief essays on life and the scriptures, and have zeroed in on one in particular I want to tell you about. He begins by giving a group of five events that we can be involved in for a day, then asks which one we would pick.  You might be thinking of your favorite as you read the list. 

1. You can sit at home and watch your favorite baseball team play against their number one rival, and the game will determine which team goes to the World Series. 

2.  You can work at your job, and you will be paid triple-time. You stand to make an enormous amount of money in one day. 

3.  You can take a long walk in a beautiful park with the love of your life and talk about things that evoke romantic thoughts within you. 

4. You can read a great book and be whisked off to a life in distant times in a faraway land, and the story will fill you with excitement and adventure. 

5.  You can travel to a nearby town and walk with a crowd of people who are listening to a man tell stories. The man's name is Jesus. He is a carpenter from a local community, and He has an incredible way of zeroing in on the great questions of life. 

There's your list. Be truthful and honest, which one would you pick for your day? Number one looks appealing to me.  I'm a Texas Ranger fan and they are doing well this year and stand a chance to go all the way to the World Series.   I am tempted to pick that one.  Number 2 is also a good choice. If I could work for triple pay, that extra money would sure come in handy. 

You get the picture.  All of these are descriptions of an appealing day. Coming from different backgrounds and life situations, we could probably lean toward any of those descriptions and call it a good day. Because of our being on this page and reading the devotional blog, you already know I am going to suggest Number 5 is the most appealing.  No doubt some will argue that Number 5 might be the best for us, but we still do not want to miss that baseball game, or making all that money, or even being with the one we love. 

In the book, Mr. Warren picked Number 5 and gave his reason in these words "My excitement is centered on trying to get to know the carpenter from Nazareth. I want to get to know Him as well as I can, spend as much time with Him as possible, listen to every word He says, watch Him under every condition, and try my best to make my own life like His."

I'm glad we have baseball in our world; and books, and jobs, and a special someone. All of those are important. But I am more excited about having Jesus in my heart, to know him, experience him, share him, and anxiously await his return. The Bible calls that our "priceless gain."


Monday, September 14, 2015

Life Builds Your Heritage

Have you ever heard of a man named Epaphras?   Yes, he is in the Bible and only mentioned in Paul's letter to the Colossians and the little one-chapter letter to Philemon. Four verses of the entire New Testament tell us all we can learn about Epaphras. 

Paul wrote both of those letters while in was imprisoned in Rome and according to his mention in the letter to Philemon, Epaphras was a fellow prisoner. We also know that even though he is now in prison with Paul, he was actually from Colosse. 

From just several verses in the Bible that mention Epaphras, there is an abundance we can learn from his example.

1.  He had preached the gospel to the Colossian residents.  His teaching had delivered the Good News about Jesus in that city, and obviously had succeeded in bringing many to Christ. In Colossians 1:7-8, "He is Christ's faithful servant...... He told us  about the great love for others the Holy Spirit has given you."

2. He was faithful to the truth.  Having already been described as Christ's faithful servant, Paul wanted the Colossian Christians to understand how Epaphras had been faithful to the message of truth he delivered to them. 

3. He remembered his roots.  From the Roman prison Paul is writing a letter to the church in Colosse, and his fellow prisoner Epaphras, is mentioned by Paul in a salute to the residents of his home town.  We all know how encouraging it can be to receive greetings and good wishes from someone we haven't seen in a while, and Epaphras was just such an encourager to his brethren.

4. Epaphras was a man of prayer.  In the NIV, the verse in Colossians 4:12 mentions that Epaphras "wrestles in prayer for those in Colosse, that they will stand firm in the Lord."
5. He was a man of zeal.  We might describe him in today's terminology as being "on fire for the Lord." This is further evidenced as Paul tells the Colossian Christians of the encouragement they receive from Epaphras, and also those in the church  in Laodicea and Hierapolis. 

Just a few  verses in the New Testament about the life of a man who was truly devoted to his God, and truly devoted to the people whose lives he touched.  I confess to you I have read his name in these verses before, but today I see a great example for all believers to follow. Epaphras is to us a picture of faithful devotion to the Lord, and a picture of the love we should have toward each other.

If our journey through life seems insignificant, we need to steer ourselves in the direction of the brethren like Epaphras. I could only hope that I would be remembered as a faithful servant of Christ, that I was a man of fervent prayer, a man of zeal, remembering fellow Christians in love, and remaining faithful to the gospel.