Monday, November 30, 2015

Real Trust

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."  Proverbs 3:5

That Solomon was one smart man. The Proverbs are laced with gems of wisdom like the one above, and we would do well to make their applications to every aspect of our lives. They are exceptional for the new Christian  in determining right paths for the future. They are wonderful for individuals and families and businesses and governments and churches. 

If you have lived life for very long, you know there will be difficulties and obstacles which confront everyone.  Situations and problems will stare us in the face and we will think there are no solutions. Even with this kind of thinking, we still insist on trying to be smart enough and big enough to get ourselves out of every dilemma. The advice of Solomon, in one of the most often quoted verses from Proverbs, is to trust in the Lord with all of your heart. 

Recently we looked in the New Testament book, known as the Gospel of Luke, and saw the primary commands which lead to inheriting eternal life, are to love God and to love our neighbor. In the command to love God, we are told to love him with all of our heart.

I can think of no greater coupling of scripture than the one to love God (Luke 10), and the one to trust God (Proverbs 3).  If we could come to experience the love of God for us, and love Him as we are commanded, then place our complete trust in Him, we would be well on the way to face anything and everything that confronts us in life. 

The instruction from Solomon doesn't stop here. He continues by encouraging us to not lean on our own understanding. Can you see how this ties directly to the first part of the verse? The real reason we are to place our trust in the Lord, is because we cannot rely on our own understanding. Even the most intelligent among us, the most powerful, the most informed, the most experienced, still need to avoid a dependence on their own understanding. 

A lot of the teaching from Proverbs center around the subject of wisdom and making wise choices and decisions. Here in the verse we are considering today, the wise solution to life is to place our trust in the Lord and not in our own understanding. Solomon would have you to know it is God whom we can trust, and the wise servant will be so closely in relationship with God that you can count on Him to be with you.

I don't know if you are new in your spiritual journey, or have been a Christian for years, the advice from Solomon is helpful in every step you take, and in every aspect of every day in your life. Memorize the verse and depend on it for the strength you need. 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Blessings

I just looked at the calendar. Thanksgiving is upon us.. Where did this year go?  Everyone knows from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day is simply called "the holidays," and life is filled with demands and schedules and relatives and big meals and.....and.....and!

But there is an answer to this dilemma. It's found in the book of Philippians in the New Testament. Those who have read Philippians know and understand it is a letter about finding joy and happiness in Jesus Christ. While our busy lives often do not allow time for Bible reading or time for prayer, the apostle Paul tells the Philippian Christians and us, "it doesn't have to be this way."

One of the aspects of the Christian life is the concept of thanksgiving. It is to become a primary point of the Christian's existence, not just one Thursday in November, but every day and in all things.  That makes me happy that our celebration of Thanksgiving comes at this time of the year. It is a time when we are reflecting on things that are important. Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a time for families to get together and share a meal, watch some football, and have an overall good visit. It is also a time for us to really focus on thanking God for his goodness, his forgiveness, his provision, and above all, his love. 

Paul brings us to see some of these very things in Philippians 4: 4-7:
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Let's dissect this briefly.  1. Do not be anxious about anything.  We need to be reminded that God is in control and he continues to love us and provide for us. While we live in a world of troubles, the Christian can find remedy and relief from those things when his trust is in the Lord.   2. In everything, by prayer and petition...   God loves to hear from us. Not just in those moments when we pray as a last resort, but in every aspect of our lives. Prayer is one of the most powerful "tools" available to the child of God. He is always ready and willing to hear when we pray, and according to his will, answers will come.  3. With thanksgiving.....  Never, never fail in thanking God for all he has done. Every prayer we pray should include words of thanksgiving. Even when we pray in despair we can thank God for hearing our prayer.  4. Present your requests to God.  Not only is our prayer time based on thanksgiving, God is expecting us to ask him for the things we need. It is not a "blank check" for us to get everything we want, it is a petition to God for actual needs. This includes needs for our home life, our church life, our work, our school, our neighbor......the list is endless. I repeat, God loves to hear from us. 

Read the last verse in the printed scripture above.  Read it again.  That is God's promise to you. Claim it and live in it. You see, he offers his peace to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Life may still close in on us, but God keeps us close to him. This year, I am thankful that God is guarding my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Working Together

 There is a seminar story which has made the rounds on several of the social media websites, and maybe you saw the pictures, but did you read the story?

The seminar host gave each of the attendees a balloon and instructed them to write their name on their balloon, then the balloon was placed in the glass enclosed room.

Everyone was sent into the room to find their balloon, and they were given five minutes.  As the crowd of people rushed into the room of balloons, they were bumping into each other, running over others in the room, resulting in lots of pushing and shoving as each one searched for his own balloon. 

It is probably no surprise to you to know that the five minutes expired and not a single person was able to locate a balloon with their name on it.  Then everyone was directed to exit the room, leaving all the balloons behind. 

New instructions were given and reentry to the room began again, this time, they were instructed to pick any balloon and find the person whose name was on the balloon they were holding. I can imagine there was still quite a bit of chaos involved, but amazingly, within 15 minutes, everyone was holding his own balloon.  

We Christians have known for a long time there is greater success when we work together.  Numerous are the stories of failure when someone attempts to accomplish God's work all by themselves. This happens a lot in the lives of a lot of our church leaders who begin their work with the idea they can accomplish more when they work alone.  The responsibilities of those leaders soon become greater than they imagined, and soon, projects and deadlines are neglected. 

I say all of that to echo the seminar leader from the story above.  Greater things are accomplished when we work together!  Let me insert here there is personal responsibility and accountability in seeking your relationship with God and knowing his Son's death brings your eternal salvation.  But in the church, as we can see in the examples of the Book of Acts, the greatest success comes when we lean on each other. Utilizing our individual spiritual gifts for the benefit of the entire body of Christ, brings benefit to all of us. 

I try to tell you from time to time how much we need God.  Most of us recognize how disastrous life is when we attempt to go it alone, without God.  You and I both need to keep the relationship between us and God in good shape with lots of prayer and listening and activity. 

Today, I want you to think with me of how much we need each other.  We are not on a solo flight through life.  Perhaps your talents and abilities will be the very things that inspire me to greater levels of faithfulness.  I'm saying, give it a try, and be amazed at how much we can accomplish for God, through our right relationships with each other.  God bless.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Reminding you of the Gospel

1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Today I wish to join with Paul, in reminding you who you are in Christ Jesus, all because of the good news he brings.  Paul gives four progressive points as the basis for reminding us of the gospel. He says:

1. "I preached the gospel to you."
2. "You received it."
3. "You have taken your stand on it."
4. "By it you are saved."

The preaching of the gospel was, in Paul's words, of "first importance."  Throughout his writings it becomes more and more apparent the gospel was Paul's number one priority. The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Far too often we become absorbed in various programs of church work, budget meetings, workshops, Bible class schedules, etc. that we lose sight of our primary purpose of taking the gospel to others.  We may accomplish great things for the church, raising funds, building  buildings, increasing the number of names on the roll, and even more. But unless our priorities are centered around the gospel message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, we are missing divine priorities. 

The problem we deal with is sin. The solution to erasing the misery, guilt, and penalty of sin, is the blood of Jesus who died on the cross, paying our sin-debt. The success of prioritizing the gospel can come only when we each realize that Jesus has paid our debt for us.  The song writers put it in this way:
I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray, Find in Me thine all in all.”
Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Raised with Christ

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."  Colossians 3:1-4

Paul is writing to the Colossian church, instructing them about the new direction of their lives. There are things all of us can learn from the first half of this chapter, and most of it is given to remind us when we become followers of Jesus, there should be a remarkable change in the way we live. 

Contrasts are given in numerous Bible passages showing this truth, but the one here happens to contrast our hearts and minds, no longer being motivated by earthly things, but rather by things above.  In your conversion experience, you identified with Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection, and as Paul describes it to the Romans, the old you died, and you became a new person. We need to be thinking, planning, and preparing for massive changes which will involve our glorious appearance with Jesus when he returns. 

Paul continues to remind us of contrasts and more changes in the verses which follow those printed above.  We will do well to read and study those, taking heed to keep focused on things above, on the heavenly home that awaits. 

An important change in the Christian's life involves "putting to death" everything that belongs to your earthly nature.  Paul runs the list by us, including immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed. He says simply, "Get rid of it."  It has no place in your life now, and certainly has no place in the life anticipating heavenly citizenship. 

That list includes some mighty severe sins. It's easy for us to see why Paul would stress the need for us to keep our lives free from those.  But he then hits us with another list, most of which we have a tendency to classify as less severs sins. Check this list: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Remember we are contrasting earthly things with heavenly things, and have been encouraged by Paul to put to death those things that are not heavenly. He reminds the Colossians they are not the same persons they were before coming to Jesus. Their old self is gone, and the new self needs to manifest itself "in knowledge in the image of its Creator."  We are being changed into his likeness and as we become more and more like Jesus, we no longer allow earthly things to control us. That's when we start taking on the very image of the Son of God.

The next verses add the icing....... " 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Highest Goal is Love

Not long ago our study centered around the reading and application of 1 Corinthians 13, aptly called "The Love Chapter" of the Bible. I issued the challenge for you to read the short chapter from your favorite translation and from several other translations and see how God would speak to you about your life of loving God and loving others. 

Today I wish to call to you attention the first three verses of that chapter and let you see how vital love is to the Christian life.  Here are the verses again from the New Living Translation.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;  but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Here are some things to think about.  If you and I could speak all languages of this world and even the language of the angels, we would be nothing if we didn't have love.  If we possessed the gift of prophecy, understanding all of God's secrets and knowledge, we would be nothing if we did not possess love.  If we had the faith that was strong enough to move mountains, we would still be nothing if we didn't love others.  And even if we gave everything to the poor and even sacrificed for them physically, we would be nothing if we didn't love them. 

Let's bundle them all together and see we can come up with some successful way to rise above "being nothing."  Think with me here. Do you know anyone that can speak all those languages, and has the gift of prophecy, and has mountain-moving faith, and gives everything they have to the poor, even at the expense of their own bodies?  I can't think of anyone that has all those qualities but perhaps you know someone that does.  Wouldn't that be a blessing to the church and to the work of God in the world today to have all those attributes rolled into a single life? 

If God had someone like that on his side, Satan would surely be defeated daily!  Faith would be demonstrated constantly. The knowledge of God could be shared abundantly. The poor would no longer suffer.  Such a gifted and talented person would be a boost to any church or community. 

But wait. God says something different from our assessment. God says the person that possesses all those qualities is nothing and gains nothing if they don't love others. Correct me if I am wrong, but the picture I get here is God telling me, before I say anything, believe anything, or do anything for him, I need to be loving toward others. All my efforts are nothing, if I don't have love.

Surprising as it may seem, the very next verse in the Bible, after "The Love Chapter," is , "Let love be your highest goal."  Those are good words to apply.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

He makes me strong

Life conditions us to be as strong as we can be.  This is obvious in our physical bodies as we grow and develop to maturity.  The competitive nature of athletic events brings about stronger bodies, better conditioned  to perform athletic skills.  We aren't accustomed to seeing very many 5-ft. tall basketball players in the NBA.  Likewise we won't see a 100 pound running back for the Green Bay Packers.   We expect the athletes to be strong and conditioned, and that is the only way they can be winners. 

We who are in the church of the Lord also develop this mentality when it comes to growing into "stronger Christians."  This is seen in our churches when we seek a stronger prayer-life, a more intense evangelistic outreach, or a more devoted approach to keeping our Bible reading schedules.  Even in spiritual matters we strive to be conditioned and strong to face our tasks. 

With the idea of strength and always growing stronger for God, comes some scriptural references that will cause us to stop and think. 

Philippians 3:4-6 - "though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless." (That's quite a spiritual resume!)

Yet Paul, in his ministry of evangelistic travels, was reminded of his weaknesses when he confesses in Romans 7: 14-15   "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." (Such a different story.)

The grand old Apostle, claiming his spiritual accomplishments in one place, yet recognizing his sinfulness in another place.  His writings also reveal his own descriptions of himself as "the least of the saints," or "a prisoner of the law of sin."

If any of that sounds like your attempts at being more spiritual or a stronger Christian, look to Paul who learned one more lesson.  2 Corinthians 12:9-11  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Try as hard as you may, to become stronger and stronger.  You will learn, like Paul, you will only become strong when you realize how weak you are.  Then we are able to understand demonstrating the Christian's faithfulness is not dependent on how strong we are, but that our dependence is in our strong God. 

Our self-sufficiency in spiritual matters needs to be destroyed and replaced with a faith in God that proves we are  the strongest, in our weakness. And so we sing, "I am weak but thou art strong...."


Monday, November 16, 2015

Jesus and His Ministry

When Jesus began his earthly ministry, he was in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.  He unrolled a scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read the prophecy which Isaiah had written.  It's found in Luke 4 in our New Testament.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I want you to especially note as Jesus described his ministry on earth, he placed emphasis on the Spirit of the Lord, saying, "he is on me," and "he has anointed me."  From that point, Jesus continued reading and in so doing, laid out the divine plans for his ministry.  Note these specific traits of his work on earth:

1.  He would proclaim good news to the poor.
2.  He is sent to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.
3.  He further proclaims the recovery of sight for the blind.
4.  He will set the oppressed free.
5.  He will proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. 

I can imagine the looks on the faces of the scholars in the crowd when Jesus read those words.  That look was nothing compared to the look they must have had when he rolled up the scroll while saying, "Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Jesus was going to live a busy life if he accomplished all that was prophesied.  Those who are familiar with the gospel story of his life, will immediately remember the miracles he performed, even giving sight to the blind.  He also came with the message of freedom from those in the bondage of demons, and the hope for those whose lives were oppressed.  Of all the things he did and said, perhaps the hardest for even his followers to understand, was when he said his Kingdom was not of this world. 

I want us to focus on his mission as given by Isaiah, and repeated by Jesus himself.  Yes, the events of his torture are just days away, but his time among us has been centered on his love for us, and that will continue.  I have never been physically blind, but I know Jesus opened the eyes of my spiritual being to his truth for living.  I have not lived through oppression from anyone, but Jesus set me free from the oppression of Satan's grasp.  I haven't been imprisoned but I know he broke the chains of bondage that had us all tied to lives of sin, and he brought us freedom.  You see, when his ministry's prophecy was fulfilled, it was fulfilled in each one of us!

That's why, through our tears we watch the Son of God tortured, hated, mocked, and ultimately executed, and we know he is taking our place in a death that had our name written all over it.  Because of his love, his sacrifice, and his resurrection, he gives us the freedom and deliverance we could not give ourselves.  

So those were his words, in describing his ministry.  From the cross, one of the sayings of Jesus was the simple statement, "It is finished."  He had accomplished everything he came to do.  He continues that accomplishment daily in the hearts and lives of those who love him. Be continually mindful of what his death, burial and resurrection means for you. 


Friday, November 13, 2015

It is by grace......

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!    Romans 7:21-25

Here is your chance to identify with one of the heroes of the Bible.  The great Apostle Paul, confessing he has a problem doing what is right.   Did you catch that in the verses above?  "I want to do good."  I think that describes most of us, too.  We want to be good people doing good things.  Paul didn't end there, and added, "evil is right there with me."  Here is where most of us make the identification with Paul.   He even asks for rescue from that situation,  then praises God, his deliverer through Jesus Christ. 

In the cross of Jesus, we find deliverance from the law of sin at work in us.  We all know through the events of the cross, Jesus paid the sin-debt for us when he died in our place.  We further know his victory of death and the grave becomes our victory.  But what about this battle that rages inside us?  We want to do good, but recognize the evil is right there with us.  Let's look at more of Paul's letters. 

Ephesians 2: 8-10  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Our salvation is a gift from God.  It is not something we can earn or boast of receiving on the basis of all the good we have done.  Paul says we are his handiwork, created in Jesus to do good works which God prepared for us to do. 

I normally do not associate the cross of Jesus with the subject of doing good works, but there is a biblical connection.  The gift of God's son, bringing about our salvation, is not based on our good works, rather we do good works because of who we are in Jesus Christ because of his cross.  Then look at this verse which speaks of Jesus.

Titus 2:14  Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Folks, the events of the cross where Jesus gave himself to redeem us,  is the Son of God preparing for himself a people of his own, who are eager to do good works.   Yes, the cross is where Jesus died for you and me, and the cross is where we base our forgiveness from sin.  Maybe we have overlooked the truth that the cross also accomplishes the emergence of a people who are eager to be involved in good works.  God's grace and love show through us, doing his work.