Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Here's the plan....

24 The Lord Almighty has sworn,
“Surely, as I have planned, so it will be,
    and as I have purposed, so it will happen.
25 I will crush the Assyrian in my land;

    on my mountains I will trample him down.
His yoke will be taken from my people,
    and his burden removed from their shoulders.”
26 This is the plan determined for the whole world;
    this is the hand stretched out over all nations.
27 For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?

    His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?                      
Isaiah 14:24-27

It's been a lot of years since Frank Peretti  brought us his first book, "This Present Darkness."  I was probably among the last to read it when it came out, mainly because it was fiction, and I had the erroneous idea that fiction wasn't the place to look for spiritual truth.  I must confess now, in the Christian fiction I have read, those authors have a way of telling their stories while inserting lots of biblical teaching. 

When I started reading the Peretti book, I had a hard time getting through the first few chapters, but after that, I couldn't put it down. The book deals with the war of spiritual entities, God vs. Satan, good vs. evil, right vs. wrong.  I thought I had a fairly good concept of the workings of Satan, his craftiness and his lies.  The story Peretti told opened my eyes to even more happenings in the world and in my own life, that could be attributed to spiritual darkness.  Before I finished the book I had already confessed to myself that the author seems to have lived in my house, walked in my shoes, and experienced many of the same frustrations I was experiencing. 

I'm very familiar with the suggestion that we read the end of the book, and not only does God win, we win, too.  But the fact still remains as long as we are in this life, we as Christians deal with the forces of Satan's darkness. It seems to be ever present around us, and sometimes in us. 

In the verses above, God's people are in bondage and captivity by the Babylonians.  God, through Isaiah is outlining the event of their release.  Inside the plan God reveals something about his nature that you and I need to know and understand in our battle with darkness. The plan is God ordained, with God's determination, to show his power and his love for his people. Read verses 26 and 27 again....out loud. The biblical truth is powerfully given.  All the forces of darkness cannot stop what God has ordained.
That truth is for nations, and for struggling people like you and me. We may experience some of "this present darkness," but our God is greater and more powerful than anything Satan throws our way.  Folks, that's the confidence we need in our lives. 


Monday, November 28, 2016

Talking and Listening

Mom and Dad were working down in the basement. Their daughter was taking a nap on the couch, only a few steps from the basement stairs.  Work in the basement had been put off for some time and now the little girl's parents were doing some much needed cleaning and arranging of stored boxes.

So begins a story I read recently.  Some might criticize the parents of the 5 year-old girl for leaving her unattended, but that was not the case.  They made frequent trips up the steps to check on their sleeping daughter. If she needed them, they were mere seconds away. 

As the work progressed, the mother heard her daughter stirring and waking from her nap as the girl realized her parents were nowhere to be found.  She let out a loud plea for "Mommy!"  When the mother tried to answer, her voice was covered by the immediate second call from the daughter, a louder cry of "Mommy...Daddy!"  Now both parents were responding with calls out to the little girl and both were ascending up the stairs to assure their daughter everything was all right.  Then this father realized what was happening.  The girl was crying out to them and they were answering her cries at the same time.  By now the daughter was screaming for the parents and the parents were screaming for the the same time.  No real communication could happen as all parties were becoming increasingly vocal and each could not hear the other because they were now yelling for each other at the same time. The story has as good ending because the parents emerged from the  basement stairs and the young daughter could see them and immediately know she was safe.

I can see how a story like this could play out in lots of families.  In this part of the story I can also imagine how real the fear would be for the young child. Similar incidents may have happened with you and your children.  The story is also a message and a learning experience for me.

This story made me wonder about my prayers to God when I cry out  to him because of some fear or problem.  In my anxious moments I continue to repeat my needs in prayer and suddenly feel God is working too slow for me.  Maybe, just maybe, I fail to see God's answer and solution because I do not pause a moment to listen for him. Am I the only one that has failed to see and hear God's solution because of my unwillingness to wait for his answer?  Am I doing all the talking and not doing any listening?  Do my loud and repeated requests drown out the answers and solutions God is already sending?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Solomon Prayed

1 Kings 8 tells the story of bringing the Ark of Covenant to the Temple. King Solomon had called for the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes, and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to make the move. The earlier verses of chapter 8 tell the story of the transition. Our study today will consider the prayer of Solomon after the arrival of the ark.  He had said a prayer of blessing and then he prayed for some specific things. Note the things of his prayer starting in verse 30:

Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

1.  If your people wrong their neighbor, let the issue be settled by you, God. You determine the guilt or innocence, bringing down the guilty and vindicating the innocent. 

2. When your people are defeated by an enemy because they have sinned, and when they repent and give you praise, hear them from heaven and forgive their sin and bring them back to their land. 

3. When the heavens produce no rain because your people have sinned, and they pray and turn back to you, hear them and forgive them.  Teach them what is right and send rains on their land. 

4. When  famine or plague comes or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when an enemy besieges them , whatever disaster or disease may come, and they pray, aware of the afflictions of their hearts, hear them from heaven and forgive so they will fear you all the time they live in their land. 

5. Even when a foreigner who is not of Israel hears your great name, and prays, hear them from your dwelling place and answer their prayer.

6. When your people go to war against their enemies, anywhere you send them, and when they pray to you, hear them from heaven and uphold their cause. 

7. When your people sin and are handed over to their enemies and taken captive, and then have a change of heart and repent and pray to you, hear their prayer and uphold their cause. Forgive your people of their offenses against you and cause their captors to show them mercy. 

8. May your eyes be open to your servant’s plea and to the plea of your people Israel, and may you listen to them whenever they cry out to you. For you singled them out from all the nations of the world to be your own inheritance, just as you declared through your servant Moses when you, Sovereign Lord, brought our ancestors out of Egypt.

I hope you noticed in each point, when people find themselves separated from God and his ways, it calls for a change of heart, and change in direction, and a renewed devotion. What was true for the prayer of Solomon is true for the believer today. God longs for restoration. He sacrificed the blood of his Son, so you could be made right with him. 


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Prayer Weekend

Make this a weekend of  prayer.  Talk to God.  Listen to God.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

God and the Cowboys

(Reprint from October 2014)

The weekend just past was one of the most exciting for football lovers like me.  People are still trying to absorb some of the greatest upsets in the history of college football.  For the first time in keeping records and statistics, five of the top ten teams in the nation were defeated.  It probably goes without saying, but those losing teams found themselves considerably lower in rankings for having a losing weekend. 
The pro games were just about as crazy as the college games.  My team, the Cowboys, won their fourth in a row for the first time in three seasons.  And yet, Dallas, with a home game, had fewer fans at the stadium than their opponents, for the third time this year. 

I started searching for the college rankings this morning.  Likewise, I scanned through all the NFL scores and the team standings in their respective divisions.  That was when I came across an article from FOX Sports, listing 10 things the Cowboys should do in order to make the playoffs.  I was expecting to be enlightened by secret maneuvers that would score more touchdowns, but it was a simple statement for the team to "stay healthy."  The other nine recommendations were just about as exciting as the first, but there is some irony in the "stay healthy" suggestion.  After all, two teams of eleven, all running at full speed and colliding with the opponent, while keeping your mind set on staying healthy???  I think not.

One other of the 10 suggestions was to have more fans at the game than your opponent, especially if you are the home team.  The only way I see that actually happening is for your team to sell more tickets than your opponent.  (I figured that one out all by myself.)

I couldn't help but think of the number of times I have read and even taught lists of recommendations on how to live the Christian life.  or how to face temptation.   or how to be a better parent.  or how to become a Christian leader.  You can scan through the Christian books in any bookstore and a large number of the books offered will be giving you a list of suggestions on how to be more successful in living.  

While I plead guilty to offering lists on a variety of Bible topics, the more I see lists I am leaning in the direction of getting away from their use.  I do need to clarify that I have seen some suggestions given in lists which were good and productive.  And, it can be argued that the Bible even gives lists on several topics. It's when we substitute our lists and neglect the teachings of Scripture, we lose the real answers. 

Some sports writer at Fox Sports is making the big bucks to start a list telling the Cowboys to stay healthy.  Today I'm letting you know, free of charge, your life needs to be wholly and totally committed to the ways of God who loves you enough to give his son to die in your place.  Call that a list of one thing if you wish, but that's the only hope for our troubled world. 


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

If you seek Him.....

From one of the blogs I read, I'm sharing a story from their weekend post:

An ancient tale from India describes a young man who was seeking God. He went to a wise old sage for help. "How can I find God?" he asked the old man. The old man took him to a nearby river where they waded into the deep water. Soon the water was up just under their chins. Suddenly the old man grabbed the young man by the neck and pushed him under the water, holding him down until he was flailing the water in desperation. Finally, the old man released him. The young seeker was coughing and gasping for air. Reaching the bank, he was furious! "What did that have to do with my finding God?" The old man asked him quietly, "While you were under the water what did you want more than anything else?" The young man thought for a moment and then answered, "I wanted air. I wanted air more than anything else!" The old man replied, "When you want God as much as you wanted air, you will find him." To pursue God means to long for Him with every fiber of our being. God promises to meet us in worship when we come seeking Him.

So what about us?  Are we that determined in our search for God?  When we desire to find and know and experience the God of the universe, will we want to find him like a drowning man wants to find air?  Will we want His presence  as much as we want the presence our favorite movie star, or sports celebrity, or TV idol.

Think with me for a moment about your search for God.  For some of us it cannot be described as a search because God has been with us from day one.  We had Bible story books from which we were read stories about all the important Bible characters.  Church attendance was an automatic thing on our weekly calendar, and we were there any time the doors were open.  It was like God was a constant guest in our house, present for every meal, with us as we worked, played, and even slept.

It didn't take too much of that for me to learn how it's sometimes possible for us to know ABOUT God without really knowing God.  That's when we experience life and it's perplexities and we find ourselves needing and looking for solutions.  So when I tell you about how regular God was mentioned and talked about in our house, I readily confess there came a time for me when I knew I needed to pursue God like the drowning man needed air.

Perhaps that is part of maturity.  But the truth is, until we find God and learn to experience his presence with us and in us, we will still be threshing in the water, needing air, and trying to save ourselves. 

1 Chronicles 28: 9 If you seek him, he will be found by you. (NKJV)


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Keys from Psalm 33

Some key statements from Psalm 33:

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.
For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars
    he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

From the first 9 verses, I picked several which are powerful for me. Here's mine:
1.  It is fitting for the upright to praise him.
2.  For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.
3. The earth is full of his unfailing love.

Read the rest of the chapter and pick out some which speak to your heart.

Monday, November 14, 2016

They were just kids......

A devotional pamphlet I was reading carried a brief story about a young man named Darrell Blizzard who had grown up in an orphanage. He was attending Penn State for his first semester of college. The year was 1942 and World War II was in full swing. All those who were recently out of high school and beginning college were keeping an eye on the war, especially on the draft. If they were drafted they would automatically go into the Army, and probably to combat positions on the front line. 

Darrell had always been interested in flying, and attempted to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Following several setbacks to get into training schools, he finally found himself a member of Air Corps, inducted in Pennsylvania, but attending Basic Training in Florida.  It was in North Carolina where he actually started some training in a Piper Cub, which was just a frame of an airplane, with canvas covered body and wings. 

His desire to become a bomber pilot sent him to training in Marfa, Texas and Hobbs, New Mexico, facilities which are no longer operating. While reflecting on the long hours of training and schooling, Darrell was quoted by a reporter that the largest thing he had driven was  a four-mule plow team, and now he was flying a four engine B-17 bomber. He was also quoted as saying, "We were all just a bunch of kids in combat regions, flying missions which could have tremendous impact on the outcome of the war."

I failed to mention when our story started, Darrell Blizzard was 17 years old. After all his training and schooling, he was 19 and about to turn 20, and carrying a huge responsibility in his task as a bomber pilot. He later became an airline pilot so we can understand how flying was his passion. 

Would we question someone that young and inexperienced to have such a responsibility?  Even in the church when a task is assigned to someone in their youth, we are reluctant and often uncomfortable giving responsibility to some because of their age.  We want them to have experience.....successful experience before we trust them with important duties. 

That devotional magazine I was reading mentioned several examples from the Bible which might make us think otherwise.  1 Samuel 2:18 says, "Samuel ministered before the Lord, even as a child." And remember the story of David when was told on several occasions that he was too young to be a soldier and fight against the Philistines. He was told he was not able to fight Goliath, because he was still a youth.  Another example is Mary. All indications have us thinking she was a very young woman when the announcement was made to her that she would give birth to the Son of God.  Then one more is the attitude of Paul as he told his young ministry student, Timothy, "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to all believers."

God places great value on every child of His, regardless of age, when they place their trust in Him. My challenge to you today is to spend some time praying for those who are young in their Christian walk, and then on Sunday at church, give them some words of encouragement and let them know how much you appreciate their example.


Friday, November 11, 2016

The Spirit of Humility

Most of the time when Jesus wanted to deliver one of his parables, the Scripture says quite simply, "And he taught them a parable, saying, ....."  We who read and study those parables know there is a story involved, followed by an explained or inferred application.  Sometimes the parables have some common sense applications and sometimes the application may not be easily determined. We might be like the disciples who asked the Lord on more than one occasion to explain it to them. 

There is one parable in particular, in which Jesus is very clear in describing the ones who need the teaching of the parable, and the application is very plain.  Look at his introduction to a parable recorded in Luke 18:9, "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:"  Now there is a parable that is directed to people who really need the teaching and the application.  The trouble is, many will fail to see themselves in the description Jesus gives.  Here is the rest of the parable. 

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I have to tell you, this Pharisee sounds like a pretty good guy. He doesn't steal, he isn't involved in doing evil. He is not an adulterer. And best of all, he isn't like the dreaded tax-collector.  He is faithful in fasting and tithing.  He even gives thanks to God that he isn't like all the bad people he has referenced. 

His real problem is in declaring his righteousness is based on how good he is. I know it won't be easy but he needs a lesson in humility from the other man who was praying, the mean old tax-collector.
In the prayer of the tax-collector, we see a man who knows he is in a pitiful shape. He cannot even raise his eyes and look toward heaven. He knows his need. He knows his emptiness. So without telling God a single thing about how good he is or bad he is, he humbly prayed, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

His prayer touched the very heart of Jesus, who tells us this man went home justified.  The real lesson and application for us comes in the closing sentence, " For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”