Wednesday, July 26, 2017

New Directions

"Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ."  Acts 9:19-22 

Saul had just been converted to Jesus. That conversion experience is one of the most exciting series of events in the first half of Acts 19.  In the verses above, his life is changed. He is associating with the disciples. He is preaching in the synagogues.  He is sharing the good news about Jesus. 

Everyone that heard Saul speak about Jesus became somewhat perplexed. Saul had been the man  stirring up all the trouble for Christians. He wanted them all dead or imprisoned. That was his intended purpose in traveling to Damascus. Now we read of his new birth and his growth and power in proving that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. 

Isn't it amazing the way God works?  He actually takes the strongest and most powerful enemy of the cross, and turns him into the strongest and most powerful messenger of the gospel.  What a change! This is Saul, that we come to know as the Apostle Paul, letter writer to churches, servant for the cause of Christ, diligent laborer for Christianity. 

God is longing to make changes in your life too. The power of the cross can make a huge difference in you, just like it did it Saul. Your past is just that.....the past.  In spite of all that, God wants to be in a loving and forgiving relationship with you, and watch you grow strong and powerful in his service. 

You think your friends will be baffled?  Probably no more baffled than those Jews living in Damascus,  when they heard Saul "proving that Jesus is the Christ. "


Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Gunfighter

Hugh O'Brian was famous in the early days of television for playing the role of the legendary Wyatt Earp.  The show was a half hour in length and was along the same line as other 30 minute westerns like Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel.   O'Brian, now in his 80's, has become an example of how Christianity should work.  I make that statement without any knowledge of O'Brian's religious preferences, or if he is connected with any denominational tag. 

The year was 1958 when, between filming his Wyatt Earp TV shows, O'Brian was making the circuit with a traveling circus, headlining a cowboy shooting act. He received an invitation from Dr. Albert Schweitzer to come to Africa. Schweitzer was running a medical clinic there and O'Brian spent 9 life-changing days observing and helping at the clinic.  As he was preparing to leave Africa, Schweitzer came to him and asked, "What are you going to do with all you have learned?"

O'Brian pondered that question over and over on his long trip home. It led to other questions concerning how he might do something in life to make a difference for others. He wanted to impact the world in such a way, that the world would be a better place.  From these thoughts a vision emerged. 

Just two weeks after O'Brian returned from Africa, he started rounding up kids.  They had to be about the age of 15, and sophomores in high school.  He felt this was the age he could work with and they would have two more years of high school to share with their classmates.  This was the beginning of an organization called HOBY, Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership.  The goal was to get the "cream-of-the-crop" kids from across the nation and allow them to be exposed to the best motivational leaders in the country.  Those kids would attend a 3-day seminar, absolutely free to the kids, and allow them direct contact with the country's greatest innovators.

HOBY has grown every year since its inception, bringing in over 15,000 kids annually,  to 70 locations across every state.  Many of those attending this year will be third generation HOBY participants. From the group of HOBY attendees, has come well known ministers, CEO's, judges, financial experts, educators, and the list could go on.  Also from the group there emerges numerous stories of successful husbands and fathers.  Contributions from big business and individuals fund the events every year, and most of the donors will tell you it's the best investment they have ever made. 

So these are the basics of the story of the hero for lots of kids in the 50's as Wyatt Earp tamed the west. But his story continued because of the concern he had for helping others overcome mediocrity and become an asset to society, not only in business dealings, but also in the way they treat people, their love of others in helping them to be overcomers, and the overall goals they reached in making a difference. 

I can almost see the crusty old cowboy smiling as he realizes how his dream to make a difference still brings that difference to so many kids.  And we, complaining that we are only one person and resources are limited, and we work too many hours, often go through life without a vision or a goal.  What do you suppose could be accomplished in our community, in our churches and schools, in our homeless shelters, or in our country clubs, if we had the love for others that Jesus calls us to have?  We who find loving God is easy, find loving others more difficult. Both are commands from the same savior that loves us.  So today I pray, "Lord give me the vision to see greater ways that I can serve you, and give me the love for others so I can make a difference."

Thanks Wyatt. You are my hero again. 


Monday, July 17, 2017

I am the vine....

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."  John 15:1-5

On the surface this is relatively easy to understand. Jesus establishes his role as the vine and his father's role as the gardener.  Both are vitally important in the business of bearing fruit. Notice it is the gardener who inspects every branch for fruit and those branches that are barren, he cuts them off.  There is no reason to continue nurturing a branch that is barren. It's a waste of water, fertilizer, and time if the branch does not produce fruit. When the gardener has finished his pruning, what remains is a healthy and productive vine. 

Can you see the illustration as it applies to our lives? Just as the gardener and the vine have connection with each other, so the connection between God the Father and Jesus the Vine is vital. It is from this connection that branches are formed and we know branches are where the fruit is produced. 

Having established the truth that occasional non-productive branches require a pruning, Jesus goes on with his illustration by emphasizing his role as the vine.  He gives us another truth which is easy to understand when he says, "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."  I am going out on a limb here (pun intended), when I tell you that every branch you see that produces fruit, is attached to the vine.  It is from the vine that nutrients and water are delivered to the branches and the result is fruit. That's why Jesus wants us to know that a Christian will not bear fruit unless he remains in Him. 

Then Jesus says it again, "I am the vine."  Meditate on that statement for a while and realize all the spiritual ramifications it implies.  Everything the branch needs to produce fruit is supplied by the vine. 

That truth is one we sometimes overlook.  We have a tendency to wave our own flag when great accomplishments are made in the life of the church. If a new program is introduced and becomes a success, we are quick to let everyone know it was our idea, our work, our leadership, and without us, it would have failed.
While we exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit and become talented in certain areas, that does not mean the vine has stopped supplying everything necessary to produce fruit. We are to continually maintain our places as a fruit producing branch, connected to the vine which supplies everything we need. 

When good things happen and fruit is produced, give God the glory. When we find ourselves talented and equipped to be a part of that fruit, praise belongs to Jesus, the vine. 

Remember his words in John 15:5, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." What a joy to be a fruit producing branch, connected to the vine, tended carefully by the gardener. 


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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 he 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, July 7, 2017

But Some Doubted

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  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,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:16-20

The events of the public ministry of Jesus were history. His death, burial and resurrection were things of the past. Jesus had made some appearances since being raised from the dead, the these verses were his departing commands to his closest disciples. They contain those words which we call the "Great Commission,"  which extend even to us and become the basis for the church's ministry of evangelizing the world.

One special note for those who are familiar with this section of scripture is we often start quoting with the command of Jesus, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations...."  We fail to read and remember the verses that lead up to the command.  Notice, the eleven went to Galilee, to the exact place where Jesus had told them to go.  Then they saw him. They worshiped him, but some doubted. 

Was there doubt in the ranks of the remaining eleven? The very ones who had followed him through all the ups and downs, in good times and bad, those who were witnesses to his resurrected state. How can it be, even after all that, there were some that still doubted?

Before we find an answer to that, we must make a contemporary glance at those of us who are disciples of Jesus. His authority in heaven and earth has been established and it is by his authority that we are commanded to make disciples of every nation. We preach and proclaim that every Christian is commanded to actively participate in evangelizing the world.

Even when understanding that, we must admit that we have fallen short of being obedient to the Great Commission's commands.  We may hear it preached from the pulpit, and drop a few bucks in the collection plate, and feel confident we are supporting the spread of the gospel. I would never discourage your financial support to missions and evangelism, but there is a trend among us just like that of the eleven mentioned at the end of Matthew 28.  Even today, some see him, they worship him, but some doubt. They may doubt the authority of Jesus, or they  may doubt their own ability to be making disciples of all nations, but the doubt is there.

Look again at the closing words of Jesus' commands. "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  My premise is this.  When our doubts have been erased concerning Jesus being with us now and to the very end, only then will we be instruments in his hands, bringing others to him.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Bonds of Freedom

The Apostle Paul is our example of evangelism and church planting. Throughout his missionary tours people were brought to the Lord and their faithfulness became the subject matter of many of Paul's letters to the churches he had visited.  

Yesterday when I was working on blog articles for the week, I introduced you to a publication I had found called "Prisoner to Prisoner." It is a booklet of devotional writings from those who are incarcerated. My mind led me to Ephesians 4 where Paul calls himself a "prisoner for the Lord."  We do know that Paul spent time in prison because of his faith. Some of the New Testament letters were written by Paul while he was imprisoned. 

Why do you suppose Paul would call himself a prisoner for the Lord?  In the context of Ephesians 4, Paul uses this description of himself, to encourage the Ephesian Christians to lead lives worthy of their calling. "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." Further encouragement is for them to be humble and gentle and patient, as well as loving toward each other.   He then went on to explain the structure of the church which brings growth and maturity. 

If I read all of that correctly, I get the picture of those who are actively involved in using their individual gifts to benefit the growth of the church.  To me, it's more of a picture of freedom and liberty than a picture of being imprisoned. 

Then I am reminded of another scripture from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price."  These verses tell of the overall theme of the Bible, that all of us are sinners, Jesus died for our sins, and when we seek his grace and forgiveness we are being redeemed from the penalty of sin by Jesus. His blood is the price paid for our ransom. 

Paul himself is our example here, too. This rugged man who fought long and hard against Christianity, found Jesus on the Damascus road and he was no longer a man to follow after his own aims and desires. He now belonged to God, bought and paid for with Jesus' blood.  

The same is true of us. We, too, become a prisoner of the Lord, a prisoner to the joyous life of freedom from the bonds of sin, set free from the guilt, the misery, and the penalty of sin. Instead of living according to the ways of the world, we who belong to God find direction for living by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. It is then in our weakness we find strength. In our poverty we find prosperity. In losing everything, we find everything. In giving up all things, we gain all things.  We find ourselves bound to Him, with those bonds that bring liberty. 


Saturday, July 1, 2017

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. 


Friday, June 30, 2017

Knowing God

I was reading an article today by Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, and he makes the statement, "The God who created the universe did not make it difficult to know Him.”   I hope you ponder on that for a bit and come away with the simple acceptance of that truth. 

My first analysis of what he said led me to ask, "If God has gone through so much, including creation, the destruction of mankind, leading his people to escape bondage, the teachings of the prophets, the gospels, the establishment of the church, and numerous etc's......why would he make himself like some super powerful leader of the universe that would never be approachable?"

The truth of the Bible is that our God is approachable.  In fact, the Scripture assures us that "he is not far from any of us."  That being said, even we who have been Christians for years often struggle with doubt when we feel distant from God. 

First of all, we get that feeling when we read and study some segment of Scripture that is difficult for us to understand.  If it can't be understood, then we think it's obvious God is making spiritual things difficult for us.  While I do not claim to understand everything in the Bible, I still respect it as the Word of God which leads me into relationship with him.  Further, it continues to reveal its truths to me as I read and study and open my heart and life to learn and accept the "deeper" things of God.  Even Scripture which I may understand and know its truth, perhaps I read it again several months or years later and there is some new truth that is revealed to me. 

Simple faith, trust and obedience to the truth of God, revealed in his word, is our aim.  I use that word, "simple," even in the hard to understand segments of Scripture.  True seekers of God will find him because in reality he finds us!  We should never make difficult something as simple as knowing God loves us and longs for us to know him eternally. 


Monday, June 26, 2017

This is Love

1 Corinthians 13 (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.

 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud  or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!  Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!  But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

I read this chapter today from the New Living Translation for the first time. I am not promoting this translation above others. I read it, and prayed about love in our world, and wanted to issue a challenge to you. I do not know your Bible reading habits. I do not know which of the translations you have found easier to understand. I use a variety of translations, sometimes comparing them to each other. 

So here is the challenge. In a quiet time today, read the above chapter aloud with specific emphasis on how the word of God is speaking to you about love. You may wish to read it more than once. Then if you wish, read it again from another translation,  allowing God to speak to you from his word. 

Now go. Today in your activities and encounters with other people, examine yourself in the light of what God has taught you today.   God bless your study and the application of what you learn. 


Saturday, June 24, 2017

When You Worship

You may remember some time ago I referenced the writings of Robert Schnase from his book, "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations."  Since I don't remember everything I covered in that blog article, some of what you read here today might touch on some things you have already read.  I recently picked up his book again when I was looking for some ideas on explaining the worship experience and found some input on the subject I wanted to share. 

Mr. Schnase states when he is called up to lead worship, his preparation is to aim the worship experience in two directions. One is to the intellect of those who attend the worship, and second, he wants to focus on the heart. 

When I mention the worship experience, you will understand the perspective from which I view worship carries with it the worship in the churches I have attended from my youth, and now into my old age. Make no mistake about it, if you are in the same church you were attending 50 years ago, there have been some changes.  Those who have moved to different towns and attended different churches will notice even more changes.

Those changes have also changed us. We may become less judgmental if we attend a church that is more forgiving when sins are brought to light.  We may rethink our position on miracles, or place more of an emphasis on missions, or we could even learn something we had never learned before that would change us.

Having said all that, think with me about how our worship experiences are aimed at our intellect.  You may then want to ask yourself what part of the worship has affected your intellect in any way?   Perhaps you will think of a verse from the Bible that opens your eyes to a new truth. Or it could be the testimony of someone which allowed you to realize your need to be more open to others about your feelings, your shortcomings, or your need for growth in knowledge.  Can you see how worship needs to touch us individually in this way?

The other focus is on the heart, and while invisible to us, the effects are more visible. Has an old hymn ever brought tears to your eyes during worship?  All of us will admit our hearts are moved with the reading of scriptures like the 23rd Psalm.  Baptism events bring smiles of love from us all.  Even patting your foot to the beat of a lively praise song can be a visible proof of worship affecting your heart. 

I want us to all be aware of the importance of intellect in worship as we learn and grow individually and as a church body.  I will be among the first to admit it's when the heart is touched, to the point of visibly noticing changed hearts, happy hearts, and excited hearts, that's when worship is changing us for the better. 

We are commanded to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ," and that sometimes begins with worship.  The experiential touching of one's heart and bringing him closer to God is one of the greatest accomplishments of our worship.  May God be praised; all glory belongs to Him. 


Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Movement

I receive notices about lots of conferences.  I have been to some and those I attended have always been uplifting, encouraging, and a tremendous learning experience.  I could easily turn into a "conference freak," knowing there is always something to learn and always an upward direction in which I can grow. 

Today I learned about a conference being held in November in Canada.  My immediate reaction was one of questioning someone who would schedule a conference in Canada in November!  I never gave it a second thought because  it's too far, and bound to be in colder weather than South Texas. 

I did a little more reading and began to understand a sense of urgency from those putting on the conference, a sense of urgency to proclaim a message which is constantly on their hearts.  The conference is aimed primarily at the age group of 25-35, an age group which makes a good target audience for the conference presentations.   Here is the statement describing what attendees can expect.

 I read the paragraph a couple of times and could only think about how that needs to be a priority of every Christian.  Especially the final sentence which I want you to read aloud, spend some time in prayer, and make an effort to accelerate that type of momentum in your daily walk with Jesus. 


Monday, June 19, 2017

I'm Frustrated

Frustrations are a normal part of life, and we have stories to tell to our friends about our frustrating circumstances. We get frustrated with Congress, with our spouse, with our kids, our boss, or just about anyone we come in contact with.  After all, some people just seem to be "called" to get under our skin and leave us frustrated. 

We often turn to the Bible to remind ourselves that we are to be people of patience, especially since patience is a virtue with biblical foundations. If you are like me, you read a few verses but still feel some frustration.  While there are things which frustrate us, there are a couple of things I want you to remember.  The first is a simple realization that each of us can be frustrating to others.  The second is a little more detailed, in that it identifies some negative results which happen if we are overcome with frustrations. 

Do you know someone that is a master of frustration?  Every time we see them all the bad things that could happen in a day has happened to them. A lot of the time, these people have been the cause of their own frustrations because of something called attitude!

The dangerous negative result of frustration is that it leads us to become judgmental of others. We know the Bible says,

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged...Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?...You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye…” (Matthew 7:1–3 & 5).

Jesus likens us to the Pharisees when we judge others with negative or cutting statements.  The Lord wants us to know before we can be the judge and jury for someone else, we need to examine our own lives.

This truth is further made real to us when we remember the Pharisees took a woman to Jesus, and this woman had been caught in adultery. These religious leaders were anxious to see the woman stoned to death because of her sin. They had judged her and brought her to Jesus to see how he would handle the situation. Jesus told those Pharisees, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

We may have frustrations that come our way, but the lesson for us to learn is one of loving others the way God loves us. That includes concern, forgiveness and compassion. Aren't we glad God doesn't throw stones when we deserve them?


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Test Me, Try Me

Vindicate me, Lord,
    for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the Lord
    and have not faltered.
 Test me, Lord, and try me,
    examine my heart and my mind;
 for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
    and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.  
Psalm 26:1-3

First glance at this psalm might cause us to think David is writing these things from a boastful point of view.  Closer examination of the entire segment of scripture opens our eyes to the deeper meaning of integrity.  Who are the Christians at your church that you know to be people of integrity?  What is it about them that makes you classify them as such?

In the bold printed text above, David is establishing himself as a man who really desires to live according to the principles of God.  God's truth is primary to him and this has come about through David's total reliance on the faithfulness of God.  I often wonder if we would be as inviting as David when he asked the Lord to test him and examine his heart and his mind.  It takes a person of integrity to be that open. 

The verses which follow give us more information about David, all of which are points of reference for us to make similar evaluations about ourselves.  David briefly proclaims he is not going to be influenced by those who live lives of wickedness and hypocrisy.  Instead, he spends his time and focuses his influence on proclaiming the goodness of God and sharing the news about God's wonderful deeds. 

My favorite picture of David comes in the next section of the psalm where he says, "Lord, I love the house where you  live."  Now let's ask ourselves if we really know where God lives.  He isn't isolated to one place, he isn't limited by borders, and he isn't bound by pretty structures of bricks and wood.  When we come to fully understand that God dwells inside us, we then grasp the truth that where we are, God is.  In the form of His Spirit, God makes his abode in the hearts and lives of his people.  This carries tremendous connection to the Christian and worship.  Don't think this means God lives in the church building.  That building is just a building until the people of God assemble.  Then there is a multitude of hearts, filled with God, joining together to worship and praise him.

The two lines which end Psalm 26 are these:

  My feet stand on level ground;
    in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.  
Psalm 26:12


Monday, June 12, 2017

At The River

Sometimes it's difficult for us to identify with Bible characters. I have confessed before my preference to study the teachings of Paul, and wouldn't it have been nice to actually witness the events of Peter preaching on Pentecost?  While we all have our favorites, we are separated from Bible characters by a couple thousand years at best, some even more than that.  They were people of different cultures, different backgrounds, different fact, how can we relate to them when we have almost nothing in common?

It's Jesus that makes us related to them. The Christian family includes those we read about in the New Testament, as well as relating us to those who sit in the pew behind us at church. If, according to God's plan, we are one in Christ, then we actually do have a lot in common with the people we read about in the Bible. 

In Paul's travels, he bumped into people that he did not know, and simply by speaking the truth about Jesus, Paul was able to bring his hearers to become members of the spiritual family. Here is one such instance from Acts 17:

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.   Acts 17:13-15.

Paul and his band of travelers went down by the river, hoping to find a quiet place to spend some time in prayer.  There were some women there so they struck up a conversation. One of the ladies present was Lydia, who made her living by selling purple cloth. She worshiped God, but the Bible says the Lord "opened her heart" and she responded to the Jesus message of Paul.  Lydia and her household were baptized and then she invited this traveling band of Christian servants to come stay at her house. 

Lydia's story is one which illustrates the Great Commission. Her story is an echo of God's plan for missions, a plan that has worked well over two thousand years. It's a story which makes some of us ashamed of our lack of efforts in reaching others. 

Paul saw the importance of his message. It was a message simple enough to share with some people he met at a river, but it's also a message complex enough to defeat Satan and the grave and bring us to an eternity of living in God's presence. When you connect all that with the love that Paul had for those who were lost, you find all the necessary ingredients for successful ministry. 

Is there a riverbank you need to visit?


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sunday Worship

Spiritual Sniffing

Any child which finds its roots in a Christian home where the Bible is front and center in all things, can probably tell you the story of Jonah.   I suppose most of us immediately think of Jonah and the time he spent in the belly of the big fish, but just like all the stories and events in the Old Testament, they have lessons to teach and truth to be believed, even for New Testament Christians.   Let's look at the story a little closer.

 "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord."    Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah was a prophet now commissioned by God to deliver a sermon to the residents of Nineveh, to let them know God had issues with them because of their wicked and sinful lives.  Just how Jonah would accomplish this must have weighed heavy on his mind.  Put yourself in his shoes.  Suppose God told you to go into a city and start proclaiming to its residents, that they were sinners and viewed through the eyes of God as being totally wicked.  Jonah was no dummy.  He knew a message like that from someone unknown to the people of Nineveh would probably lead to his demise.  So he decided to do what we would probably do.  Go the opposite direction, away from Nineveh, in an attempt to hide from God. 

Jonah paid the fare for a trip on a boat headed for Tarshish.  Perhaps he could attempt to justify his decision by assuming he was saving his own life.  Like us in our unfaithfulness to God, Jonah could  feel safe if he just convinced himself he was doing the right thing. 

The verses that follow our text tell the story of Jonah running from God and the subsequent wind and storm that came up, the fear of the sailors, and how each one of them was crying out to their own gods for safety.   All the cargo was tossed overboard to lighten the load.  During all of this, Jonah found a comfortable place below the deck and went to sleep.  Ultimately lots were cast to determine who was responsible for the impending calamity.  The lot fell on Jonah.  This led to their questioning about Jonah, who he was, where he was from, who were his people? 

When Jonah revealed to them he was a Hebrew, and a follower of the Lord, the crew was terrified, because Jonah had already told them he was running from God.  Jonah then made the suggestion for them to toss him into the sea because he knew all this was happening because of him.  They tried rowing back to shore, but the waves were too great.  They then prayed for forgiveness for what they were about to do, and they threw Jonah overboard.  Verse 17 says, "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights."
I don't know about Jonah's immediate reaction, but mine would have been, "It Stinks."  Fish smell bad enough on the outside, but I can only imagine how bad they smell on the inside.  And that teaches me, if I choose to run from God, and go in a direction opposite from the one he has chosen for me,  I can expect to know I am in the wrong place and living the wrong way because, "It Stinks."   Do a little spiritual "sniffing" in your life.   Learn the love of God as he directs your steps. 


Friday, June 9, 2017

Fellowship With God

The joy of the Apostle John is made complete, as he opens 1 John with a discourse on the fellowship that exists between the believer and God the Father, and his Son, Jesus. John wants readers of this letter to be diligent and continue in the faith because the gospel message they have learned is real and true. 

John asks the question in chapter 2 that has become a question multitudes have asked, "How can we be sure we belong to Jesus?"  Do we wrestle with that?  Do we have any assurance that we really belong to him?  John answered his own question by letting us know the only real answer is this, "By obeying his commandments."  John continues to elaborate, "Those who say they live in God, should live their lives as Christ did."

Now look in the following verses, 1 John 2:7-8
 "Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.  Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.  Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.
In the writings of Paul to the Colossians, he says that God has rescued us from darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.  That is an amazing way to describe the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross.  We have such a blessing in escaping the darkness of sin and instead, living with Jesus. 

But note, in the quoted passage above, we are commanded to love our brother. John says even those who claim to be in the light while hating their brother, are in reality still in darkness.  Of special note is his comment about the process of the darkness passing and the true light is already shining. There may be times when we are attempting to walk in the light, and a wrong decision or a sinful habit pulls us back toward the darkness.  John is showing us it is futile for us to attempt to be light, when the darkness of hatred toward each other shows its ugly head. 

The theme of the letter is to remain faithful, and that theme is echoed in the life of every Christian in today's world.  John wants us to know that we belong in the light, and tells us that assurance can be ours if we are obedient to God, and loving toward each other. 


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Out of Control?

We've had some difficult and disappointing days in the past weeks.  Our country continues to be on alert for the terroristic threats which have become common.   Racial unrest is on the increase.  Let me mention just one more thing, and that is the decision of the highest court in our land to allow same-sex marriage, as outright hatred toward other people is becoming the norm.

I really appreciated the words of the preacher this past Sunday who pointed out to us that courts can rule on just about anything and often it decides things which are contrary to the traditional Christian values we have held all our lives. Those values have been threatened and from some viewpoints, have dealt morality a death blow.  None of that changes God's truth on the subject of marriage.

But all the bad things happening open many doors for Christians to make their stand on the Biblical truths which we hold dear.  My reading and research into the news accounts cause me to shake my head in disbelief, but let's look at some opportunities, too.

First of all, we have the chance to demonstrate  our love for others, even those with whom we disagree, to an ever growing extent.  While Bible truth has been trampled by those who would like nothing more than the elimination of Christian values, it's time for us to look beyond the words and actions which go against Christianity, and find that love Jesus called us to have in loving others as ourselves.

That can be so difficult for me sometimes, to actually love the sinner while hating his sin, but I am sure glad Jesus was willing to do that for me, and in so doing, continues to show me I should be as loving as he is.  In showing this kind of love toward my neighbors I continue to learn how much our Lord has loved us, even though we sin and disappoint him frequently.  The Bible still says, "while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us."

My other observation during these troubling times, carries my thoughts to the safety of my family and friends, and the safety of our country.  Things around the world seem to be going downhill in a hurry and I would be untruthful if I said those things didn't have me concerned.  As I think about the threats and how things seemingly change for the worse, I try to think of ways we can avoid being causalities to all the unrest.   

It's then I remember my vows of committing my life to God, and the lives of my children and grandchildren, and my closest friends and acquaintances.  In times like these, we all need a good dose of renewed commitment to the Lord.  We must never forget, as committed people, we are believing God loves us, cares for our well-being, and more than ever, we need to place our trust in Him.  HE is in control.  

Talk to God in prayer today about our country, asking him to be our strength and our hope.  He loves you and has promised to be with you always.  


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Come to the fountain...

We can learn a lot about God by the way he dealt with his chosen people in Old Testament times. The children of Israel had many of the same problems we have, in remaining faithful to the Heavenly Father. Most of the prophetic writings of the Old Testament not only give us glimpses of the coming Jesus, Messiah, but also let us see some very specific qualities of God that we might otherwise miss.

Jeremiah was the prophet chosen by God to proclaim messages which contained doom and destruction to the unfaithful, and messages which portrayed God as one who longed for his people to return to him, and seek his forgiveness for their disobedience.

We've looked at some of this before and noted Jeremiah's message from God to the people included the mentioning of the Israelites defiling the land, they followed after worthless idols, they did not seek God, and even their leaders, the teachers of the law, were in rebellion. 

Jeremiah 2 gives the message and the picture for Israel looks bleak. The people who had known of God's deliverance and his provision, were now turning their backs on God and practicing idolatry. God is so displeased with them he and lets them know about it.  He asks this question, "Has a nation ever changed its gods?" (Yet the gods they turn to are not really gods at all.)  We can sense the sorrow and sadness from the throne of God to the entirety of Israel.  And yet, through God's displeasure, he still wants to show his love and forgiveness to  every one of them. 

Through the sins of the people itemized to this point, we can understand why God expresses his displeasure. Further down in Jeremiah 2, God sums up the root of their problem.  Verse 13:

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." 
Jeremiah 2:13

There are the two sins. They have forsaken God, the spring of living water, and they dug their own cisterns, that cannot hold water.  Both the Old and New Testaments have examples of the life giving source of spirituality illustrated by the provision of water. These people could have turned to God at any time and enjoyed an  awakening to the spiritual blessings from above.  Instead, he said they built their own cisterns that cannot hold water, a demonstration of their lack of trust and faith in God. 

Mankind still refuses to drink the water of life from God, the only sustaining source. We still like to call all the shots and make all the decisions.  We, like Israel in Jeremiah's day, need to learn the calamity that awaits when we choose our own way, our own abilities, our own strength.  The grace of God gives us the better perspective of knowing him, loving him, and following his direction. 

Come to the fountain, the source of the water of life, and drink from the spring of living water. 


Monday, June 5, 2017

The Struggler

A man named Saul from the city of Tarsus had an extraordinary reputation for persecuting Christians and doing everything within his power to stop the spread of the early church. The very mention of his name would bring fear in the hearts of those who were followers of Jesus. In that day, if you were a believer which encountered Saul, you could count on being dragged off to prison or possibly face execution. 

Saul was traveling to Damascus with the intent of extending his work of doing away with Christians and had a very personal encounter with Jesus himself.  He was blinded and had to be helped into the city but while there was taught more about Jesus and was baptized.  From that day forward he was actively becoming a friend of Christians and preaching about Jesus. His name was now Paul, and he spent the rest of his life devoted to the Lord through missionary journeys, written instructions to churches, and even imprisonment for his faith. 

Think for a moment about Paul's conversion experience and the complete turn-around of his life. Think also about the difficulty other Christians might have had in accepting Paul into the community of the faithful. After all, these Christians had suffered at the hands of Paul, and we can understand their reluctance in accepting him. He had a reputation. He had been an enemy of the cross. He had been the author of chaos for many Christians and their families. 

Acts 9:27    But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

Even the Jerusalem Christians were in no hurry to accept Paul. Opposition against him was so great he retreated back home to Tarsus for a time.  Then Barnabas took action again. 

Acts 11:25-26  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Paul went on to be very instrumental in the development and growth of individual Christian lives and the spread of the church.  Thanks to Barnabas, who provided the encouragement and love toward a struggling brother, Paul got the nudge he needed to keep pressing forward. 

Do you know someone today that is struggling with acceptance in the church, perhaps due to a  bad reputation or a sinful lifestyle.  Is there a ministry for us, the imperfect yet forgiven, to share the example of God's love and grace toward those who are in such a struggle? It could be the very person you encourage and help that becomes a church planter, a leader, a ministry student, or a missionary.  I think every church has some of these "strugglers" which are searching for acceptance, encouragement, and love. 


Friday, June 2, 2017

Focus on Jesus

I am often motivated to write in these blogs about the words we sing together as a church on Sunday mornings. There are countless beautiful melodies which seem to match so well with the words of some writer, and together blend into an inspiring message to the body of Christ.

Such is the case of a song I have selected for us to look at today. Read these words from the first verse and see if it hits close to home for you. 

1.  O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free! 

I do not have the ability to know life's situations and circumstances for those who read the blog on a daily basis. No doubt there are some that are weary and troubled, perhaps some who are not able to see the light because of all the spiritual darkness which surrounds them. The poet says, "There's light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!"

2. Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conquerors we are!

That second verse describes how Jesus passed through death into everlasting life, and how we follow him in those steps. We are blessed to taste that life he gives because sin has no more dominion over us. Romans 8 promises we are "more than conquerors in Christ Jesus."

3. His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

The Word of God will never fail us. We have his promise. Use your faith to know that all is well when you are in Him, then go spread the message of salvation to all. 

The part of the song known as the refrain summarizes the entire point of the message and encourages us to stay focused on Jesus. The message is biblical. Its truth is powerful. Its application is universal. Memorize the refrain and if you know the tune, hum or sing it daily. Keep your eyes upon Jesus.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.