Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I taught you to walk...

Hebrews 21:1  -"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

Acts 20:24 - "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace."

Colossians 1:10 - "Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."

The above verses were selected from numerous references in Scripture which indicate our Christian lives are described with illustrative references to walking, or running a race. The Hebrew writer encourages us to get rid of anything that slows us down, and run the race with determination.  Then Paul, in the verse from Acts says his life is worthless and the really worthwhile life is one that runs the race given by the Lord.  Again Paul writing to the Colossians encourages us to walk worthy of the Lord while pleasing him and bearing fruit and increasing in knowledge.

Three verses where the language is used, but each of the three containing important lessons we should learn and practice.  There is one more such verse which I had overlooked, and it gives us tremendous insight into the "walk" of our lives in Christ. Look to the poetic verses from Hosea 11:3-4:

It was I who taught Ephraim(Israel) to walk,
    taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
    it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
    with ties of love;
I lifted the yoke from their neck
    and bent down to feed them.

Remember, the prophet Hosea was called  to teach the children of Israel how much God loved them.  Just as a loving parent will instruct, help, and guide a child in learning to walk, God says he is the one who taught Israel to walk. He took them by the arms even when they didn't realize it was God who was helping them.  Now notice that next verse. God "led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love," and God "lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them." 

For the children of Israel it was God, Abba Father, who showed them love, even though they sinned and sought after other gods. The relentless love of the God of heaven became their helper, their leader, their healer, and in fact the provider for their every need. He helps us, too, in our walk, and running the race, and when we stumble, he is there with his ties of love to lift us up. 


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Didn't get what I asked for..."

This was scribbled over 150 years ago by an anonymous soldier of the Confederate army:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve -- I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for help that I might do greater things -- I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy -- I was given poverty, that I might be wise. 

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life -- I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing I asked for -- but everything I had hoped for.

Despite myself, my prayers were answered.  I am, among all men, most richly blessed!

How would you analyze the prayers of this man, and the answers to each of those prayers?  Let's look at the first one.   Instead of God answering the prayer for strength to achieve, he answered with weakness so the humility of obedience could be learned.   Why would God do something like that? 

I think of myself praying such a prayer, but the longer I think about that prayer being answered, I would probably be taking all the credit for any achievements made.  Yes, I would rush to say the prayer, but human nature would have me believing I had accomplished great things by my own strength. 

The same is true with all the other things this man prayed for.  If God were to give him that for which he was asking, the outcome would have been entirely different.  He would have not learned humility, nor wisdom, nor the priorities of life, nor real happiness. 

Paul reminds us in Romans 8:26-27,  "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God."

Back to our soldier praying, there is little criticism that could be made in the things for which he prayed, but could this be the activity of the Holy Spirit, interceding so the prayers could be in accordance with the will of God?

God loves conversation with his people.  But aren't we glad when we ask him for something, the answer he gives is always something that is better for us, and always in line with his will.

I am surrounded by some of the "prayingest" people on earth.  We know and love the opportunity to talk to God about everything.  Above all things we ask for, all situations we pray about, all our problems and even our successes, I continually pray for us to seek only those things which are in accordance with God's will. 


Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Weekend of Prayer

During this weekend, give yourself to prayers we all should pray.   I've started a list of specific things for which we can pray, knowing our collective prayers will be heard by our Father in heaven.   You are also encouraged to add to the list with prayers about things specific to your life.  All of us praying all weekend is going to bring us closer to each other, and closer to God as we develop the habit of taking everything to Him.  Here is the starting list:

1.  A prayer of thanksgiving, thanking God for his love, his provision, and his gift of salvation.
2.  A prayer for wisdom and understanding God's Word, and God's will for us.
3.  A prayer for our family, mentioning each family member by name.
4.  A prayer for our church home, it's leaders, it's ministry staff, and especially our church's work in our communities.
5.  A prayer for the lost, those who do not know Jesus and need to experience his salvation.
6.  A prayer for our church family.  Again, mention as many as you can by name.  Take them all to the throne of God as your pray.
7.  A prayer for our nation.  Once again, mention your governmental leaders and those who rule our nation. 
8.  A prayer for those who protect and serve us.  Our first responders have unique and dangerous jobs, but we would be at a tremendous loss without their dedication.
9.  A prayer for our service men and women who serve us at home and abroad.
10.  A prayer for yourself.  Make your prayer a personal time with God, no holding back, tell him what is on your heart.  Remember, a part of prayers like this is listening.

Your list additions start right here.  Add any prayer topics you wish.  I know those who are sick or those who have lost loved ones, your neighbors, your schools, your job, etc.  All will appreciate knowing you have prayed for them. 

God bless your dedication to prayer. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Putting off the Old, Being Made New

22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.   Ephesians 4:22-32

Paul has written earlier in his letter, concerning the eternal inheritance  of the Christian, the strength and power belonging to those in Christ, and salvation as the gift of God's grace. He begins in chapter 4 with the subjects of unity and maturity in the body of Christ and actually outlines how we are all members of the one body.  The body only grows when each part is functioning properly.

When Paul's writings in chapter 4 reach the verses we have printed above, he is talking about each individual's life, contrasting  the before and after Jesus has brought about eternal changes. Notice we are to put off the old self, and be made new in the attitude of our minds' and to put on the new self. Especially notice Paul's description of the new creature in Christ, "created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

Let that sink in a bit and make some application to yourself. Is there any wonder that Paul used similar words when writing the Roman Christians? "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come."

The rest of Ephesians 4, (verses 25-32) give us the short version of those things associated with being like God in true righteousness and holiness. These verses are revealing the inward and outward evidences of lives that have actually "put on Christ."  Read them again and see the areas where you may excel, and the areas where you need to grow.  The ultimate goal is to become like God in true righteousness and holiness. 

While we still recognize sin and neglect in our lives, God's grace and love keep us pressing forward, striving to become more and more like Jesus. The journey is an exciting one, designed  by God to keep us in relationship with him, and sharing the good news with others.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sodom's Daughters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Instructions on Prayer

Matthew 6:9-13
“This, then, is how you should pray:  “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread.  12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'

Jesus had just finished giving more instruction on prayer. He warned about being hypocritical in personal prayers. There were apparently those who liked to pray publicly and loudly in order to draw attention to themselves. "See how spiritual I am because I pray so loud and so often?"

Jesus instead suggested that our personal prayers should be in private. Some translations say "in your closet with the door closed." The inference here is there are some things we need to talk about with God which are between us and God. Those who regularly spend time in private prayer with God will tell you these are the intimate times when closer relationship with God can be developed. Jesus even says there are rewards associated with praying in this way. 

He further instructed us not to babble on and on just to make it sound like we have more to talk to God about, making us more spiritual than others. Jesus made a point to say that people who pray like this are repeating their words over and over again, thinking that will bring answers to their prayers. 

Immediately following these instructions, Jesus spoke the words printed above, by saying, "This is how you should pray:" In teaching ourselves or others about prayer, notice several things can be learned from these instructions from our Lord. 

1. We are talking to our Heavenly Father, holding him high in reverence.
2. The kingdom of God is recognized as coming with its power.
3. We should pray for God's will to be done.
4. We seek and should be thankful for our daily food.
5. We learn forgiveness as well as our responsibility to forgive.
6. We seek God's help in avoiding temptation and deliverance from Satan. 

For some, these may be the basics while for others they are a meaningful content for prayer, from the lips of Jesus himself. Sure, we should continue to pray for the sick, the homeless, the poor, etc. But Jesus begins in a descriptive way, showing us the importance of talking to God, as well as praying for important things.  As you pray, consider the Lord's instruction here in Matthew 6. Then practice what you pray. 


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

From Poverty to Generosity

If you could pinpoint the primary goal of the church you attend, what would that goal be? Why do churches exist?  Is it for the increasing numbers on the church roll? Is it for the money? Are we, as the Lord's church, giving our world a false impression for our existence?

Churches may be to blame for this, if they are more interested in the numbers than they are in being used by God to cultivate disciples. That is when we come up with churches full of members who have an altered concept of spiritual priorities. An example of this can be seen in the number of church members who feel like, "the church only wants my warm body to fill the pew on Sunday, and my money to fill the collection plate."  Lord, forgive us if that is the way we have made people feel in your church.

The church's stance on warm bodies filling the pew on Sunday should be  in line with the biblical pattern of Christians joining in a fellowship of worship and praise.  It is actually saved people getting together to encourage each other and glorify God.  It's not about what we wear or what we drive to church. It's not a social club where our presence will make us recognized as a vital part of the community. It's not a place to be seen to promote our business income.  It's a place for God's people and other sinners to gather and experience the presence of the Father while giving him praise for his love and grace. 

As far as the collection plate is concerned, yes, churches need funds to operate and pay the bills. They need dollars to maintain the physical structure of the church as well as those invisible things the church does in support of missions, teaching children, counseling the hopeless, and numerous ministries to serve the community and world.  And when are we going to get in through our heads that everything we have and everything we are already belongs to God anyway, and the gift we put in the plate on Sunday is a demonstration of our love toward him and our neighbors?  

If you are familiar with the biblical region of Macedonia, you know those people were poor. Long before entitlement programs people who could not afford to live, usually died. Paul describes them in 1 Corinthians 8:2, "They have been going through much trouble and hard times." But Paul continues his description of the Macedonians, "their wonderful joy and deep poverty have overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the gracious privilege of sharing in the gift for the Christians in Jerusalem."  How do people with so little give so much? Paul answers that in the following verse.....and that's the lesson we all need to learn. 

"Best of all, they went beyond our highest hopes, for their first action was to dedicate themselves to the Lord and to us for whatever directions God might give them."  1 Corinthians 8:5 (NLT)  When we are truly dedicated to the Lord and to his work, God blesses us with the resources to accomplish his will. 


Monday, May 22, 2017

Instruments in God's Hands

I read an interesting story about the renowned musical instruments made by, Antonio Stradivari.  Five of the instruments created by the work of his hands, were given to the Library of Congress. There are three violins, one violin-cello and a viola.  The really interesting part is seen in the conditions by which these instruments were donated. Stradivari gave these special instruments with orders for them to be played at some annual concerts through the years.

Contrast that with another similar story.  A man by the name of Paganini left his famous violin to the Italian city of Genoa. Over the years, that violin has been safely kept inside a glass display case for all to see.  Since the donation and display of that instrument, it has not been touched by human hands.  Therefore, after a number of years, it was discovered the violin had deteriorated.  Because of the lack of use, the once famous and valuable violin, became useless and without value.  It wasn't used, and it deteriorated. 

Everyone now understands the conditions by which Stradivari donated his musical instruments. He was smart in ordering them to be taken from their place of safety and put into the hands of gifted musicians from time to time, and they are still useful, quality musical instruments to this day. 

There is a lesson here for those of us in the Lord's church.  Paul teaches in Romans 12 the usefulness of every member of the body of Christ.  Look at verses 3-6:  " For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us."

As members of the body of Christ, we are all given gifts of the Spirit. These gifts enable us to function in our own gifted areas for the benefit of the whole church. All are important, all are useful, all are necessary for the church to function well.  The importance of each doing his/her part is seen in the teaching that a failure of one or some to do their part leads to the diminished value of the whole body. 

Likewise, when we consider the collective members of the church, functioning properly, the real effectiveness  and success comes only when we are obedient to the commands which instruct us to take the gospel to the entire world. Read Matthew 28:19-20.  The very nature of the gospel, and the commandments for us to share it with the world, demonstrate the need for us to be continually active to make the message known.  A failure on our part to tell others about Jesus will bring the same results as Paganini's violin, sealed up in a display case until it became useless. 

The beauty of the message occurs when God's people, by grace, equipped with his gifts, share the story which brings eternal life. 


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup......

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

The event which we know as the Lord's Supper is important in the lives of Christians.  There are probably as more differing opinions on the Lord's Supper than any other biblical subject. The when, where, how, and how often questions will probably never be settled. So the seemingly main event which Jesus left for us to observe together until his return, in many cases becomes a point for our division. 

In the scripture written above, Paul is instructing the Corinthian church on the importance of participating in the observance.  The words are reflective of the earlier scene in the upper room when Jesus and his disciples gathered together to celebrate Passover. That celebration had continued for centuries as the Jews remembered their deliverance from Egyptian bondage and passing through the Red Sea when God's power had parted the waters. To the ancient Jews, the observance of the Passover Supper was THE event that helped them to remember what God had done for them. 

At the end of the Passover, Jesus had told his disciples, "Do this in remembrance of me."  Paul was making sure the observance of remembering Jesus, and especially remembering Jesus' death, burial and resurrection which makes our salvation possible.

What do you usually think of while observing the Lord's Supper?  While we are commanded to observe the supper in remembrance of Jesus, there are several remembrances worthy of our consideration. For each individual Christian, perhaps it is a time for them to remember their life's journey since meeting Jesus.  It would be a time to remember the salvation experience, or to remember an answered prayer, or perhaps to remember when a new biblical truth was learned. It's actually a time for us to remember all of the interaction of Jesus in our hearts and lives. 

That leads me to expand on the thought of our remembrance  of what it means to have him living in us. His presence in us is a source of guidance in making decisions, comfort when we are sad, and strength when we need the spiritual power to work through a problem. In the observance of the supper, it is always uplifting to think of Jesus who lives in us. 

Of all the good things we can remember about Jesus, and especially when sharing the Lord's Supper with our spiritual family, it's a good time to remember Jesus has promised to come again. Christians are to live in expectation of the Lord's return. Just as real as the elements which are symbolic of his body and his blood, is the reality that he is coming back.  Remember who he is. And remember who we can become because of him.  


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Finding Comfort

49 Remember your word to your servant,
    for you have given me hope.
50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
    Your promise preserves my life.
51 The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
    but I do not turn from your law.
52 I remember, Lord, your ancient laws,
    and I find comfort in them.
53 Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
    who have forsaken your law.
54 Your decrees are the theme of my song
    wherever I lodge.
55 In the night, Lord, I remember your name,
    that I may keep your law.
56 This has been my practice:
    I obey your precepts.          
Psalm 119:49-56

After reading the selected verses above, pick one verse which speaks to you and your situation in life.  When you have a verse selected,  turn it into your personal prayer for the day.  To really make it meaningful, memorize the verse, repeating it verbally several times during the day. 

If I were to pick the first verse, which is verse 49 from Psalm 119, my prayer might sound something like this:

Lord, I delight in remembering your word to me, because your word gives me hope.  I confess to living with my hopes in things of this world and all it offers. I have placed my confidence in my own abilities to overcome, my trust has been in my strength.  Teach me, Lord, the hope that comes only through placing everything I am and have, in you. Continue to bless me and strengthen me in the knowledge of your word as I learn to receive the hope only you can give.  Amen.

As you read the verses again, you may choose to select more than one and go through the same routine of memorization and application in prayer form.  Feel free to go further and make your prayer from each of the verses. 
This exercise gives us all a glimpse into a practice called "praying the scriptures."  Devote yourself to reading and praying the words of scripture and you will see greater understanding of God's truth, as well as the joy of making the Word becoming more of a personal message to you. 

God bless, and I always like hearing stories from our readers.  Let us know how you are blessed from this exercise of prayer. 


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Set a Guard Over My Mouth

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
    hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
    may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
    keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
    so that I take part in wicked deeds.
                                                            Psalm 141:1-4

Have you ever prayed a desperate prayer?  In the moment of an emergency where human intervention just wasn't enough, have you fallen to your knees before God and sought his help?

That's the picture I get of David in the beginning of this Psalm.  He is obviously seeking God but in this case, David is seeking God's presence quickly. This time, David's emergency call to God was to get help in overcoming temptation. 

I also get a picture of David, while making this emergency prayer, involving descriptive words pertaining to incense and the lifting of his hands becoming similar to the evening sacrifice.  This picture I see when David prays this urgent prayer, is that he is placing himself in an attitude of worship as he utters his prayer. 

Now notice what he prays, "Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips."  Now I probably don't have to ask if there has ever been a need for us to say those exact words while praying. The answer would "yes!"  From personal experience and from the scripture we learn quickly how our words, often spoken in haste, are sometimes hateful, unloving and uncaring.  We, like David, should be on our knees often asking God's help with our speech.  David knew this was a problem for him when we see how he followed in the next verse....

"Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds."  David was a smart enough man to know when he committed sin, it would take him one step closer to being drawn to and involved in deeds that are not pure and right.  From his own heart he felt being drawn toward that which is evil. 

So here is the point of the message.  David prayed, perhaps more urgently than some of his other prayers because he saw how Satan could use the lips of God's people to lead them into a sinful lifestyle. He saw the progression of the workings of sin, and it became an urgent matter for God to see him through this difficult time. 

May we learn from David's prayer, and may we also give thanks to God for his guidance, to help us in knowing we must guard our speech, and not be drawn into Satan's schemes. 


Monday, May 15, 2017

Another Monday

What kind of a day are you anticipating? We've grown accustomed to Monday being a day where we wonder what happened to our weekend. It's more difficult to get into the swing of things on our jobs, in the classroom, and even on the home front. Do we drink one of those "boosting" drinks and face the world? or maybe a couple more cups of coffee? going back to bed is tempting. 

Just as we experienced the presence of God in worship yesterday, today we can know him more intimately when we invite him to be a part of our Monday. He wants to be there when we have tough decision to make in our jobs. He desires to be present when you face temptation. In the darkest corner of your Monday, He is there. 

Psalm 112:6-8
6 Surely he will never be shaken;
   a righteous man will be remembered forever.
7 He will have no fear of bad news;
   his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
8 His heart is secure, he will have no fear;
   in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.

Do you have days when you feel distant from God? If you feel that way, YOU are the one that moved. He has promised to never leave you, that he will remain with you. Take an inward look today, to see if there is distance between you and God.

Can we say, even on "downer" days, that our heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord, and our heart is secure in Him? True, the bad days are bound to happen. The answer according to the psalmist, is a "heart problem" on our part. He says we can have a heart that is steadfast and secure. 

The psalm says, "in the end, he will look in triumph on his foes."  He is telling us that the steadfast and secure heart that trusts in the Lord is going to experience triumph over Mondays and anything else that gives us a sense of defeat. Instead of being destined become a victim of loss and sorrow, our lives trusting in God, will bring success and victory. Consider again the distance between you and God. It's never God that makes that distance seem so far, it's us. And like the prodigal son in Luke 15 that was returning to his father, God will see us coming to him and run to meet us. Our God is a marvelous heart doctor.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day

Here is the starting place....

The preacher kept his promise.  He said he was going to begin at the beginning.  Then he read aloud, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  Genesis 1:1

From that point, the listeners were enthralled with his description of creation and how God formed everything from nothing.  He created the galaxies.  He put things in motion.  The laws of nature were in place.

Then there was a question presented, which asked us to think a bit.  He wanted to know if we really believed a God who could bring everything into being, would also have the power to maintain control?  That was followed by another revealing statement.....revealing how we are sometimes different when we say we really believe, then try to take control ourselves.

The Apostle Paul was a believer, just like you and me.   He must have been addressing these same issues when we wrote to the Colossian Christians.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:15-20

Why do we read the Bible?  For learning, for life application, to prove we are right and everyone else is wrong, for answering difficult questions?  Whatever the reason, we are missing the point if we fail to see the message of the Bible is God's love story for us.  Yes, there are commandments, admonitions, difficult passages, and even a few things we feel should have been left out.  But overall, cover to cover, this is the story of how much God loves YOU!

Even when dealing with those whose lives were unfaithful and disobedient, our loving God was and is working to bring us to himself.  The things we have done that are outside his will, are forgiven in the blood of Christ.   It's hard for us to understand how God would be willing to give his only son to save the likes of a sinner like me, or us, but that is exactly the beauty of the love story.

Remember, he is still in control.  He created us and longs for us to be in relationship with him.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

For All Time

One of the most mysterious things that came with this world, was the concept of time. Even the segments of creation were divided by a period of time called a day, and that day included a time of darkness and a time of light. Today, everything we do has a measured time to start, and sometimes even an ending time.  Our appointments, the school bells, the work whistle, and even the bells on some churches all signify a particular time. 

Time is not a friend to those who are older, as they desire the times of their youth. Little children struggle through the long school year wondering if it will ever end, while the adults scratch their head and wonder where the time went. 

There is an interesting passage in Hebrews 10 that mentions time. The opening verses set the scene. " The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?" Hebrews 10:1-2

The writer is working toward showing the supreme sacrifice of Jesus which will bring an end to the need for sacrifices. Down in verse 10 he says, "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

Now notice, "Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”

One sacrifice takes care of the sins of everyone ever living on this earth, including yours and mine, and that sacrifice brings an end to the need of ever having another sacrifice to offer. The Bible says this sacrifice is offered for ALL TIME.

We know that sacrifice was Jesus, giving his life on the cross. That is where the penalty for sin was paid, completely....once and for all.  

I have heard analogies given regarding earthly time and heavenly time, and how God is not bound by time like we are, since he is eternal.  But just this once, God's word says, for ALL  TIME he took care of the sin problem and offered one sacrifice that was acceptable and adequate. He gave his Son.

The justice of God was met, the righteousness of God was upheld, and Satan was defeated. John 3:16 becomes more real to us, when we understand this ONE TIME sacrifice. Truly, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Plan for Ministry

After Luke gives an account of the birth of Jesus, his genealogy, and his baptism, he writes about Jesus' forty days in the desert.  Scripture says Jesus was led in the desert by the Spirit. During this forty day period Jesus was fasting and being tempted by the devil. He met every temptation which the devil sent his way by quoting scripture. The devil failed in every attempt and Luke 4:13 says, "When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time."

Following this Jesus returned to Galilee where he taught in the synagogues and the people praised him. He then went to his hometown of Nazareth and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.  Then he stood up to read. The scroll from which he read were the writings of Isaiah, and Jesus found the place where Isaiah had prophesied concerning Jesus. 

Luke 4:18-19
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
    because he has anointed me
    to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The mission of the earthly ministry of Jesus is established in this prophecy. While those in the synagogue were fascinated with Jesus, still to them this was just Joseph's son.  Jesus told them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."  The acceptance of Jesus to the hometown folks wasn't on the level of friendliness. In fact, they started making plans to throw him off a cliff. The Bible says that "Jesus walked through the crowd and went on his way."

There is no doubt that the ministry of Jesus fulfilled every aspect of Isaiah's prophecy.  Even a casual examination of the things Jesus said and did proves that he was active in that fulfillment. Is there something more for us here?

In looking to our individual ministries; those things God asks us to do, are we following the ministry plan of Jesus?   My suggestion is that the great commission of Jesus, places in our laps, the same characteristics of ministry that were upon Jesus himself. Going one step further, isn't this also to be the ministry of the Lord's church?

In a day in which we bounce from one program or idea to another, perhaps we should focus on following Jesus' ministry plan. Read his quotation from Isaiah again and again.  That is the direction we should be going individually and as a church.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"As I have planned..."

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. 


Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Place Where Mercy Reigns

There's a place where mercy reigns and never dies,
There's a place where streams of grace flow deep and wide.
Where all the love I've ever found,
Comes like a flood, Comes flowing down.

At the cross At the cross I surrender my life.
I'm in awe of You, I'm in awe of You
Where Your love ran red and my sin washed white.
I owe all to You, I owe all to You Jesus.

So begins the words of the contemporary song by Chris Tomlin.  It's one of my favorites in the songs we sing at church.  I'm now thinking the line which makes my "favorite list" is the one which says, "Where Your love ran red and my sin washed white."   That line in the song is so descriptive of the way God uses the cross of his Son to redeem mankind.

While part of the world thinks of spilled blood in terms of horror or fright, the Christian thinks in terms of redemption and victory.  For years we have come to appreciate those song writers which, through their verses, include a vision of victory because of Jesus' shed blood.

"What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!"

"Are you washed in the blood of Jesus?"

"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."

It is Jesus' blood and His righteousness that brings our cleansing.  What seemed like a victory for Satan and evil when Jesus died on the cross, God turned into the greatest blessing through the resurrection.  That blood which was spilled when Jesus died became the cleansing agent by which we have the assurance our sins have been washed white. I will forever remember our church family singing often:

Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow.
There’s wonderful power in the blood


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Be Imitators of God

Paul's letter to the Ephesians has been the source of numerous topics of our studies. We have discussed who we are in Christ, and even the concept of the power God supplies to Christians. The first few chapters of the letter address the need for us to KNOW and then the latter part of the book challenges us to BE.  For generations there have been problems in churches due to the fact we humans get things in reverse. We try to be the people of God without really knowing God.  Reading the book of Ephesians in its entirety could give us a much better perspective of the intent of Paul's letter. 

Perhaps you, like me, have felt the need for a closer association with God, yet we are reminded of our weakness and the sin in our lives that prevent that from happening. Often, we try to give the impression that we are spiritual enough to know God, so it automatically follows that we are being what God wants us to be. 

In chapter 5 of Ephesians, Paul gives some admonition to Christians like those at Ephesus, and like you and me. He opens with a verse that we could read over quickly and not really pause to consider all its meaning. 

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children  and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" Ephesians 5:1.

Read that verse several times and let it soak in.  Allow God to really teach you something from that sentence.  There really is a message here that most of us need. 

First, "Be imitators of God."  Before we can imitate God, we have to know him. Knowing about him is a good start, but actually knowing him will help us imitate him. 

"Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children."  I hear people say, "I have read the Bible, know the right commands to obey, and now I'm just working my way to heaven."  We still have the idea that our salvation will be based on how good we are, when in reality, God wants us to know it is based on HIS grace and goodness and his willingness to offer his son as a sacrifice for our sins.  We should be happy that Paul is trying to show us here that our God loves us and we need to be living and acting like "dearly loved children." 

 When we reach that point, Paul encourages us to live a life of love. That's how you can be an imitator of God.  You know of his love, you strive to live like a dearly loved child, and that prompts you to live a life of love.  Paul likens it to the love of Christ who gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God. 

The beginning point for us in imitating God is of vital importance.  Imitate his love because you are a loved child of his, and live a life of love, just like Jesus.  That's a big order for us to fill but God loved us enough to let us know the starting point. Yes, there are other areas of the characteristics of God we should imitate, but how wonderful it is for us when we know his love, and be an imitation of that love by loving others. 


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I am your Savior

Isaiah 43:1-3
 But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

At the time these words were given through Isaiah, the children of Israel were in Babylonian captivity. We probably could not understand all the difficulties associated with being held captive, as individuals and as a nation of people.  Even though these people had a history of unfaithfulness to God, always leading them to troublesome times, the verses above are words of assurance from God who continues to love them. 

Comforting words are always appreciated when we are in trouble. None could be more comforting than words like, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you: I have summoned you by name; you are mine."  While I can only speak for myself, I hope you can sense during difficult times in your life, you also would welcome the message from God that he knows your trouble, he cares, and he claims you as belonging to him.  That is the message God longs for us to grasp in faith, no matter how dismal our situation. It doesn't even matter to him that most of our problems are the result of our own doing. 

While those words from Isaiah 43:1 bring assurance from a God who loves us, verse 2 gives us a glimpse of the great degree of that love.  Spoken in a way that there will be no doubt, God wanted them to know his presence is with them when they pass through the waters.  Further, when they pass through the rivers, they will not be overtaken, and when they walk through the fire, they will not be burned. The flames will not set them on fire. 

Perhaps we can visualize our difficult times, like Israel's, as devastating as passing through rushing water, forging the force of a river swollen out of its banks, or even walking through fire, surrounded by flames that could bring our demise.  God says, these things shall not overtake you. 

The first part of verse 3 was the promise to Israel, and now to us. "For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."  Trust in his promises through all your times of trouble.