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Friday, June 28, 2013

When Do You Stop Praying?

Most of us have, at some time, heard the tragedy of a family member, friend or church member who is facing an impossible situation. Many of us have faced such impossible situations ourselves. The doctor looks over the tests and declares that the disease you have has less than a ten percent chance of being healed. The bank sends the notice that says that the house will be foreclosed upon. The husband calls to say that he has found someone new. The child is missing and no one can find her.

The question is: "When do you accept the bad news and stop praying?" When do you say that you will never walk again or see your marriage healed or see another Christmas?

Well, it isn't when things get difficult. God asked Abram, "Is there anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14) Even if your own personal wisdom says that God can't; He still can.

It isn't because God is surprised by the circumstance. He has a plan from the beginning. Even those who have hurt you will become a part of that plan. Joseph told his brothers that he knew that they intended evil for him but God had another plan: "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Genesis 50:20)

It isn't because the bad things cannot result in good either. "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

We know that it won't be because God has stopped loving us.  "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." ( Romans 8:38-39)

No, the time to stop praying and accept what God has for us is when He gives us His revelation that He isn't going to change your circumstances. He is, instead, going to use them.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So, if you or I haven't heard from God, if we haven't heard His revelation of what He will do with these impossible circumstances, if we haven't seen Him terminate the prayer with a death, then, we are to keep praying. We are to keep listening. We are to keep humbling ourselves before Him in these prayers.

But please don't be mistaken. God doesn't always tell us that He is going to let things take their natural course. Sometimes His word is that He will make all the circumstances disappear. He will tell you that the battle doesn't belong to you but to the Lord. He will say that you should sit still while He fights for you.

So, keep believing,  praying and listening. He always answers. One way or the other. Just know it is always best even when you can't see how.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In the Morning He Hears My Voice

Life has a way of crawling all over us. Sure, sometimes a crisis hits and takes all our attention but more often I have found that it is the little things that woo us away from our faith and our Lord. We slowly take our attention off our Lord and set it on the problems before us. Then, the world continues to bring one thing after another which demand our attention. It is easy to get really off the path in which we walk with our Lord this way. You suddenly look up and you don't know where you are. . . and you wonder how you got to where you are now.

Each of us should know exactly where we are. After all, we're in very place we were the last time we took our eyes off the Lord. We are sinking in the sea. We're trying to make our way through the maze of difficulties in life in our own power.

Yet, we know what to do. We have to come home. We have to set things back in order.

That isn't always easy because it humbles us. We have to admit that we have strayed away. We have to confess our own hubris in thinking that we could walk on the water all by ourselves. So, we admit we are lost from the Lord's purpose when we are all own our own.

So, we begin again. We start the day with the Lord. We call out to Him. We remember who we are and praise Him for who He is. We set our petitions, our prayer requests, our hurts, our problems, our opportunities and our decisions before Him. And watch.

If we aren't careful we will declare that we have waited long enough and just like the buzzer on a game show yell, "Times up!" Of course, that means we never intended to really leave our needs before Him. We just recited our needs so that we could say that we did. It was an item on our todo list. We're still just as lost to His purpose as long as we aren't willing see what He will say; what He will do.

But when we hear Him, we are thrilled. That which made no sense begins to make sense. The ball of string that we go tangled up comes into order. Even the things which are difficult being to fit into His purpose. You can stand a whole lot of hard times when you realize that there is a payoff in the end.

So, today. I have brought my life to the Lord again. And, I too, eagerly watch. What will you do to day, Lord? I know it will be amazing!

Psalm 5:3 (NASB)
3 In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Compelling Reason

This morning I was forced to stop my bicycle suddenly because a lady did not stop at a red light. She looked left as she turned without slowing down. I am actually surprised that she didn't slide through the intersection. I doubt if she ever saw me. She never knew how close she came to hitting me.

Why didn't she stop at the red light? Simple. She didn't have to because there was no one there with the authority to enforce the law. She will continue to run red lights until she is compelled to obey the law. The number of cars on the road and the reluctance of the police to issue tickets means she has a very good chance of running red lights for many more years.

Throughout history the Church has also struggled with this problem. People haven't been obeying the Lord because they haven't had anyone enforcing God's will. The Church has tried to take His place on the earth and administer justice. The effort may have had good intentions but it has always caused corruption. Unchecked power corrupts.

I can understand why those do not know the Lord won't obey Him. Why should they obey someone to whom they have not committed? Any obedience is for appearances which is not obedience at all.

I understand why God would compel those who are not committed to Him. There are things God wills which will not happen without the cooperation of those who are not committed to Him.

Exodus 3:19-20 (ESV)
19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.
20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 

But what about those who know Him? Shouldn't they understand that He is always with them? Shouldn't they simply obey because of their commitment? Shouldn't they obey because He lives within them?

I am not talking about living a perfect life. I am talking about a compelling reason to do what the Lord has told His people that they should do. Why have their hearts grown so cold that they do not realize that He is a living God who works in their hearts? How can they continue to treat Him like the grandparent in the nursing home that no one goes to visit? Is God not working in them? And, if not, do they really belong to Him?

I certainly can't be the judge here. But, on the other hand, I have to wonder because I know that my God is working in me as I am working out my salvation.

My only compelling reason to follow my Lord is the Spirit in which He has caused to dwell in me. He is working and, therefore, I obey.

Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Permanent Solutions for Temporary Problems

Nearly every week we hear of someone violently attacking others. They kill those whom they feel have harmed them and continue to kill others with whom they have never met. They appear to be asking for the pain to end. They don't believe they can take another moment of what they are feeling.

Evidence reveals that many of these people have prepared for this day. They assemble and arsenal of weapons, obtain body armor and choose their places of destruction. Yet, ultimately, they have to know that their lives are over once they start the path they have chosen. I guess that is their price for ending the pain.

Do they realize that the pain is only temporary? Has it been so long since they have felt good that they no longer feel that is possible? Yes, most of us look at each of our problems as if they are permanent but they really never are. Even a terminal disease has an end.

The most famous suicide in the Bible is that of Judas.

Matthew 27:3-5 (ESV)
3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.

Just think of this for a few moments. How would things have changed if Judas had waited just a few days before taking action? I know he could not see a way out of his guilt. He saw Jesus' death as final.

But he was wrong! The things which seem final in this world are not final when we consider the Lord. He often allows us to go through horrible experiences but He does not want us to go through them alone. He will go with us. He will bring the saints with us through their prayers. He will end the suffering.

Can we trust Him in this? If we can't then there is nothing we can trust.

Judas couldn't understand forgiveness. Maybe he understood that the only righteousness came when the law was perfectly kept. He had betrayed innocent blood. He didn't know that Jesus blood would pay for his own sin. He didn't believed he could be forgiven. He didn't wait for it either.

Judas couldn't get past the days ahead. There is no doubt that they other disciples weren't about to bring him into their inner circle. He was so friendless that his body would hand until the rope broke and his body would burst headlong on the ground. No one came to collect the body. He must have felt so alone.

But if he had waited he would have known Jesus as his friend. He could have been one of the most powerful witnesses. He could have said that even a betrayer like him could be forgiven. Now wouldn't that have been an amazing testimony?

But, no, Judas had a permanent solution for his temporary problem. I know the problem seemed permanent but no problem is permanent. No problem at all is permanent.

Sometimes we go through overwhelming pain. Some of it we cause. Often others are the source of our pain.

But as long as there is a God, all problems on this earth are temporary.

Never, never, never use a permanent solution for a temporary problem.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Who Is Safe, Anyway?

Foolishness is seeing a hole and falling into anyway. But would you appoint the government to have "hole" inspectors keeping people from going out because of possible holes? We seem to think that we can be always and perfectly safe by allowing the government to inspect and curtail our civil rights.

Nothing from this world will keep us perfectly safe. Giving up freedom for safety will eventually destroy freedom and safety.

Truthfully, I can't really define safety anyway. Is it never losing my job or always having someone else pay my bills? Is it the absence of danger or the absence of failure? No, I believe it is more dangerous to have nothing to live for. I believe it is more dangerous to know that I have an expiration date than to know that there is Someone who controls the date I will eject from this earthsuit and go to be with Him.

God's people have never been safe from famine or the sword. We walk in His will. It does not keep us from cancer or terrorists. It does not release us from company downsizing or traffic accidents. It doesn't even keep us out of traffic jams!

And yet it is safe.

Safe, not because of the circumstances, but there is Someone standing on the other side of the circumstances. He may heal or protect. He may, but He does not say to us that He will always do so.

He tells us that He will always love us. He promises to take us home with Him someday. He wants us to spend an eternity with Him.

He tells us to follow Him. Will that mean that we will always be safe? No, not like people are defining safety. Sometimes His safety requires that we give up our physical lives. Sometimes we are poorer because we have walked with Him. Sometimes we are threatened.

Yet, He is the only One I can really trust. No one else can promise to stand on the other side of the circumstances.

Psalm 20:7 (ESV) 7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Nature of the Sinner

Romans 7:18 (ESV) 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

The world is surprised by sin. Many people really wants to believe that everyone is good and that they will always do good things. At least, that's what they say publically but they still lock their doors at night.

On the other hand, paranoia believes that everyone is out to get you. This is the belief that a nefarious plan is in every action. Can we honestly say that everyone is seeking do as much evil as possible? No, I don't think so.

So, what does Paul mean when he says that there is nothing good dwelling in him? He must know that he has done some things which are benevolent. In fact, he would have been required to so as a good Pharisee.

Paul is saying that he cannot act in a way which will ensure his salvation. There is nothing in his flesh that will earn salvation. Paul is saying that his fallen nature cannot be made pure by his salvation. He is saying that his flesh does not contain the goodness to do what he would really like to do. He is saying that he, therefore, wants to live a perfect life but the fallen flesh pulls him back to his fallen nature. He is frustrated in his lack of living a life that is totally devoted to Christ. He is lamenting his inability to live a perfect Christian life.

This, of course, means that I, too, cannot live a perfect Christian life. Nor can any other Christian. It means that I should not expect others to live a perfect Christian life. I should not always expect others to do bad things but I should expect that there will be times when they will do bad things. It means that I must be forgiven and I must forgive. I will always be actively asking for forgiveness and forgiving as long as I have fallen flesh and live among a people with fallen flesh.

This does not mean that I throw my hands in the air, scream, "O, What's the use?" and live an unrepentant sinful life. I am being changed. I do have hope. I know that my Savior is the only answer. I know that He is still working on me. I know that I have been made into a new creation. Yet, I must also be aware of my ability to act like an old creation.

So, I will continue to have security at church, lock my doors and refuse each caller who asks for my credit card number. I will not be surprised by sin in others though I will expect them to be honest, loving and good. I will cautiously allow them to prove me wrong.

Yes, I know that I was changed when I gave my life to Christ but my fallen nature was not wrenched out of me. I still live with the flesh.

That's just the nature of a fallen world.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Must My Christian Commitment Be?

Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV) 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

My commitment to Christ will not bring peace with everyone. There will be those who vehemently disagree with me. I must be aware that they are not necessarily outside the church. They may be on the inside. I cannot have all peace and all Christ. I can either have all peace and a piece of Christ or a piece of peace and all of Christ. There are too many who choose to oppose Christ to have peace. There are too many who choose Christ as an acquaintance rather than Lord to have peace with them.

Nothing can mean more than Christ. My commitment to Jesus must be so central that it determines my commitment to my family. I still love my family but they cannot take precedence over my Lord. I am not worthy of my Lord if I turn away from Him to accommodate my family. My worthiness is not the earning of my salvation. It is the standing that I have with Him. It places me in need of confession. It removes me from His fellowship. It is falling far short of the glory He has intended for me.

Thus, I take up my cross. It must be taken voluntarily. My cross must be carried or I cannot walk with Him. I cannot choose wealth or safety or any comfort over Him. In fact, I must consider myself dead so that I can take this cross I must carry. Therefore, nothing else matters.

My walk with Him cannot be at my convenience. It cannot be when I desire it. My Christian life is either authentic or pretentious.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Giving Sight to the Spiritually Blind

I cannot imagine being born blind.

I remember when I had eye surgery to correct my vision. A machine was placed on my eye and pressed down so hard that everything went dark in that eye. I still had vision from the other eye and it only lasted a few seconds but I suppose that is what blindness is like. There was no vision from that eye.

I try to create that scenario when I think of those who are born blind. Maybe some of them see light. Maybe some of them see nothing at all. How do they think of the world? How do they even know that eyesight exists?

Suppose that mankind someday finds a world in which the inhabitants have no eyesight. They are reasonably intelligent otherwise. They have keen hearing, smell, touch and taste. They can maneuver through areas with these sense alone. In fact, they have advanced in science and other areas without sight.

They learn our language and we start communicating with them. We tell them of sight. What do you think would be their reaction? Would they believe that it exists?

Now also imagine that we discover that the only reason they cannot see is the absence of a nerve that would transmit the data to their brains. A simple operation would give them sight. Would they accept this gift?

Can you imagine some of these people denying that sight exists and others warning their brethren that "sight" will totally change their way of living? Some of the negative party are saying that they can "see" clearly with their other senses. How do we convince them that sight is good? Should we urge them to accept our gift?

Isn't that what we are doing when we tell people about the gift of Jesus? Aren't we telling them that they will "see" for they have been blind? Aren't we telling them that it will change their lives?

I suppose there will always  be people who will refuse the gift of Jesus. They are right. It will upset their way of life. They will no longer be able to live like they have lived. They will have "sight" which will enable them to see things they never could see before. This "sight" will not allow them to be content with what they were contented with before.

When "sight" comes, those who are blind receive it and are changed forever. Those who claim that they can see are blind because they claim to see without sight. While Jesus did not come to judge the world, the act of seeing is a judgment in itself. The blind are left seeing and those who claim they can see are left blind.

I still will love people so that they may believe that the One who loves them with an everlasting love will give them sight.

And I pray they will accept the gift.

John 9:39 (ESV) 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Will You Please Save the World for Me?

I watched a documentary the other night about people installing wind turbines on their farms to produced electricity. Their neighbors, who seemed to be conscientious about the environment, objected because of the noise or the view or some other trumped up reasons. They didn't deny that they wanted to stop our dependency upon oil for energy but they just didn't want it in their neighborhood.

That reminded me of people who said that they weren't bigots but were opposed to black people moving into their neighborhood because their own property values would plummet. I really believe these people thought they weren't bigots but their actions proved that they were.

The people who want to save the environment as long as its in someone else's neighborhood don't care enough about the environment to say they want to save the environment. They are hypocrites of the first order.

Great endeavors require sacrifice. Is that so hard to understand? Becoming the Savior of the world required the ultimate sacrifice. Saving the environment will take some sacrifice. It may be your view or that you have to listen to the swish of the turbines or that there might be some mishaps along the way like the spilling of chemicals or some other imperfection to the solution. However, those imperfections are a part of the sacrifice that must be made.

People are always willing to let someone else do what they should be doing. Isn't that how politicians get the votes? They tell the people that their votes will mean that the politician will do all the heavy lifting for them to have a better life. They are very convincing because they continue to get the votes even though the politicians do not tell how they produced an apparent results. They have cut holes in the pockets of their constituents so that the money just falls right out into the politicians hands. The best politicians rob Peter to pay Paul without Peter ever recognizing that he has been robbed.

Then people come to church with this same expectation. They want to see the church win souls but they don't want to share Christ with their neighbors. They would rather have an evangelism program that they can attend for ten weeks which assigns them to visit unknown people rather than making a real sacrifice by showing their neighbors love. Love is always a sacrifice. It requires actions which are often inconvenient. It speaks much louder than preaching. But preaching costs less.

I am amazed at people who claim that the reason they hired the staff at the church was to get Sunday School teachers for their children. They neither want to serve nor ask someone to serve. They want to absolve themselves of all responsibility while saying that they want children to be taught. They want to see people come to Christ but will not take the time or effort to attend baptism services. They want to the world to be saved without any effort on their part.

Do they have faith? Not in the sense that James would say they have faith. They want to believe that they believe but do not really believe.

So, do you believe or are you expecting someone else to save the world for you?

James 2:20-24 (ESV) 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.