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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Carefully Choosing Words to Bless

Sometimes the most important thing that happens when someone delivers a message from the Lord and this person isn't the preacher. The words, "I have been praying for you," can go a long way toward bringing someone into God's will, increasing faith and encouraging that person to walk one more day. Those words may be more important than the words of praise which are sung later in the worship service. They may certainly mean more to the person who hears them and they also may be a greater praise to God than the offering we bring.

Yet, there are those who think that their words can be caustic and self-serving without any consequences. They do not know that our words can bring light into our souls but they can also shut out the light. They do not know that you can't use your words to stand on the back of others in order to "be" taller. Maybe that's why gossip is listed among some of the worst sins. The person using his words to "curse" others is far from God.

Sunday after Sunday members greet each other in church. They generally go to their friends and say something about the weather, a sporting event or some recent activity each has participated in. The person with the unfamiliar or downward face is avoided. These are the lepers of the church. No one should have to touch them, right? The members do not know what it would mean if someone would say something more than perfunctory. What would happen if someone would just make a point of meeting this person after the service and take an interest in him?

I don't think we realize that we cannot bless God without blessing others and we bless God when we bless others. We don't seem to make the connection.

What would happen if we started to notice our words? What changes would take place within us if we made a commitment to say nothing but good things to and about people for a week? How often would we have to check our tongues before we said something we shouldn't? What if that included our responses to others who said bad things about us? How would we be perceived?

I must admit that I am under conviction about my tongue. I have used it to bless God and curse others. As James says, "These things ought not to be so."

What about you? How is your tongue?

James 3:9-10 (ESV)
9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Keeping the Number at One

We live in a world of more than one. Each news report becomes more important as the number of people directly affected rises. Each success at church is accentuated with the number attending, making decisions, being baptized or giving. The casualties of war are pronounced at certain milestones of losses.

All of these numbers are further emphasized as they are compared to previous numbers. The news will focus on years past when we had whatever numbers and generally seek to report an escalation in problems. The church will point to previous years on how many attended, gave, were baptized, etc. with an effort to show success.

As Christians we find ourselves no different than the non-churched when we look at numbers. We want greater numbers. We focus on making sure those numbers are greater each year. We glorify the mega-church. Even if we merely visit one of these churches we tell of their facilities, their magnificent worship or their ministries. Most of us wish our churches would grow like them. We want to see success too. And success is most often defined by the numbers.

Yet, this is not the way that God sees people. He sees each and every one of us without looking at the numbers. He sees the needs of the one and goes after one of us at a time. His plans for us are specific to us. His method of reaching each one of us is unique.

Isaiah 49:16 says, "6 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; " Doesn't this speak of our God who loves us individually?

Sometimes I don't have anything to write on when someone gives me his phone number. I write it on my hand so that I won't forget it. Jesus wrote my name on His hands when He died on the cross. No, He won't forget me. But not only me. He has written the names of all those whom He died for.

Jesus told a parable about a shepherd who lost one sheep. He left his other ninety-nine sheep to find the one that was lost. When he found it, he threw a party to celebrate with his friends. I can't help but think that I, too, must make sure that no matter how large my church may grow that I can't avoid seeing each person as having the importance of that one sheep.

No matter how many come to church each one must come to Him. I am His instrument of reaching the one. Yes, I would like to see my own church become much larger but somehow I can't let the number that I am concerned about get larger than one. Each person is that valuable to God.

Luke 15:3-7 (ESV)
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Do You See the Lord during Communion?

1 Corinthians 11:23-30 (ESV)
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when 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 also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
  27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

The Apostle Paul was very serious about the Lord's Supper or Communion. He understood the presence of Christ in the elements which were eaten. He knew that it was much more than a ritual that churches performed as part of their responsibility. He saw it as vital to their faith and he saw the disregard for the preparation of the Lord's presence as blasphemy. Let's make sure we grasp the Lord's Supper.

There can be no denial that Jesus is present in the elements. This does not mean that the bread becomes flesh nor that the wine becomes blood. This is totally unnecessary for His presence. The Jewish people believed the blessing said before a meal ensured the presence of God. There is every reason we should believe that Jesus is not present in this meal which is served in "remembrance of Him."

The knowledge of His presence in this meal is much more than a perfunctory response to the act of taking the meal. He is actually present. Therefore, there are dire consequences for those who have unprepared hearts when taking the meal. It is seen as disloyal as mocking a king in his presence. The person doing so is in danger of losing his head. It is made worse by failing to acknowledge Him as king. Thus, the danger of punishment is as real as the presence of the Lord in the meal.

This presence we have in the meal must suffice until He returns and we no longer need to take the meal together. We proclaim His death until we see Him face-to-face. Then, we will proclaim His present presence. We remember what He has done until we see Him. Of course, all that He has done on the cross will mean so much more when we see His Coming. We will have remembered so that this Coming, which should be anticipated each day, will be more glorious.

These elements represent a real death and the real spilling of blood by our Lord. They tell the gospel story each time we take them. They point us to our own salvation. They renew our faith. Thus, they prepare us for the life we have with Him until we have the life with Him at His Coming.

My fear that is many people fail to "see" the Lord as they take communion. They treat it as any task they need to accomplish without realizing the special place it is intended to have. I say this as one whose life is changed by the Lord's Supper.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Just What Does Complete Commitment to Christ Look Like?

Matthew 10:37-39 (ESV)
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.

I normally believe in the minimum commitment. I pay the minimum each time I buy something. I give them the asking price plus tax.I don't pay more. I guess this applies to following Jesus too.

The minimum commitment for following Jesus is everything. There are no reserves left. Their is no one you love more. There is no one you serve more. There is no one you give more to. All that I have and all that I am is committed to Jesus.

Is that what salvation is? Is this the true measure of knowing Christ? I believe so. Jesus doesn't require perfection for our salvation. He requires commitment without reservation.

That doesn't set well with our easy faith of walking an aisle, verbally professing Christ and being immersed in water baptism. These ought to be an outward sign of our commitment. For many, I'm afraid, it is their total commitment. Their faith in Christ does not touch the rest of their lives. It is like mowing the grass. It is something that has to be done so you might as well get it over with. It isn't intended to ruin your whole Saturday.

Not that a complete commitment to Christ will ruin any Saturday. It may require something that isn't easily sacrificed. Like loving Jesus more than parents or children. Even a lot of Christian leaders want to say that our love for parents and children should extend beyond our love for Christ. Of course this talk is placed under a vale. It says something like, "I don't want to neglect my children so . . . ," but really it is placing Christ lower on the list.

Funny thing: Christ really never sits well at number 2. In fact, He doesn't really make the list at all if He is no longer at the center. He is followed more like a sports team than Lord. Commitment follows game time. You have to be seen supporting the team during game time. But just how much commitment can you give during the off-season? Everyone wants to show up fro after game victory parties. Who wants to be there after the losses? Where are you when continued commitment requires sacrifice?

A total commitment means that I belong to Christ. Everything that has been entrusted into my care belongs to Christ. These things include every member of my family, all of my possessions, every penny I have and all of my time. I will love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. A total commitment means there is nothing left over.

Are there people who are saved who have not made such a commitment? I believe there must be but I have no true evidence. Jesus spoke of the Pearl of Great Price. The one who sought that Pearl paid everything he had to receive it. What does that say of salvation?

What difference would it make if salvation was nothing more than saying, "Jesus is Lord, " publicly and being immersed in water as a sign of a commitment to Christ? This shouldn't limit me when I know that He desires a total commitment to Him.

I guess being His is really nothing more than being His, after all. (How many understand this?)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Why Can't I Let Go?

I have read the same scriptures as you. I know what I need to do. I know that God cares for me and expects me to pray and cast my anxieties upon Him.

And I try. I even think I have succeeded at times. But then those old anxieties come right back. They are like friends who come over to your house without ever knocking on the door. They just walk in knowing they will be welcomed.

But this isn't the way I want to live. I want to have the peace that passes all understanding all the time. It isn't that I never experience this peace. The fact that this peace doesn't continue always bothers me. Shouldn't I know that God always keeps His promises? Shouldn't I know that He handles every concern that I have? Shouldn't I know because I know Him and His word?

And, yet, I embarrassingly admit that I deny all that I say that I know by being full of anxiety about so many things in my life.

Does this negate God's word? Absolutely not! The validity of God's word is not determined by whether or not I act like it is true. Something is true because it is true. It doesn't matter if I act or believe as if it is true.

So, I end up going back to the words that God has said and acting on them again.

Matthew 6:33-34 (ESV)
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. 

I seek His righteousness.

1 Peter 5:7 (ESV)
7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

I cast all those cares that I have. I watch my hands to make sure I haven't grabbed them back.

Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

And I pray earnestly. 

And, yes, the peace that passes all  understanding has just come on me again. The things which have made me anxious are still there. They just aren't mine to carry anymore.

I'm afraid I will have to do this again soon. Why can't I just let go?