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Friday, February 28, 2014

Like a Roaring Lion

1 Peter 5:8-11 (ESV)
8  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 

We are challenging the members of our church to have a daily time with God for forty days before Easter. Many people make commitments to God for Lent which represent something they will abstain from We are making a commitment to God in something we will do. We believe that God changes people when they put themselves in His Word and His Hands. Those who commit to the Daily Time with God will read each day's assigned scripture, record at least one sentence which tells what it means to them, report to someone else that they have had their Daily Time with God and tell us when they have had an exceptional time with God. We are expecting God to do miracles in the lives of those who commit this to Him.

Now here's the thing though. The closer we have come to starting the more chaos that has been going on in the church.  Some are having sexual sins being brought to the forefront. Some are indicating that they don't want to be called Christians anymore because of what the Bible says. Some are criticizing the church for various reasons. Things which have never been prevalent are becoming prevalent very fast.

We haven't changed anything that we are doing. We have not moved the worship service nor changed the styles of our worship. We haven't changed our membership procedure nor asked people to  be baptized again. We have simply challenged people to have a Daily Time with God.

Yet, we should have seen it coming. Satan is like a roaring lion. Lions roar to proclaim their territory and to call those of their pride back. He certainly has roared. He certainly has prowled. He is afraid that he will lose some of the territory that he has claimed. Some of those whom he defeated will soon defeat him.

But that doesn't mean that there won't be any suffering on our part. Peter tells us that it is for a little while. I have always thought that any suffering seems like a long while even when it was really only a little while.  It's a great reason to be sober and alert. A calm but alert mind directs the ones being attacked to put on the full armor of God. Satan attacks truth, righteousness, testimony and salvation. He will challenge these are strenuously as he confronted Eve (and Adam) in the Garden.

Still, there is a great blessing after resisting the devil. God restores, strengthens and establishes us once more. I like that part.

So, I resist Satan though not arrogantly. He will defeat me easily if I go in the battle without the Lord.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Light Will Always Shine in the Darkness

There are several mysteries in the universe that haven't been solved. Of course, that doesn't mean there are no theories which supposedly explain them.

I love to read books and magazines on science. I subscribe to a couple of scientific magazines which cause me to find the books and research where these magazine articles originated. I have been reading books on theoretical physics for the past couple of weeks. I must admit that I understand less than half of what I read but it appears that there is a theory for every unexplainable question. There are theories of multi-dimensions and parallel universes which solve equations which scientists could never solve without the creation of these theoretical possibilities. It was the only way to solve the math. Thus, they explained it with the creation of imaginary time and imaginary numbers. I have no idea if they are correct. I suspect that no one else really knows either.

Its strange to me that scientists who would normally use Occam's Razor to explain anything they observe go to such great lengths to avoid the easiest explanation. In the beginning God created all that there is. There was nothing before God. He is all that there ever was. He created time and all that is in the universe.

O, I realize that doesn't mean that there aren't P branes and String Theory and bozons and all the other stuff that these scientists are theorizing about but the most natural understanding is that the order in the universe was created by Someone. The scientists are able to discover this order because there was one who ordered it. He took chaos and made the cosmos.

In fact, it would help scientists to understand things this way. Otherwise, why should they expect to find a pattern at all? A chaotic universe would be a great argument for the absence of any god. Then again, who would be around to make the argument if the universe was really chaotic. Even the theories that rule out God wouldn't be possible. Even the theory of evolution requires an ordered universe.

Sometimes I think that mankind will someday leave all notion that there is a god. I fear they will theorize themselves to grand conclusions and find out too late how wrong they were. I am wrong about this. It isn't possible because the Creator is the light of mankind. He continues to shine in the darkness which does not believe in Him. This Light is always on. It never goes out so that it continues to irritate those who want to say the Light doesn't exist. So they try to get far away from the Light hoping that it will be dimmer because they have no success in putting out the Light.

This eternal Light gives me hope for mankind. It is always there to show mankind the way. Creation itself points toward this Creator. I have hope that many people will discover this. I have hope that mankind will someday come home to God.

And why not? God left the Light on for them.

John 1:1-5 (ESV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Desperate Worship

Ezra 3:11-13 (ESV)
11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.

It has been over seventy years since Israel has been able to worship in Jerusalem. There have been no sacrifices since they must be done there. The old men, possibly eighty or ninety years old, remember what it was to worship in the Temple. They weep at the laying of the foundation. The younger ones weep and shout for joy because they desperately wanted to worship for so long in this way. The place of worship is being restored.

Antiphonal singing fills the air with the sounds of weeping and shouting. They sing of God's goodness toward them. They do not try to blame their hardships on God. They know they or their ancestors were responsible. They are merely joyous over the worship that they have now. It fills them up and overflows.

I have never been in such a worship experience. I have seen people weep. I have heard great singing. I have heard a few shouts of joy. Yet I have never heard a whole congregation caught up in worship like this.

I long for this type of worship. I didn't realize this until I read this scripture this morning. I long for a worship that focuses completely upon God. I want one in which people allow their emotions to erupt unimpeded. I want to hear the singing which tells of God's goodness toward us. I want to be caught up in it. I don't want to be a spectator. I want to be it.

I have dreamed of this type of worship for a long time. I have seen God's presence almost take over. I have seen many people come to know the Lord at one time. I have seen people make commitments but it seems that something was holding people back in my experiences. Ezra describes a worship with nothing being held back.

This is desperate worship. It is my desire too.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Laws Never Govern Morality

Many people break the law. They speed because there aren't enough police to give tickets or they buy radar detectors to make sure they don't get caught speeding. They throw their trash out the windows of their cars because there is no one around to stop them. People murder, rob banks and cheat on their taxes because they don't think they'll ever get caught. The external force and prescribed punishment isn't enough to keep people from breaking the law.

But what about morality?

God has established moral laws. He has said that murder is a sin. But each night we read of murders. He has said that adultery is a sin but I often have to listen to the unfaithfulness of both spouses in a marriage. Again, many people fail to obey God's moral laws because they don't believe they will get caught. Of course, they are always caught because God sees them but that doesn't seem to matter to them.

So, why should we expect that a law governing morality will work? It never has before.

I'm afraid that people want to feel safe rather than be safe. They want to know the law is there to stop whatever from happening whether or not it has any effect on it happening. They give up their rights to have the TSA agents go through their luggage because they want to feel safe. They say its okay for the government to listen on their phone conversations because they want to feel safe. I personally don't think these actions have made us any safer. I believe that people will always figure out a way to go around a law if they want to.

So, what works?

Jesus said:

John 14:15 (ESV)
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
I believe that love is the only answer to a moral problem. If we love Jesus we will obey what He has said. We will see the Bible as a book of love in which God expresses His love to us and we obey because of our love for Him. People who fall in love with Jesus will radically change their actions to be in compliance with His will. Love acts when no one else is watching.

The Pharisees thought they were obeying God's laws. They tried to impose their will on the people. They condemned those who didn't do exactly as themselves. They never saw their failures. They never realized their explanations of the law were merely new ways to break the law. They put huge burdens on the backs of the people.

I made a vow to care for my wife when I married her. She has been going through radiation treatments for breast cancer for the past five weeks. She is so weak that she has trouble walking in to work from the parking lot. Therefore, I drive her to work every chance I get. I did so this morning even though it made me late for my 6:45 AM meeting. It is not a burden. It is a privilege. It is an act of love. No one has to see me doing it. No one has to praise me for taking her to work.

I made a commitment to my Lord many years ago. I want to know Him and the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings being conformed to His death. I serve Him even when no one knows I am doing so. It is not a burden. It is a privilege. I do so because I love Him.

Love is the only regulation necessary to obey the Lord. People who love the Lord will obey what He has said. People who love the Lord don't care if another person knows they are obeying Him. In fact, the person truly in love forgets his own wants to please the person he loves.

This afternoon I will leave early to take my wife to her radiation treatment. She only has three more treatments. I don't want her to have more treatments but I will miss the opportunity to serve her. It isn't the vow that I made so long ago that makes me do this. It is the love I have for her.

Love is the only answer to the morality problem. Laws will never regulate morality.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Great Peace Found in God's Word

Psalm 119:165 (ESV)
165  Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. 

The object of war is victory. From victory comes peace. Surrender also bring peace. So, are the ones who love God's law on the side of victory or surrender? I think both.

One must surrender in his love of the law of God. Love demands more than a casual relationship. Love always demands sacrifice. Sacrifice demands submission. Jesus submitted Himself to be sacrificed on the cross. It was the greatest act of love. He even said that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.

The one who loves the law, therefore, submits himself to it. He cannot read it casually. He cannot decide whether or not it is right. Loving the law demands submission. It is a surrender to obey whatever it says whether or not the one who loves it wishes it said something else.

Great peace comes when one is at peace with God. The world comes unraveled when there is no peace with God. There is nothing but chaos. Every other relationship loses its standard. What is wrong with adultery or robbery or hatred if there is no standard set by God? Even those who do not believe in God have a tacit  understanding of what is right and wrong. They desperately try to hide their guilty consciences. There can be no guilty conscience when one is at peace with God.

On the other hand there is victory in loving God's law. Stumbling can be understood as falling. Falling is giving into temptation. This temptation will either be given into in sin or run from in a challenge.

I was twenty-three years of age working on a college campus when one of the female students came and sat on my desk. I told her, "Just a second, I need to do something before we can talk." I proceeded to call home. I said, "Honey, I forgot to tell you that I loved you before I left the house." There actually wasn't an answer at my house. I just pretended to talk to my wife. However, the young lady got off of my desk and soon left my office. I thought of what Paul said of there being no temptation that isn't common to everyone but that God would give us a way out. I had victory of something that I desperately needed victory over.

For some reason people don't understand that you must flee temptation. That comes from the Bible. They haven't read it. They don't love it. Therefore, they try to resist temptation. Temptation is like water on a rock. Water will eventually win even though the rock seems to be much stronger. (Take a look at the Grand Canyon if you don't believe me.) Resistance is futile.

There is no victory in resistance anyway. Resistance keeps the battle going. Victory ends the battle. The only way to defeat temptation is to flee it. One must not hand around temptation.

The word of God describes righteousness and unrighteousness. Those who love it know what it says. Those who love it know that victory comes in righteousness. They do not stumble when temptation knocks. They do not falter when a crisis looks insurmountable. They know what the word says and they do not fall into the temptation of fear brought on by a lack of trust, spiritual weakness and a lack of faith. They have victory because they have peace.

Therefore, those who love God's law have great peace whether it is with Him or within themselves.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A More Agreeable God

Exodus 32:1-6 (NRSV)
1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." 
2 Aaron said to them, "Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." 3  So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4  He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!"
5  When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD." 6  They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. 

I hear people say to me, "I can't believe in a god who would condemn people to hell!" It doesn't matter which sin we are talking about. They have already agreed to the sin. They want a god who allows anything they see as agreeable to be their god. They have failed to realize that any god they can create can't really be God.

The God of the Bible is the only God. There is none like Him. He has a standard of righteousness which rubs many people the wrong way. They want a god who will go the way of the world. They want a god who will let them party as much as they would like performing any act they like. They don't want restrictions. They want a god who will comply with their own changing morality. They want a god who will do what they want when they want. They want a god who answers their prayers without any restrictions.

Moses and Joshua went up on the mountain. A majority of the people wanted a god whom they would ascribe the good things that God had done. They sought a different god whom they could see. They weren't any different than people are today.

And why don't they know this is wrong? They lived in Egypt complying with their gods and could see no difference in the God of Abraham and the gods of the Egyptians. They had not experience a God who had righteous standards. Their standards allowed for almost anything.

It is amazing how fast people turn from God to making their own gods. Ten years ago I would not have believed the morality of this country would have gone so far as today. We finally have a generation that does not know God nor His works. They are making up their own god to comply with their own morality.

Christianity has fallen out of favor in the past ten years. It has been called everything from intolerant to judgmental to hateful. Those who condemn Christianity want to manufacture a new god who will meet their needs and approve their actions.

The Bible, the best seller of all time, is rarely read. People own something that could help them in their relationships, give them direction in their decisions and bring them close to God. They see the Bible as outdated because it speaks of sin when they want to eliminate the word "evil" from their vocabulary.

Again, I am perplexed in what to do. There must be people praying that God will cause His Spirit to take hold once again. There must be people who will pray that a true God-sent revival break out.

Unfortunately, I do not see people deciding to pray. I see God giving us over to deeper sins. He withdraws a bit of His presence which is His grace and the people create a new god.

Please pray, pray pray for revival.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What Is Confession?

1 John 1:9 (ESV)
9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I have struggled with this verse for a long time. I believe God knows what we have done. Why do we need to tell Him? There must be more.

Confession is a realization of our sin. The verb, confess, is a subjunctive. This means that it is a conditional "if- then" type statement. The "if" is our part. Our confession is not universal to all people. Not all people will confess. It is a decision that each person must make on his own.

Conviction precedes confession. Each person who confesses has realized his own sin. Conviction is not comfortable. It compels us to confess. There is no relief of sin by merely acknowledging them. There is no true relief of sin by simply recounting them before God. There must be more.

The word confession comes from two words. Homo in Greek means "the same." Logeo means "I say." It is plural. It is subjunctive meaning that "if" should be added. Since logos also means word, the logical understanding is "If we say the same words." What are the same words?

Confession must say the same words as God about our sin. Those words are more than admission of guilt though admitting guilt has its own value. These words must have a greater meaning to have value. These words must include repentance. This is what makes the confession valuable to God.

Let's say that your spouse has been unfaithful to you. He or she comes to tell you about an affair. What value would it be to you if there wasn't any repentance. In other words, what if your spouse said, "Yeah, I did it and I'm going to keep on doing it." Would you really say, "O, I'm so glad I know now," or "I see how hard it was for him (or her) to tell me and that means a lot?"

No. The only confession of value would be one that begged forgiveness, realized grace and repented of ever doing it again. Why would we expect any value in merely telling God what we have done? There is a whole lot more to it.

I am disappointed in my own denomination which does not have much of a place for confession. It is rarely preached or given opportunity. On the other hand, I am also disappointed in Christian groups which promote confession without repentance. My denomination hardly acknowledges the need for confession which restores righteousness. Others have a confession without repentance which has no value in restoring righteousness.

There is a big difference between being sorry for your sin and being sorry you got caught in your sin. There is a big difference between only acknowledging sin and repenting of sin.

Which one will cleanse us from all unrighteousness? Which one will restore our fellowship with the Lord? I'll let you choose.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Some People Have to Leave the Church to Prove They Never Were of the Church

1 John 2:19-20 (ESV)
19  They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
20  But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.

Before anyone responds what I learned from this passage, I would like to say I understand the conditions under which it was written There had been people in the church who at one time were considered upstanding members who had left the church to teach a heresy. The heresy had something to do with saying Jesus was not the Christ. They were antichrists because of this. They opposed Christ.

However, I also saw something else. I saw how easy it is to say that someone is a believer when he really just knows the right words to say. John didn't tell the church the believers that they needed to appease these people so that they would come back to church. He called them what they really were: antichrists.

I also find it interesting that the subjunctive use of the verb in v. 19 reveals that their leaving was in accordance with God's purpose. They left so that they could be revealed as antichrists. Think of the damage they would have done if they had tried to woo away the members from the inside. They would have gotten much more traction in their efforts. So many in a church have the gift of mercy which can result in a lack of discernment if unchecked by others. The gift of mercy is a necessary gift but must be used under the guidance of the Holy Spirit or no one will know the justice of God. Leaving the church revealed to everyone clearly who these antichrists really were.

John also notes that these people may have gone out from them in location but were never really a part of them in faith. These people have never known Christ so that their antichrist teaching reveals that they never knew Christ.

I once did the funeral of a very godly man whose son asked to make some remarks. Of course, I assumed it was appropriate that a son speak of his father's godliness. That's not what happened.  The son gave an antichrist type of teaching instead of speaking of his father or of Jesus. He tipped his hat to Jesus in saying that becoming a Christian was better than not becoming a Christian. He was a universalists who said that Jesus death was really unnecessary for salvation. The rest of the man's family was embarrassed. They all knew the Lord. The son who spoke had heard of the Lord but his words revealed that he really didn't know who Jesus is. Why would he think that God would send His only Son to die such a horrible death if it was not necessary?

Those who believe are anointed by the Holy Spirit. He is the seal and assurance of our salvation. He is the one who holds onto believers  and who works in believers.  He reveals who Jesus is. Thus, believers have the knowledge but not as those who merely know in part. Believers have the total knowledge found in a relationship. The one known only be reputation or by what others have said is two dimensional. Getting to know the person fills in the gaps. Getting to know the person reveals the character.  The believers relationship with the Lord is like a marriage. The believer knows the Lord intimately and knows Him more and more.

Thus, each of us knows people who came to our churches but are no longer with us. They are telling a different story of Jesus than that of the Bible. They are saying things about the Church, His Bride, that is against Him. They are saying that He doesn't matter as they stay so far away from Him. Maybe they had to leave the Church in order to show that they were never a part of the Church.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Root of All Lies

Genesis 3:4 (ESV)
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.

The first recorded lie came from Satan. Jesus said he was the father of lies. The truth is not in him. It is normal for him to lie. It is normal for him to lead you from the truth which is God. He promises a life better than God has planned. He is always telling this lie. He has gotten very creative in the way he tells it.

People often believe lies because of sin. They want to believe something because the truth does not appeal to the flesh. Thus, they will exchange the truth for a lie.

Romans 1:25 (ESV)
25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Many would say that this is talking of worshiping idols. It is but those idols often have human flesh. A person turns away from God and embraces a lie. That lie says that anything is permissible. There is no such thing as sin. Therefore, whatever feels good; whatever looks good; whatever is expedient and whatever is accepted by others will be the standard of what is right. There is no bottom to this pit. It is a lie which unravels the whole of creation. If not for God's providence, the world would fall apart.

People believe Satan's lies because they are afraid of not believing them. Saul failed to obey God because he was afraid of what his people would say when he eliminated what appeared to be perfectly good captured animals. They were the reward of the fighting and he was afraid of losing favor or control of the people. He convinced himself that he had done what God wanted. He even thought that he had improved on God's idea.

1 Samuel 15:20-21 (ESV)
20 And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. 21 But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

But Samuel confronted him with the facts. He had not done what God had said. So Saul admitted:

1 Samuel 15:24 (ESV)
24 Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 

Peer pressure is a powerful tool of Satan. He can tell his lie very effectively through others. He says, "Let's do something better than what God has planned. It makes sense until the lie is placed beside the truth of God's word.

Some have known nothing but a lie. They will not accept the truth because the truth is so contrary to the lie the lie they have always believed. So you have them resisting the Holy Spirit  Thus, Stephen preaches to the Jews who would stone him for speaking the truth. He tells them they were resisting the Holy Spirit. He (Holy Spirit) was speaking the truth but they rejected it as their fathers had. 

Acts 7:51 (ESV)
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 

John 16:13 (ESV)
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 

The Jews on religion which is intended to lead them to the truth is keeping them away. It is like telling a person who has always worn a cross that the cross she  wears is merely symbolic. It has no saving power in it. She will be reluctant to take off the cross if this is all she has ever believed. Satan doesn't mind using religious symbols or religious practices if he can keep people from the truth.    

It is easy to come to despair over people not knowing the truth. They are always being lied to. They are trying to fit in with a world that rejects the truth. Their own flesh wants to accept the lies. They have never known the truth. Why should they ever accept the truth?

But please remember: once you were one of these people and you must live among these people today. Why did you believe the truth? Why do you continue believing the truth when the same forces which pull on those in the world are pulling on you?

By God's word, by the Holy Spirit and by God's grace we believe the truth. There is nothing better than God's will. Their is nothing better than what He has for us.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Christian Life Is a Balance of My Work and God Working in Me

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.

There is a danger in reading these two verses separately. One leads you to believe that your salvation depends upon your work alone. The other turns the tables and says it's all God's doing. I believe Paul meant them as one statement. I don't know what the formula was for dividing up verses but these two need to be kept together.

Paul commends the Philippians. He has observed their obedience. He exhorts them to continue. The word translated "work out" means to bring a task to completion. It can be compared to working out the plans for a house. The architect has drawn up the plans but the ones building it have to bring it into reality.

The word for salvation is not speaking of justification but of sanctification. Sanctification is the refining process in which we are presented before the Lord. That is why Paul speaks to them in:

 Philippians 1:6 (ESV) 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Paul has not changed his mind. He is still speaking of sanctification when in this salvation. Too many people believe that all they need is justification. They do not realize that sanctification should be the expected goal of those who identify with Christ. Too many believe they can check a box at their church and go to heaven. They do not realize that God isn't finished with us when we say we believe. We are making a commitment that lasts for eternity. We haven't truly identified with Him in justification if we have not committed to Him in sanctification. Thus, many people are like those mentioned in Matthew 7. They will call Him Lord and point at their works but will not have salvation because He never knew them. They said the right things, did the right things but never identified with Him in justification. They thought they were working for the salvation that no amount of work could buy.

The fear and trembling mentioned here is not a terror of God. Truly He is an awesome God and being in His presence should never be taken lightly but the blood of Jesus soothes His wrath against us. No, the fear and trembling is in our own walk. We have such clay feet that we can stumble at any moment. We should continually watch our steps- not only in fear of our own sins but in fear of disobedience to His calling.

Then, Paul balances our own efforts with those of God working in us. Kenneth Wuest said: "It is not a 'let go and let God' affair. It is a 'take hold with God' business. The Christian life is not a life in which we are fully responsible for determining what God wants us to do but one in which the Christian listens and is empowered by the Holy Spirit to do what God is calling him to do. The "well done" we long for in eternity comes from a life which so loves Him and wants to please Him that it listens for His will each day and sets out to do that will in His power.

The Christian life is a balance and we have a hard time with balance. When we find too much of anything as wrong our first reaction is to ban that action altogether. Thus, the balance in the Christian life is something we must always keep in mind. I am working out my salvation (sanctification) but I am not working for my salvation (justification). I am depending upon God to work in me and working in obedience for my Lord.

It is easy be tipped over when you have to balance.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Each Moment Is His

Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 (ESV)
24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Infomercials fill the late night tv times. Some are promising a slimmer body; some a better physique, some a longer life and some promise to make you rich. The latter is done by the secrets which individuals have learned and are willing to let you check out if you will simply make a call. I have never made the call but I suspect that checking out the "free get rich" programs costs quite a bit.

These get rich schemes appear to me as people who have chosen a gimmick, written literature on the gimmick and are selling the gimmick. The person getting rich is the one who sells the gimmick. I don't conning people can be fulfilling. I know it isn't from God. I don't care how many times the name of Jesus is mentioned. (Yes, there is one that says that God has a code in the Bible which will allow you to invest and get rich.)

People receive what they do from the hand of God find enjoyment in their toil. They work but know that they are providing a service. Each week I visit people in the hospital and pray with them. I also pray for the hospital employees. I thank God for them and ask His blessing to be on them for they are in partnership with Him for healing and life. I don't deny that God is the healer. But I also know that God uses people to join Him in healing people. He uses me in my prayer. He uses the medical professionals to act on the sick bodies. Ultimately, He heals.

How can any enjoyment be found in work when it is not seen as a gift of God? Sure, there may be things that interest you but when it comes down to the real work, the real toil, how much joy can be found in that if there is nothing but riches at the other end? How much joy is there in sitting on a stack of money at the end of your life?

So, let's imagine something else. God has a ministry for you to perform in the work that you do. It may be in the service you provide, the product that emerges or in the people with whom you work. God may use you to change others lives by the way you work. He may be using the work to change you too. The enjoyment doesn't come from the amount of money that is made. Money will produce a temporary happiness; not real joy. Real joy comes as a fruit of the Spirit. This comes while we are walking with God.

God gives us work to walk with Him. Work often humbles us. It makes us depend upon Him. It should make us ask why we are working. Each job is a ministry. It is an opportunity to reveal who God is. It is an opportunity to change things the way God wants them.

The sinner seeks to get rich without any concern for God. But God still owns it all. And it all returns to those who seek after God. The sinner will prosper those who love the Lord. I know that appears ludicrous at the moment. In the end the sinner won't be in the end. None of the riches will matter. All of the riches stored in heaven are all the riches there will be. These riches will be our crowns that we will present to Him. The glory of presenting to Him will be our reward. The sinner has none of this. The sinner is striving after the wind.

Each moment of our day is His. Our rising and going to bed is His. Our working and playing is His. It all has meaning. It is all for our joy even when it doesn't appear enjoyable at the moment. It all has a purpose. The sinner has no purpose. It doesn't matter if he rises or goes to bed. It doesn't matter what he does for work or play. Ultimately, he works for God too but doesn't know it. All that he has and does will also do what God has ultimately planned.

The joy we have is in the knowledge that it is His. Each moment has a purpose whether or now we realize it at that moment. One day it will all be revealed. One day those moments which seem to account for little will be seen as much because we put them in the Lord's hands.

Each moment is His.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Wisdom of God

1 Corinthians 3:18-23 (ESV)
18  Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19  For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”  20  and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”  21  So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours,  22  whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,  23  and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. 

The Truman Show is a movie about a man who has been filmed in an artificial world all of his life. Truman is the focus of a reality tv show which has begun airing his life from birth. The producers built a huge artificial environment complete with a sky, sun, clouds a sea or lake, houses, neighbors cars and businesses. Truman believes it is true because he has never known anything different. All of the people in his world are actors who perpetuate Truman's perception that the world he is living in is real. Even his wife and mother are actors who keep Truman believing the world he sees with his own eyes is a real world. The climax of the movie is when Truman realizes that it has all been a lie and breaks out of his containment.

I am sure that few, if any, of those involved in this movie had any spiritual thoughts as they made it. They probably didn't realize how close to the truth they were. This world presents a reality to all of us that is perpetuated by most of those in this world. They believe what this world has told them to believe. They seek to fit in and fail to question many of the things that happen. They fabricate their own realities to fit within the values of this world.

But Jesus comes into our lives and says that this is not real. The wisdom of this world, this age, is false. The salvation this world hopes to bring is damning rather than saving. The way of living this world values promises to be fulfilling but never is. There is no ultimate meaning for anyone's life in this world. It is just like the "reality" programs on tv. They are no where near reality for they are scripted and performed by very bad actors.

It is dangerous to think we are wise because we are seen as wise by this world. It makes us foolish before God. Instead, we should be seen as foolish before the world and wise before God. The world thinks it is foolish to completely follow Jesus. The world loves to tip their hat to Him but a complete commitment is simply foolishness in their eyes. They see that as fanaticism. Being a fan is enough in the world's eyes.

Let's think in terms of a little wisdom. Which will last longer- our lives in this world or in heaven? Which, then, should we invest in? But the world demands that we conform to what it tells us we must believe. It claims that what makes us feel good, what makes us rich and what makes others bow down to us is the ultimate goal of this life. The wisdom of God says something very different. The wisdom of God says that serving Him may not makes us feel good, may make us very poor and may not have anyone on this earth notice us. God puts value in love and obedience to Him. The world puts its value in love and obedience to it.

The world claims that all that is can be seen now. God says that all that is will someday be gone. God says much more is coming.

I realize that I am often thought of as foolish even among people who call themselves Christians. They don't think I am practical when I say that God will enable us to do anything He has called us to do. I realize they are thinking with the world's wisdom. The world says that everything that is naturally observed is naturally constructed. I know that isn't true. The earth itself was not naturally constructed. Life was not naturally constructed. I recently heard of an atheist scientist who had the courage to say that the theories of evolution simply don't make sense. But people in this world believe what they have been told to believe. It is very hard to admit you are wrong.

The world would say that I am my own. The truth is that I am His. And I can't expect the world to see that as wisdom.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I Need a Lot of Grace

Ephesians 1:7-8 (ESV)
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

I rode my bicycle to church this morning. It is 5:00 AM and very few people are on the road. I don't have to think about traffic because there is none to speak of. It was reasonably cold (27 F; -3 C) and incredibly quiet. I am riding under a full moon with no breeze. I began to pray for the morning worship service. I asked God to fill me with the Holy Spirit and I was reminded of the above verse.

I realized that I was forgiven by God's grace. I did not deserve this forgiveness and I am not perfect even with this forgiveness. Then, I realized what I was asking. I am asking the Holy Spirit to fill me without measure. No one deserves this less, yet filling me is exactly what the Spirit desires. That is an amazing grace.

The word in which the ESV translators gave as lavished is perrisseuo (please excuse my transliteration). Thayer (a lexicon on the Greek language)  says it means: "to exceed a fixed number or measure, to be over and above a certain number or measure, to exist of be at hand in abundance." It means that God has given me more grace than can imagine. He has poured it on me so that I may be in His presence. He has immersed me in it so that I can be filled with Him. He continues to give me grace when fail to meet His standard of holiness. He inhabits me even when I am a dirty vessel.

I can't speak too much of grace. God the Father has chosen me in His wisdom and insight. God the Spirit has brought me to conviction and is living in me now. God the Son died for me, paid the price of my sin and forgave me for all that I have done. Each of these is grace. More grace than I can imagine.

I suppose that there are some people who think they are earning their salvation. I wonder if they really understand what salvation is if it is can be earned. I wonder why they think they have the power to convince God to take them without His grace.

No, I don't deserve it. That's why it is called grace. And I have an abundance of it. And I know why. I need a whole lot of grace.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Lord's Will Will Be Done

Numbers 23:11-12 (ESV)
11 And Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.” 12 And he answered and said, “Must I not take care to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”

The Moabites were scared. They had seen what the people of Israel had done to the Amorites.  Now they were camping in the plains of Moab.  So the king of Moab, Balak, sent to messenger to get Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balaam was a diviner whom it was believed to possess the ability to effectively curse with his words. Balak was hoping to negate the advantage the Israelites had because of the Lord's presence with them.

But Balaam could not do it. The Lord came to him and told him not to go with these messengers. Balak sent even more important messengers. God said he could go if they beckoned him again. Balaam rose on his own, saddled his donkey and set out to see Balak. God was angered because he went without the messengers, without being called by them again and evidently with a perverse heart. He will either be struck down or he will obey every word of the Lord. So, he goes to Balak, offers the appropriate sacrifice and hears from the Lord. He is told what he is to say.

Thus, he comes back to Balak and blesses the Israelites rather than cursing them. Balak, who does not understand that God is sovereign is understandably angered. Balak didn't care what God's will was. He wanted the Israelites cursed.

But it didn't matter. God's will was done anyway. He desired to bless His people. Again, the will of God is done even when men try to keep it from happening. Jonah thought that he could head to Tarshish and defy God's will. The Jews thought that killing Jesus would silence Him. Paul thought that killing the Christians would end what he considered to be a cult.

Not everything that happens in the world is God's will but His transcendent will is assured. I can't help but believe that those who seek to end all wars will bring on the final and greatest battle ever. I believe those who are trying their best to kill faith will usher in His presence. His will simply will be done.

Balaam would never have blessed God's people if Balak hadn't called on him to curse them.

Sometimes I read the news and think God has lost control. I couldn't be more wrong.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Putting Others to Silence

1 Peter 2:13-17 (ESV)
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

As I pulled out of my driveway this morning I noticed a used soft drink can in my yard. Evidently, someone had tossed it out of their car as they drove by. Putting this can in my garbage can is no great chore for me but I am upset with the disrespect in which the can was tossed.

I shouldn't be surprised though. Each time I go to the grocery store I have to drive around all the shopping carts which have not been returned to their proper places. I see the fast food containers thrown in the lot. I see those who park their cars in the fire zones to quickly run in.

It isn't rare to see packages opened in the store either. I have seen people caught shoplifting or suddenly "surprised" by the items they have hidden inside other items at the checkout counter.

A couple of days ago I watched an employee of a business push a shopping cart half full of products all around the store. The contents of the cart never changed for the thirty minutes I shopped. I believe he was just pushing a cart to avoid working. I considered going to management but I wasn't sure. The guy walked so confidently around and around and never stopped. I would have thought he was a customer if he wasn't wearing the store uniform.

We live in a fallen world. We should expect a certain amount of sloppiness, disrespect and dishonesty. The world has lowered its own standards by thinking these things are acceptable. They aren't and never will be.

As believers we are to live our lives with such a exemplary lives that we stand out. Those who would like to say that we are sloppy, disrespectful or dishonest will be put to shame at their own accusations. We should live lives of freedom knowing that our Lord owns our allegiance but obeying those in authority over us, honor those around us, loving those who serve the same Lord and fearing God because of our relationship to our Lord rather than because of our supreme allegiance to others. Believers should be the best citizens in the society. We should be the hardest and the best of workers.

We should do all of our work as if we are doing it for Christ. We should treat all with whom we come in contact as if each one is Christ. We should obey those in authority over us as if they are Christ.  (The exception, of course, is when they order us to disobey Christ.) We should silence all who accuse us of evil by their own standard by being the best.

We should stand out so much that they world itself is put to shame.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Transformed Life

Matthew 13:33 (ESV)
33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” 

Yeast is often a symbol of sin in the Bible. This is not the case in this parable. Here, yeast is symbolic of  the kingdom of heaven.

Other "kingdom of heaven" parables emphasize the growth of the kingdom and the value of the kingdom. This parable reveals the transformation that the kingdom of heaven has on an individual.

Yeast does not grow. It permeates the flour. Its natural course is to fully inhabit the flour over time. The kingdom of heaven also permeates the individual. It starts small but has an amazing power. It changes the person completely.

Somehow people think that they can claim their salvation in words alone. They believe that they can say that Jesus is Lord and go to heaven without any change no matter how much time has elapsed since they supposedly became Christians. Let's put this to the test using this parable.

Let's suppose that I say I have put a bit of yeast in a cup of flour and left it in a reasonably warm place. I come back three hours later and the flour hasn't risen. What would I conclude? That there was no yeast in the flour or that the yeast was dead.

The kingdom of heaven is never dead. So, the only explanation for someone who hasn't been transformed by the gospel is that they never really had the kingdom of heaven inside them in the first place. It doesn't matter what they say. They were either transformed by the kingdom of heaven or they are depending upon the lies they are telling themselves.

Yeast will make dough rise. It doesn't make a decision to make the dough rise. It is the characteristic of yeast that we can count on. Thus, the kingdom of heaven has the "natural" characteristic of transforming the life of the person who contains the kingdom of heaven.

This transformation will eventually totally change the individual. In fact, it must change the individual. The question for many is how will they know.

The transformed person will possess the fruit of the Spirit. This person will be characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. This person will forgive every person who has wronged him. This person will be filled with the Holy Spirit. This person will abide in God's word. This person will obey the written Word of God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And this person will do these things even if no one else is watching because he has been transformed fully by the kingdom of heaven.

Still, it is a total transformation. It does take some time. Maybe that's why Paul wrote "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)
The Christian needs to confidently say, "I am not perfect but I am being transformed by the kingdom of heaven within me."

So, are you being transformed?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ever Known Someone Who "Knows the Bible" but Hasn't Been Changed?

Often I hear of someone who "really knows the Word" but acts like he doesn't. They are amazed that someone can converse about the scripture but may not attend church or live a Christian lifestyle. The ones praising these "biblical scholars" seem to think that their knowledge vindicates them. They think that nothing more is required of them. After all, they already know the Bible. Isn't this the reason we attend church?

I don't like pointing out the sins of someone who isn't there to defend himself but I need to point out that biblical knowledge has no value unless it abides in the one who has it. It would be better to be nourished by a portion of scripture than to starve to death on whole lot.

Scripture changes the one who reads, memorizes, meditates on and studies it or it never truly enters into the person. It abides or remains in the person. The person knows the truth from it and that truth sets him free. He is free to leave the sins in his life. He is free to obey the will of the Lord. He is freed from the cloudy mind that the world presents as truth. The person is changed if he truly has the scripture in his heart. His prayers are changed. He longs for a deeper relationship.

John 8:31-32 (ESV)
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

No one truly knows the scripture and remains the same. The Pharisees were unchanged by the scripture because they could recite it but never know what it said. They could fashion new ways to keep the law without ever knowing what it really said. They did not know the truth or they would have recognized Him because he was the Truth. 

John 14:6 (ESV)
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

 Jesus said that His disciples were clean when Jesus spoke of us as the branches of His Vine. They became clean because of the word He had spoken to them. The word changed the way they acted. They saw the world in a different way because they knew the truth. Of course, they still lacked perfection but that's not the point. The change was on the inside and it was showing on the outside.

John 15:3 (ESV)
3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 

I knew a guy who could tell stories of military exploits. He could confidently tell of the missions he had been on They were remarkable. You would have thought that he was a national hero. He claimed that he did what he did in undercover activity and couldn't be recognized for his heroic service to his country. 

Later I met a decorated soldier who told me that the stories of the hidden hero could not be true. He knew because he had really been there. He knew the difference between a fabrication and the truth. Unfortunately, those who tell me of those who "know the Bible" aren't able to tell the difference between someone who has really been there and those who are just making it all up. They should listen to them and call their bluff. 

How can someone say that he knows the scripture in the way that Jesus describes knowing and be unchanged? The answer is simple: he can't! There's a whole lot of difference between talking a good game and playing one.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Need for a God-Sent Revival Has Never Been Greater

The culture does not determine the actions of every individual. The culture is the character of the society. A character is who it is known. For example, a person may tell a lie but be known by telling his truthfulness. One lie doesn't change his character. His character is how he is known. One action will harm his character but will not destroy it. Many actions, however, will create the character of the person. So, what I am about to say does not apply to everyone but it does apply to the culture we are in.

We are living in an increasingly blatant immoral world. Sins which existed but were unsaid are being promoted. People do not know what a marriage is. They don't know what a family is. They don't know what is right and wrong. They believe it is an obligation of the government to take away from the rich to give the poor. They believe that any crime can be committed as long as the one committing it has enough power to pay his way out of the consequences. They esteem the most immoral people as idols. They have forgotten God and His righteousness.

So, what does the future hold? Can anyone expect God to protect a nation which has so forgotten Him? Let's look at some biblical history.

Judges 2:10-11 (ESV)
10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. 11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals.

Joshua died and the generation which went with him to take the Promised Land. The "third" generation did not know the Lord nor did they know the work the Lord had done. I believe that's where we are. Most of the people in our culture do not know the Lord nor do they know of His works. Therefore, they do not stand for righteousness because they see everything righteous as a set of arcane rules which no longer apply. Churches which try to follow the culture are agreeing with the culture. They are quickly removing God's standards in order to call themselves relevant to the world. They will enforce a generation which neither knows the Lord nor knows His works.

We have no reason to believe that we will suffer anything other than the Lord has caused to happen in the past.

Judges 2:14-15 (ESV)
14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.

Every nation which had the following characteristics has fallen: A crisis of lawlessness, loss of economic discipline, rising bureaucracy, a decline in education, a weakening of cultural foundations, a loss of respect for traditions, an increase in materialism, a rise in immorality, a decay of religious belief and the devaluing of human life. (Why Nations Die, Jim Nelson Black, Tyndale House Publishers, 1994) Would you say we have these characteristics?

This would mean that we are on the brink of destruction. Our forefathers decided that we would trust in God. America identified with Him so much that it was placed on the currency to prove we didn't trust in money. We wanted to be a people called by His name. He has certainly blessed America but I don't see why He would continue to do so.

I am praying that God will send a revival before this nation falls. I am praying that believers will spend a part of each day committing their lives to Him. I am praying for believers to repent and fully commit themselves to the Lord. I am praying that I, too, will do all these things and seek His face. I am praying that God will raise up spiritual leaders to turn this nation toward Himself once again.

There is hope as long as there are prayers. Hope comes from believers who will stop holding back from God. Hope comes when believers will let go of the things of this world which keep them from the Lord. Hope comes when believers repent so fully that they walk with the Lord. Hope comes from a walk that springs from a desire on the inside. That desire comes from being filled with the Holy Spirit.

When the character of our nation becomes godly, God will heal our land. We won't be perfect. In fact, we will see ourselves less perfect than we ever have. Not everyone will comply either. There will still be sinfulness but it will no longer be promoted and accepted.

Evil is making a strong push right now. The best way to resist it is to draw near to God. Draw nearer than you ever have before. The need for a God-sent revival has never been greater and there has never been one without a praying people. Will you join me in prayer?

Monday, February 10, 2014

God Still Defeats Giants

Goliath was the champion of the Philistines. He was a huge man who probably had a medical condition which would cause him to keep growing all of his life. His strength was in his size. We know nothing of his fighting skills.

Yet, the Philistines devised a plan to have Goliath taunt Saul's army. He would go to the battlefield and call for the Israelites to produce a champion to fight him. He would do this each day to put fear in the hearts of their army. Some would, no doubt, decide Goliath couldn't be defeated and desert their fellow soldiers. All Goliath had to do was keep taunting the Israelites until they were already defeated in their hearts.

But David did not look at his size but at his defiance of David's God. David was a young man who wrote songs about God as he watched his father's sheep. He had a unique walk with God and knew Him to be the God who protected and provided. He knew God to be greater than anyone on the earth. It didn't matter how big .

Isn't it interesting that David uses the term "living God" when he speaks of Him? This term gives a picture of God in action. God is not merely a bystander who stoically observes all that is happening. He is the One who shows Himself with action.

David's oldest brother, Eliab, doesn't see things as David does. He has been indoctrinated by the rest of the army. They have talked so much of Goliath's size that they have lost the vision of God's power over everything. Eliab says that David is evil speaking boldly against Goliath.

But David doesn't stop repeating what he knows to be true. This guy, Goliath, doesn't have a chance against God. David's words must have caused a stir because Saul hears of them. He sends for David and allows David to go up against Goliath.

I wonder: Was Saul's decision to send David a carefully crafter ploy? After all, the Philistines would have expected that the Israelites would send their biggest, best warrior. Defeating a boy wouldn't prove a thing. The Philistines had to be engaged in battle soon anyway. Saul really couldn't wait until someone else volunteered to face Goliath. The battle would really be over if by some chance David prevailed. There was no downside to sending David.

David decides to go with what he knows after trying on Saul's armor. It certainly couldn't have fit. Saul was head and shoulders bigger than the average man. He must have been huge in comparison to David. No, David chose five smooth stones to fit in his sling. David didn't plan on missing. Goliath had four brothers and he might need one for each brother.

Goliath hurled insults at David when he saw who the Israelites had sent to fight him. He may have known that defeating David would be no feather in his cap. Therefore, he was going to make a great show of it.

It must have surprised Goliath that David ran forward. The battle would be over soon. I don't think Goliath saw the stone coming or he would have ducked. It hits him in the forehead but doesn't kill him. Everyone is stunned when Goliath falls on his face. It gives David enough time to take out Goliath's sword and cut off his head.

Can you imagine the scene at that moment? The Philistines are stunned. They had thought victory was theirs for the taking. The Israelites are energized. They knew they couldn't be defeated now. Remember, David had been telling them this throughout the camp. Now, all they had to do was a mop up operation. The Philistines took off running.

There are many giants who come against us. These giants look like they will defeat us. Every bit of conventional wisdom says we don't have a chance. But realize this please: Any giant who comes against you comes against the living God if you are truly serving Him. And God knows what to do with giants. He defeats them.

There will be those who will tell you that you are evil by saying things of faith. They will say that you are not using good sense. They will say that you are showboating. They will try their best to discourage you from engaging the giant in battle.

The giants will yell their insults at you by showing how big they are. They will look insurmountable if you focus on them. You can't see them as too big to defeat. You have to see them as too big to miss.

Let God direct your aim. He will will defeat your giants.

The giants of illness, discouragement, tragedy, depression, a bad economy, a sadistic boss, an unfaithful spouse, a lost child or any other seemingly insurmountable struggle will come against you. They will look huge.

Please remember: God is bigger.

1 Samuel 17:50 (NIV)
50  So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sometimes You Just Need a Good Day

Last night Sandi Patty did a concert at our church. I worshiped the Lord and He was here. (Maybe I have that backwards.) It was an extremely good day for me. I needed it.

We haven't had anyone join our church in weeks. That is not something I am used to. Very few people have declared Christ as their Savior. Of course, I have examined myself. I have prayed. I have sought the Lord. Nothing has happened.

All churches have a small number of complainers.I am not talking about those who complain about something. I am talking about those whose character is that of complaining. They rarely say anything good. It reveals a darkness in them. These people have gotten more bold during the dry period our church has had. Each complaint has weighed me down.

Then,  last night, I had a very good day.

And you know what story came to mind? The story of Lazarus coming out of the tomb. Just think of it.

Mary and Martha had a good day. They sent for Jesus when Lazarus was sick but he died around the time the messengers got to Jesus. Jesus knew this wasn't the end for Lazarus. He knew there was a good day coming. but Mary and Martha only believed that Jesus could heal. They didn't understand Him bringing Lazarus back from the dead. Can you imagine what it was like to see their tears turned to laughter when Lazarus walks out of the tomb?

Lazarus had a good day. I have never been dead but I am sure that you must miss those you love for a little while at least. He came back to walk among the people again. He must have realized his return would be a glory to God. Just think. He could come back and critique his own funeral. I know it never happens when this scene is depicted in movies but I can see Lazarus laughing too. He had a good day.

The mourners had a good day. They hadn't sent for Jesus. Most of them must have assumed that Lazarus is dead. That's it. There's no more to say. They didn't know that anyone could come back. No one ever had before. I'll bet some of them were scared out of their minds. I bet some fell on their knees or raised their arms to heaven in praise to God. They had a good day.

In fact, the only ones who didn't have a good day were those who didn't want God to be glorified. They didn't want God to act. They had a bad day.

Lazarus was dead for four days. Those days were very dark. It was thought that there was no recovery for those days. But just when I think it is the dark night that never ends, God shows up and I glorify Him.

And it is a very good day.

John 11:43-45 (ESV)
43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I Run to Him

Psalm 5:11-12 (ESV)
11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
       let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
      you cover him with favor as with a shield.

I have never been in a snowstorm nor a battle with bullets flying around. I have never had a mob throw stones at me nor have I been chased by those who would take my life. I have, however, lived some days which seemed to cascade on top of me. Tragedies, hardships, criticisms and demands have come at me from all angles. The world has sought to crush me. I had to run to a safe place. I had to have a place where I could catch my breath and feel safe for a while. I had to regather my strength before I could face these insurmountable mountains. They appear to be too big to be cast into the sea until I can see them from the perspective of a safe place.

So, I run to the only place I know to be safe. I run to the open and strong arms of my Lord. I am always safe there. Nothing can touch me there. I can breath, take a look of things with His protection all around me and take Him with me when I face these problems. They don't look so big, so insurmountable, anymore.

Many people tell me that tragedies come in threes. They are right but they also come in twos, ones, fours, sevens and all the other numbers. Somehow these people think that their is some law of the universe that says that either has to continue or has to stop at three. They live waiting for the third "shoe" to drop. No one has to take refuge if he knows that it's all over once three have come his way. Just wait it out.

There is no assurance that there won't be more tragedies. Job first heard of the loss of Sabeans attacking and taking his oxen, donkeys and servants. Then, he heard that fire from God had come down and burned up the sheep and those servants. The, he heard that Chaldeans raided and took his camels and killed those servants. Okay, that 's three. But next came a messenger telling him that his seven sons and three daughters had been killed when a house fell in on them because of a great wind. Isn't that enough? No, Job was struck by sores from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. Then, his wife and friends came over to tell him to curse God and die. He wasn't even getting support from those closest around him.

There are times when neither your means of support, nor your wealth, nor your family, nor your health, nor your friends can provide a safe place. The only place you can run is to the Lord. He is your only safety. He is your only solution. He is your only relief.

So, when do you run to place yourself in His hands? You do so now. You don't have to wait until your house is on fire, you lose your job, your family is taken or you have a terminal illness. You can run to Him now so that you will be safe when the next tragedy, struggle or hardship arrives.

God, like the good Father that He is, wants to watch over us. He doesn't keep us from all harm but will keep us from being permanently harmed. He will be our safety if we will just go to Him.

My God watches over me. I wiggle to get out of His arms at times. He lets me go but I always have to return because I know I need a safe place. That place is in His arms. So, I run to Him.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Struggles Never Seem to Last a Short Time

1 Peter 1:6 (ESV)
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,

I had to have my first colonoscopy many years ago. The doctor who would do the procedure asked if I wanted anesthesia. I asked if everyone had anesthesia for this test. He said that his doctor friends didn't have anesthesia because they wanted to go back to work afterwards. I figured that I was as tough as any doctor so I told my doctor that I didn't want it either.

The pain was excruciating. I remember it clearly to this day. I didn't think that it was ever going to end even though it really couldn't have lasted more than thirty minutes. I have done some pretty stupid things in my life. This ranks up there with the most stupid. I have had four other colonoscopies since then. I don't remember any of them because I had anesthesia.

Is thirty minutes a short time? I suppose that is relative. Thirty minutes is short if you are going through pain. It isn't so short when I have to endure the same pain. I, like most, just want the pain to end.

Isn't this true of any struggle we have to go through? Each struggle seems like it will never end. We can do some pretty stupid things to get rid of the pain. We can rush to a divorce when hurt. We can quit our jobs in a moment of difficulty. We can take pills we really don't need to take. We just don't want the pain to last. We will take whatever path we can perceive to eliminate that pain.

Struggles never seem to last a short time. They appear to be permanent even when we know they can't be. I would have sworn that time had actually stopped and my non-anesthesia colonoscopy really lasted for hours. .. . maybe days!

The trials we face are different from things we do to ourselves which make us stronger. I have been riding a bicycle for several years. I started riding in Tennessee which has some pretty impressive hills. I loved the hills because I knew they made me stronger. I knew they had a downside just over the hill. That downside was fun because I could reach speeds I could never have reached on flat ground. It didn't matter that my leg muscles burned as I rode up the hills.

No, these trials have been placed upon us. We can't stop and we may not be able to see how they will make us stronger. We can't see a downhill run once we get over the trial. We look at the pain. We focus on the pain. And the pain just gets greater. We beg God to end the pain but there is no answer. We promise God anything but there is no relief.

What will is take to end our pain? There is no answer. It is something we must go through mostly without an ending time. We have to continue to do the godly thing even when we would like to end the pain with something ungodly.

But I am sure that the trial; the struggle, will not last. Death will end all the pain if nothing else does.

Nothing seems all that long once it is over. I wonder if I will forget all of the struggles in eternity. How long is thirty minutes in comparison to eternity? How long is a decade? Or even our time on this earth?

Someday I will sit at the feet of my Master in heaven and none of the struggles will seem like much. I have ro remember that when I go through tough times.

How about you? Going through a tough time? It won't last.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

We Need Repentance, Too

Jonah 1:1-2 (ESV)
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”

Nineveh was one of the royal cities of the Assyrian Empire. It was a pagan city yet God sent a prophet to proclaim its destruction because of the exceeding sinfulness there. Jonah was chosen to be that prophet. He didn't want to go because he knew that God would forgive them when they repented. Jonah did not see them as worth saving. He didn't want them to be saved.

Jonah thought that he could go somewhere else and ignore God's command with impunity. He, like so many others, was wrong. You cannot walk with the Lord in disobedience to Him. No one can hide from Him. This should have been learned from Adam on but people still try to hide.

But God used the rebellion of Jonah. God send a storm which would sink the ship Jonah boarded. The sailors prayed to their gods but got no answer. They drew lots and discovered that Jonah was the reason for the storm. Jonah told them the story of his God and the men feared Him but would not throw Jonah into the sea because they did not see that Jonah had done anything against them. Finally, they threw Jonah overboard and the sea became calm. These pagan sailors made a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to Him. God used Jonah's rebellion to bring these men to faith.

Jonah 1:16 (ESV)
16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

After being swallowed by a fish and repenting, God had the fish vomit Jonah on the dry land. God still wanted Jonah to be the one who would preach to the Ninevites. This time Jonah went about the task.

Jonah 3:4-5 (ESV)
4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

Fasting without prayer is just going hungry. God does not require human distress. He seeks those who will seek Him. Fasting focuses prayers so that they become pure in seeking the Lord. Sackcloth is a garment of repentance. The people believed and sought the Lord. They turned from their wickedness. So, God forgave this pagan city and did not destroy them.

Jonah 3:10 (ESV)
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

But Jonah knew this would happen all along. He knew what God would do. He evidently knew that the Ninevites would repent if he preached to them. He didn't want them to do so. He wanted their destruction. He wanted it so badly that he only wanted to die when God spared Nineveh.

Jonah 4:1-3 (ESV)
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah needed repentance too. The story for Nineveh was one of redemption. This pagan city which had unimaginable evil became a city which worshiped the Lord. It may have seemed impossible to everyone but Jonah. Yet, Jonah knew that the Lord wasn't sending him to Nineveh to simply declare destruction. He knew that God was sending him to bring the city to repentance and save the city.

The Bible doesn't record Jonah's repentance. We really don't know if he ever repented. Maybe he hated Nineveh or he knew of their evil and personally couldn't forgive what they had done. He lacked that forgiveness that Jesus said must accompany people who are united with God.

I live in a country that desperately needs to repent before the Lord allows others to destroy it. It is a nation which is dying from the inside out. It certainly needs to repent. But I must remember that I must repent too. I cannot judge the nation. I am not pure. I hold my sins close to the vest and pretend they don't exist. I have prejudices that do not reflect the love the Lord has for me.

Yes, we, as a nation need repentance. But I do too.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Taxes for the Lord's Sake

Matthew 22:15-22 (ESV)
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

The Herodians, the part of Herod, and the Pharisees didn't normally see eye to eye. They were enemies because the Herodians owed everything that had to Rome. They approved of the Roman occupation and profited from it. The Pharisees believed that Israel would become a self-governing theocracy when the Messiah returned. They believed that keeping the law meticulously would usher His coming. They believed that Roman rule was God's punishment for the unfaithfulness in keeping the law.

So, things had to be pretty serious for these two groups to unite. They both wanted one thing desperately- Jesus to be discredited among the people. He was their common foe. So, they devised a plan to trap Him in front of the people.    

The Romans required three taxes from the people. First, there was the ground tax. Each person was required to pay one tenth of their grain and one fifth of the oil and wine they produced. Some of this was paid in kind but could also be paid in a monetary equivalent.

The second tax was an income tax. This amounted to one percent of the earnings of every man.

The last tax and the one mentioned here is the poll tax. One denarius for each male age fourteen to sixty-five and each female age twelve to sixty-five was required regardless of the person's means.

Taxes are generally unpopular to everyone who pays them unless they are receiving more benefits from the taxes than they are paying out. Many politicians don't mind taxes because the taxes allow them to do as they wish. Many others get more benefits from the taxes being paid than they are paying and many don't pay any taxes at all. The latter sometimes think that more taxes need to be paid. But these taxes deal with income rather than merely existing. The poll tax was paid just for living in the country.

Every citizen receives benefits in the country in which they live. They travel the roads, drink the water, enjoy the safety and are often educated by the government of their respective countries. Christians are not exempt in these benefits nor are we exempt from paying the taxes the government asks of us.

However, I hope you can understand why this poll tax was so unpopular. The people could not understand having the same tax paid by everyone regardless of their means. They especially hated paying taxes to a foreign government. I believe we would feel the same way.

Each ruler would have his image stamped on the coins used for trade. Jesus already knew whose image would have been on the coin. No doubt, He had already paid His poll tax. He used the coin as an illustration. Currency belongs to the government which prints it. That is true even of the currency we use in the US. It is used as legal tender but ultimately belongs to the government. The image of the government is printed on it. Thus, Jesus essentially said, "Give Caesar what is his and give God what is His." (An incredible statement of the separation of church and state when you think about it.)

I am to be a good citizen of my country until that country violates any principle that infringes upon my greater allegiance to God. I give to my county what is theirs. I give to my Lord what is His.

I will carry no money into heaven with me. It will stay here because my ultimate citizenship is in heaven. I am to serve my Lord fully. That service may also be done as a service to my country. Peter tells us to "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution." (1 Peter 2:13) There is an obligation for the Lord's sake to be good citizens as far as is possible.

So, Jesus encouraged people to pay their taxes because they were due to the one whom they belonged. He pointed out the image to remind the people of this truth. But He didn't stop there. God requires much more than money. That is why I am a little distressed when people say they are giving God back a little of what they have when they tithe. All of it belongs to God. That is why we pay taxes out of it for the Lord's sake while being subject to the human institution of government.

I say all of this so you might have a different attitude as you pay your taxes this year. I hate doing my taxes. I don't like finding receipts and doing all the things in order to get the tax forms done. So, this year I have decided to take a different attitude toward it. I will pay my taxes for the Lord's sake.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What Is Our Reward in Heaven?

Matthew 6:1-4 (ESV)
1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

Last night I left one of my credit cards at a place of business accidentally. I manager put it in his office for safe keeping until I picked it up. I heard the manager respond to one of the employees as I left, "He said, 'Thanks.'" I wondered if the employee had been the one who found my credit card. I wondered if he expected to receive a reward. It seems everyone expects to receive something extra for doing the right thing. It seems that there is a "tip jar" at every place of business. It seems that doing the right thing is the extra thing.

The Bible says that expecting your reward here for doing the right thing will mean that you don't get any reward in heaven. Many people want that reward now. They don't care much about what they will get in heaven. They don't understand what that is.

I used to think that a reward in heaven would mean that I would get a bigger mansion or those whom I served on earth would have to serve me. I realize that this is just thinking in a worldly way rather than a heavenly way. The world says that rewards mean feeling good, being rich and having other people bow down to you. That's not the way it will be in heaven.

Everyone of us will stand before the Lord on the Day. This is the Day we will bring to Him the things we have done on earth. Each of these will be tested by fire to see whether they will stand the test God gives them as being enduring. Whatever is done because of Jesus Christ will survive. The things built upon a relationship with Him rather than recognition by the world will stand this test. Jesus Christ changes us so that we will have something to present to Him on that Day.

Many of the things people have done will be burned up because they didn't withstand the test. They will still be in heaven but they will have nothing to show for their days on earth.

Now, I realize that this will mean very little to a lot of people now but I believe that our reward will be in the presentation of what we have done that has withstood His test. It will be our glory in heaven. It will be like nothing else we could ever have imagined and it will be our reward.

There is another side that should bother us. Many people will stand before the Lord with nothing. They will have nothing to present to Him. They will have no glory.

I believe that those nightmares in which you weren't properly dressed in public, the ones in which you just discovered a class that you hadn't attended all semester, the ones in which you are unprepared for a test you didn't know was coming- none of those things which made you feel so anxious in your dreams will come close to what it will feel like if you stand before the Lord with nothing to present to Him.

The reward will be presenting the things counted as gold, silver and precious stones- a picture of a temple built for His glory. That is what I believe is the reward in heaven.

And it makes me want to have something to represent to Him.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 (ESV)
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Today, I Remember to Press On

Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 

There are many people who were in church yesterday. I believe that many of these are genuinely seeking a deeper, more intimate walk with the Lord. They won't miss an opportunity to worship because it is making and will continue to change them. They seek the Lord, find Him daily and see Him doing miracles through them and to them.

But there were also a lot of people who weren't in worship. Some said they have a hard time getting up. Some are going to sporting events. Some just don't care. Some think that they have done the church, the preacher and the Lord a great favor when they attend. I realize that they just don't understand.

Paul wrote that he wanted to know Christ, the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings and be conformed to His death. He said this after dedicating his life to the Lord for a very long time. He had served so faithfully but did not believe he had arrived. He says, "I press on, " twice in the above passage. He realizes that he will never know Christ like he wants to know Christ if he does not push himself to do what he would rather not do.

My faith causes me to do what I don't want to do. I want to have a knowledge of Christ which is solid but I will never have that unless I shake off the rags of this world and grasp firmly onto the God who died for me. I give like there is no other world of investment. I tithe much more than I put in retirement. It makes sense to me. Retirement doesn't have to last as long as eternity. I read the Bible more than I do the news. The news may be wrong and it won't matter much in a year. The Bible lasts forever and reading it now will mean a great deal in eternity. I press on to know Christ so that I may know the fellowship of His sufferings, the power of His resurrection and be conformed to His death because the pleasures of this world will not matter in eternity and the walk with Him now will.

Though many people claim to know Christ, they live as if the things on this world should have precedence over Him. They act as if feeding the hungry is more important than seeing their souls saved. They believe the thrill of a sporting event outweighs the thrill of worship. They press on to gain the things of this world at the expense of the things in the next.

They act as if this is more important because they can't imagine that there is more than this. That is why they describe heaven in such this-world-like terms. They have been introduced to the Lord but they do not know Him so well that they press on to be changed by Him.

But we must press on. Otherwise we are just playing a game. We are saying that our relationship with Jesus means everything to us when that relationship  only gets our leftover  money,  time and efforts.

Honestly, I have not obtained the fellowship of His sufferings, the power of His resurrection nor been conformed to His death. I fail frequently to be what He calls me to be. That is why I press on. I still believe it is mine if I will not hold back.

Yesterday I watched a portion of the Superbowl. I rarely watch pro football but a friend had a few people over to watch it and I love the food. It appeared that one team was ready to play and the other thought that it would land in their laps. That may not be true since I only watched the first half. I decided who would win based on the way the winning team was pressing the team that would lose.  The didn't let up even though they, too, had a few failures. They got up and pressed on when they fell. 

And so I press on because I have not yet attained what I believe is mine to have. I press on because I fall sometimes. I press on because eternity in heaven is my destination. I press on. I press on. I press on. 

I haven't arrived yet.