Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Under Attack

  There are times when we are convinced that we must have made a wrong turn somewhere.  We still have the conviction that God is leading in a certain direction, and we are doing our best to follow.  The problem is that things have become so difficult that we are sure that we must have missed something along the way.

  This happens both at individual and group levels.  People lose heart and lean towards throwing in the towel because things just aren't going as they had envisioned.  This road was supposed to be smoother, the path straighter.  We are sure of it.  We find ourselves tired and hurt.  At moments like this, it is hard not to look back and ask ourselves, "What went wrong?".  Surely, if we can just sort out the answer to this question, things will get better.  We just have to find where we have strayed, because the path can't be this hard.

2 Corinthians 11:23-33

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I more; in labors more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is caused to stumble, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for evermore knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to take me: and through a window was I let down in a basket by the wall, and escaped his hands. 

  As ambassadors of Christ, we find ourselves in a strange land.  It is a land who's forces have come against us in full measure.  We can rest assured that when we are in His will, nothing can stand against us.  This means that we will be victorious.  His will is going to be accomplished.  The enemy will do anything and everything to stop us, but he will fail.  The only recourse that remains is to convince us to quit.  When the enemy turns on you, it is an attempt to steal the victory that  can never be taken otherwise.  

  I urge you to remember this:

2 Corinthians 4:8

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 

  Remain steadfast and cover yourself in prayer.  Pray that those involved in all aspects of your ministry stay the course.  Don't give up your victory.  God certainly won't.  He sees us through in all things.  Keep faith.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Yes, you have to do it again...

  Have you ever been called to do something that seemed futile and a complete waste of time?  I had one of those moments recently in preparing for Sunday morning in our home church.
  Sunday was approaching; it was Saturday night, in fact.  I still did not have a message to share for the next morning and there was a mountain of errands to run.  We loaded up the car and headed out.  I did, in that moment, something that I almost never do.  I asked Kendra to drive.  I climbed into the passenger seat with my Bible and ipad.  Shortly thereafter, I decided it was pointless, and set my Bible aside.  I was just going to wait until I got home.  God had a different plan.

  I was suddenly drawn to pray on the matter.  I did.  Then I opened my Bible to nowhere in particular and started to read.  There it was, a passage from 1 Samuel.  I knew this was it.  Then came the other problem.  I was getting nothing out of it.  I put everything aside and we ran our errands.  

  On the way home (it was a bit of a drive to the next town) I put together my notes for that message.  I then read through my notes and decided this couldn't possibly be it.  We arrived at home, put the kids to bed, and I returned to my Bible in prayer.  Again, I was drawn to the same passage.  I started again, and was coming up with the same notes.  What was God trying to tell me?  I just wasn't grasping it.  I prayed again, begging for God to intervene if this was not right.  I did not want to make the mistake of delivering a message that was nothing but a well intended guess on my part.

  Sunday morning came and I didn't feel any better about the message.  I had no doubt that this was what I was supposed to be sharing, but had no idea where it was going to go.  I prayed for the epiphany that I hoped was only moments away.  We progressed through the children's worship service and the lesson that followed.  We moved into the adult service, still no epiphany.

  Worship moved into the message.  We prayed.  The selected passage was read aloud.  I started to read through my notes one last time, but stopped and instead just listened to the Word as it was read aloud.  When I again looked at my notes the words were the same, but there was a whole new meaning.  I was reading them in a different light.  I started to speak.  The words came from my mouth, but not from my understanding.  I was hearing this message as I was sharing it.

  Tears and prayer followed.  This was a word that was needed.  God had moved in my complete lack of understanding and made His message clear.  I stood there in awe, and then remembered the children's lesson from only an hour or so before.

  Luke 5: 4 - 11

  When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch"
  Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets."
  When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.   So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
  When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, LORD; I am a sinful man!"  For he and all of his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.
  Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men."  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him.

  These men were fishermen, they knew their craft.  They knew those waters.  There was no reason for them to think that what they had done over and over all night would bring a different result now.  Yet they trusted and obeyed the LORD.  They were blessed with an unexpected result.  What they knew did not matter.  It went out the window and was replaced by what God intended to do.

  Jesus did two things in that moment.  He blessed them with a large catch as a lesson in faith.  He also used something that they did understand, and did with it the impossible, to reveal something that they never would have grasped in any other way.  They were to be the start of a ministry that would change the world for God, overflowing church after church, just as Christ had done with the fish in their boat.

  It was this sort of thing that God had done for me with that Sunday morning message.  He took what I thought I understood and used it to teach me something I never would have caught any other way.

  Yes, I do intend to share that lesson at some point, but the one that I learned in the process warrants pondering in the mean time.  I should have remembered this:

  Proverbs 3: 5

  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

  We would all do well to remember this lesson from time to time.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Heart of a Servant

  Consider this:

   Genesis 18: 1-8

  The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was  sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.  Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby.  When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
  He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.  Let a little water be brought, and then you may wash all your feet and rest under this tree.  Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way-now that you have come to your servant."
  "Very well," they answered, "do as you say."
  So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah.  "Quick," he said, "get three seahs of flour and knead it and bake some bread."
  Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender, calf and gavce it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it.  He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them.  While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

  Abraham didn't have to have someone tell him that it was right to honor the Lord.  He knew it from day one.  God had made a promise to Abraham, and was, from Abraham's perspective, yet to deliver.  Yet, this did not stop him from paying the Lord due honor and respect.

  He approached God with the heart of a servant, and one eager to please.  He begged the Lord for the honor of His presence.  He asked only to serve Him.  God honored this request and more.

  We can learn a great deal from this father of Israel.  What could be better than to stand in the presence of the LORD?  What could possibly compare?

  Christ came to us and showed us how to live.  He showed us in word and deed that our role is that of a servant.  We are to serve the Lord.  Jesus made it clear what form this service to God should take.  We are to spread His gospel.  We are to minister to one another.  He who will always be the first and the last, the Alpha and Omega, was a servant to us.  As Christians, we strive to follow after our Lord.  It is our joy to follow His example.  We are to have the heart of a servant.

  What boon will you beg of the Lord?  For Abraham, it was the joy of service in His presence.

  "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by."

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Bread of Life rejected...

Read John 6: 25-71

Christ lays it out for the disciples very simply.  He tells the truth of His mission, and what He is giving up, that we all may have life.

Jesus is the bread of life.  Unless we eat this bread and drink this cup, we shall not have life within us. Those who believe in Hm will have everlasting life. Nobody comes to Christ without the father's call. The Spirit gives life and the flesh counts for nothing.  We must accept this and put our faith in Him rather than the things of this world.

This is so important, that it was this, the breaking of the bread, that He used to reveal himself to the disciples when He came to them when He had risen.

People, his own disciples; People who had been with Him through miracle after miracle, teaching after teaching, left Him when they heard this message.  There is nothing new about people rejecting the truth of the gospel.  It breaks our hearts.  We believers, trying to spread the message of Jesus, desire to see the whole world saved by the truth of who He is and what He has done.  We just can't understand how people can hear the truth and walk away.

They walked away from Him.  He did not give up.  He did not quit.  They nailed Him to a tree.  Still He saves us.  He gave us His word, Hs love, His power through the Holy Spirit, knowing we would turn on Him and put Him to death.  None of this stopped Him.  How can we, who are so much less than He who is God, even consider letting embarrassment or ignorance stop us from fulfilling His commission for us all?  We are called to be like Christ.  He did not stop teaching  because many would not listen.  He knew that those who would listen, those who would believe, were worth it.  To Him, we were worth even the pain of the cross.

John 6: 63-64 "The spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.  Yet there are some of you who do not believe."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Who is in your boat?

  Life will take us down many roads and across many waters.  Those roads will at times be rocky, and those waters turbulent.  There is nothing new about this.  There will be storms.  It is going to get unpleasant, and sometimes scary. What we have to ask ourselves is one simple question.  "Who is in the boat with me?"
  The boat, of course, is metaphorical.  The question however is the same.  Either we are on board with Jesus Christ or we aren't.  If we are, in fact, on board with our Lord and Savior we have nothing to fear.  Remembering this isn't always easy.  The twelve disciples found it difficult, even with Jesus there in plain sight.

 Luke 8: 22-25

  One day Jesus said to his disciples, "Lets go over to the other side of the lake.". So they got into the boat and set out.  As they sailed, he fell asleep.  A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
  The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, we're going to drown!"
  He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.  "Where is your faith?" he asked his disciples.
  In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this?  He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."

  They had, at this point, seen countless miracles by His hand.  They had every reason to stand firm in the knowledge that their master would save them.  Yet, despite all of this, they faltered.  Panic took them.  They cried out, "We are going to drown!" They did one thing right.  When all seemed lost, they called out to Jesus.  What they had failed to see, was that He was with them the whole time.

  I am reminded of the story of the footprints in the sand.  The individual is talking to Jesus.  The person points out that through most of his life there are two sets of footprints.  He is upset though, because there are portions of his life's path where only one set can be seen.  These are the times the man remembers being the hardest.  These are the times he thought he would never make it through.  He demands to know why.  He wants to know why he sees two sets of footprints where his life was easy, but the minute things got tough that second set seems to have disappeared.  He asks why, why wasn't Jesus there?  Why is there only one set of footprints when having the Lord there at his side would have really counted for something?   In this story, Jesus gives only one reply.  He says, "Where you see only one set of footprints, I carried you."

  This is a story (from a much debated source)told to  illustrate a point.  It is that same point that was missed by the disciples in the boat.  Do we know who we have with us?  Are we missing the gravity of WHO HE IS.  The creator of the universe is with us every step of the way.  What we must do when the world  around us slides into chaos, is take a deep breath and remember.  We have to trust in Him.  Nothing can compete with WHO HE IS.  "He commands even the winds and the water."  

  There is nothing wrong with crying out to the Lord.  There is everything right with doing exactly that.  Just remember, He already knows.  He is there with you.  Do not lose faith.  Do not fear.  Cry out to the Lord, but do not be reduced to panic and fear.  Do not forget who it is that you have in the boat.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Holding out for His will...

Psalm 37: 1-9

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret-it leads only to evil.  For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord willerinerit the land.

  How many times have we seen others prosper where we struggle?  As if this were not frustrating enough, we know that certain individuals are doing it through unethical and immoral means.  We see those who head out into the world time after time, living it up, sinning like there is no tomorrow, and seem to get away with it.

  What we must do in these cases is resist the urge to throw in the towel.  God has called us to be different and we must remain steadfast in His Word.  He has a plan for each and every one of us.  Rest assured that this plan is not for us to fail.  Oh, we might not succeed where we think we want to, but God has something deeper and more meaningful in mind.  He knows where we really need to be.  He also knows the desires of our hearts.  This is not the urge for something fun, or that techno gadget we have been wanting.  This is that deep down yearning to attain what we cannot without His hand.

  We have to remember that the paths we see, while seeming to be quick routes to our goal, often end up taking us places that we never wanted to go.  It is certainly this way with sin in any form.  Things may seem to go well for those going about worldly ways at the present time, but the Lord has made a promise as to the story's end.  It is those who remain still and steadfast that will prosper.  Those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

  Whatever your challenge, consider the cost.  Consider the prize.  Isn't it worth holding out a little longer?  Commit to the Lord.  Draw to Him, and give Him your trust.  Accept that you may not fill all of those wants.  But know that God will take care of your needs.  Even more so, He will see that you realize the true desire of your heart.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Don't you know who I am?

  We all have our reasons for the things that we do and don't do.  When it comes to our calling from the Lord, none of these otherwise solid and air tight arguements seem to hold water.  Invariably, we turn to the one argument we have left.

  I'm talking about the one argument that seems to get in the way, even when we desire to do the thing God has called us to.  It goes something like this: "This can't have come from God.  I can't do this.". We then turn to our bibles.  We get down on our knees in prayer.  We ask for clarity.

  Now, at the point where we have confirmation in scripture and in Spirit, we start to get upset.  Now begins, "Why me God?  Don't you know who I am?  I know you have seen the things that I have done.  You know how I used to be.  How can you call me to this?  Nobody is going to take me seriously!"

It is time to consider three solid cases for this same argument where God chose someone who was not only unfit, but of a dubious past.

  Moses was the son of a slave, raised as a prince, who discovered his own origins, committed murder, and left town.  He didn't just leave town, he ran.  He knew that, in Egypt, he was known as a murderer.  Were he to return wearing the mantle of deliverer, he would be seen as a traitor as well.  Yet, in Exodus 3, God sends Moses to that exact place with that exact mission.  The Egyptians had every reason to kill him, and the Israelites had absolutely no reason to trust him.  We all know what happened next.

  Now let's move to the New Testament.  

  Matthew was a tax collector.  This was considered to be the lowest of low by the Jewish and Roman people alike. This was a group who sought out their own and demanded money to be paid for both government and temple taxes.  They were known to be dishonest on the whole, and were little better than thieves.  Yet, Christ called one of these to walk with Him and preach the gospel.

  Matthew 9: 9-13
  As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth.  "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
  While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
  On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

  Matthew had every reason to doubt the sanity of Jesus' call.  I can only imagine the overwhelming power of that call, made in person, by the Word made flesh.  Matthew did not argue, but obeyed.

  Now consider Saul, the Pharisee.  This man was a lawyer, prosecuting attorney, judge, and jury, all rolled into one.  He sought out Christians and made sure that they were punished, usually put to death.  He made an example of them. He was good at his job.  Then something happened on the road to Emmaeus.

Read Acts 9: 1-31

  Saul was confronted by God.  He was so set in his ways, that it took this grandios intervention by God to get his attention.  God knocked him down and struck him blind.  Then after following God's instructions, he was healed.  He was then sent to join the disciples and preach to the Gentiles.  Now, he was a being called to go to a group of people that he knew wouldn't trust him (and they didn't at first), and join their ministry by going out and and sharing the gospel with a people that prior to then had been considered unclean and unworthy.  He knew good and well that the disciples wouldn't go for that either.

  Yet, Saul, now Paul, did go and do as the Lord directed.  His ministry was anointed from the start.  This man reached the far corners of the known world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He cast out demons and healed the sick.  He converted the masses and is responsible for  writing a good portion of the New Testament.  What if he had fallen prey to his own "solid argument"?

  It comes to this.  God knows who you are.  He knows where you have been and what you have done.   He calls us to Him.  We submit to His authority and he makes us clean.  None of that from before matters from that moment on.  It is how we choose to live our lives then and every minute after that counts.  In that moment, the Lord of all creation has informed us that he no longer cares about our past, and that he is going to use us for His glory and the good of His kingdom.  Will we dig in our heals and defeat ourselves in stubborn arguments born in shame or doubt?  We have a choice.  We can do what we are called to do, what we were created to do, and obey the Lord.  
  God changes us when we step out in faith.  We become less of who we were and more of who He has called us to be.  It is our honor and privilege to serve the Lord.  It is our responsibility as citizens and ambassadors of heaven.  We have only to put aside our own prideful ideas and limitations.  We have to trust in Him.  That is the greatest challenge of it all.  It is also absolutely necessary.