Thursday, December 19, 2013

Life is hard but not hopeless!

            It’s a sad story. It’s hard for me to write about it. Churpie, the canary, never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage, whistling a song, the next he was sucked out of his cage by a vacuum cleaner. She didn’t mean to do it. She was only trying to clean out the seeds from the bottom of the cage when the phone rang. When she reached for the phone, she brought the hose of the vacuum up and suddenly Churpie was gone.
She quickly opened the vacuum and pulled Churpie out of the dust and took him to the kitchen sink where she drenched him in cold water attempting to clean him up. Then she realized that the poor bird was chilled to the bone so she got her hair dryer out  and tried to warm him up. Churpie made it but was never quite the same.
There have probably been times in our life when we felt much like Churpie. Everything is going along just fine and then the bottom falls out. It seems like the problems we face are more than we can bear and we wonder if they will ever end. There is no escaping it. Life is hard.
If you watch the news of late you know how hard life can be. Unemployment is high. College grads can’t find decent jobs. Savings accounts have been depleted. Retirement delayed. Big purchases delayed.
Syria’s civil war, Iran’s threat of going nuclear, continued strife in Iraq and Afghanistan remind us that the threat of terrorism is still out there.
I am sure that you can look at your personal life and find a long list of troubles you could add to the list. Troubled and broken marriages, a rebellious child who is about to get kicked out of school, parents or grandparents with health problems, the death of a loved one, etc. These problems are real. They make our lives hard. But the situation is not hopeless.
Long ago, a man named Job, went through some difficult times. He was a wealthy man who had been richly blessed by God in every way. He had huge flocks and herds, thousands of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. He had many servants, a large family with ten kids, a happy marriage and good health. Life was good.
Then the Lord allowed all that he had be taken from him. He lost his possessions, his children, and his health. At first, Job’s faith was strong. He blessed the Lord even in the midst of adversity. Job also struggled. His friends told him that God was punishing him for something he had done. Job kept asking God ‘why?’ ‘Why was all this happening to him?’
While Job questioned God, he never lost his faith. He knew that the greatest blessing of all was to know God as his savior. Job knew that his sins had been forgiven. Job knew that when this life was over, he would rise from the dead and see God with his own eyes. (Job 19:25ff – I know that my Redeemer lives….and I will see him with my own eyes….”
In the end, God restored to Job all the things he had allowed to be taken from him. Job lived another 140 years. Yet the greatest blessing Job enjoyed was to know his Lord and Savior. In the midst of life’s trials, it is there that we find our hope.

Make your Christmas celebration a truly joyous one.

            A five year old girl went out shopping with her grandfather. They had traveled to a Christmas tree farm to cut a live tree for their home. Over and over the little girl told Grandpa that she was going to pick out the perfect tree. After they arrived, Grandpa with his experienced eye led his granddaughter to some great looking trees. Once they were inspected, however, the young girl would say, “Not that one. It’s not perfect.” After several hours of searching, Grandpa began to grow tired and a little impatient. He finally told her that they had to pick one out even if it is not the perfect tree. She agreed and then remarked. “Maybe we’ll find a tree with lights on it next year.” This little girl had her idea of what the perfect Christmas tree should be like. It was one with lights on it. Something less than that meant disappointment.
Lots of people approach their Christmas celebration like that. They have their idea of what the perfect Christmas should be like and anything short of that leaves them feeling disappointed. For many getting the perfect gift, having all the kids home Christmas Eve, having the yard and house decorated to the max are essential to having a really great Christmas.
No wonder so many are depressed around Christmas time – their expectations for the holidays have not been met. They have no job and no money for paying the bills let alone buying gifts. They are in the hospital recovering from surgery. Their spouse is overseas in a war zone. There will be an empty chair at the dinner table this year because Dad past away last March. You fill in the blank.
Isn’t that the way most people approach their lives? They are happy and joyous only when their lives are perfect. When their job goes well, they feel good, the kids are doing well in school, etc. life is good. When these expectations are not meant, their joy and happiness flies out the window.
We can sympathize can’t we? How can someone be happy who comes back from serving overseas after losing a limb? How can parents be anything but filled with despair when their five year old dies from cancer? What reason is there to smile when we are spending our first Christmas alone since our spouse ran off with the secretary at Thanksgiving? We’ve lost our job, our health, a loved one. Don’t all these things make it impossible to find joy and happiness especially at Christmas time?
They do if our lives are not centered on the Lord. Knowing Jesus, knowing his love and forgiveness turns things around. When we know that he will turn every trial into a blessing, the loss of our job or a loved one, while difficult to endure, can be seen as something good. God’s primary concern is not how many gifts we have under the tree or how much money we have in the bank or how big our house is. His concern is our soul.
We have every reason to rejoice when we believe that the baby born in Bethlehem is our Savior. We have every reason to be happy when we know the peace that comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven through Christ. We have every reason to look to the future with hope because God is watching over us and has promised us eternal life with all its blessings.
Our lives may not be easy. In fact, they may be down-right difficult at times. Yet our lives can be perfect, our Christmas celebration complete, if we know Jesus as our Savior. Only he can make your Christmas a truly merry one.

Does God see your faith by how you live?

            Five military recruiters came to a high school to make a presentation to the senior class. Each recruiter represented a different branch of the service. Each was given 15 minutes to make their pitch. The Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force recruiters each got up and did a nice job but they ran over on their time. When the Marine recruiter got up to speak, he only had two minutes left before the kids would be dismissed. He walked up and stood completely silent for the first minute and just stared at the students. When he finally spoke, he said, “I doubt whether there are two or three of you in this room who could even cut it in the Marine Corps. But I want to see those two or three in the dining hall as soon as we are dismissed.” When he arrived in the dining hall, he was mobbed with requests for applications. The motto for the Marines is “We’re looking for a few good men.”
            If you look in the Bible, you can find several “good men” - Moses, Job, Joshua, the Apostle Paul, John the Baptist, Peter, and many others. They were not perfect but set a beautiful example we would do well to follow. The Scripture also gives us many examples of “good women” – Esther, Mary the mother of Jesus, Lydia, Mary the sister of Lazarus, etc.
           The one that the Bible holds out as one of the best is Abraham. He is called the ‘father of believers.’ That’s because he had such a strong faith. One example of his faith was when the Lord asked him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Don’t forget, Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old. He was the son to whom the promises were attached – that Abraham’s seed would be as countless as the stars, he would be the father of a great nation, and most importantly, the line from whom the Savior, Jesus, would come.
            One day (cf Genesis 22), God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. As difficult as this request must have been for Abraham, he shows us that he was willing to carry it out. Right before he is about to slay his son, the Lord intervenes. He told Abraham that he now knew that Abraham loved the Lord more than his son.
            While I can’t imagine ever being faced with such a request, I know the Lord asks me to demonstrate my love for him all the time. Abraham’s faith was evident from his love for God, his obedience to his command, and his trust in God’s promises. Our faith is made clear in the same ways.
            When we make it clear by our choices and our priorities that we love the Lord and his Word more than anything else, we demonstrate our faith. Will you go to church on Sunday morning or stay in bed? Will you read Scripture or simply watch TV?
            When you are tempted to lie to your boss, have an affair with someone at work, cheat on your taxes, etc. you let the Lord know what you think of him. Abraham showed his faith by his readiness to do what God asked.
            When you do not worry about the future, face trials and troubles in life knowing the Lord is watching over you as he has promised; when you know that death is no longer your enemy but your friends; that your sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ because God says so; you are living by faith.
            We can never be as “good” as God wants us to be. Our faith is often weak and imperfect. Thank God we have a Savior who wasn’t. Through his perfect life and innocent death, he gained forgiveness, life and salvation for us. That’s why we rejoice and look forward to celebrating his birth and his return to take us to glory on Judgment Day.

Contentment is a Thanksgiving blessing.

            All you have to do is watch news clips from around the world to see how richly blessed we are in America. We have a living standard that is the envy of most in the world. Though millions of people have migrated to our land for over 200 years – they still come. Coming to America doesn’t seem to get old. People everywhere leave their country, family, and culture behind to come to our country. Most are looking for what is called the “American Dream.” Many are willing to enter illegally and risk their lives in the process just to get here. All these facts testify to how richly our country has been blessed compared to so many nations around the world.
But there is a strange yet common irony in our land. Though our lives are filled with more blessings than we can use, our constant desire is to want more. What causes us to think that the more we have the happier we will be? I am sure it is just part of our human nature. It leads us to be unsatisfied, and always wanting more.
When we consider our incredible standard of living in light of the thoughts raised above perhaps we should take some time to think about the One who has given us so much – everything we have and need.
What a blessing it would be to simply honor the Father in heaven with contentment. What a blessing to rise above the national cry for more. How blest we are when we take time to consider how each material blessing has fit so perfectly into our lives and fulfills our needs. There is a famous saying taken from God’s Word which says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Tim 6:6)
Contentment is just not part of our conversation today. Work harder! Make more! Spend! Charge it! Enjoy it! You deserve it! Retire early! These are the cries of the world around us. Now don’t get me wrong. It is not wrong to work hard or to achieve success or to improve our lot in life. It is quite another thing to be content with what God has given us. Take a test. How happy would you be if you never got a raise; if you never were able to buy a new car; if what you have now was taken from you?
Being content, really content is a gift from God. You can be rich or poor and, if you are content, you will find happiness and peace. Contentment is the foundation of true thanksgiving.
May your Thanksgiving Day be a blessed one! O give thanks to the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endures forever!” (Psalm 106:1)

God’s promises help us through hard times.

            You’re in a long distance race and you feel like you are going to die. Your lungs burn. You’re legs feel like lead. You only have a short way to go but you feel like quitting. All you want to do is lie down and rest. Then you hear the crowd cheering. “You can do it,” they cry! “You’re almost there!” And with that bit of encouragement you find the strength to go on and finish the race.
There are many times in life, when we are faced with difficult situations. We don’t feel like we can go on. Then we get some words of encouragement from a friend or family member and it gets us through.
That’s what I find when I read many of the words of our Lord. I find great comfort and encouragement when our Lord says, “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20). We receive the same when a loved one dies and our Lord promises, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies….” (John 11:25).
One of the most comforting and encouraging passages I find in the Bible is taken from the book of Romans. There Paul says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
 Some others I like – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
These and many other passages which relate to us the promises of God help to encourage us, to keep us going. Over and over again we are faced with problems in this life. We may have to deal with family strife, financial burdens, or the loss of a loved one. We may be burdened with chronic illness or disease. We may have constant pain and suffering in our life. All of us have our burdens to bear and there are times when we may wonder how we can go on.
That’s when we need encouragement, the kind of encouragement that God gives us in his Word. We need to have some of these passages memorized so we can take them with us wherever we go. We need to make them in our Bible so we are reminded of them again and again and can find them easily to share with others.
Unlike the cheers of the crowd that leads us to find the inner strength to finish the race when we are tired. God’s Word gives that strength. It comes from the Lord. Through his Word we get all we need to get it done. I don’t know how people get through their lives without it. I wouldn’t even want to try. How about you?

God always keeps his promises!

            Promises – we’ve all made them. Who hasn’t? Who of us has not also made a promise we did not keep? Has there not been times when we have given someone our word, told them we would do something but did not follow through? Oh, we may have had good intentions but something happened, something beyond our control that kept us from following through. We promised to give someone a ride to work at 7:30 sharp but then the power went off and the alarm didn’t ring.  We told our daughter we would be at her soccer game. We promised. On the way, however, we were hit by a car when it ran a red light. Promise made! Promise broken.
Listen to those seeking political office at election time. Politicians are notorious for making promises which are often cast aside once election day has passed. Maybe that’s why we call them ‘campaign promises.’
Sometimes our promises are about small things, things that are not all that important. “I’ll call you on Thursday. I promise.” If we break them, it may not matter all that much. On the other hand, a broken promise may crush us. Think of how many times people have stood before God and promised to remain faithful to their spouse yet, someone where down the line, cast those vows aside.
What it boils down to is that the promises we make are not that reliable. We may break them without much thought because they are not all that important to us. Sometimes, we may not have the ability to keep them due to circumstances beyond our control. Other times, we may just decide to break our promises no matter how important they might be.
What a comfort it is to know that this is not the way God works. When God makes a promise, he keeps it. He doesn’t forget. He doesn’t let it slide because it is not important. There is not one promise he has made that he has not kept or will keep before all is said and done.
The unbeliever needs to think about this for God threatens to punish and send to hell all those who do not believe in him (Mk 16:16). These are not veiled threats. God will and does punish those who do not believe in Jesus as their Savior. On the other hand, he promises eternal life and the joys of heaven to all those who trust in Jesus (Mk 16:16).
God’s promises may not be answered as soon as we like. Adam and Eve never saw the fulfillment of the promise of a Savior. Abraham waited until he was 99 before God gave him and Sarah the son he had promised. It took thousands of years for the Savior to arrive.  Don’t let God’s delay in returning on the Last Day, make you think that he will not keep his word. He always does.
The Bible is filled with the promises of God. They are great and glorious! God will keep them all. From his promise to be with us, to use all things for our good, to raising the dead and taking us to heaven – God will keep them all. You have his Word on it!

If God took you to court, how would you plead?

            Have you ever had to go to court? Maybe you have been in court because you were summoned for jury duty. Maybe you went to court to get your first driver's license. Sometimes people appear in court to testify to something they know or saw. Most often we end up in court because we have done something wrong. More often than not it is for speeding, running a stop sign or some other offence.
            If you are in court because charges have been brought against you, it is not the most pleasant thing to do. Depending on the severity of the offense, your guilt or innocence, the decision made by the judge or jury, your life could be changed dramatically. You may end up paying a great deal of money in fines. You may have to spend weeks, months, or years behind bars. If your crime was a particularly heinous one, it could mean that you will lose your life or spend the rest of your life behind bars. What sentence the judge pronounces on you could cause you to lose right to drive, your job, or even break up your marriage. In the end it all boils down to whether you are found to be guilty or innocent.
About 750 BC the Lord, through the prophet Micah, took the people of Israel to court. He put them on trial, so to speak, for flagrant sins committed over centuries. Even though he had sent prophets to call them to repentance, even though he warned them that his judgment would soon fall on them, they ignored him and refused to change.
Before the verdict was pronounced, the Lord reminded them how he had kept every promise he made to them. He reminded them how he brought them out of Egypt, given Moses to be their leader. He had kept adversity away, blessed them along the way, and brought them to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In spite of their unbelief, idolatry, immorality, and countless other sins, the Lord remained faithful to them and his promises. Yet they turned away from the Lord to serve other gods. It was an open and shut case.
If the Lord took you to court, how would you fair? If your life is anything like mine, sins against the Lord are common place. The evidence is clear. It mounts up day after day with each lie that is told, with every sinful thought that crosses our mind or sinful desire that fills our heart. The unkind words we speak, the gossip we share with co-workers, the times we had too much to drink, the X rated sites we visited on the intranet all condemn us.
We may try to make up for them by our good deeds. We go to church, say our prayers, give to charity, read our Bible, and teach Sunday School. These good deeds may move a human judge to show us leniency, but they won’t color the decree of the judge of all mankind. Our sins still condemn us. We are guilty. There is only sentence a just judge could pronounce. The sentence for such crimes is eternal torment in hell.
That’s where we will go and what will happen if we got what we deserved. By the grace and mercy of God, Jesus changed all that. He died in our place. He was declared guilty because of our sin. He was sentenced to death instead of you and me. Through Christ, we, who are sinners through and through, are righteous in his sight. God’s verdict, by his grace, is NOT GUILTY!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Reformation – then and now - what’s it all about?

           When October 31 approaches, most people's thoughts turn to pumpkins and goblins and all sorts of costumes. Soon will come that knock on the door and the familiar cry of "Trick or Treat?" October 31, however, is important for another reason. It marks the celebration of an event that set the religious world on its ear.
You see, on October 31, 1517, the church was in terrible shape. Precious few people owned or had ever laid eyes on a Bible. Even if they had, it would have done little good since most Bibles were written in Latin at the time. The study of Scriptures was not encouraged. The laity were told to listen to the church. Unfortunately it was a time of spiritual ignorance. Superstition abounded and many problems existed in the church.
It was at this time a troubled young monk, named Martin Luther, was trying to find peace with God. He was also troubled by many of the abuses that abounded in the church. The one that bothered him the most was the sale of indulgences.
Indulgences were slips of paper which granted forgiveness of sins and escape from temporal punishment in this life and in purgatory. The result was that the common man thought that as long as he had an indulgence he need not worry about being punished for his sins.
On October 31, 1517, the pot started to boil. Martin Luther posted a list of 95 theses (statements). They were posted on the church door of Wittenburg. There were many things he wanted to discuss with church leaders. This event marked the beginning of what is now known as the Reformation.
It is celebrated, not because it caused a split in the church. It is celebrated because this event resulted in a return to the Bible and its message of full and free forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. Luther stated that man does not need a paper indulgence to receive forgiveness or to be free from the punishment - temporal or eternal. The Bible says that God has forgiven our sins through his Son, Jesus Christ. Our sins were paid for by Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. Our punishment, temporal and eternal, were taken away by Jesus. In Romans, Paul writes that "...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Roman 8:1)
Martin Luther's desire was not to split the church but to bring the church back to the Bible and to the glorious gospel message. That gospel proclaims that we are saved, not by works but by the free and faithful grace of God. Salvation is God’s gift to all the world. God declared the world righteous for Jesus’ sake. Forgiveness and salvation is not something we deserve nor can it be earned. It is God's gift. "Believe in Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." Jesus is our only hope! Simply put, that is what the Reformation was about. 
Here we must add that the work of reform never ends. We need to daily return to God's Word and hear again of God's wonderful message of salvation. We must take it to heart lest we fall once again into ignorance, superstition and unbelief.

God’s forgiveness of our sins moves us to forgive others.

            One day a little boy had a fight with his older brother. The boy refused to speak to his brother all day. His brother had hurt him and he wasn’t going to forget it! His mother said, “Son, don’t you think you should forgive your brother before you go to sleep? The Bible says that we should not let the sun go down on our wrath.” After thinking it over for a moment, the boy replied, “But, how can I keep the sun from going down?” That little boy’s attitude is found in all of us. It is part of our sinful nature. It’s hard, and may seem impossible at times, to forgive those who have hurt us by something they have said or done.
Forgiving others is not something that we come by naturally. There is a lot of truth in the saying, “To err is human; to forgive divine.” The Psalmist does a good job of describing this forgiveness, “God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him” (Psalm 103:10-12).
Forgiveness is something that is found at the heart and core of God’s relationship to us and ours to God. By extension it travels through us to everyone around us. The key to understanding this subject is found in God’s willingness to forgive our sins. In Matthew 18: 21-35, when Peter asked, ‘How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times,” Jesus told him it should be seventy times seven or 490 times. Jesus’ point is not that there is a limit to the number of times we are to forgive. Quite the contrary. We are to forgive others as often as necessary.
Then Jesus told the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-25). It is a story that gives us insight into how God things and deals with mankind. It is clear that the master in the parable is God and the servant with a debt represents each one of us. The servants debt is so large that he could not pay it off in a thousand life times. When told he must go to debtors prison, he pleaded for mercy. He received it. The master forgave him the entire debt.
That’s the way that our loving and merciful God has done for us. He has taken our sins, sins we commit hundreds of times each day, day in and day out, year in and year out, and wipes the slate clean. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Instead of sending us to heaven as we deserve, he forgave us. He punished Jesus in our place.
As Jesus’ parable clearly teaches, God wants us, who have come to know God’s forgiveness first hand, to show it to those who sin against us. We are to forgive, not just those we love, not just our children, siblings, spouse, and parents, but even our enemies. We are to forgive them with no limits, full and free. No grudges, no getting even, no hard will, just mercy and love. Sounds impossible?! It is because we are not God. We have a sinful nature. Yet, with God’s help, we can do what we would never be able to do on our own. Let them see God’s love in you and through you by your forgiveness.

What does God need to do to get your attention?

            When my alarm clock goes off early in the morning in certainly gets my attention, as well as that of my wife. Referees get the attention of basketball players with a whistle.  Babies get the attention of their parents with the piercing screams.  Parents get the attention of their children by threatening to cut off their allowance if they don't clean up their room.
            You can't believe how much money is spent today getting peoples' attention.  What young person wouldn't want to buy the latest video game or phone after seeing it advertised for four months on TV? How can you resist buying a lottery ticket with all the advertising done to help you dream about what it would be like to be a millionaire?
Getting peoples' attention is not something new.  God's done it many times. I'm sure the dark clouds, thunder and lightning that surrounded Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Ten Commandments got the attention of the Israelites.  Don't you think that he got people's attention with the flood, the fall of Jericho, and with the mighty feats of Sampson?
One might wonder how God gets our attention today. Since he doesn't openly reveal himself in the same way now that he did with the nation of Israel, what does he do?
I can't help but think that God has caught the attention of many a new parent as they witnessed the miracle of birth and the precious gift of a child. Doesn't God get our attention when we look up into the heavens and see the marvels of the world which he made? How can we look at a rainbow and not recall that God placed it in the sky to remind us of his promise not to again destroy the world until judgment day arrives.
Doesn't God also get our attention when we find ourselves flat on our back in the hospital awaiting surgery or as we await the results of lab test? What about when we lose our job? When a loved one dies? When tragedy strikes? God can use all these things too to get our attention. When these things take place, what do we do? We often look to God. We look to God for help, for strength and for answers.
What God has done to capture more attention than anything else was the gift of his own Son, Jesus Christ. Look at how much fuss goes on at Christmas time. The resurrection of Christ has done the same thing. It was God’s proclamation to the world that the victory over sin, death and the grave was won for us by Christ. Has he gotten your attention? I pray he has!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


         One of the best known and favorite Bible stories has to be that of David and Goliath.  Who of us is not  familiar with it?  We get the details in I Samuel 17.  David, a mere boy, takes on a warrior, almost twice his size.  Goliath's armor weighed about as much as David.  The tip of his spear weighed as much as a bowling ball.
Instead of a battle, army versus army, Goliath challenged any one from Israel to come forward ‘one on one,’ winner take all. For forty days, Goliath came out and made his challenge.  When David finally took on that challenge and went out to meet Goliath armed only with a sling, Goliath was quite amused.  Goliath said, "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?"  "And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.  "Come here, he said, and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field."
Israel's army was afraid to fight Goliath but not David.  David said to Goliath, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, who you have defied.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head."  We all know how it ends.  The battle was over quickly.  When the dust cleared, God gave the victory to David.
Every day you are faced with challenges like David.  Those who defy God and challenge your faith are all around you.  It may be your university professor who has made it clear that he thinks your belief in God shows your ignorance.  You will be challenged by those around you who use foul language, read obscene books, use drugs and alcohol and tempt you to do the same.  You will see pre-marital and extra-marital sex defended by your friends.  You will see immoral behavior permitted and promoted on TV, the movies, in music and magazines.
Will you remain silent or speak up?  Will you go along with the crowd when you know it's wrong?  Will you compromise your beliefs so that you don't stand out or make waves?
David stood up to Goliath.  His courage was not based on his marksmanship with a sling.  He trusted in the Lord.  He knew that God would give him the victory.
What will you do?  Why not live for the Lord?  Put your trust in Him.  Live your faith.  Resist temptation.  Fight evil.  Re-focus your priorities.  Commit yourself to the Lord.  He won't let you down!

True contentment comes only from God.

            A wealthy businessman was vacationing at the beach. As he walked along the beach, he noticed a fisherman sitting lazily next to his boat. The rich man asked, “Why aren’t you out there fishing?” “I’ve caught enough for today,” the fisherman replied. “You could catch more than you need, you know,” the rich man urged. “But what would I do with them?” “Well, you could earn more money! You could buy a bigger boat, get better nets, catch more fish, and make more money. Someday, if you work hard enough and long enough, you will become rich. The fisherman asked, “Then what would I do?” “You can sit back, take it easy, and enjoy life.” he said. “That’s what I’m doing now,” said the fisherman.
Our society is focused on money and the things that money can by. ‘Give me more!’ is its cry. We hear it from our children when they visit a store. “Mom, I want one of those.” “Can we buy that?” We see it when a young couple, starting out in life, decides to buy everything on credit rather than wait until they can afford it. We are happy with our car. It gets us to work. It runs fine. It’s paid for. Then we go for a ride in a friend’s car. It has a built in navigation center, satellite TVs, heated leather seats. It helps you park, tells you when you are too close to the car next to you, and gets great mileage. Suddenly, you’re not so happy with your old beater at home.
What we are talking about, “to lack a better word. is greed, good old fashioned greed.” Greed, one of the deadly sins, is a danger for us all. None of us are exempt. It leads us to be unhappy, dissatisfied with what we have. We want more.
The opposite of greed is contentment. Contentment means being satisfied with what we have. It has nothing to do with hard work or trying to get a better job, or planning for the future. It’s about being content, happy if you will, with where we are, with what we have.
The contentment comes, in a god-pleasing way, through Christ. When we know Jesus as our Savior, when we know that our sins have been washed away by his blood, we have nothing to worry about. When we know that the Lord is with us, watching over us, giving us all that we need, we can be content. We may not be rich or famous. We may not have the fastest computer, nicest car, or biggest home. Yet, if we are content with what the Lord has given us, we will be happy.
When Jesus lives in our heart, our heart will not be so focused on what we have here and now but what we will have for all eternity. We will know that the riches and blessings of this life are nothing compared to what is waiting for us in heaven. How can we not be content with that? Such contentment can only come from one place – from God.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Why live in darkness when you can live in the light?

            Not long ago I read a story about a woman who had been blind for fifty years. Following surgery, when the bandages were removed her vision had been restored. It is hard to imagine the joy she must have felt when able to see for the first time in her life. That’s the good news. The sad part of the story is that advances in the field of medicine made it possible for her to have had this surgery 20 years earlier. She just didn’t know that it was available. As a result she spent 20 years living in darkness instead of light. Given the choice, who would want to live in darkness?
The thought of living in darkness is not a pleasant thought. Oh, we may enjoy brief periods of darkness when we want to sleep or don’t feel well. But the thought of permanent darkness, complete darkness is depressing at best. The medical community reports that when the shortened days of winter come the number of suicides and cases of severe depression increase dramatically.
Darkness, despair, and gloom seem to go hand in hand. If you are closer to getting your social security check than your driver’s license, you will remember the television show Hee Haw! Every week, Buck Owens and Roy Clark would sing a song which started with the words, “Gloom, despair, and agony on me, deep dark depression, excessive misery….”  These are all the types of expressions the Bible uses to describe those who are living in sin and unbelief. Words which we use in a physical way are merged with the spiritual.
We find an example of this in John 3:19 where we are told “men loved darkness instead of light.” And in verse 20 of the same chapter, “men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” Darkness and sin, death, and hell go hand in hand. Jesus says the people cast into hell will be thrown into “the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”(Mt 25:30).
On the other hand, light, brightness, brilliance, are good things. The light causes things to grow. It enables us to see, work, and function in life. Those who are blind and live in darkness know firsthand what a blessing light is.
The Bible picks up on this as well. Jesus calls himself the “Light of the world” (Jn 8:12). In the opening chapter of the book of John Jesus is described this way: “In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of men.” Isaiah says that Jesus, the promised Messiah, was to be a “Light for the Gentiles” (Is 42:6).
These thoughts are summed up well in I John 1:5ff, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie…But if we walk in the light, as he is light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
Do you want to live in the light or the darkness? Darkness, sin, and unbelief lead to gloom, despair, and hell. Walking with Jesus Christ, trusting in him as your Savior, means walking in the light and having life, eternal life to boot. Walk in Christ! Walk in the Light!

Share the Savior with others. Angels will rejoice!

            In an old Peanuts cartoon, Lucy and Charlie Brown were talking. Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “I would have made a great evangelist.” Charlie Brown answers, “Is that so?” She says, “Yes, I convinced that boy in front of me in school that my religion is better than his religion.” Charlie Brown asked, “How did you do that?” And Lucy responds, “I hit him over the head with my lunch box.”
Telling others about our Lord and Savior is often not high on our list of things to do. We often feel ill equipped, afraid of rejection, or just plain apathetic. We are often intimidated by those who say that religion is ‘personal thing’. We’ll talk to them about their job, their latest date, their marriage problems but not about the one thing that helps us with it all, God’s Word and will for their lives.
Faith is a personal thing but it is not something we should keep to ourselves. It’s called the ‘gospel’ which means ‘good news’. Why would we want to keep good news to our self? If you found a new restaurant in town that served great food, you would be quick to share that news with others. Why would you want to keep the news about your Savior to yourself?
Sharing the Savior doesn’t mean you have to push a Bible in someone’s face, be rude or pushy. You don’t have to hit them over the head with your lunch box. The most effective way to share your faith is to let them see it in your everyday life; how you look to God for help when faced with life’s problems and thank God for your blessings. Let it be part of your conversation, something you talk about; not a subject you avoid.
When friends have problems, tell them ask them how you can help. When they are faced with an operation or serious health problem, lead them to seek God’s help in prayer. When they have problems with their marriage direct them to God’s Word where they will find guidance to resolve their problems. When they are troubled by their sins, tell them that Jesus died for their sins and they are forgiven. When they are faced with the prospect of death, tell them how Jesus takes away the fear of death and opens the door to eternal life.
In Luke chapter fifteen, we find three parables that Jesus told about the importance of seeking out the lost. That’s why Jesus came into this world. That’s why God sent his Son to be our Savior. That’s why Jesus laid down his life on the cross.
Take that message and share it with others! It will be the greatest gift you can ever give them. It will bring joy to your heart. And most importantly it will bring joy to the Lord and his angels. “I tell you, that there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

True wisdom comes from God

           A couple of things happened this past week that caught the attention of many people. I’m not talking about the President’s trip to St. Petersburg, Russia for an economic summit meeting. Nor am I speaking of the discussions going on in Washington about a possible missile strike in Syria. The events I’m talking about were not all that unusual but caught the attention of and brightened the hearts of people all across America. This week marked the start of the professional football season. This brought a smile to the thousands of avid football fans.
The second significant event was the first day of school for thousands of public school children in Virginia and across the country.  For three months now parents have been waiting anxiously for this day. Now that it has arrived attention will turn to doing homework, carrying out assignments, preparing for and taking tests - all done in the pursuit of getting a good education.
Closely related to education and often confused with it is wisdom. They’re not the same. A person may have a great education, being filled with knowledge yet lack wisdom. A smart person may do well on Jeopardy but make a mess out every day life situations because of a lack of wisdom. If one had to choose, a wise choice would be to choose wisdom. Wisdom is often gained over time. It often comes from experience. It can be acquired from others. If fact, we would be wise to listen to the advice of others who possess the gift of wisdom.
No place is this more true than ones spiritual life. Solomon, one of the wisest people who has ever lived describes it this way. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:12). Knowing the Holy One leads to knowledge and understanding. So where do we learn of him? Only one place – God’s Word.
Through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit brings us faith. He enables us to see Jesus as our Savior, to treasure God’s forgiveness, and experience his love. We learn how to raise our children and see them as gifts from God. We are taught how to treat our spouse.
True wisdom changes our life and the decisions we make. We see our possessions as gifts on loan from God to be used according to his will. We see the world as the creation of God for the good of mankind. We live to serve God and others not ourselves.
Most important of all, we see the Savior as our greatest treasure and eternal life as our greatest blessing – to be treasured above all else – to be shared with everyone we can. All to the glory of God.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Treasure the precious gift of prayer!

            A story is told about a small town in the Midwest that was “dry.”  No liquor or beer could be purchased in the city.  It wasn’t because of any laws that had been made.  It was just that no one had ever built a bar or liquor store in the area. One day, however, things changed.  A local business man decided to build a tavern.  Many in the town were upset.  A group of Christians from a local church planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene.  It just so happened that shortly thereafter lightning struck the bar and burned it to the ground just days before it was to open.
The owner of the bar sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible.  The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case stated that “No matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes God answers prayer and the Christians do not.”
How about you? Do you believe that prayer works or is it just a pious wish on our part? When you pray do you expect God to answer? Is prayer an important part of your life or something you only do in cases of emergency.
Hopefully you see prayer as a precious privilege. Hopefully prayer is an important part of your life and something you use regularly. A wise old Christian once said: "The best way to stay on your feet in this life is to get down on your knees." Another friend of mine said she was brought up on her knees. She was taught to kneel in prayer when faced with problems & to kneel to pray to thank God for his blessings.
For many of us, prayer was a part of our life from the time we were a small child. From little on we learned how to fold our hands, bow our heads, close our eyes in pray. We learned bedtime prayers, mealtime prayers, and church-time prayers. We know we can pray anywhere and at any time. We have learned from little on the importance and power of prayer.
Yet I think most of us would confess that our prayer life isn't what it should be. Too often we neglect prayer, belittle it by our lack of faith. God’s promises are clear. He promises to answer every prayer we make. His answer may not come right away but it will come. It may be yes or it may be no. Either way it is an act of love on God’s part. His wisdom and love always do what is best for us.
Pray often. Pray fervently. Pray with a believing heart that trusts in God’s promises. Submit your prayers as Jesus did – “Not my will but thine be done.”

Faithfully serving the Lord requires faithful preparation.

            A while back I read a story about a young boy who was growing up in the ghettos of Louisville, Ky. While it was a tough, poor neighborhood, this young man was fortunate to have parents who loved him and did the best they could in raising him. When he was twelve years old, they scraped together enough money to buy him a brand new bicycle. A few days later, however, it was stolen. When the angry young boy went out looking for the thief determined to get his bike back, he ran into a policeman who asked him what he was doing. The policeman, fearing the boy was headed for trouble, tried to turn his attention in another direction. He invited him to go to the gym and began to teach him to how to box.
The young boy was Cassius Clay who later took on the name of Mohammed Ali. He went on to become one of the greatest fighters to ever enter the ring. When asked once how he prepared for his fights, Ali said that he did all the things every fighter does but then Ali added, “To this day I never found my bike, but every time I got in the ring, I’d look across at my opponent and say to myself, that’s the guy who stole my bike!”
For two and a half years, Jesus had his disciples in training camp. He was not training them for a boxing match but for ministry. He was equipping them for the tough work that lay ahead. Late in Jesus’ ministry we often find Jesus taking his disciples aside. His goal was to spend some time with them, teaching are preparing them for the work that lay ahead. He knew how difficult things would be. He knew the temptations and trials they would face so he worked to keep them focused on the ministry they would carry out.
As we go through life, our task is the same. The Lord has called upon us to live our lives for him. While we may not be evangelists or preachers, we are his disciples. We are the ones he has called to faith, the ones called to live our lives to the glory of his name.
The only way we can do this well is by being prepared. The only way this can be done is by staying close to Jesus and his Word. As summer activities wain and fall schedules kick in, don’t forget to include worship and the study of God’s Word in your schedule. Keep your eyes focused on Jesus and you will be ready for anything that comes.

Jesus is your best friend.

            Do you have any friends? I mean real friends, good friends? Really good friends are hard to find. When we get one, we should treasure them highly as well as others we might have. Most people say that they can count the number of their good friends on one hand.
It’s good to have friends. They’re great to talk to. When you have friends, you don't have to be lonely. Good friends will overlook your grouchy moods and thoughtless words. They will be aware of your weaknesses and accept you as you are. A good friend is someone with whom you can share your inner most secrets and desires.
But, friendship is a give and take relationship. Friends may inconvenience you at times. They may ask for a favor from time to time. Their honesty may hurt you or make you angry. In the end however, you have to forgive them. After all, they’re your friend.
The better the friendship the more we will be willing to endure, the more we are ready to sacrifice. A real friend simply needs to be asked and the favor is granted. In the end, a real friend would even lay down their life to save or protect you.
That's what Jesus did for you and me. In fact, he did it for the entire world. He did it for us on the cross when he laid down his life to take away the sins of the world. On the cross the wrath of the Father was directed at him. In a way it is something we can never fully comprehend. He endured the pain and torment of hell in our place so we will never have to experience it. What a friend! There is none greater!
As Jesus walked the roads and highways of this life his friendship could easily be seen. Jesus had a reputation for being the friend of sinners. Even when one of his own disciples betrayed him with a kiss for thirty pieces of silver Jesus said, "Friend, do what you came for." (Matthew 26:50)
No matter how strong our friendship may be, there is often a limit. Hurt too badly, too often, a friendship may go bad. It may be a matter of money, of the heart, or countless other things that rend us apart but it happens. Friends often fail us or we them.
Not so with Jesus. He is one friend you can count on day in and day out - no matter what. He knows us and our weaknesses better than we know ourselves and yet he loves us. He never wearies of carrying our burdens. His ears never tire of hearing our cries for help. He shares our grief, and carries our sorrows on his heart. He is indeed our Friend, our good Friend, our best Friend.
You may have many friends on this earth.  You may have only a few.  But no matter who you are, you have a friend in Jesus.

Jesus is the missing piece.

            Have you ever started a puzzle and discovered that one piece is missing? You've got the missing piece cornered in so you know exactly what shape it is. Its colors seem evident from the pieces that surround it. Finding it should be a snap. You scour the pieces remaining on the table, but, it's not there.  You check again. Not there! You’re positive. Where could it be?
The sofa!  You rip off the cushions! You find a pair of scissors, a couple combs, some candy wrappers and miscellaneous change but no puzzle piece. Next, you get on your hands and knees and search the floor. Nothing! You look suspiciously at the cat. And, finally, resign yourself to the fact that the piece has been lost or the manufacturer is guilty of poor quality control.
You go back to working on the puzzle and as you get nearer its completion, you suddenly see IT - the missing piece. It was right there, right in front of you all the time! How could you have missed it?
I'm sure that is how Philip, one of Jesus' disciples, felt when Jesus fed five thousand with 5 barley loaves and two fish (John 6:1-15). Jesus had asked Philip, as they surveyed the large crowd which had followed Jesus into the wilderness, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" Philip got out his calculator and figured out that "eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!" And, even if they had the money, there was no place around to buy what they needed.
How silly these disciples were. These disciples had seen Jesus change water into wine, give sight to the blind and make the lame walk. Could he not take care of this problem too? The solution to the puzzle was right in front of their eyes and they didn't see it.  How foolish they must have felt when Jesus, the Lord of the Harvest, fed them all and had food to spare.
What about you!  What do you do when you have problems for which there seem to be no solutions?  It could be a battle-scared marriage that seems beyond repair, a teenager who has gotten into drugs, or a conflict at work that seems so complex that no one could help resolve. You've talked to all your friends.  You've mulled it over a thousand times in your mind.  You just know that there is no solution in sight.  Or is there?  Don't we often do what the disciples did?  We forget about Jesus?
Jesus is the answer to every problem.  He can help fix a marriage that’s on the rocks. He can guide us as we deal with a troubled teenager or teach us how to cope with a difficult situation at work. He gives us guidance from his Word and strength through his Holy Spirit. Since Jesus took care of the greatest problems of all - sin, death and hell, he can surely help us through the others as well.
When you face a puzzling situation in life, don’t forget about Jesus. He’s the missing piece.

Take the message of salvation “off the map.”

            More than 300 years before the Savior was born, Alexander the Great was marching across Asia Minor. His army, under his leadership, was certainly the greatest army ever assembled up until that time. They conquered every foe. No one could stand up against them. When they reached the Himalayan Mountains, the leaders on the front line came back to Alexander and said, “We have marched off the map. We should go back to where we know.” They had literally come to the end of the known map of that day. Alexander listened to them and then said, “Mediocre armies always stay within the known areas. The great armies always march off the map.”
            Alexander the Great wasn’t the only conqueror to give the orders, “March off the map!” Jesus, the One who conquered death, gave those same orders to his army. We find them recorded in Acts 1, verse 8.
            “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
            The first step in this mission was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples. The gifts that the Holy Spirit would give would turn cowards into bold confessors; those who abandoned their Savior and hid in fear into ones ready to lay down their life as martyrs. Peter who denied his Lord three times when faced by the questions of a servant girl later challenged those who had crucified the Lord and called them to repentance.
            In time these same leaders of the early church took the good news of the risen Christ from Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth. They took it “off the map.”
            Jesus’ marching orders are still in effect. He calls on you and me to be his witnesses today. He wants us to share that message of salvation with everyone we meet. It begins at home when a mother sings “Jesus loves me this I know” to her young children. It is carried out when we take time to talk to our neighbor or co-worker about the  most important thing in our life. It’s done when a grandfather, lying on his death bed, tells his family that soon he will be in heaven.
            Jesus’ marching orders also include taking the joyous message of salvation even farther. He wants us to take it to “the ends of the earth” or “off the map.” This is done when a missionary takes the Gospel to foreign nations. It’s done when a Spanish speaking worship service can be accessed from around the world via the intranet. It’s done when Bible studies are sent to inmates behind the bars of their jail cell.
            “You will be my witnesses.” This is Jesus’ marching orders. You are part of his army. Take the good news to the ends of the earth. Take it “off the map.”

Rejoice in tribulation!

            A parable is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer's well. The farmer heard the mule 'braying', or whatever mules do when they fall into wells. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the mule, but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together and told them what had happened and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.
            Initially, the old mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back, a thought struck him. It suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back -- he should shake it off and step up! This he did, shovel-full after shovel-full.  "Shake it off and step up . . . shake it off and step up . . . shake it off and step up!" he repeated to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows, or distressing the situation seemed the old mule fought "panic" and just kept right on shaking it off and stepping up! It wasn't long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like it would bury him, had actually blessed him -- all because of the manner in which he handled his adversity. (Source – Jeff Steele)
            That’s character. If we face our problems and respond to them positively, and refuse to give in to panic, bitterness, or self-pity - the adversities that come along to bury us have, within them, the potential to benefit and bless us! Our Lord tells us through the Apostle Paul, “…rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 5:4-5).
            When adversities strike our lives, when we face a troubled marriage, when we are told that we have cancer, when we find out we have lost our job, we can give up or persevere. We can ask the Lord for help and strength or try to do it alone.
            Recognize the fact that trials and difficulties, while difficult, make us stronger. They are a blessing in the hand of our Lord. James puts it this way, “ Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy! For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow!” (James 1:2,3).

Use the name of God in a way that brings him glory.

            Do you remember when you were in grade school?  Once in a while your group of friends would pick on someone.  Maybe they’d call them names or say bad things about them behind their backs.  And there were most likely times that others treated you the same way.  If you were on the side that was saying bad things about someone else, it perhaps made you feel more important.  None of us felt good, however, when we were on the receiving end, when we were laughed at or spoken against.
Even today, there are times when people get upset with us, for whatever reason, and say mean things about us.  Maybe they say them to our face or maybe just grumble behind our back.  But in either case, if and when we find out that a person is treating our name and reputation in a bad way, we’re not happy about it.  It makes us angry that others treat us that way, especially when it turns out to be a “friend.”
How do you think God feels when people use his name wrongly?  The fact is that we don’t have to wonder how God feels.  He lets us know very clearly and very strongly in his Word – You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Ex 20:7)
We can misuse the Lord’s name in many names. The most obvious is when someone, in anger, calls upon God to damn someone to hell.  If such a person truly realized what they were asking for, they would never make such a wish.
We misuse God’s name when we use it carelessly.  “My God, what a pretty table cloth!”  “God, it’s hot today!”  We may not think much about it but are we not using his name in a careless way?  What are we doing when we say a prayer in God’s name and don’t think about what we are saying?  God says that he will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.  We must all ask God for forgiveness for this sin.
How are we to use God’s name? As children of God we need to know the answer to that?  The most obvious answer is that we are to call upon the name of the Lord for our salvation. (Romans 10:13)  It is the only name by which we can be saved.  God would also have us share his saving name with others.  Jesus Christ is not only our Savior but theirs.
Our Lord also says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you.” (Psalm 50:15) In prayer, we invoke God’s name to help us in time of need.  He has promised to hear our prayers and help us.
We ought also to be praising God’s name.  Praising God for the wonderful things He has done.  He is worthy to be praised for the wonderful creation we enjoy, for our bodies that were made in such a wonderful way.
We will also use God’s name in thanksgiving.  We will thank God for the food we eat, the clothing we wear and the shelter over our heads.  We thank him for our government, our families, for the blessings we enjoy in our country, and so much more.  We praise Him for every good thing we have.
We have a most loving and wonderful God and Lord!  Let’s use his name faithfully out of love for him.