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.