Friday, August 29, 2008

#5 Open Mouth, Insert Foot

"But no one can tame the tongue: it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison." James 3:8

Just the other day I was visiting with some friends while I was at Southern Adventist University (SAU) finishing up General Psychology. While we were visiting we began to talk about things that we had said that we wish we hadn't said. We all shared stories of how our mouths had gotten us into trouble at some time or another. I remember one story that was actually sort of cute. My best friend's wife was talking about how her father-in-law and she were discussing the possibility of him trading his vehicle. He currently owns a silver Scion XB-the little cars that look like a toaster on wheels-and was thinking of trading it in for the newest body style that Scion has produced for that line. She told how her father-in-law kept going on and on about how great the new body style looked and how he would love to have it, and then before she knew what had happened she told him, "You should go trade up with them, anything would be better than what you have." The words fell out of her mouth before she even realized she said them. Of course her father-in-law stopped talking and just stared at her. He was blown away that she had voiced what had obviously been on her mind for some time. Thankfully for her she has a great father-n-law and he did not get too offended over the situation. He actually saw how embarrassed she was and he tried to make her feel better. He wrote it off to hormone imbalance during pregnancy and now they laugh about the moment. Needless to say, my friend's wife was terribly embarrassed and wanted to crawl under the seat and never come out.

I realize that this is a rather trivial story about not having our tongues tamed, but how many of us can relate to a story similar to this where we wish we had not opened our mouths? Far too many I am sure. There are times that I have said something to someone and really wished that I could take it back. I had a really bad habit of this when Ginger and I first got married. I loved to pick around, but I did not realize that my words of jest were actually daggers to the heart of my beloved. It took me several years to realize that I was continually bruising the heart of my dear wife. I did not try to hurt her, but my endless joking and picking around was almost more than she wanted to bear. I praise the Lord that she was able to voice her concern to me and that I had enough sense to listen to her cries for help.

So how about you? Do you say things to people that bruise their spirits? Do you use harsh words when you address your children or your spouse? Do you always look for the negative in every situation? Do you have to always be right no matter what? Do you try to tear others down so that you can build yourself up? Obviously I do not know how many if any of these questions apply to you guys. But I am certain that we could all think back to some situation where we should have said something in a different way or maybe we should not have said anything at all. It is impossible to control our tongues apart from the Lord. James reminds us that the tongue is a "restless evil and full of deadly poison." If that is the case then is foolish to think that we will be able to control the rudder of our body. I suggest to you all this evening that we need a higher power than that which is inherent in each of us. We need the power of the living God at work in our lives so that He can grant us the power to control our tongues and the other members of our body. Is only when Jesus comes in and becomes both Lord and Savior that we can have victory over an evil, poisonous tongue. How much sweeter would life be if we only spoke kind words to the world around us, if we looked for opportunities to encourage instead of ridicule, and if we sought chances to edify instead of tear down? It is my prayer that each of us would yield total control of our tongues and bodies to the Lord.

Dear Father in heaven,
We come to You this evening and give You praise for the many blessings in our lives. We also want to say thank You for the trials that teach us to lean on You more fully. In the midst of our praise may You grant us forgiveness for the times that we have allowed the poison of our tongues to bruise the spirit of someone around us. We desire to yield control of this small member of the body to You completely. May You control each thought, word, and deed as we strive to live our lives for You. It is in the name of Jesus our Savior we pray, Amen!

Friday, August 22, 2008

#4 Teach Me to Walk O' Lord

"Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul."
Psalm 143:8

I know that almost none of us can remember the very steps that we took as budding toddlers. If you are like me, you probably have trouble remembering what you ate yesterday not to mention the fledgling years of life. But I wonder how many of us can take our minds back to when we first began to walk with the Lord? For some of us that is not too long ago. For others we may have to pull down a few mental cobwebs to dig back that far. I think back to my own spiritual beginning and it makes me smile to see how much the Lord has cleaned me up. Am I perfect? Not by a long stretch. But day by day I keep putting one foot in front of the other in the spiritual sense. I trip and fall from time to time, but my Jesus is always there ready, willing and able to lift me up and carry me through one more day.

So where are you this evening? Is your walk moving along or do you find yourself crawling along this Christian pathway? Only you and the Lord can fully answer that, but no matter where you may find yourself this evening I want to give you hope. Hope that Christ will never leave you or forsake you. He has promised to always be with us and I fully believe Him. I want you take hope in knowing that no matter how many times you may fall down Christ is there to pick you back up. However, some of us think that Jesus gets tired of us messing things up and eventually He turns away from us. Sure, Jesus wants us to turn away from our sin and to put Him first in our lives, but Christian growth is a process. There are some things that we have to wrestle with to overcome. This works to mold our character into that lovely reflection of what God desires us to be. In Revelation 3 Jesus tells the church in Laodicea to buy of Him gold tried in the fire. That is symbolic language that speaks of allowing Christ to mold us into His image more and more. It is language that tells us that Christ longs to give us total victory in our lives. In our key text from Psalm 143 we read how the psalmist cries out to God to teach him how to walk. What will it take in your life to come to that same point? Do you have a desire to walk in the ways of righteousness? If you answered "yes" to either question then I encourage you bow your head and seek the Lord in prayer and life up your soul to Him who holds the universe in His hand. I too long to walk closer to the Lord, and by His saving grace may we all find our way down that straight and narrow path that finds it end in the loving arms of our Lord Jesus. Have a very blessed Sabbath my friends.

Dear Father,
We come to you in this moment to give You praise and to offer You thanks for the awesome ways in which You work in our lives. Please forgive us where we have failed You dear Lord. Please take away any dark blot that stains our character, and wash us each one white as snow. We long to walk in a manner worthy of the calling that You have given us, but we cannot do it alone we need You help Lord. We want to be close to You in all that we do so please empty us of our selves and fill us with the Holy Spirit I pray. It is in the name of the One who died for us, Amen.

Friday, August 15, 2008

#3 Unit Cohesion

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…as ye see the day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25 KJV

I am not sure how many of you have ever been through military basic training, and I certainly know that each branch conducts training in a somewhat different way. However, each branch has at least one thing in common: taking random people and making them function as a team.

I had the opportunity to do my basic training for the Army at Fort Jackson, SC. Fort Jackson was called “Relaxin’ Jackson” for some demented reason. I am not sure if I was just not bright enough to figure it out, but I never found out why it was called that. Each and every time I turned around we were being run to and fro or rolling around in the sand and dirt or even doing push-ups until our arms felt like well-boiled noodles. The first two weeks were the worst. Those two weeks were called “red phase.” Red phase was the period of time that the Drill Sergeants attempted to make your life the most miserable. Those two weeks contained more screaming and shouting than the other seven weeks combined I think.

The goal was—I learned later—to take a group of mismatched people from around the country and transform them into a unit of men and women who could think and act as one; to take 52 individuals and teach them how to think as one well-oiled machine that is capable of completing any mission that may be thrown at them.
The physical component was only part of it. Yes, they wanted to take our weak bodies and build them up and make them strong enough to endure the rigors of combat, but the mind was where the real battle was taking place. Until the Drill Sergeants got all of our brains on the same page we would always be working against each other. Over a period of weeks it all began to take shape.

There is something about common suffering that causes people to bond in a special way. When you face the same trials as other people and come out victorious on the other end then you share an experience that only those who went through the fire with you understand. Did we all always get along? No, of course not, but we were able to set aside differences when it counted and we could pull together as a team and as a unit to accomplish the mission.

Finally at the end of the ten weeks when you stand on the parade field there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment that is born out of the training experience. And there is a bond with those men and women in your unit that the Army calls “unit cohesion”. It is the ability to work together to accomplish the mission no matter what the circumstances and that is what makes any fighting force successful in their endeavors.

So how does that apply to us? We in the church come from varied backgrounds and experiences. We each have a unique testimony as to how Christ has lead us to the point where we find ourselves today, and we have to find a way to develop “unit cohesion” if you will within the church.

Of course I am not suggesting that we make church members drop and do push-ups when they cannot get along, but we do have to learn how to move beyond our own opinions and embrace rock-solid principles from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. This is not always easy for churches to accomplish this, but accomplish it we must.
Friends I am convinced that we are in a spiritual battle against the rulers of darkness in this world (Ephesians 6:12). We may wrestle with flesh and blood, but our true battle is against “spiritual wickedness in high places.” Some of us may not want to learn how to work with others and we may think it best to just run away, but the Bible makes it clear that we must not forsake coming together. It is that much more important as the day of Christ’s return draws nearer and still nearer.
Maybe you have allowed Satan to drive a wedge between you and another member of the “unit” so to speak. Maybe you have been tempted to withdraw instead of standing firm in the Lord and trying to find a way to work with people whom you may find difficult or challenging.

Friends, time is too short for us to be swallowed up in petty differences. Time is too short for us to not be pulling together to win souls for the Lord Jesus. Time is too short for us to be absorbed in pity parties and self-consuming thoughts. Time is short, but Christ is still available if we will just call upon Him to heal the wounds of the past. It is my desire that you each will be willing to take a close look at your lives and ask the Lord how you can be a better member of the church team.
The Holy Spirit has been given, and we should pray that our hearts would be emptied of the selfish desires to which we often cling. It is only then that we can be filled with the Spirit of the living God, and it is only then that we will function as a dedicated unit of Christian men, women, and children that is truly anticipating the coming of our Lord.

Dear Father God,
Please speak to our minds—and give us the courage to give ourselves totally unto You. We need You to come into our lives in a deeper and more meaningful way that we may be able to focus on the tasks that You have for us as Your bride who eagerly awaits Your return. It is in the mighty name of Jesus that we pray, Amen.

Friday, August 8, 2008

#2 Innocent Fun?

Isaiah 42:3 "A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice."

I can recall once again when I was a young boy, and again spending some time with my grandparents. My granddad owned and operated a salvage yard or junk yard as we called it. His junk yard was spread over about 10 acres and was split by a small patch of woods not quite down the middle. On the back side of the junk yard was where my granddad kept the cars with fewer parts on them. These cars were much more stripped of their useful pieces but still had some value. One component that most of these cars contained was their windshields and side glasses. One day a childhood friend and I decided that it would be a great idea to take a little walk to the back side of the junk yard and mess around a little. Once we got there we had the idea to take rocks and throw them through the various car windshields and back glasses. It was thrilling to take 5 and 10 pound rocks and smash them through the windows of those decrepit old cars. We did this to about 15 or 20 cars all alongside one row of the cars. Afterwards, we did not think about what we did very much until a few days later when I was back home and my granddad called my mom. My granddad was very upset and he asked my mom to see if me and my friend had any knowledge of the damage. I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sense of fear. My heart sank as I had to tell my mom what I had done. You see, to me those old cars were just junkers that were left there to rot away, but to my granddad they represented his only source of income. Unknowingly, my friend and I had robbed my granddad of almost $2,000 dollars in potential income. He later explained to me that those cars were like having money in the bank, and that he only discovered that the windows had been broken out because a man came by and wanted to buy a windshield out of one of them. When he went to take it out he found it smashed into a million little, useless pieces. Not only did he loose the sale, but my granddad was heartbroken to think that I was so careless in the way that I treated his property. My mother, being the diligent soul that she is, took it upon herself to give me a very painful reminder on my backside. The spanking hurt for a few hours-yes I said hours-but the most painful part was knowing that I had hurt my granddad whom I loved as my own father.

There are so many times in our lives that we do not give ample thought to the paths upon which we walk. I know that many of us have the most innocent of intentions when we set out to do some things, but we sometimes misstep and forget to consider all the ramifications of our actions. That was certainly the case for me and my friend when we set out to kill the boredom of a summer afternoon. There may be some of you who read this tonight or in the next couple of days who may need to go make some things right in your life. Perhaps you spoke a word in anger or in sheer jest, but your words struck right to the heart of someone you love and cherish. And you may be like me and not even realize that you have bruised the heart or spirit of another. Isaiah reminds us in 42:3 that the Lord will faithfully bring forth justice to those who hurt, and I am a firm believer that we should partner with the Lord in trying to help those who are hurting. This is especially true if we are the one who has brought about that hurt. Is it easy? Not hardly. When I saw my granddad again after the windshield incident I was so afraid that he would still be angry with me and that he would not love me anymore. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I sheepishly walked up to him to tell him I was sorry for breaking all those windshields and he just pulled me close and said that he forgave me. I was so relieved to discover that he did not hate me or that he was not still upset at me. Too often in our adult lives we fear what others will think of us if we were to go back and try to make things right, but the reward of facing those types of challenges can be so redeeming. Will everyone welcome us with open arms and say, "It's alright. Don't worry about it"? Of course not, but I think we have an obligation as Christians to attempt to live in peace with those around us to such extent as is possible. We must do our part and then leave it with the Lord to work on the heart of the other party.

Are there people in your life that you have offended with careless or harsh words? Maybe it is time to call them or go see them and attempt to make it right. We are living in a time that truly seems to be the last generation of this earth's history. For sure, no man knows the day or the hour, but the signs clearly point to a world in turmoil. Why not be ready to meet the Lord by not having any outstanding social debts so to speak. Pray and ask the Lord to give you guidance and courage to go to those whom you may have hurt. The Holy Spirit is readily available to each one of us. All we need is a greater capacity to accept the Spirit of God in our lives. May the Lord give you a desire to right all the wrongs in your life today.

Heavenly Father,
We need you so very much in our lives. No matter who we are or what our station is in this life, we need You. We need Your love, Your warmth, Your kindness, Your patience, and many other attributes that can only be manifested in our lives as a result of a saving relationship with You. Please forgive us each one as we have failed You and each other. We know that You do not want us to bruise the spirit of any of Your children, so please grant us the courage that we need to seek to reconcile with those that we may have hurt. We thank You also for another Sabbath, and we look forward to worshipping You with our fellow believers in the hours that lie ahead of us. Please come very soon to take us to be with You Lord Jesus. We long to see Your face and to feel Your arms of love around us.
It is in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord that we pray, Amen.

Friday, August 1, 2008

#1 A Light Unto My Path

"Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path." Psalm 119:105 NASB

One of my favorite things to do as a young boy was to take a flashlight outside at night and try to shine it way up in the trees or maybe even try to shine that little light all the way up into the heavens. On a really clear, dark night I could follow the beam for what seemed like miles and miles to a small boy. I loved trying to shine my light in an attempt to catch an animal walking near the edge of my grandparents' home place. They lived in a rural part of North Carolina and it was not uncommon to see deer, raccoons, opossums, squirrels and not to mention stray dogs that people would abandon at the entrance of my Granddad's junk yard. What was really amazing about that little light was that I could adjust the end of it and it would make the beam of light either wider or smaller, thus allowing me to widen my field of search or dial it in for the utmost intensity if I thought I saw something moving in the brush.

The Word of God is very similar to that flashlight for each of us today. As we look around our individual worlds many of us would readily agree that we could use a lot more light in our lives. And the awesome thing about it is that God has promised that He will light our way if we will simply trust Him to do so (Psalm 32:8). The greater question then becomes one of how do we "activate" this mighty light in our lives. The answer is not some exercise out of a spiritual Calculus manual. It is simply that we need to spend time reading our Bibles and praying over the things that we read in the Bible. In Romans 10:17 we are told that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. The methodology is beautiful here. If we spend time in the Bible then our faith will be increased, and if our faith is increased then we will have a deeper ability, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to trust the Lord where ever He may choose to lead us. Our pathway of life will then be illuminated as the Lord sees fit to open doors for us. I encourage each of you to covenant with the Lord to spend more time in the Bible this week. In Isaiah 1:18 the Lord tells us to come and reason with Him. Why not take Him up on His offer and sit at the feet of the God of the universe on a daily basis through His word and watch for the marvelous light of His love to spread out like a beautiful tapestry before you? Blessings to each of you as seek to find God's light in your life.