Friday, October 31, 2008

#14 Mistaken Identity

"If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are
not of the world...the world hates you." John 15:19

Have you ever been driving down the road and thought you saw one of your
friends in an approaching vehicle? I have had this happen more times than I
can recall. There was actually one time that I had been looking for a
particular friend and I could not find him. This was way back in the dark
ages-early 90's-before cell phones were so common. I know there are a few
of you who remember those days. Back then we had to leave a message and
just hope and pray that we could find someone in case of an emergency. I
really needed to find my friend so I decided to go look for him. I drove
over to his house and no one was home. I went by where he worked and he was
not there either. I finally decided to go look around town where we would
hang out with some of our friends. When I got near the hang-out I met his
car. I began to wave wildly in an attempt to get his attention and I even
flashed my lights trying to get him to look my way. No matter what I did he
did not even look toward me. So I whipped my car around and to try and
follow him. I was able to get right behind his car. I got really close to
him and flashed my lights again and waved my arms at him. We finally came
to a stop light that had a turn lane so I could pull right up beside him.
When I got up beside him my heart sank. The guy that I had been following
and trying to get to stop was not my friend after all. The car was the same
by all appearances, but my friend was not in the driver's seat. In fact, it
was not his car at all. Boy did I feel like a fool. The guy driving the
car said some words to me that I dare not repeat and he took off spinning
tires when the light changed. I simply drove away slowly trying not to draw
further attention to myself. I decided from that point on that I would make
real sure next time before I followed someone trying to get their attention.
Praise the Lord for cell phones so we can find those that we seek.

As I think this evening about mistaken identities, I wonder how many of us
are mistaken for someone else. What I mean more directly is how many of us
profess to be one thing, but the way that we live our lives says something
totally different. There is a song by Christian recording artists D.C. Talk
that says in the very beginning, "The greatest single cause of atheism in
the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk
out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving
world simply finds unbelievable." I have to be totally honest with you all
this evening and admit that there have been times in my life where I did not
live in such a way as to honor Jesus by my actions. During those times it
would have been very easy to have mistaken me for someone who did not have
Jesus at all. Friends, we are living in a time that we need to be about our
Father's business. We are living in a time that requires us to solidify our
relationship with the Lord Jesus so that we are not swept away in the
deceptions that this world will receive. I think it is time that each of us
examined our lives and asked the question, "Am I truly ready for the coming
of Christ?" For many of us the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" For
others I think the answer would be one that we hope no one would hear. But
the hour is not yet passed where we can come to the Lord. There is still
time for us to get our act together so that we stand out from those who live
their lives only for the pleasure of the moment. I do not mean that we
should want to stand out so as to draw attention unto ourselves. I mean
that we as Seventh-day Adventist Christians who love the Lord should stand
out in our efforts to bring the three angels' messages to a dying world.
Each day thousands go to the grave without the hope of anything beyond the
temporal pleasures that this world has to offer while we sit upon a mountain
of life-giving truth. I pray that we would each resolve in our hearts to
not let another day go by without us living completely for the Lord Jesus
Christ. If you are among those who faithfully walk with the Lord each day
then find those in your midst whose day you can brighten with a word of
encouragement. Some of you may say that you don't have the talents to do
much for Jesus. Friends, please realize that if Jesus calls us then He WILL
equip us to do His good pleasure. May it never be said of any of us that we
are mistaken for the world. May it be said of us instead like it was of the
disciples; that we have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Dear Father God,
As we lift our hearts and minds toward heaven tonight, we praise You for
being the awesome and mighty God that You are. You are the sovereign of the
universe and You are worthy to be praised. As we bow before You may we
realize just how awesome it is to be able to live our lives totally for You.
I know Lord that many of us have not been as faithful as we should have been
and we need to stop playing around and live for You in every aspect of our
lives. As we surrender to You just now, please give us that blessed
assurance that You hear and forgive us of all of our transgressions (1 John
1:9). I pray Lord Jesus that You will give us the courage to live for You
openly and unashamedly, and we long for the day when You will place Your arm
of love around us and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant...enter
into the joy of your lord" (Matthew 25:21). In the name of our Lord and
Savior Jesus we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 24, 2008

#13 Lost Along the River

"I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick;" Ezekiel 34:16

One of my most favorite past times is to go backpacking and hiking. I love the smell of fresh air and the joy that comes from spending time in nature with friends. Back in North Carolina there is a place called the Linville Gorge. It is a river gorge that feeds into Lake James near Morganton, NC. The Linville Gorge is about 15 miles long and winds back and forth along the river. My friends and I would take a long weekend and hike down the gorge with minimal camping supplies. Sometimes Ginger's uncles and cousins would go and we would have a great time. One year we decided to go down the gorge and the ones who normally led the way were not able to go with us. We did not think it would be a big deal so we decided to go on our own and have a good time like normal.

Everything started off fairly well but we soon realize that we were not on the trail that we were accustomed to being on. In fact, we were way off the beaten path. The bad part is that we did not realize this until we had been hiking for about 4 hours. That meant that we had to try to get back on the path from a point that we were not familiar with. You must understand that the gorge area is not flatland. It is very steep in most places and it is very wearisome to walk up hill with 50 pounds of gear and food on your back. Needless to say we became very tired and really just wanted to find somewhere to stop for the evening. I wish I could tell you that it got better, but it got worse before that happened.

At one point we came to a portion of the wrong trail that went nearly straight down. As one of my buddies started down the hill he lost his footing and went tumbling down the hill. When he skidded to a stop at the bottom his knee jammed into a rock outcropping and injured his knee. He could still walk on it but he was not able to carry his pack and walk too. So we each took part of his load and distributed it among the rest of the group. We finally made our way out to the road and found a roadside campsite where we could bed down for the night. I have been tired many times in my life, but there are only a few times that I can remember rest being so sweet as it was that night. Truly, we were happy to have found our way out of the forest, and the next time we considered going hiking we made sure to have someone to guide us on our way.

Friends, tonight I just wonder how many of us feel lost in this world because we thought we too knew the way we should go. Maybe there will be some who read this and say, "I am not lost." Perhaps you are not lost in the sense that you know Jesus, but perhaps you have decisions to make in your life and you need guidance from on high today. Perhaps as you look forward the future does not look as bright as it once did and you sense a need to turn everything over to Jesus. I know beyond any doubt that Jesus longs to give each of us guidance so that we can feel safe and secure in this world of turmoil and I just pray that you would consider the areas that you need to turn over to Jesus.

In our key passage we see through the prophet Ezekiel that God is seeking the lost. We are told that He wants to bring back the scattered and bind up the broken while He strengthens the sick. Maybe today friend you are among the scattered that know the truth of Jesus, but you have turned away from it. Maybe you were baptized and then for some reason you let friends or family discourage you from following Jesus completely. I pray that today will be the day that choose to let God bring you home and bind your wounds.

Dear Father,
I pray that You will never give up calling us to come to You. I pray that we would be willing to surrender completely to You and allow You to bind up our emotional and spiritual wounds. Dear Lord there are far too many who have allowed themselves to become scattered from Your flock. May Your Holy Spirit continue to press on the hearts and minds of each of us until we all come home to You. We pray in the blessed name of Jesus just now, Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2008

#12 Broken Road Ahead

Luke 6:44 NASB "For each tree is known by its own fruit…”

Michigan has been a wonderful new experience for us so far and we love being here. As with any new place, there are things about a particular place that you like more than others, right? Well, for me who drives about 3,000 miles a month I wish the townships spent more money on roads. I am not trying to knock our new state that we love, but the roads could use a little help in some areas. I was blown away the first time I came across a sign that actually labeled the road as a “rough road.” I thought to myself, “It can’t be that bad, can it?” As I ventured down that particular road I discovered that the sign should have read “horrible road.” There was what appeared to multi-colored scabs all over the road where someone had attempted to patch the road, but what happened was it made the road incredibly bumpy and rough to ride upon. At that time the struts and shocks in my car were in need of being replaced so I felt as if I was riding upon the high seas in the midst of a great storm. I felt myself wondering which was worse; the hundreds of mismatched patches or the gaping holes where the pavement was totally gone? I realize that not all of the roads here are like that. In fact , I can actually tell you where the worse ones are and I have learned to avoid them as I am routing myself around doing visitation. One thing is for sure, when the great state of Michigan puts up a sign to warn me of the condition of particular road I am going to take the message to heart and proceed down that road with caution.

So how does this relate to our Christian experience? I am convinced that as Christians and just as people in general we give off signs to the world around us. The various signs can warn us about dangerous people, they can tell us if someone is in trouble, they tell us that people either like us or dislike us. Each one of us give off signs to the world around us. Some of us are aware of this and attempt to control the signs that we give off. Others are more oblivious to this and are surprised when someone comes to them about a particular issue. As Christians we need to be keenly aware of what goes on around us. We need to look for the signs in people’s lives as it will facilitate us being able to reach them for the gospel. If you begin a conversation with someone about religious things and they start showing signs of not being interested we may have to take a step back and not push the issue at that point. I have seen people with the best of intentions attempt to share the gospel with someone who was obviously putting up signs of disinterest. It should have told them to stop pushing the issue, but instead they kept right on plowing ahead and they ended up turning the other person away. Within the church we need to have our eyes open to what is going on within our church family. If we see a need we should seek to find a way to help take care of that need. If we see someone with signs of depression then we should reach out to them. Often times we can even see signs of a troubled marriage. There are many things we can see if we simply learn how to recognize them. Along with our study of the gospel we should study people too. If we have a thorough understanding of the gospel but we do not know to deal with people then it will limit our ability to be effective.

The inverse to this is for each of us to realize that we are putting out signs for the world to see. Christians should be especially aware of this because we have an obligation to rightly represent Christ to the world around us. Although Christians should be the happiest people on earth we too have problems. The difference comes in how we deal with the problems that crop up in life. We should not despair as do those who know not God. We should seek to give our problems completely over to Jesus. Jesus has promised that if we give our problems to Him then He will give us His light burden and His easy yoke (Matt11:30). Sometimes that is not easy for us and we need others to help us. Sometimes there may even be a chemical imbalance and we may need medication to help. Whatever the case may be, we all need to have our eyes open to what is going on around us as it relates to other church members and the world in general.

Dear Father,
Please help us to pay attention to each one in our church family. Please help us to careful about the signs that we give off to the world around us. As Christians Father, we want to rightly represent You and our Lord Jesus. Please help us give off signs that will make people want the peace that we have found in You and the joy that we have as Christians. It is in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 10, 2008

#11 Running Late

"For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." Matthew 7:14 NASB

This message will be of special significance for any of you who have ever flown on a commercial airline. I love to fly. I love sitting in the window seat and being able to look out and see things begin to move rapidly by and after only a few seconds the angle of your view changes as the nose of the airplane comes up. Then you fell the aircraft become airborne and things begin to get smaller very quickly. My favorite part of flying is always the take-off. I really like it when the aircraft has to go into a steep banking turn to follow the designated flight path. It feels somewhat like a roller coaster but with much more comfort and a lot less screaming. After the initial ascent, the aircraft will level off and maintain its cruising altitude throughout the majority of the flight. Most air travel is non-eventful and you can even get some sleep, watch the in-flight movie, or do whatever it is you like to do when you have a few hours to kill.

One thing that is not so tranquil as most flights is finding your gate to get on the airplane. For those who are not familiar with airports, the gate is the portion of the air terminal where you go to board your airplane. I can remember the first time that I went to catch a flight in Atlanta. When Soldiers fly to and from the U.S. coming and then returning from their leave while overseas, they fly into one of two major hubs; either Atlanta or Dallas/Ft. Worth. I lived on the east coast so I flew into Atlanta when coming home. I had flown before, but I had never been to Atlanta for a flight. The Atlanta airport uses a system of trains that take you from gate to gate so that you can make your connection to complete your journey. I needed to get to the right gate so that I could connect to Charlotte, NC where my beloved wife was waiting to pick me up. I was already a bit disoriented just trying to get re-adapted to being in the U.S. after having been in Iraq. Between the disorientation and the rush to find the right gate, I got on the wrong train. I ended up being quite a long ways away from where I needed to be. To further complicate things, Soldiers coming in from overseas have to go through customs. In customs I had to take off my belt, my boots, and anything else that had the slightest jingle. So I came out of customs trying to carry my carry-on bag, my boots, my pocket items, and trying to hold up my pants at the same time. I was more than a little irritated to say the least. I told the customs agent that I was on his side, but he insisted that I remove the aforementioned items. I finally got re-dressed and made my way through the busy airport to the appropriate gate just in time to catch my flight home. As you may imagine, it was worth all the trouble I had to endure because the reward at the other end of my trouble was getting to be with the ones that I love; Ginger and the kids.

I just wonder how many of us today are struggling with finding the right gate in life. When Jesus was on the earth He spoke of two gates. The one gate is very broad and is very easy to find. It is the gate found at the end of the path that leads to destruction and eternal separation from God. The other gate is not so easy to find. Jesus said that gate is "small" and the pathway that leads to that particular gate is "narrow". He also notes that many people find the wide gate that leads to destruction, but there will be "few who find" the narrow gate that leads unto eternal life.

The awesome thing about the narrow gate is that Jesus has the map that tells us how to get there. He has placed that map in the Bible. In 2 Timothy 2:15 we are told to study to show ourselves approved to God. When we study the Word of God we will find those clues that come together and lead us to the gate: Jesus Christ. The alternative is quite different. You do not have to study. You do not have to look for anything. All you have to do is whatever you want to do and you will just naturally find and walk down the wide path that leads away from Jesus Christ. It is my prayer today that each of you reading this will choose to find the narrow gate. It is my prayer that you will call on the mighty and awesome name of Jesus and ask Him to show you the way to the Him. It is as simple as Accepting the fact that you are a sinner, believing that Jesus died to pay the price for your sins, confessing your sins to Him, and then deciding to follow Him no matter where he leads you. That my friends is the simple and plain truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not complicated, but it does require you to make a choice. I pray that today you will choose Jesus because He has already chosen you.

Dear Father in Heaven,
We thank You for the new Sabbath that is quickly approaching. Lord we have troubles in our lives and we need the comfort of knowing that You are going to be with us no matter what. In a world of increasing financial troubles, we need to place our security in You today. Dear Jesus, I pray that each one of us will choose to follow You down the narrow difficult path that leads unto eternal life. We cannot do it on our own and we need You to be our guide. Lord we long for the day when our faith will become sight and we will take flight with You as You come to take us to be in Heaven with You. It is in Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 3, 2008

#10 Going With the Flow

"Šlet us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,"
Hebrews 12:1

I am not sure how many of you are fishermen, but I have never been much of one. It is not that I have been opposed to it, it is just that I have never had any success in the fishing ventures that I have undertaken. I have fished in ponds, lakes, the ocean, and I am anxious to try ice fishing now that we live in Michigan. I am hoping that since the fish will be freezing cold that they will come toward the hole in the ice as a way to find heat near the light. Not a real scientific thought perhaps, but I can't help but think I would want to go near the light that peered brighter through the hole in the frozen ceiling of my aquatic home. But I digress from my intended point.

I have always been fascinated by the salmon. Even when I was a meat eater I never cared for salmon as a food, but I have always been intrigued by their desire to swim against the current to spawn. It is quite a task to go against the flow of the water in order to go back up stream. Apart from the slower moving pools along the way, the salmon must work constantly against the water that seeks to wash it back down stream. If the salmon were to give up they would be defeated and forced to go with the current. Their work is not a static thing that just happens on its own. It is something that takes concerted effort on their part. Eventually the salmon will reach the area in the river or stream to which they long to return. Eventually, their efforts pay off and they are able to spawn and move on with their little salmon lives.

I think we too as Christians have to learn to swim against the flow of society. The world around us would have us swept away into the conformity that it longs to perpetuate. But as we have studied recently in Romans 12, God does not want us to be conformed to-or become like-the world. The Lord told us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Our race in this life is much like the salmon's in that we too must keep moving forward. A stagnant Christian is a dying Christian. Yes, we may have to take time out to recharge and rejuvenate, but we must not linger too long in the pool of complacency. We must always be mindful of the race that is set before each of us. I find it very interesting that Paul tells us to "lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us". Imagine the salmon trying to swim up-stream having a long string with weights attached to his back. It would be very difficult to navigate through the rocks and other debris that is naturally found in the water. That is not even considering the jumps that they do to go up and over larger obstacles. It would not take long before the salmon would become entangled and trapped; left to die of starvation or predator attack. How much more easily do we as professed Christians allow the encumbrances and sins in our lives to weight us down? Then is exhausted surrender we give up on the Lord and get washed away in the stream of life. Sometimes we even become angry with God and blame Him for our short comings and our failures to surrender our lives completely to Him.

Friends, I want to encourage you today to take your weights and sins and cast them at the feet of Jesus. He stands ready and willing to cut loose the chains that bind us and He longs to take our heavy load and give us His light burden (Matthew 11:30) so that by His strength we can finish the race that He has called us to complete. By His grace and love we will find the encouragement that we need to keep swimming so to speak. Friends, don't you long to have rest? Don't you long to have victory in your life? Why not come to Jesus afresh today and give your cares and worries to Him. In Luke 12:25 Jesus asks us which one of us can add one hour to our life's span by worrying. Let today be the day that you relinquish your worry to the One who is able to bear you up on eagle's wings (Exodus 19:4).

Dear Father God,
As we come to You in prayer right now, we want to say thank You for the many blessings in our lives. Though we may have sickness and financial troubles today, You stand ready to give us the peace that surpasses all understanding. The enabling factor is to not be anxious for anything, but in all things to pray and give You thanks and glory. Please take away our burdens today and give us the strength and the courage that we need to finish the race that we have begun with You. Please take away our sins and wash us white as snow just now. It is in the holy name of Jesus that we pray, Amen.