Saturday, December 27, 2008

#22 The Best Gift of All

"...the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans

Each year Ginger and I attempt to make Christmas as special as we can for
our children. We want them to look forward to Christmas, but not just for
the gift aspect. This year we had the privilege to attend Candlelight
Communions and Agape Feasts with both of our church families. At each
church there were a little over 50 people who braved the icy Michigan roads,
and those that came expressed the blessing that they received by coming.
Before and after the special events we talked with our children about how
Christmas is not just about how many toys or other gifts we may get. Yes,
it is hard to get a six year old to recognize that the greatest gift in the
world is one that you cannot see, but we still try to explain it to each of
our children. During each service we had a special time for people to share
something for which they felt blessed. My heart was deeply touched when one
of my children said that they were thankful for mommy and daddy. Truly, I
wanted to cry right then and there. I was touched so deeply because it
reminds me of how our heavenly Father must feel when one of His children
speaks a word of praise and honor about how much they love their heavenly
Father. God made each of us with reasoning power and He longs for us to use
that power to discover His greatness and the joy that comes from being
connected to our Creator God. It breaks my heart when I meet people whose
only thoughts surround what they can get out of this life. I have even told
people to "live it up" because this life is all that they will get if they
do not know Christ.

When I think of gifts, I can honestly say that I do not really need
anything. I have been blessed so immensely by God that I would feel guilty
to ask Him for more. Just a few short months ago God led us to Michigan to
serve the Midland and Mt Pleasant SDA churches. The whole time I was in
school at Southern Adventist University I wondered where God would place us
to serve. I could not have picked a better place to begin our ministry than
where He has placed us. We truly love our church families and we are
thrilled to be here. Yes, there are challenges. But greater is He that is
in me than he that is in the world right (1 John 4:4)? I know that the Lord
will see us through any challenges that will arise and I pray that each of
you will have the faith to believe that God will do the same for you.

Among the gifts that God has given me, I have to give my praise to God for
the greatest gift of all: the Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him what hope
would we have? Without Him where would we turn in times of trial? The
world turns to drugs, alcohol and immoral behavior. Praise be to God that
we have a blessed hope in the soon return of Christ! Praise be to God that
we can look forward to the coming of our Redeemer. One day soon we will
lift our eyes to heaven and say, "Behold, this is our God for whom we have
waited that He might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; Let
us rejoice and be glad in His salvation" (Isaiah 25:9). Today as we look
back on Christmas 2008, let us look back on the year and examine where we
have been with the Lord. Have you really lived as if you appreciate the
gift of eternal life in Jesus? Or have you lived your life for yourself
attempting to gain more and more material possessions while neglecting the
weightier matters of life? If you are reading this just now there is still
hope. If you have not lived you life as you should have, why not pause just
now and commit or recommit your life to Jesus? Without Him you must pay the
penalty for your sins by way of eternal death, but with Him you too can have
the free gift of eternal life. In a life full of gifts, please make
provision to accept the greatest gift ever offered to mankind; the gift of
Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.

Dear Father God,
Most of us come to You just now with hearts that are full of praise. But I
realize that there may be some who will read this that do not know You as
they should. Father, just now I pray that each one of us will fully
surrender our hearts and lives to You. For some this may be their first
time. For others it may be a daily recommitment. Whatever the case may be
Lord, please forgive us where we have failed You. Please wash your precious
blood over the record of our sins and wash away the blot of sinfulness that
mars our character. I ask that You would come into each of our hearts and
remove those things that compete for Your Lordship. May the throne room of
our hearts be filled by You and You alone. We claim Your promise that You
will forgive us of all unrighteousness, and we ask that You forever keep us
within Your care. It is in the name of Jesus that we pray, Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2008

#21 Together By His Spirit

"...make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same
love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." Philippians 2:2 NASB

While I was in high school I took a physics class. To say that I had no
interest in physics would be like saying the Sears Tower is a tool shed. I
hated the thought of even taking physics because I knew there was going to
be quite a bit of math involved and I did not like doing math. That changed
somewhat as I realized that math was used to count money, but at that time I
was not excited about taking the class. Despite me not being thrilled about
taking high school physics, I actually learned some really cool things in
the class.

One of the coolest things I learned was what is known as the
Bernoulli Principle. It is a principle discovered by Swiss mathematician
Daniel Bernoulli that states that as the speed of a moving fluid increases,
the pressure within the fluid decreases. In more plainer terms, when a
fluid such as air or water increases in speed there will be less pressure
within that fluid. We see this take place in many ways in everyday life.

No doubt many of you have stood around a camp fire and perhaps complained
that the smoke seems to be following you. The truth of the matter is that
it is following you, sort of. What actually happens is that the heated air
surrounding the fire attempts to rise. As it rises it moves faster that the
cooler air that is around it. When the heated air moves faster the air
pressure decreases and the cooler air then pushes the smoke toward you. So
you may think that the wind seems to be shifting to constantly blow the
smoke toward you but you are actually just participating in an experiment to
prove Bernoulli's principle.

In high school we took two ping pong balls and suspended them each from a
string about 6 inches apart. Then we took a hair dryer and used it to blow
air between the two balls. As the air moved faster between the two balls
the air pressure decreased between the two balls and they moved toward each
other and stayed touching as long as we kept the air moving faster between
the two balls. This is what happens when you take a shower and the shower
curtain seems drawn to you. The moving water works like the air from our
previous example and when the air pressure is decreased between you and the
shower curtain the higher air pressure from outside the tub pushes the
shower curtain against you. I was fascinated by this principle when I
learned about it many moons ago back in 1990.

When I think of this scientific principle it reminds me of the Holy Spirit.
When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives He moves other things out of the
way that keep us from being as close to God as we should. I like to think
of this in terms of our scientific discussion from the previous paragraphs.
When He, the Holy Spirit, moves upon us He pushes the stagnant air between
us and God out of the way. When He does that the negative pressure between
us and God decreases and we are able to become closer to God by the power of
His Spirit through the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Please know friends that you and I cannot come to God the Father without Jesus Christ. We do not have the option to choose whether or not we will go to the Father without Jesus. Without Jesus you cannot get to the Father. Christ Himself told us
this when He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes
to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). So when we pray to our Father
God it is by the Spirit of God that our prayer is taken to Jesus (Romans
8:26) where our weak prayers are mixed with His mighty prayers to be
presented to the Father on our behalf.

Friends, I pray that today each one of us will pray and ask the Holy Spirit to remove any and all obstacles that may exist between us and our Father God. Pray that the stagnant air of our dull, lifeless prayers would be blown away entirely so that we may experience the power of God in our lives in a way that we never have before.

I believe that Christ longs for us to have such a deep relationship with Him
that nothing in this world would be able to pull us from the love of Christ
(Romans 8:35-39), but only you can decide if you will let go of the sins
that separate you from God. Only you can allow God's Spirit to come in and
remove the clutter from the throne room of your heart so that Christ and
Christ alone can reign supreme. Wont' you stop just now and surrender
everything to Him? When each of us live a surrendered life we will have the
love, unity and united purpose that the early church believers experienced.
Let us come together in God's Spirit friends that we too may be united with
Christ and one another to accomplish the work the Lord has given us to do.

Dear Father God,
We pray just now because we realize our deep need of a Savior. We need the
love of Christ living in and through us like no other time in the history of
mankind. Father, we know that Christ will come again soon and we long to be
ready each moment that we may be called to meet Him in the air. Father, we
long to have the air cleared between us and You. Please send Your Spirit to
come and remove any sinful, reproachful thing from our lives that we may be
drawn closer to You than ever before. We surrender our hearts and lives to
You just now and we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Keep us forever in
You love O God for we pray in Jesus' name, Amen!

Friday, December 12, 2008

#20 Sacrificial Sharing

"And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is
pleased." Hebrews 13:16 NASB

Not too long ago there was a young boy who lived in an orphanage with 9
other boys. His name was Ben. Ben was about 10 years old at the time of
this story and he wished very much that he was not in the orphanage. The
orphanage was a very poor one and the kids did not have much at all. In
fact, each year around Christmas time the children would receive a single
orange. That orange was a prized possession of each boy there. Some of the
boys would wait for days before eating the orange. They would rub their
hands over it and even sit and just savor the smell of the beautiful citrus
fruit. One year just days before Christmas Ben started a fight with one of
the other boys. They were just being boys but it upset the head mother of
the orphanage quite a bit so she decided that she would punish Ben by not
giving him his orange for Christmas. Christmas day came and each boy
received their orange except Ben. His heart was broken as he watched the
other boys admiring their oranges. He left the room and went to his bed
were he lay sobbing. He tried to hide his sadness as the other boys came in
to get ready for bed but they knew how disappointed Ben was. When the
lights were turned out the sadness seemed to rush over Ben like a flood. He
was suddenly overwhelmed with tears and he tried to hide it by pressing his
face into his pillow. He simply wanted the night and next few days and
months to just go away so that he could look forward to the possibility of
getting an orange the next year.

While he was sobbing softly into his pillow he felt another tiny hand tap
him on the shoulder. When he rolled over to see who it was he was handed an
oddly shaped ball and then his visitor sprinted off into the darkness back
to his own bed. As Ben wiped the tears from his eyes he was able to see the
object in his hand. There in the darkness he saw that he had been handed an
orange made up of nine pieces from the other boys' oranges. They could not
stand the thought of their friend Ben having to go another whole year
without an orange so they sacrificed a piece from each of theirs so that Ben
could have one too.

When I read this story it brought me to tears because it made me think of
how generous and loving our wonderful God is to each of us. Our heavenly
Father knows what it means to give sacrificially. The Bible tells us
clearly that He gave us His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in
Jesus will not perish, but they will have eternal life (John 3:16). If you
go back to the Garden of Eden you will discover that it was our heavenly
Father that had to make the first sacrifice in order to provide clothing for
Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). Sacrificial giving is in the very nature of
God and it will bring joy to Him when we too learn to give sacrificially to
others. As you consider how you will spend your money this year for
Christmas I encourage each of you to find a way that you can give of what
God has blessed you with to those who may have as little as Ben. I promise
you that you cannot out give God and anything that you give away with no
expectation of a return to you will store up for you treasure in heaven
where moth and rust cannot destroy. So follow the inspired words of the
apostle Paul today and "do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such
sacrifices God is pleased."

Dear Father God,
Please give us a heart after Your own heart; a heart that longs to reach out
to the world that is dying around us without You. Please place within our
hearts a desire to serve others just as You came to serve those around You.
May we never forget the story, dear Lord, about Ben and how his fellow
orphans reached out to him and sacrificed their precious possession so that
Ben too would have a gift to enjoy. Most of all today we thank You for the
sacrifice of Your Son Jesus who died in our place. We thank You that we can
have the free gift of eternal life because of Christ's sacrifice on
Calvary's cross, and we long for His soon return that we may dwell in Your
house forever more. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

#19 Seize the Moment

"To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven"
Ecclesiastes 3:1

The other day I was talking with someone and I had to have my children with
me because Ginger had to take care of some things without distraction. So I
took the children with me as I did some visitation and other meetings. I
love having my children with me to do things but sometimes as parents we
forget what a blessing our kids are. While I was talking to one person in
particular I was standing outside and the kids were to be waiting quietly
for me in the car. Well, let's just say that they decided to lose their
minds and repeatedly get out of the car in multiple attempts to tell me
about the bad things that their siblings were doing inside the car. With
each time the door opened, I could feel myself getting more and more
frustrated with my children's seeming inability to follow simple commands.

Apparently my friend that I was talking with could see my building
frustration. He said to me ever so gently, "Pastor, one day you will wish
that they were here to bug you." As that began to sink in I had to admit
that he was absolutely right. My mind went back right then to the time that
I was in Iraq and I prayed every day that I would get to see my family
again, and now here I was ready to pop a blood vessel because they were just
being kids. I am so thankful that my friend was willing to speak up and
help me refocus my priorities in that moment.

I wonder how many of you reading this just now may have your priorities out
of focus. I wonder if you too have forgotten what is most important in
life. I know that there is a season for everything. We have to work and do
the things necessary for survival, but I wonder how often we sacrifice the
most important things in this life for the temporal and trivial things this
world has to offer.

Many of you who read this may not have children, but perhaps you have not given God the proper attention that He deserves in your life. Perhaps that has been all too true for many of us. Friends, I want to encourage you to stop today and make sure your priorities are in order. We must have God first, family second, and then all others can fall into line somewhere after those two. Won't you stop and consider if you have things in order? One day when you look back on your life it may be too late
to truly enjoy the people and things that were here for only a season.

Dear Father God,
Please give us the grace to know how to prioritize our lives. If left to
our own devices Lord we will mess things up every time. So please give us a
mind that is in tune with Yours Lord. Bless us today as we worship You and
live for Your glory. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.