Saturday, December 12, 2009

#53 Hint of Smoke

Isaiah 6:4 "And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke."

The other day I was leaving church after having stopped by to do some studying before prayer meeting. As I was walking toward my vehicle I began to consider the day. It was a little cool that day, slightly overcast, and there was just a hint of smoke in the air. Not smelly cigarette smoke or the pungent smell of leaves burning, but it was the smell of someone heating their home with a wood-burning stove.

I then began to imagine what that home looked like and what the people inside it where doing. I could picture a cozy little home with a small family inside. It was around Thanksgiving so I pictured that family preparing to spend time with one another over the holiday giving thanks to God for the blessings and challenges in their lives. Right about then my phone rang and snapped me back to reality, but not before it made me think of a spiritual application.

My mind went back to the Old Testament to Isaiah's vision. He beheld a vision of the Lord in the temple and when the Lord was there it was filled with smoke (Isa 6:4). I also thought of Mt Sinai. When the Lord descended upon the mountain it too was covered in smoke (Ex 19:18). It made me wonder how many of us have the Lord in our lives to the extent that we become filled with this "holy smoke". And if we have God how willing are we to let the world around us know about Him? If you have ever been around a camp fire you know that because of the laws of physics the smoke seems to follow you. It is nearly impossible to be close to the camp fire and walk away without smelling like smoke to some degree; even if there is just a hint of it. You usually need to wash to coat you had been wearing to get rid of the smokey smell.

But what about the hint of God-smoke in our lives. Have we spent enough time with the Lord that we have that "smokey" smell for Jesus? Is there anything in our lives that allows people who do not have Jesus to get a sniff of His goodness? My challenge to you all today is to immerse yourself in God that you too might be filled with His "smokey" goodness. I challenge you to live so close to Jesus that the world cannot help but come in contact with the God when they meet you.

This does not happen just because we go to church or own a Bible. We must move beyond mere association with God. We must develop a relationship with Him through daily prayer and Bible study. It is through these devotional moments that we can learn to experience Christ in such a way that it permeates our lives and affects the world around us.

Dear Father in Heaven,
It is my prayer today that You would teach us to lean on you fully. I pray that You would place within us a desire to spend time with You each day in both prayer and study of Your Word. May Your holy smoke fill us too that we might share You with the world around us. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Friday, November 13, 2009

#52 Roots

Psalm 1:3 "He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,..."

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go kayaking by myself. In a little town called Sanford, MI there is a river that runs through the area called the Salt River. The Salt winds its way generally eastward with a slow, meandering flow that lends itself very easily to kayaking. While on my lone journey I saw about a half dozen black squirrels, about a dozen Canadian geese, and one lone doe wandering along the bank of the river. It was one of the most peaceful moments I had experienced in a long time. With pastoring two churches, being a husband and a father to three children there are seldom any lone, peaceful moments apart from my devotional time.

I was able to go on this brief excursion because of the generosity of a friend in one of our churches. We put the kayak in just around the bend from his house and I paddled my way upstream for about 30-40 minutes. It was a great time to just enjoy nature and the last vestiges of the fall color.

There was this one place along the bank where the river made a sharp turn. You could see where the water flow would obviously become quite vigorous at times because the bank was worn away from erosion. The interesting part about this particular bank was the tree that was growing right in the middle of the eroded bank. It was an old oak tree whose root system was largely exposed. This was not the first time I had seen the roots of a tree, but for some reason that day I stopped and stared at the roots of this mighty oak. I was drawn in as I looked at intricate network of wood, water, and dirt. I could not help but think about the roots of our faith.

In Psalm 1 we are reminded that a person is blessed when they do not walk in the counsel of the wicked. This is contrasted in verse 2 when the psalmist says that true delight comes when we meditate on the law of the Lord. I find it quite amazing that when we seek to be obedient to God we become more grounded. I know this to be true because verse 3 says we become like a tree that is firmly planted by the water. In essence, we when respond to the love that Jesus showers upon us by having died for us while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8) then we are driven to be obedient to what He would have us to do. Jesus said that if you love Me you will keep My commandments (John 14:15), and through that obedience we will find that we too will develop a deep system of intricate roots that keep us firmly connected to Christ.

It is my challenge to each of you today that you would seek to please Jesus with the way that you live your life. I pray that you each seek to deepen your roots as you surrender completely to Jesus and live each day to serve Him.

Dear Father God,
Please give us the courage to live for Jesus even in the midst of a world that seeks to serve only self. We thank You that You have given us Your laws of happiness that we might know how to live in peace with You and one another. Please give us a deep roots as we seek to live for You daily. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

#51 Accents

Romans 12:2 "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..."

I had the awesome privilege to have grown up in the South. Now before anyone gets upset, I know it is an awesome privilege to have grown up anywhere in this great country. But there is just something special about the South as it relates to speed of life. In the South things are viewed at a much slower pace than other places. Some often confuse the slower pace of life and speech in the South to equate to slower thinking, but if my travels have taught me anything it is that there are bright and intelligent people in all corners of this world. The inverse of that is true too, but we won't go there just now.

Being from the South has equipped me with a southern drawl. I say words like "ya'll" and "reckon" and I expect them to be understood by everyone. When we first arrived in Michigan people began to inform me that it was obvious that I was "not from around here". They would tell me, "You must be from the South somewhere." I love to tell people I am from North Carolina. It is almost like getting to go overseas somewhere and having people take notice of your accent. I used to be self-conscious about it, but now I use it as a conversation starter that I might have opportunities to share the gospel with people I meet. I find it fascinating that people from varying parts of the country have different accents. Language is an amazing thing

As Christians we too develop a certain accent so-to-speak. As we spend time with Christ we become more and more like Him. Hopefully, we will begin to speak as Jesus would speak in each situation of life. Hopefully, we will treat people the way that Christ would treat them. The longer we serve Him the more we should understand His will for our lives. But we must realize that each person may be in a different stage of their walk with the Lord. This will give us different spiritual accents. Does this mean that what one person thinks is sin may not be to another? Thankfully, it is the Bible that defines what constitutes sin and not me, and the Bible has standards that dictate the way the Christian is to live their life. Some areas of the Bible are strict principled issues with clear-cut lines of right and wrong, and there are other areas that contain a lot more grey area that many of us are comfortable with. There are certain areas that are growth areas and there areas that we must cease and desist immediately upon coming to Christ.

Ultimately, our goal is to be like Christ in all areas of our lives while we cast off worldliness and anything that seeks to separate us from Jesus. Why not make those steps today? Paul urges us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable unto God while not being conformed to this world (Romans 12:1, 2). I fully believe that if we seek to be like Christ then the things of this world will pale in comparison, and we will be transformed as we behold the glory of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18). While we are all being changed, let us be careful to not poke fun at the spiritual accent of another. Instead, let us seek ways to always speak the truth in love and to not be so quick to judge a fellow believer.

Dear Father God,
I pray that You will teach us to be like Jesus. Teach us to let go of the world and to hold tightly to Christ. Please help our spiritual accent to more clearly reflect that of Christ's as we seek to be more like Him. Please help us to be patient with one another, and show us how to love as You love. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2009

#50 Absolute Zero?

1 John 3:5 NASB "You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin."

Having been raised in North Carolina (N.C.) gave me a background to not fully understand what cold weather is. Sure it gets cold in N.C. and I have had jobs that required me to work outside in 20 and 30 degree temperatures, but coming to Michigan was new experience for me and my family. We are now on our second year here in Michigan and facing a fast-approaching winter. I recall last year’s winter when one evening I was on my way home. I looked at my in-car thermometer and when I reached the stop sign in Coleman were I turn to head home my car showed it being -3˚ F. By the time I drove the 6 miles to my house the temperature had fallen to -8˚ F. I am not sure how it dropped another 5 degrees in less than 10 minutes but I was sure thankful to get home where it was nice and cozy.

Back in my high school years I took physics. I recall studying a concept called “absolute zero”. Absolute zero is the theoretical temperature where absolutely no heat exists within a given substance or system. I say theoretical because to date no one has been able to reach -273.15˚ C or 0 K by either natural or artificial means. Scientists have come very close but have fallen short so far. Why would anyone want to reach such a state? Studying our world within a zero-heat environment allows scientists to observe matter in a new way and perhaps discover new properties about the elements that make up our world. Absolute zero is said to be measured at 0 Kelvin. This measurement is named after Lord Kelvin of Britain who did pioneering work in thermodynamics; which is the branch of physics that deals with conversion of different forms of energy.

So why does a Christian need to be concerned with absolute zero? Because like all objects on this earth that contain heat in some capacity or another, we humans have sin in us in some capacity or another. Some of us have lots of sin either because we choose to live apart from God or because we are not aware that we are sinning against Him. Other have less sin because they have surrendered to the Lord and are striving to let Him lead in their lives. As we come to Christ we have to allow the Holy Spirit to mold and shape us into the image of Christ. This is, of course, the process of sanctification. When we accept Jesus as our Savior we are justified with God because our offense against God is wiped out by the blood of Jesus—can I get an Amen? But after we are justified we must work with the Holy Spirit to overcome ingrained sinfulness.

This is not an easy process but it is one in which the Christian must engage. As the Spirit of God works through us, sin is purged from our lives unless we reject the prompting of the Spirit. As we are purged of sin God replaces that sinful nature with one that more closely resembles that of Jesus. Eventually we should reach a state of absolute zero as it relates to our sin. This happens not because of us getting more and more holy on our own, but because of the indwelling of the Spirit of God. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Today I would ask you to consider your temple. Is it defiled as you cling to the world or is your temple moving closer and closer to absolute zero? Do you eagerly accept correction when the Lord brings it or do you resist and struggle to cling to last vestiges of the world that will ultimately serve to separate you totally from your God? It is my prayer today that you will pause to examine your life and ask the Lord to show you where you need to make changes in your Christian walk. Ask of the Lord and He will cleanse sin from your life. Ask the Lord to move you closer to absolute sinlessness and He will have mercy on you and give you victory over sin.

Dear Father God,

We pause just now to thank You for Your goodness and mercy. Thank You for sending Jesus to give us victory over sin. Please give us the courage to examine our lives honestly and openly that we might not hide sin in our lives. Help us cling to Jesus that He might take away our sins. For we pray in His holy name, Amen.

Friday, October 2, 2009

#49 The Cool Side of the Pillow

Matthew 11:28 NASB "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

Sleep is something that we all need and often times it is something that eludes us. Maybe it is working too late to complete a project or perhaps we have troubled thoughts that make going to sleep difficult. Whatever the cause of missing sleep, there is no question that once we do get to bed and lie down to take sweet rest it can be an amazing feeling to simply cease striving through this life and let it all fade away into blissful rest. I am the type of person that cannot rest well if I am hot and sweaty. I like it cool when I sleep. I just rest better for some reason. There have been times when I sleep that I wake up feeling too hot and what I always do is flip my pillow. When the pillow is flipped over it brings the cool side up. Once I feel the cool side of the pillow I can then go back to sleep. Dreams seem sweeter on the cool side of the pillow. Life’s troubles seem to fade away as sleep takes me once again.

While resting on the cool side of the pillow is comforting and relaxing, eventually that side of the pillow acclimates to the temperature of the one lying on the pillow and that side of the pillow is then no longer cool. If our refuge from the troubles of this life can only slip away while we rest on the cool side of the pillow then our lives have no real foundation for dealing with stress and trouble. Much of the world does not even worry about seeking sleep to escape their troubles. Far too many turn to drugs, alcohol, immoral sexual behavior, gossiping, gambling, and any number of other destructive behaviors that take us further away from God: the only true source of comfort and help.

So what is the Christian to do? We must realize that when we come to Christ then our lives are not our own. The apostle Paul teaches us that we have been bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20). Jesus went to Calvary and purchased us with His blood. When we accept the sacrifice that He paid on our behalf then our well-being becomes His responsibility. Jesus taught us to seek the kingdom of God first in our lives (Matt. 6:33), and when we do all the other needs we have in life will be taken care of too. We, as Christ’s followers, must come to realize total dependence upon Him. He longs to help us in all aspects of our life. When we hurt, He hurts. When we cry, He cries with us. When we need rest, He stands ready to give us rest. In Christ, we have a refuge from the troubles of this life.

Friends, I want to challenge you today to take your cares of this life and drop them at the foot of the cross. Jesus desires that you leave the heavy lifting up to Him. Jesus desires that we allow Him to pave the way for us. We will all face challenges in this life, but when we live for Christ each moment can be like sleeping on the cool side of the pillow; blissfully peaceful and joyfully rewarding.

Dear Father God,

As we come to You just now we want to find rest from our troubled and weary lives. We want to learn how to trust Jesus to be our strength and our shield. We recognize that the rest we find in this life is temporal and will fade, but the rest that Jesus gives us will carry us through eternity. Give us the courage to surrender to Him just now that we may enjoy the rest He longs to give us. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Friday, September 25, 2009

#48 Beauty in Death?

Isaiah 61:1-3 NKJV "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor;He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted…To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes.”

If we were to take a poll, each of us would likely have a favorite season of the year. While our summer in Michigan was mild and arguably more of an extended spring, we still had a few hotter days that reached into the 90’s. There is no doubt that we have winter here in Michigan and fall is the glorious prelude to the long winters.

If I were polled fall would be listed as my favorite season. There are several things I love about fall. Fall is the time where the evenings are a bit cooler and you can enjoy sitting around a fire singing, sharing, and just taking in the goodness of nature. There are fewer bugs also in the fall. The bugs go more dormant with the cooler temps and being outside without bugs is great. With the cooler evenings you can wear sweatshirts or a light jacket and it is just so refreshing to go for a walk in the fall. The sun is not blazing down upon you with sweat running in your eyes, and the air that you breathe is brisk and invigorating, not stuffy and heavy like the humid air of a hot, sunny day. Outdoor sports is also made more fun by these types of conditions.

While I love the aforementioned things a lot, my favorite part of fall is the changing of the leaves. It amazes me that even in the death of something God has brought us beauty. During the spring and summer we see mainly the green in leaves because the leaves have enough water and sunlight to mix with the chlorophyll to feed the trees. The shorter days of fall let the trees know to shed their leaves for winter’s long haul. The trees stop producing the green chlorophyll that facilitates making food and as the chlorophyll lessens and stops the leaves begin to display the reds, browns, oranges, and yellows that make the trees seem to be burning with intense color. People drive for hundreds of miles just to see the fall colors in certain areas because even though the leaves are dying there is an intense beauty there that seems to pour peace through our souls. Only God could and can bring beauty from death. I have attached a picture of one of my favorite fall scenes.

The gorgeous colors of fall remind us of the wonderful power of God. God has the amazing ability to take something bad and turn it around for His glory. He did it through Joseph in Genesis 50:20 and He promised it through Paul in Romans 8:28. God can take the tragedy and suffering of life and make something beautiful out of it. This is one of His specialties. Often times though it is hard to not blame God for loss in our lives, but when recognize that Satan is the one who brought sin and suffering into the world and we perpetuate it by our own sins then we know God is not to blame. It is my prayer that each time we find ourselves facing hard times in our lives that we will seek the face of God and ask Him to give us beauty for the ashes in our lives. In Bible times ashes served as a symbol of mourning and loss, but our theme text reminds us that Jesus longs to give us beauty in place of those ashes.

Why not step back from any trial you may be facing and ask the Lord to give you beauty in the place of your ashes of loss? Why not seek to let the Lord turn something tragic into something that will bring honor to Him? He has promised He will do it friends, why not let Him? Whatever your struggle may be today pray that you may given beauty in its place. However empty you may fill pray that the Lord will fill you with His love and His hope. You will not be disappointed. It may not happen right away, but eventually you will be able—with God’s help—to look back on the struggles of today and realize that God gave you beauty in the midst of your ashes of loss and heartache.

Dear Father in Heaven,

Today we need to feel Your presence and we need to feel Your arms around us. Dear Lord, I pray that no matter what the struggle is in this life that You will teach us to give it over to You fully that you may bring beauty from our ashes. Thank You for the promise that Jesus is coming soon and that we will be with You forever more where sin, death, and suffering have no place. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Friday, September 18, 2009

#47 No Ability to Shine

Matthew 5:16 "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

I can recall going out once and buying some candles for something while I was overseas in Iraq. There on the base in Mosul, Iraq were several shops ran by local nationals from both Iraq and Turkey. They sold all sorts of stuff from movies to candles and from various beverages bottled in-country to super cheap electronics; cheap in price and manufacturing. These shops were a blend of strange, new things from the local culture and items made in China and around the Middle East. The shops also sold pre-paid calling cards for use with Iraqi cell phones that with a little work you could procure easily enough. There was even a shop on the base where you could have a suit custom made. I had two suits made while I was there and the Turkish tailors did a great job and had them back to me in about two weeks.

Back to my candles. I bought a box of candles to use for a ceremony at the chapel. When I got the candles out of the box and set them up I noticed something odd about them. They were all missing the wicks. So here I had a bunch of useless candles. In fact, without the wicks they were not even candles. They were just sticks of wax. Without the wick they had no ability to shine.

The Christian life is much like a candle. You see, Jesus comes to the door of our heart and He wants to come in (Revelation 3:20) and live within us. Jesus longs to change us from the inside out. He wants to empower us with the Holy Spirit that we might tell the world about Him and the sacrifice that He made on our behalf. Before Jesus comes into our lives we are like those wickless candles: we have no ability to truly shine. Without Jesus we are just bundles of clay that have little hope in life beyond the few years we can manage to live out here on earth. But with Jesus we are like candles that have not just one wick, but one that has multiple wicks. With Jesus in us we can fulfill the commission that He gave us to let our lights shine before men. Jesus wants us to shine that we might bring glory to the Father not ourselves. There is nothing good that comes from us unless Jesus puts it there in the first place. And it would do us well to recognize that like those candles without a wick were not really candles, if we are not shining our light before the world for Christ then we are not truly Christians. But when we let the Lord come into our hearts and turn us around we can and will shine for Him, and not only that, but we will have hope beyond this temporary life. When we are sold out to Jesus then we can have hope to know that we will live for Him through eternity because of what He is doing in our lives.

Today, I challenge you all to let the love of Christ come into your hearts in a renewed way. I challenge you to evaluate your walk in this life and to ask yourself if you are trying to shine without a wick. If you are, take the time just now to either make or renew your commitment to the Lord Jesus, and ask Him to equip you to shine for Him that the Lord might be glorified through your life.

Dear Father God,

As we come to You just now I pray that we recognize how awesome and mighty You are. Please teach us to let the Holy Spirit come into our hearts afresh each day. Please teach us to shine in such a way that our lives become something that glorifies You. Please forgive us our sins and make us more like Jesus today is my prayer in His holy name, Amen.

Friday, September 4, 2009

#46 Little Things

Matthew 6:33 "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you…”

One day I was needing to tow my small utility trailer to a church function. My family and I were invited to attend the International Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and I needed our little trailer in order to bring all of our gear. I packed everything into the trailer, covered it with a tarp, and we headed off to Wisconsin. I needed to make a short pit stop in town before we left and when we went by the store I decided that I should check the trailer and make sure all the connections were still in good order.

When I went back to check everything I looked down on the bumper of my Jeep. There on the small, black tread area of the bumper laid my keys that unlock the padlock and the drawbar for the hitch. The two keys are both very small and easy to misplace. I was amazed to look down and discover that I had left them lying on the bumper when I hitched up the trailer. I was even more amazed that they had made the ride 15 miles to town and seemingly had not moved an inch. I immediately lifted up praises to God for His greatness. You see, I am convinced that my guardian angel either held his hand on those keys or that he carried them the 15 miles to town and laid them on my bumper. Either way, God took care of something very small but it was something that made life a bit easier for me.

When I consider those keys it serves to remind me that God is concerned with aspect of my life. Not only does He take care of the big stuff, He cares for even the smallest of cares. I am of the opinion that too often we only “bother” God with the big things that life throws our way, but we try to take care of and deal with what we consider to be of little consequence. Too often we only want to use God as a spare tire or first aid kit, when in reality we should surrender every aspect of our lives to Him. Does this mean that we sit around and expect God to do everything for us? No, rather we recognize that it is only by God’s grace that we are able to do anything. It basically boils down to total dependence on God, and this dependence begins with our spirituality. When we understand that it is only by God’s grace that we can be saved through faith then we can lean on the everlasting arms of Jesus.

I would challenge each of you to examine your life and attempt to discover those areas where you are not leaning fully on Jesus. It is not a sign of weakness to depend on God. In fact it is just the opposite. It takes a lot of courage and strength to let go and let God. Why not pray for that courage and strength just now?

Dear Father God,

As we come to You in prayer we give You thanks, glory, and honor. Please forgive us where we have failed You, and please cleanse our hearts of evil just now. Lord, I thank You for caring about the little things of life, and I pray that You will give each of us the courage to surrender everything to You that You may have total control. We pray this now in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

#45 Ulterior Motives

Luke 6:35 "…love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High;"

Most of us love to get a great deal on something right? When we see a great sale going on or a store going out of business we go seeking the bargain of a lifetime. Some of us even get up at ridiculous hours the day after Thanksgiving to go wait in line so that we can be the first to buy that season’s hottest toy or to get a microwave for $25 or something along those lines. I have even heard of fights that break out over the last toy or gaming system left on the shelf.

Then there are those times in our life that we hear about an incredible price on something and we think to ourselves, “This is too good to be true.” Our suspicion is enhanced with the old adage that says, “If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.” Everyone of us who use email have probably received a email from someone claiming that they need our help to take possession of several million dollars they have inherited. The letter’s sender only needs our bank account information so that they can transfer these millions to us. They say that if you will help them claim their money they will give you a portion of those millions. When in reality the second they get your account information they clean out your account. These “too good to be true” bargains are little more than cleverly devised schemes seeking to separate us from our hard earned funds. The more we are exposed to these types of things the more skeptical we seem to become of all “good deals”.

Some people approach to Gospel of Christ with this same attitude. They hear that Jesus longs to give them eternal life in exchange for this temporary one and they find it hard to believe. Some are so wrapped up with the here and now that they have a hard time giving up the so-called pleasures of this life just for the hope of a better life that they cannot see or touch. A life that is realized only through our faith relationship with Christ. As a pastor I have the opportunity to talk with many different people from a myriad of backgrounds. Some of the people I meet are very hesitant to open up to me at first because they think that I have ulterior motives. Many think that if they talk to me that I will try to force them to come to church or that I will ask them to give money. Many people have been ripped off and lied to by so many people that they naturally begin to not trust anyone, including God and His people.

I want to encourage you all to be careful about how you attempt to share the Gospel with people you meet. Make sure that each day you go to the throne of grace via prayer and submit and surrender yourself to Christ. First, let we who profess the name of Christ be consecrated to do His work. First, let us make sure that Jesus is reigning supreme in our lives. It is only after this happens that we can genuinely reach out to a world in desperate need of a Savior. It is then that we can present ourselves as the genuine article to a skeptical world. I challenge you all this week to make sure that you are deeply connected with Christ so that when the door of opportunity opens for you and I to share the Gospel we may present the love of Christ with our only motive being to see people in the kingdom of God. Pray that by God’s grace we will not cheapen the good news about Jesus, but may we present the truth of His love in the light that it deserves.

Dear Father in heaven,

We thank You for Your abundant grace that is able to save us beyond measure. We ask that You would teach us how to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves as we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May we never use deception or trickery that serves only to cheapen the message of hope that we have been given. Teach us Your ways, O Lord, that we might rise up and serve You and those that You died to save. It is in Jesus’ name that we pray, Amen.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

#44 Unwelcome Guest

2 Corinthians 13:5 "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!"

When you come home you expect that you can let your guard down and feel at peace. When you come home you anticipate that there will be no one and nothing that should not be there. Neither of these scenarios were the case the other night when my family and I came home from prayer meeting. After having talked with everyone and enjoyed a great evening at prayer meeting we came home with the anticipation of being able to relax and get ready to bed down for the evening. Little did we know what was waiting for us when we arrived.

I stopped in my study to check my e-mail quickly before tucking the kids in for bed. I had barely sat down when the shrill wail of my daughter began to echo through the house. I began to hear her say, “Daddy, there is a huge bug in the house!” Her cries of terror were quickly followed by those of my wife demanding that I come to the dining room and get the “bug”. Instantly, I began to ask myself, “What sort of bug is so horrid that it demands all this fuss and screaming?” My question was answered as I rounded the corner out of the kitchen into the dining room and saw that the “bug” that had my family in such a tailspin was actually a winged rat. Yes, there was a bat in our house. We have a dresser in our dining room and about half way up on the corner closest to the wall hung a furry black bat sound asleep. Bats are apparently deaf as all the screaming from my family would have awakened anything with the remotest ability to hear.

Now I was faced with the task of getting it outside without being bitten or scratched or whatever bats do when they attack you. I decided that if I could knock it off the dresser into a small trashcan I got from the bathroom, I could cap a plate down over the top and take it outside to release it. After we closed all the doors leading to other parts of the house and opened the front door I softly made my way to the bat. It was too close to the wall for me to get the trash can close enough to catch it when I knocked it loose so I had to ever so gently slide the dresser away from the wall a bit. As I moved it the first time the bat flinched just a little bit. My mind was suddenly filled with the thought that if I woke it up and it decided to fly around I had not protection to swat it away. I could feel my heart begin to race a bit faster and a slight clamminess seemed to crawl over my skin. I was blessed that it stayed asleep until I got the dresser away from the wall.

With trash can in hand I crept toward the winged terror. Just at the right moment I took the plate and tried to shove the thing into the trashcan. My heart sank as the bats wings came out and it fell to the floor spread eagle with its head facing directly toward me. As it hit the floor it began to let out a high pitched squeal and squeak that almost hurt my ears. I just knew it was calling more of its demon, bat friends. Before I could think what to do next it began to crawl under the dresser so I had to get my wife to man the trashcan as I moved the dresser out further. Ginger bravely plopped the trashcan over the bat and trapped it underneath. I then proceeded to slide the trashcan about 15 feet across the floor until I made it over the threshold and out onto the front porch where I lifted the can and ran back inside to the relative safety of my home. The bat scurried across the porch and fell off the side. I do not know nor do I care where it went from there. I was just glad it was gone.

Sometimes in our lives we too have things there that should not be there. Sometimes we have unwelcome guests that erode our spirituality. These guests come in various forms and shapes. They may come in the form of habits that we have cultivated. They may come in the form of friends or family members that do not enhance our spiritual growth. These unwelcome guests may come in the form of poor entertainment choices either on television, radio, or the internet. Whatever the case may be for each of us we need to follow the admonition given us by the apostle Paul. We need to regularly test ourselves to see if we are living out our faith. Just as our key text says we must “examine ourselves”. It is easy to walk the walk of the Christian life when others are watching, but what about when we are alone. What about when no one is observing our behavior? That is when it becomes a real test; when we have to walk uprightly when the eyes of our fellow Christians are not upon us.

I challenge each of you to look around your spiritual house and to see if there are any guests that should not be there. I challenge you to examine your walk with the Lord and to get rid of those things in your life that serve only to separate you from your Lord Jesus. To allow “guests” to remain in our lives that separate us from God will ultimately and eventually cause us to lose our salvation. Paul asks the question in Romans 8:35, “Who will separate us from the Love of Christ?” The implied answer is that only we can separate ourselves from Christ? And our choices are the avenue by which we do that. I pray that each of us will choose to make Jesus first in our lives from this moment forward and that an unwelcome spiritual guests will be flushed from our lives.

Dear Father God,

As we come to You just now there are no doubt some of us that need to rid our lives of the things that erode our spirituality. We need to experience a true relationship with You. One that motivates us to Love You as You have first loved us. Give us the courage to let go of the things of this world and cling only to the hand of Jesus. Please forgive us where we have failed You Lord and may Jesus come very soon to take us home to be with Him. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Friday, July 24, 2009

#43: All Out of Steam

Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God;”

One of my favorite things to do as a child was play with balloons. It must be inherent to our human nature because every kid I know seems to love them too. When I was little I was drawn to balloons like a moth to a light. If I saw them at the fair, in a store, or in a restaurant I felt as if I had to have one. Of course the ones with helium were the best because you could inhale all the helium gas and it made you talk funny. Out of all the balloons I played with the latex ones were always the best because when the helium was gone you could still play with them.

Over and over again I loved to blow them up and let them fly around the room. Spitting and spluttering as they expelled their contents was just great fun and joy. I know it had to have driven my parents crazy as I and my siblings blew them up and let them go again and again. The Bible is so true when it says that whatever you sow the same shall ye reap (Galatians 6:7). Because now my kids do the very same thing to me and they are oblivious to the fact that it drives their parents insane. All they, like me as a kid, know is that blowing up and releasing balloons is great fun.

As my mind travels back to those childhood years it reminds me of how life today sometimes resembles the blowing up and releasing of a balloon. Our lives get filled up with so much stuff to the point that we are bulging at the seams with business of life and then we blow all over town trying to get it all accomplished before we have to rush off and do more stuff. Many families eat their meals in the car racing from event to event until finally at the end of the day we collapse in a heap on the sofa or in an easy chair and drift off into a restless sleep because our minds can hardly slow down long enough to rest.

Where does God fit into all this? Nowhere if we are not very intentional. You and I have to be very intentional about our walk with the Lord or God may very well get left out of the equation of life because He is not screaming louder than the things of lesser importance. It may sound strange to some of you but unless you plan to spend time with God each day the chances are really, really slim that you will do so. And if you try to navigate the craziness of this life on your own friends then you will quickly run out of steam. I want to encourage you all this evening to turn off the TV and spend more time with God. Get out your Bible and start reading about the goodness of God’s love and how He longs to give us peace and rest.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a little more peace and rest at the feet of Jesus. Why not stop letting the temporal things of this life dictate the relationship you have with God? Why not be still each morning, sometime throughout the day, and each evening and know that He is God? You will find rest that the world cannot give and you will discover that your stress level will go down because as you pause you can give those things that bring stress over to God.

Dear Father,

We thank You that You want us to be still and know You. Please intervene in our lives Lord and helps us to make You a priority every day. Please help us to not get so busy that we forget about the things of eternal importance. I pray that we will all allow You, dear Lord, to be our comfort and our salvation. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Friday, July 10, 2009

#42 Ownership Matters

John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God…

Not too long ago there was a man named Bob who collected all manner of…things. Bob’s wife was not thrilled about his habit of keeping that which others might easily discard. Bob loved to visit rummage and yard sales in hopes of finding that great deal on some treasure that no one else wanted. One day Bob was on such a mission when he happened across a yard sale that was nearly over. The last person looking around was just leaving when Bob pulled up. He nearly drove on but decided to just see what the guy had.

When Bob wondered through the items there was not really anything that caught his eye until he rounded the edge of the house. When he did he noticed a tarp draped over what was sure to be some sort of motorcycle. He asked the older gentleman about the motorcycle, and the man said that he had had the bike for a few years and never even tried to start it. Bob asked if it was for sale to which the man replied, “I was not looking to sell it, but I guess I could.” “How much do you need for it?” Bob replied. After some thought the old man figured he had to have about $35 dollars for it. Bob paid him and took it home.

After a week or so of having the old motorcycle Bob decided to look it over and see if he could get it running. When he looked it over he learned that it was a Harley Davidson. He quickly learned that he would have to special order the parts and called the Harley Davidson corporation. The sales person took the serial number and began to look up the parts Bob wanted. The salesman then asked Bob if he could place him on hold and Bob said he could hold. After nearly fifteen minutes the salesman asked Bob if he could get his phone number because he would need to call him back. Bob gave him the number and hung up the phone.

About two days later Bob received a call from a man who identified himself as the Vice President of the Harley Davidson corporation. Needless to say Bob was shocked that the VP was the one to call him back. The VP was very cordial to Bob and spoke to him like they were old friends of something. The VP told Bob that he was interested to learn more about Bob’s motorcycle. He asked Bob if he had a screwdriver handy and if he did would he go and take the seat off of the bike. Bob said he had one and would take the seat off. After about five minutes Bob came back to the phone and said he had the seat in his hands. The VP of Harley Davidson asked him if there was any writing on the bottom of the seat and Bob said there was. With nervousness in his voice the VP asked Bob to read what was written there. Bob spoke back into the phone and read the letters, “K-I-N-G.”

As soon as he read the letters Bob began to realize why he was on the phone with the VP from Harley, and he know knew why the parts salesman was acting so funny when he called a few days before. Bob had stumbled across and paid $35 for the Harley Davidson that had belonged to the “King of Rock and Roll”, Elvis Presley. With his mind still spinning Bob was snapped back to reality when the VP told Bob that he had been authorized to offer Bob $300,000 for the motorcycle. Bob was really taken back now and told the man he would need to think about all this before he could make a decision and Bob hung up the phone.

About a day after his call from Harley Davidson’s VP Bob received another call, but this time it was not Harley calling it was long-time “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno. Like the VP, Jay began talking to Bob as if he had know him for years. After just a few minutes Jay said he heard Bob had a Harley he might want to sell. Bob said he had been thinking about it, but was still unsure. Jay Leno responded by saying, “Bob, I am prepared to give you $500,000 for that motorcycle.” Eventually, Bob sold that bike to Jay Leno.

When I think about this story I am reminded about how important ownership is. Sure Harley Davidson motorcycles are great motorcycles, but the reason that particular Harley was so valuable was because of who had owned it. People pay ridiculously high prices for things just because someone famous used to own it. To the old man from whom Bob had bought it the value was worth what the bike would bring in scrap metal. Once the previous ownership of the bike came to light the bike was worth $500,000 to Jay Leno. Ownership makes all the difference not only as it relates to material things, but it makes a difference in our lives too.

We live in a country whose history is marred with the deep scars of human slavery and when we speak of ownership it makes many of us cringe with disgust. I grew up in the South and racism was alive and well during those days and sadly it is still present today on both sides of the racial spectrum. However, when we come to Christ we must move beyond those ignorant differences that seek to divide. We must realize that it is the spiritual realities that are of paramount importance. It is those spiritual realities that tell us that we are slaves. Yes, when we are born we are all born into to slavery. Not of the physical type, but of the spiritual type.

When we are born we enter into the land of those who are enslaved to sin. I know this because of Paul’s teaching from Romans that tells me all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Because we are slaves to sin we are owned by Satan. But just as God longs for no man to be the slave of another in this world, God also wants us to be freed from the bondage of sin. Again we glean this from Paul’s writings to the Romans. He writes “…our old self was crucified withHim, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;” (Rom 6:6) But the buck does not quite stop there. The only way that we can be freed from sin is to have a new owner. We must realize that it is only God who can save us from sin through the sacrifice that Jesus paid on Calvary’s cross.

Because Jesus died for our sins that means that He purchased us out of the hand of Satan and in the moment that we accept Jesus we then become His. Paul goes on in Romans and makes the statement that “and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” You see friends we are all owned by someone. We are either owned by Satan and we are saves to sin or we are purchased out of Hell by Jesus and we becomes slaves to righteousness.

Lest anyone think that I want to see the world enslaved, let me take this one step further. To be slaves to sin means that we live selfish, troubled lives whose end will come in the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:13-15). On the other hand, to be a slave to righteousness means that we become sons and daughters of God (Jon 1:12). You see God does not want to own us in the sense that we are trodden down and made to suffer for His sick pleasure. It is quite the contrary. God wants to own us that He might make us free; free from sin and its penalty, free from eternal separation from Him, free from the worry and doubt that consumes so many in this world, and free from the fear that comes when death calls our number.

The Bible tells us that when the Son sets us free then we are free indeed (Jon 8:36). You see friends God does not want to suppress His people. God does not want to Lord over us like some tyrant whose desires are set upon their selfish gain. God longs to rescue us from sin and its penalty that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). We must also realize that Jesus is the only One worthy to purchase us for He is the One who died to pay the penalty of sin. In essence He purchased us (1 Cor 6:20) twice; once when He created us and then twice when He paid the penalty for our sins. It is once we accept the price of Christ’s death on Calvary for our sins that we are “in” Christ.

There are some in this world who would have us believe that we are all in Christ since the moment He took on humanity. But we are not “in” Christ until the moment that we bow our heads and hearts in humble surrender to Jesus. It is then, when we confess our sins and allow the blood of Jesus to wash away our sins, that we are freed from sin and its penalty and in that moment we become heirs to Abraham’s promise (Gal 3:19). It is then that our ownership changes from Satan to the Lord of lords and King of Kings. It is then that we are “in” Christ. It is then that we are freed and set upon a course that will find its end in the halls of the New Jerusalem as we bow before our God.

I pray that if you have never fully surrendered your life to Christ that you will bow your head in this moment and that you will decide within your heart of hearts to be freed from the slavery of sin. All you have to do is pray to God and confess your sins to Him. After you confess your sins you need to ask Jesus to come into your heart and to be your Savior. When you ask Him to be your Savior also ask Him to be your Lord and tell Him that He can have total control of everything in your life and then give it to Him. When you do that your ownership will change and you will become a child of God. Ownership matters friends, and the closer we get with each passing day to Christ’s soon return, ownership matters more and more. Jesus is coming soon. Are you ready to meet Him when He does?

Dear Father God,

We come to You and thank You that You love us and that Jesus died to give us victory over the slavery of sin. Father, we recognize that we must allow You to take ownership of our lives, and we ask that in this moment You would forgive us where we have failed You. Please wash away our sin debt that we may become Your children. Lord, I ask that Your Holy Spirit be poured out to keep us from sinning, and I thank You for the promise that You will give it to us. It is Jesus’ name that we pray, Amen.