Friday, January 29, 2010

#57 Grocery Store Approach

1 Thessalonians 5:21 "...examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;

Grocery shopping is something that we all have to do. Some of us enjoy wandering through the aisles checking prices and looking for the best bargain. Some clip coupons and try to save every penny possible. Then there are those of us who are not there to shop, we are there to buy; buy only what we need and we want to get out of there as quickly as possible. I fall into that latter category.

When we buy our groceries many of us are very selective. We do not go into the store and buy one of everything. No, we choose only what we want or happen to need for that day, week, or month. If we tried to buy one of everything we would not only be financially ruined, but we would have a lot of stuff we really do not need.

Life is much like going to the grocery store in that we also do not need everything this life has to offer. There are all sorts of things competing for our attention but how many of them actually warrant our time and precious energy? I would dare say that far too many of us allow unnecessary things to rob of us valuable time that could and should be spent doing something else. Please understand I am not trying to be the "time police" with these comments. I am simply encouraging each of you to consider how you spend your time and resources.

According to a 2008 Nielsen Company survey the average American watches 151 hours of television a month. That works out to be about 1812 hours per year or 75.5 full days. If a person lived to be 73 having watched this average amount of television and they started watching T.V. when they were 10 years old then they will have spent about 13 years of their life in front of a talking box. 13 years is a lot of your life. How many of us wish we could have an extra 13 years to live life.

T.V. is not the only thing of course that vies for our time and attention but it is easy to pick on. My point is that just because something demands our attention in this life does not mean that we have to give it, and just because something feels good does mean that God would have us engage in it. In fact, I think we should be careful to only expose ourselves to those things that are going to bolster our relationship with God.

Not everything the world has to offer is good and not everything the world has to offer is suitable for God's people. The closer we get to Christ's return the more we should be concerned with what takes our time and fills our minds. Yes, we cannot go through life with our eyes closed just assuming everything will go away if we ignore it, but we need to filter everything through a solid, Bible-based, Christian worldview. That is the only way we can be certain that something put before us will make us better Christians and deepen our relationship with Christ.

The children's song "O Be Careful Little Eyes" contains a valuable life lesson. It says , "Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down with love." Subsequent verses say that our little feet and ears should also be careful about where they go and what they hear because if we are not careful about what we see, what we hear, or where we go as Christians then we may very well be led away from our God. It would be such a tragedy to let someone or something rob us of our Jesus. It is my prayer that each of us will choose to only take that which is good and helpful for our spiritual walk. Being selective with our choices will have heavenly benefits.

Dear Lord,
Today we want to thank You for Your goodness and mercy. Please forgive us for the poor choices we may have made in the past, and teach us to do Your will by Your grace. We recognize that love leads to obedience and if we love You will our whole heart then You will empower us to live lives that glorify You. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Friday, January 22, 2010

#56 Spirit of Fear

2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

At some point in our lives we all experience fear in approaching certain people. Perhaps it is someone who we think wants to hurt us. Maybe it is someone for whom we had a romantic desire. Sometimes we simply want to avoid confrontational people because we frankly do not need additional stress in our lives, and sometimes we simply think so little of ourselves that we fear rejection from others.

I can recall taking the flight from Gulf Port, MS to Kuwait International Airport. When we left Mississippi everyone was pretty “gung-ho” about our mission to support Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Our airplane hopped from Mississippi to Wisconsin, from Wisconsin to Newfoundland, from there to Hungary, and from there to Kuwait. On our approach to land in Kuwait about thirty minutes prior to landing an announcement was made by the flight crew that we would be landing soon. It was around 2:00 a.m. Kuwaiti time so we could not really see the landscape, but that did not stop our curiosity. Most of us got quieter and began to look out over the Kuwaiti desert to see whatever was there to see.

The atmosphere of the group changed in those few minutes. The aircraft went from being slightly noisy and jovial to a calm solemnity. Why; because it was starting to settle into our minds that we had arrived at the point where training met reality. All the long months and possibly years of training were about to be tested over the next twelve months. Although no one would have admitted it, I think we were all afraid of the uncertainties on one level or another.

Yes, I was a Christian at the time and I too had some fears. I wondered if I would ever see my children or wife again. I can recall looking around the aircraft and wondering if anyone from our unit would be killed in action. It was part of my job to facilitate memorial services for fallen Soldiers along with my chaplain. I prayed that we would not have to do any memorial services for our unit, and I praise the Lord no one from our unit was lost during that deployment.

In Ecclesiastes 1:9 Solomon wrote, “…there is nothing new under the sun.” When sin entered into the heart of men fear came along with it. Adam and Eve hid themselves from the Lord because they were ashamed of their sinfulness (Genesis 3:10). Fear is the emotion that characterizes those who have sinned against God, and all have sinned (Romans 3:23). So while we are separated from God we have a need to be afraid because we will be guilty of our sins in the judgment. When Christ comes the second time the wicked will cry out in fear for the mountains and rocks to fall on them (Revelation 6:16).
I can understand why those that have not accepted Christ live in fear, but why do some Christians live in fear.

Is it because:

1. They have not fully surrendered their hearts to Christ?

2. They are hiding sin in their lives from the world around them and they remain fearful because they realize God knows their sin?

3. They don’t understand just how much God loves them?
4. They have not forgiven themselves for past sins committed?
5. They simply have not spent enough time with God that they might learn to trust Him?

The reasons why Christians remain fearful of the Lord can be multi-faceted. If you find yourself fearful of God today have you asked yourself, “Why?” It may be for some of the reasons I just mentioned or it could be for one or two of a thousand other reasons. Whatever the reason you feel fearful in approaching God today, I want you to have hope. Hope in knowing that fear is not part of the good gifts that God wants His children to possess, and He is the ultimate giver of good gifts. According to our theme text God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.

Do you want that power today? Do you want to have a heart filled with love? Would you like to feel confident in making decisions because the Lord has granted you sound judgment? It is all yours for the taking right now. It is as simple as having faith to believe that Christ will do a good work in you (Philippians 1:6). It all comes down to trust. Trust is synonymous with faith. When we have faith in someone or something we essentially trust it or them to do what they are supposed to do. When we allow Christ to be both Lord and Savior of our life then we begin to build that trust or faith relationship. Too many of us only call on the Lord when the going gets tough. Reality is that God wants us to trust in Him for everything: both great and small.

One of the best ways to build that type of surrendered relationship with the Lord is to spend time in prayer. We need to spend time before the throne of grace. We have need to confess to Christ our sins, lift our voices in praise to Him, bear our burdens to Him, and to listen for the prompting of the Holy Spirit. As we communicate more and more with our God through prayer the fears that we harbor can diminish as He takes total control of our life.

I recognize that some fears are due to heavy psychological trauma and may require professional therapy, but I think for most of us fear comes because we lack a deep spiritual experience with the Lord; because we do not understand His immense love for us. In 1 John 4:18 we are told that there is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear. Perfect in the Biblical sense means "complete". I want each one who reads this to realize that Christ's love is just that: complete. He has done everything necessary to save us. We must simply believe in Him with our whole heart and live surrendered to His will for our lives. When we take that step of faith fear must flee in light of His perfect love.

How is it with you today friend? Are you fearful of the future? Do you worry about finances? Do you have uncertainty about your spirituality? Please know that any spirit of fear you may have is not of God. I promise you that if you have given your heart to the Lord, Jesus Christ, then you have nothing to fear in this world or the one to come because you are a child of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Why not let today be the day that you cast off fear and embrace a spirit of victory? Let God be glorified by your life that is lived with power and love.

Dear father God,
We thank You for Your awesome love. We thank You that we can live without fear as long as we live for Jesus. Teach us just now to accept your perfect love and give us the power to live victorious Christian lives in order that You might be glorified through us. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, January 15, 2010

#55 Spiritual Emergency

Revelation 12:12 "...the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time."

In our country we are very blessed to have the 911 Emergency System in place. In most every town and city you can simply dial 911 from either a land or cell phone line and you will be connected to the nearest 911 operator who is standing by to assist with your emergency. Those emergencies can range from medical needs, calls to report a crime, reporting suspicious activity, or house fires. Of course there may be other reasons why you may choose to call 911, but whatever the reason hopefully we will only use that system when there is a true emergency. Frivolous calls are often made to 911 and that spends precious time and energy that should be devoted to true emergencies.

Whatever the reason we may have need to call 911, we call them because we want someone to respond immediately or as soon as humanly possible. There have even been cases where emergency responders have come under scrutiny for slow response times. Why? Because when there is a true emergency we want help and we want it right away. These are life and death situations that require immediate action and time is always of the essence.

No one would argue that a house fire is an emergency. The same holds true for someone having a heart attack, or when there is a terrible car accident. But what about spiritual emergencies? Who is standing by to respond to them? What is a spiritual emergency? The fact is that we are living in a world that is soon to end. Yes, soon is relative to when Christ is coming back, but the last time I read my Bible it said no man knows the day or the hour of Christ's coming (Mark 13:32). That means on one level that world events could take a course very quickly that sets the stage for Christ to come back in the very near future. Since many walk through life oblivious to this fact we officially have a spiritual emergency on our hands.

If we knew that Christ was coming back on a certain day this year how would that change our soul winning efforts? Would we care much less about what people think of us and share the gospel in spite of being ridiculed? Would we move out of our comfort zones and tell people about a soon-coming Savior or would we say, "I am not called to do that." Who is called to report a house fire? The first person that discovers it, right? I recognize and agree that not everyone is called to be a pastor or evangelist or teacher, but are we not all called to share our personal testimony in some form or fashion that those around us might want to serve the Jesus that we love (2 Corinthians 3:3; Matthew 28:19, 20)?

Friends, I am of the belief that we have a state of spiritual emergency on our hands in this world today. Our world is becoming more and more secular and even satanic with each passing day. T.V. shows are filled with immorality that is normalized with each aired episode . Our culture is one that is filled with every evil known to mankind. In the midst of this downward spiral we have a message of hope. We have a message that can ransom people from lives of sin and heartache. Are we going to be willing to share it, or are will we stand by while the "house burns" to the ground? We must be willing to reach out to a world dying in sin. I can assure you that Satan knows he has but a short time. That is why we see our world in the shape that it is in. He is making every effort to cause men and women everywhere to be lost for eternity.

My plea to each of you today is to dial heaven's help line by falling to your knees and asking God what He would have you to do to reach souls that are perishing. If you are not sure how you can be involved in soul winning in your church, then ask your pastor. If you are already involved but have not really been making any effort to reach souls then pray for courage to do the right thing. If you have family and friends that do not know Christ--and all of us do--but you have never made an effort to broach the topic of salvation with them, now is the time to do so.

We must all realize that the need to reach perishing souls is the most urgent need the world has. Sure we have to reach people's physical needs many times before they will hear our message, but let us not be timid when it comes to sharing this wonderful message of hope that the Lord has given us. Let us have confidence in the fact that Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us. Let us walk forward in faith and make every effort to become first responders in this state of spiritual emergency.

Dear Father God,
We thank You for Jesus who died to save us from the penalty of our sins. Please give us the courage to take the message of salvation to this world in turmoil. Please show us how we can reach those within our circle of influence. May Your Spirit go before us to prepare the hearts of all we can reach for Christ. This we pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, January 8, 2010

#54 Finding Joy

John 16:20 "Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy."

We are now well into a new year and most of us have gotten back into the routine of our lives. I think back to Christmas morning and I can recall the faces of my children. Children get so excited about opening gifts. Bows go sailing across the room, and shreds of multicolored paper softly falls to the floor as the frenzy begins. When I was a kid myself I loved Christmas. It was harder to fall asleep on Christmas eve than any other night of the year because of the intense anticipation of Christmas day. Now that I am older I love still love Christmas, but my joy connected to Christmas is in seeing my children enjoy all the festivities and fellowship.

While I would agree that many of us experience a certain measure of joy on Christmas and other special days throughout the year, I would suggest to you that it is only a temporary joy. Temporary because the joy is associated with something new and exciting. I would take it one step further and say that joy based upon emotions and excitement is not really joy at all, but rather a momentary rush that wears off after the stimulus of the event fades into history.

What does real joy look like? Can we experience true joy while we are on earth? From whom does real joy come? Can I claim to be a Christian if I have no joy? These are searching questions for which the Bible gives us good answers.

In Galatians Paul writes to the believers seeking to teach them about the origin of true joy. In chapter five he lists things that come when we trust in our sinful flesh. He says when we trust in our sinful flesh that we will be immoral, impure, and a whole host of things that none of us should strive to achieve. He sets this in contrast to the fruit that comes from the Spirit of God. He writes that when we have the Spirit of God in us we will bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It only stands to reason that if we claim to be a Christian and do not have these "fruits' evident in our life then it is highly likely that we are not really Christians beyond what we profess with our mouths.

To answer my earlier questions, I think when we have true joy in our lives it will show on our faces and in how we deal with others. My heart breaks for people who do not have true joy. They are often bitter, cold-hearted, and easily angered if people get in their way. People without true joy do not have an air about them that attracts others. The opposite is quite often the case; they repel people like a foul odor. Life does not have to be this way friends. Christ died that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). An abundant life is one that is filled with the fruit of the Spirit; it is a life that is filled with joy.

This does not mean that we must have a "Pollyanna" approach to everything in life. Solomon told us that there is a time to weep, die, and kill, but there is also a time to heal, build up, dance, embrace, and love (Ecc 3:1-8). How much more attractive would our Christian experience be to the world who does not have Christ if those of us who profess to have Him would allow Him to give us true joy?

So how do we get this joy? We must surrender our hurts to Jesus. No matter what has happened to you in this life, no matter how profoundly you have been hurt because of abuse or loss, no matter how badly you have hurt others you need to surrender those things to Jesus. Many of us have suffered intense loss in this life, and we feel justified in carrying around profound sadness because we feel that the world does not understand or that the world does not care. The truth is that there is always someone who cares.

Jesus did not die to save us just to have His children languish in misery until He comes again. He came to give us abundant life. He came to give us joy. He came that we might live eternally with Him where heartache will not exist. But if we do not figure out how to give our hurts to Jesus now heaven will not be an option for us. If we choose to hold on to our hurts and pain we will rob ourselves of the fruits of the Spirit; we will rob ourselves of joy, and we will rob ourselves of salvation. I want to challenge each of you tonight to examine yourselves and ask yourself if you have true joy. You might as well be honest with yourself because the Lord already knows if you have true joy, and it is highly likely that most everyone around you knows if you are filled with joy or if you are a miserable and sad person. Let today be the day that you choose to let go of your hurts. Let today be the day that you let Jesus turn your griefs into joy.

Dear Father God,
Please teach us to let You take control of our lives. Please forgive us for holding onto past hurts and wearing them as a badge of honor while displaying misery to the world around us. Please wash our hearts clean just now that we might be filled with Your Spirit. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.