Friday, November 26, 2010

#70 Black Friday

Revelation 3:5 NASB 'He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life...'

Yesterday was an amazing day for our family. We decided to just stay home and enjoy Thanksgiving as a family and it was great getting to spend uninterrupted time with my wife and children; something I rarely get.

As we spent time together my mind kept going back to the time I spent in Iraq with the Army from June of 2006 to June of 2007. During that deployment I can honestly say that I never worried about whether or not I would live; even when mortars would slam onto our base or when I felt the reverberation of the truck bombs from outside the perimeter. I placed myself in God's hands before I left and I never took myself out of them. I knew that even if I lost my life I would rest in Jesus' precious care until the day He comes to carry me home to be with Him in heaven.

However, a constant and perpetual concern for me was whether or not I would see my wife and kids again. I did not want my kids to grow up without a father. I did not want my little girl to miss out on having her daddy teach her how a young man is supposed to honor and respect her. I did not want my boys to wonder how they are supposed to be spiritual leaders and providers in their eventual homes. I did not want my wife to be forced to working outside the home while taking care of the children by herself. So many things ran through my mind in regards to my family. No, I did not want my children to be fatherless children.

Sadly, in our world today there are many, many fatherless children. No, I do not mean in the physical sense of children not having their dads around which too often happens, but rather in the sense that far too many live their lives without knowing their heavenly father. They are orphans in this world of sin with no one to guide and protect them. They are not orphans because God has died or otherwise abandoned them, they are such because they either do not know the God of heaven or have rejected Him as their father.What can we do about it?

Each year retailers around the country look forward to the Friday after Thanksgiving to begin the end-of-year blowout for their businesses. The "black" in Black Friday of course refers to the accounting ledger. Retailers want to end up in the "black" having made money instead of the "red" having lost it.

I must admit that I am amazed at the lengths people will go to that they might secure the best deal on the latest gadget, gizmo, toy, or piece of clothing. Long lines form from the early hours of the morning. Bundled and anxious, shoppers assemble along the store fronts counting down to the time when the doors will open. If you were standing in line this morning in central Michigan it meant enduring temperatures in the low twenties. Can you say, "Burrrr!" It takes sacrifice to endure the elements and deprive yourself of sleep. It takes dedication to do the research and know which deals are where. Time must be spent preparing a plan of action if you hope to hit more than one store and get the super deals first.

As I merge the thoughts of what it takes to be successful as a shopper on Black Friday with the idea that we live in a world with millions of spiritual orphans in need of the Father it makes we wonder if we are willing to go to such great and extraordinary lengths to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to hear the gospel. I am not just trying to poke anyone in the eye today and I do not want to make anyone feel guilty for being a frugal shopper and good steward of their resources as they prepare for the holiday season, but I can't help but ask the question, "What holiday plans have we made to share the good news of Jesus and what He has done for each of us?"

Each of us have family and friends who do not know the Lord Jesus. Would we stand outside in the cold to make sure they learn of Him? Have we spent any time researching how to reach their hearts for Christ this season? Have we been lifting each one of them up in prayer asking that the Lord would give us a plan of how to reach them and that the Holy Spirit would go before us and begin to soften their hearts?

It is my prayer for each of you--as well as myself--that we will approach soul-winning and sharing the gospel with greater zeal and enthusiasm than we approach shopping and holiday preparations. Work together as families talking about how you can help bring Jesus and thereby the Father to each one we know. Let's purpose in our hearts and covenant afresh with our God to be actively engaged in bringing people to Christ. Pray for windows of opportunity to share your faith this season with the world around you. Please do not beat people over the head or bludgeon them with the gospel, but look for ways to lovingly and gently share Jesus.

May the retailers do well today and throughout the end of this year, but much more importantly, may the record of heaven be filled with new names that are added to the book of life because we had the courage to share our faith and be partners with the Lord Jesus.

Dear Father,
Thank You for being such an awesome God. I pray that You will give each of us courage to plan to share Jesus this holiday season. May our preparations be blessed by the Holy Spirit and may the name of Christ be brought to spiritual orphans around the globe. We pray these things in Jesus holy name, Amen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

#69 Caveat Emptor

Matthew 5:16 NASB "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.”

Our world today is one that is consumer driven. Whatever consumers want the markets will produce. We want faster food, restaurants respond. We want smaller phones and computers, again the market responds. Anything we want we can find either in stores or online. The items of this world are at our fingertips and well within our grasp if we have the money to buy them.

But not all vendors of today’s goods are trustworthy. If you choose to buy something off the Internet through a web-based retailer or an auction site, you have to approach them with caution especially if the site you are browsing is not a major, well-known retailer. The Latin phrase caveat emptor must come to mind: “buyer beware”. In other words, be careful about what you buy and from whom you buy it. They may very well sell you some junk or take your money and leave you holding the Styrofoam-peanut-filled box in which your junk came.

Some people approach their spirituality in this same way. They may have come from a background where those professing the name of Christ did not live in such a way as to glorify Christ. Perhaps their experience with Christians was witnessing them in their weak moments or when they were questioning their faith. Whatever may have happened, there are those in this world who approach God and faith in Him with extreme caution if they approach at all. They are afraid that becoming a Christian means they are being duped or taken advantage of. They hear sirens go off in their mind when they are around Christians and they scream to themselves “Buyer beware, buyer beware!"

How do we work to change this mentality? I firmly believe that we change it in one way by the way we live our lives. If you and I are committed Christians who live surrendered lives and who let Jesus put together the pieces of our existence then we can present a picture of godliness to the world that makes them want to take a second glance at the God of heaven. Committed Christians who live in the world without assimilating and becoming like the world do more for the cause of God than all the sermonizing done each week in pulpits around the world.

Your life lived to glorify Christ brings down barriers, softens hearts, open eyes, peaks interest, and ultimately serves to draw people close to the One who can save them. Yes, it is the Holy Spirit who works through us to accomplish these things, but God’s Spirit wants Christians who can serve as conduits of grace to a rebellious planet. You and I can be those conduits, you and I can be the ones whom Jesus speaks through to save perishing souls all around us. How will you respond? Will you be or remain a sketchy, hypocritical, faithless Christian who causes "buyers to beware" or will you choose to be a trustworthy, gracious, willing servant of the Lord Jesus so that the world might see Christ and be drawn to Him?

Buyers--those seeking more from life--should never have to beware around God’s people. Live today in honor of Christ and He will honor you before His Father and all the hosts of heaven. Live today and everyday henceforth with a solid resolve to present Christ and living for Him in the best possible light as you are filled with His Spirit. Strive to be a Christian whom seekers will be willing to approach. Jesus will bless this type of life and use you to bless others.

Dear Father,

We thank You for loving us so much and for Your willingness to work through us to save others. Forgive us where we have failed to rightly represent You, and please use us to lift up Christ in all that we do. We pray in His holy name, Amen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

#68 Finding the Pieces

Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope."

I have always been one who enjoys a friendly game of whatever. Monopoly is fun if you can finish the game in less than half a day, Life is well...not like real life so it can be fun, and Trivial Pursuit has questions about things either A) you never knew existed, B) never cared existed, C) wish did not exist, or D) somehow made it into your brain somewhere along the line.

Apart from games I have never been one who enjoys doing puzzles. Wait please before you turn away because I have offended you. All you puzzle mavens out there please hear me out. Yes, puzzles have some really awesome or very cool pictures on them. Yes, they can provide hours of great bonding time for people who enjoy the seemingly endless hunt for pieces that somehow all look the same and have nearly the same shape as the other 9,999 pieces lying beside them. And yes, once you finish the puzzle it gives a sense of deep accomplishment for having endured to the end of recreating that which is printed on the box-top. But for me that endless search for like-pieces and going back and forth looking at the box-top serves only to give me a headache and nearly-crossed eyes.

Sometimes our lives feel like a great big puzzle too don't they? There are so many things we don't understand or perhaps we struggle to find meaning in events that disappoint us. Life becomes a little like doing a puzzle some days. We want to be able to look at our life and see all the pieces fit into place nicely and without too much searching. Life is good when it's like a preschool puzzle. You know, the ones with 5-10 pieces and you can put it together in about 30 seconds. Life is hard and almost unbearable when it's like one of those impossible puzzles that have the same image printed on the front and back of the pieces and there are no edge pieces.

How do we pull it together when we fall into the later category of the impossible puzzle? I think at least part of the answer is that we stop searching and start praying. Ironically, when we stop searching and start praying we are actually still searching, but instead of searching in the darkness of this world we begin searching for the One that can lead us to an eternity of life and happiness.

When you and I search for God through prayer He becomes the One who puts all our pieces in order. He takes our lives and makes things happen when all we could see were random pieces and odd-shaped holes. The Lord has promised in His word that He has plans for us. His plans are ones that will lead to prosperity and joy. Following His plan does not guarantee that we will not experience suffering, but His plans promises to see us through till the end and make us victorious despite our sufferings. It happened for Christ and it can happen for us too!

No, it is not easy to let go and just let God. Last week we talked about finding our strength in surrendering to God. This week I want you to realize that it is God's strength that will pick up the pieces of your life and turn them into a beautiful picture that not only brings you happiness, but will glorify Him in the process. It is my prayer that you will seek God in prayer and ask Him to put the puzzle of your life together.

Dear Father God,
We thank You for being so awesome and wonderful. Thank You for caring about the pieces of our lives. We humbly come just now and ask that You teach us how to depend on You; we come and ask that You please put our lives together. Thank You for hearing and answering our prayers. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, November 5, 2010

#67 Ultimate Strength

Psalm 28:7 "The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped;"

I had the opportunity in high school to take a class called "weight training". No, they did not teach me how to lose weight--although that would have come in handy over the years. Instead the class was all about how to properly lift weights and how lifting weights certain ways assisted in developing various muscle groups.

The class was pretty great. I got to lift weights and get buff fifty minutes a day five days a week. What teenage boy who wants to be cool and have big arms would not think that was fun? Although I loved the class I never wanted to get really big muscles. I just wanted to look good wearing a tank-top. Yes, I was vain and self-centered. There were even times when I lingered by mirrors to check out my biceps, forearms, and chest thinking I was all that. Yes, it was sad really.

Each day we would try to push ourselves to lift more and more than the days before, and at that point in my life I thought physical strength was the most important type of strength there was. Truth be told, I probably thought physical strength was the only kind of strength.

It was not until I began to learn of Jesus and His infinite love that I came to know of a much different form of strength. When I heard the stories of His love, grace, and mercy my heart was moved with deep conviction. When I learned that He died for me I was overwhelmed with thoughts of shame and sadness for the sins I had committed. I can recall going forward to the altar and weeping as I knelt down. As the memory of my sin and guilt came flooding to remembrance I wanted only to be free from my past and all my wrongdoings.

Sweet relief was mine when I learned that the blood of Jesus poured out on Calvary's cross would cover my sin debt to God. The pastor told me to confess my sins and Jesus would cleanse me of all iniquity. He went on to say that in my weakened, sinful spiritual state I could lean on Jesus and He would give me strength to endure. Although, the concept of spiritual strength was totally foreign to me I knew I needed it and I wanted it.

But when I found out how to get spiritual strength it amazed me. You recall that I was accustomed to gaining strength through the repetitious lifting of weights, but spiritual strength comes not from my efforts but rather through Jesus' efforts. Spiritual strength comes not through fighting and pushing myself to be better and better, but through surrender. That is crazy in the world's eyes: "Surrender to gain strength?" Yes, yes, and yes!

If we want to be spiritually strong friends we have to let go of trying to do things by our power and let the creator God of heaven empower us through His Spirit. When we do this He can become our strength and He will shield us from the evil of this world. Sure we may have to endure loss or persecution in this life, but if Christ is our strength and shield then He protects our minds from molding into worldly conformity. He blocks Satan from having his way with us.

It is my prayer that each of you will seek to discover that source of ultimate strength that lies in living a life surrendered to Jesus Christ. Like me, you will find that His strength is better than any physical strength we can attain on our own.

Dear Father God,
Please help us each one to live in a constant state of surrender to You. Let us not buy the world's bill of goods that says trust in your own power and strength. Teach us to trust You and we thank You in advance for shielding us and lifting us up with Your righteous right hand, Amen.