"Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, . . . They are not
just idle words for you-- they are your life" (Deuteronomy 32:46-47).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dear God: Fix Our Mess, But Don't Fool With Our Means

"Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear" (Luke 8:37).

Jesus and his company of disciples climbed out of a boat on the east side of the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Gadarenes. Suddenly a naked man apparently out of control ran at Jesus and fell at his feet. Word was the man lived under guard in the cemetery among the tombs of dead people. The townspeople, out of fear, banished him to solitude and bound him with chains and shackles. He often brokes his chains and raced off into the wilderness screaming unhuman sounds and shrieks. The man was sick. When asked, the man gave Jesus the name he had assumed, Legion, because he was possessed by many demons.

Jesus was standing before one man but confronting as many as six thousand of Satan's demons begging him not to cast them into hell, but rather to allow them to leave the man and enter a herd of pigs grazing nearby. When Jesus gave his permission, the demons exited the man and entered the animals spiralling them into lunacy and sending them over a cliff, into a lake, and to their death. The pig farmers who witnessed what happened ran all over town telling what had happened.

By the time a crowd gathered, the man was sitting at the feet of Jesus, fully clothed, and completely normal. He wanted to join Jesus' company of disciples; however, Jesus told him to go home and tell every one what God had done for him. While he was going on his merry way, the townspeople, in gang-like fashion, insisted that Jesus leave town. According to their wishes, Jesus and his disciples got in their boat and left in the same fashion in which they had arrived.

In this account of one experience in our Lord's ministry on earth, we learn several sad realities about ourselves that often keep us from experiencing God in greater ways:

First, we often become too easily accustomed to living with fear. How long had that man lived in those tombs possessed by demons? Instead of confronting Satan's activity among them with faith in God's power, those townspeople handled the situation in their own way-- putting the man in a place where they did not have to look at him every day. Their actions neither solved their problems, nor alleviated their fears. Actually their actions made their problems and fears into a bigger mess.

It happens in our lives too when we run from our fears instead of face our fears. Listen, Jesus is not afraid of even what we fear most. He is Sovereign God over all that is-- that includes heaven, hell, and earth. There is not one single demon or Satan himself that does not tremble at the name of Jesus. How much more does all of hell stand attention and beg in the presence of Jesus? The psalmist reminds us, "I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:4). We should call upon our Lord and face our fears with God's power.

Second, we often don't want to upset things or get radical in our faith. Those townspeople had learned to tolerate and live with demon activity among them. They had even hired men from among them to stand guard to make sure the demonic activity stayed in the tombs and didn't get near them. They had no problem with buying or making new sets of chains and shackles every time the man broke a set. Forming a search party to go after him and bring him back to the tombs when he fled into the wilderness in a demonic rage had become an accepted way of life. Day in and day out they listened to the terrible screams coming of the cemetery.

They had the situation under their control just the way they wanted it. If things could be changed, fine, but don't upset the apple cart by asking them to walk away from what had become comfortably under control, and live out of their comfort zone with radical faith in Christ. This is a 2000 year old story, but it paints a perfect portrait of twenty-first century people. In the words of Jesus himself, "In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples" (Luke 14:33).Yes, God calls us to a reckless abandonment of our lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Third, we might be okay with change as long as it doesn't change our livelihood. Apparently raising pigs provided a good living for the townspeople providing them with not only food but a source of income as well. When Jesus sent their money-makers over a cliff in a demonic craze, all they could see was their livelihood being flushed down the toilet-- or better said, drowned in the sea! I wonder how many people have missed their heavenly calling because they were too tied to their earthly career. How many churches have missed revival because the people have a death-grip on the status-quo? How many people have settled instead of soared? The fear of change alone has limited many lives and killed more potential than any other thing on this earth. These townspeople had God walking among them more than capable of meeting their needs, yet the change that Jesus brought with his presence was more than they were willing to endure.

We're the same way. Change is okay as long as it doesn't mean we have to live with uncertaintly, get uncomfortable, make a drastic move, do the unusual, spend more than a little, or rise above our reason. Too many people today want to believe they're going to heaven, but they don't want God fooling with their lives. Therein, lies the explanation for why we fail to see great moves of God in our lives, families, churches, communities, nation, and world. We need to go back to the very beginning-- to the experience of salvation.

Contemporary evangelism has reduced becoming a follower of Jesus Christ to a marketing strategy of getting people to assent to a few pre-packaged biblical truths, walking down the isle of a church, praying a sinner's prayer, signing a commitment card, and then going back into their world to think the same, talk the same, and live the same as they did before they quote "got saved."

None of that is in the Bible in precept, principle, or pattern. Biblical converstion to Christ is radical, earth-shaking, and life-changing. Men and women in the Bible who came face to face with Christ became competely undone. They fell prostrate at his feet, grieved and waled over their own sinfulness. Afterwards, they walked in this world dripping with the power and unction of the Holy Spirit. Many Christ-followers through the ages have given their own lives, rather than deny their love and commitment to their Lord. Hear the words of Jesus with your heart: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).

So, what matters? Not what we think, but what Christ wants us to thinks; not what we say, but what Christ wants us to say; not what we want, but what Christ wants us to want; not what we do, but what Christ wants us to do. Open your Bible and ask the man at the tombs, Simon Peter, the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, or Paul how drastically Jesus changes a person's life when he becomes Lord. You might be surprised, or better still, you might be changed.

Prayer: Father in heaven, I've grown way to accustomed to managing my fears myself. I've organized my life myself and gotten bitter when anything came along upsetting what I've put in place. For too long, I've had my life all figured out the way I wanted it. Now, I'm afraid that some of it or none of it is the way you want it. I repent of the sin of selfishness and arrogance thinking I was supposed to be in charge instead of you. Forgive me and change me. Come now, clean up my mess, and radically fool with my means. I surrender everything, including my will, to you. Revive me and make me your instrument of revival in this world. In Jesus name, Amen.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What Do We Do in the Meantime?

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward tot he day of God and speed its coming" (2 Peter 3:10-12).

One fact the Bible is very clear on is that Jesus is coming back. Equally clear is the reality that his coming back will be suddenly and unexpectedly. There will be no final notice or public notice at that moment. God has given sufficient announcement in the Bible. The physical universe, as we know it, will be destroyed and disappear culminating in God ushering in the new heaven and the new earth.

The question Peter emphasized is simply: Since this is what God is planning, what do we do in the meantime? Summarily, Peter left us instructions to live holy and godly lives, and look forward to Christ's return. Now, can we flesh that out any? Sure. In the third chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul lends us valuable help in what enduring the end times is all about. The apostle's help falls neatly into two divisions: What should we expect? and What should we do?

First, we should expect the times to be terrible (2 Tim. 3:1-5). People who exercise no faith, trust, and hope in Jesus Christ will be selfish, mean-spirited, and ungodly. Paul left a bullet list of eighteen specific sinful character traits that prevail on earth in these last days. The selfish catagory includes: "lovers of themselves," "lovers of money," "boastful," "proud," "without self-control," "conceited," and "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." The mean-spirited catagory includes: "abusive," "ungrateful," "without love," "unforgiving," "slanderous," "brutal," "treacherous," and "rash." The ungodly catagory includes: "disobedient to parents," "unholy," and "not lovers of the good." Take an inventory of the happenings around us: alcohol and drug addiction is rampant; sexual immorality in every form eats away at the foundation of society; families fall apart while long-held family values are undermined by the assault on traditional marriage and the homosexual agenda; crime in every form steals, kills, and destroys people's lives; educational opportunities abound while jobs disappear, welfare rolls increase, price of goods continues to grow, credit card debt drowns families, extravagance rules in rich circles, prisons overflow, and the national debt soars out of control.

So, how does the Bible advise God's people to respond to selfish, mean-spirited, and ungodly people as they wait on Christ's imminent return? Paul said, "Have nothing to do with them." Don't withdraw to a secluded island or put up a ten-foot privacy fence or become a recluse. Christians still have to live out the Great Commandment and Great Commission despite the terrible times. Be loving, helpful, kind, and compassionate to even those who live out the most ungodly lives; however, do not participate in their ungodly behavior. Draw the line in the sand. Every interaction with ungodly people should be for the purpose of influencing them to hear the gospel of forgiveness and salvation in Christ, repent of their sins and receive God's forgiveness, receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and live the rest of their lives to please God.

Second, we should expect the God's truth to be under attack (6-9). Unholy, ungodly people will be "always be learning but never able to acknowledge the truth." For people outside God's kingdom, greater learning will shamefully lead only to greater wickedness. "Men of depraved minds" will twist, distort, and subvert God's truth found in the Bible through crafty, clever, and deceitful means for the purpose of worming their way into the lives of spiritually-weak people and persuading them to follow after them instead of following after Christ.

So, how does the Bible advise God's people to respond to the subversive attacks on God's truth? Simply put: trust God, keep your spiritual eyes and ears open, and watch God expose the dirty deeds of these Bible-truth-haters. The apostle Paul said that God would make sure that "their folly will be clear to everyone." The "everyone" includes Christians who have been trained through the spiritual disciplines of worship, service, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and prayer to recognize the difference between Satan's activity in the world and God's activity in the world.

Third, we should expect to be persecuted for living sold-out faithful lives to Christ (10-12). The sinful world of Paul's day hurt him for living so close to Jesus, and our sinful world will treat us the same way if we live close to Jesus. Write it down big and plain so there is no understanding: "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Jesus said Himself, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Mat. 10:22). Moreover, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mat. 5:11-12). The Lord said "when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me", not "if" they do these things.

So, how does the Bible advise God's people to respond to the prospect of enduring opposition and persecution while they wait for Jesus to return? Well, look what Paul how Paul said he responded and learn that we are to teach the word of God faithfully, maintain a way of life that honors God, live with great purpose, and face the world with great faith, great patience, great love, and great endurance in the Lord Jesus. Paul said, "the Lord rescued me from all of them." Therefore, along the way of persecution, we are to let God defend us and get us through.

Fourth, we should expect evil to escalate and evil men to multiply (13-15). The Bible leaves no wiggle-room plainly warning us that circumstances in this world we live in will get worse, not better as "evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse." That truth cuts cross-grain with the unbiblical views being spread abroad by intellectuals and movers-and-shakers of our world. Somehow, the belief that increased learning and prosperity will lead to people becoming better people and the times becoming more peaceful times seems to have people in a trance. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So, how does the Bible advise God's people to respond to the escalation of evil as they wait for the return of Christ? We should go back to the Bible and go deeper in the Bible. Paul advised us to work on becoming stronger in the faith, more convinced of what we know about Christ, and more knowledgeable of the Bible. In other words, while the world gets more evil, Christians are to get wiser in the word of God.

And finally, with all of these last-day realities taking place before our eyes, we should be eagerly allowing Bible truth to teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us to be men and women of God who are equipped and actively engaged in every good work of God. Remember this: the sinful, evil, lost world in which we live is on a collision-course with hell. However, right in the midst of this terrible world the kingdom of God is growing larger one saved-soul at a time and growing richer one good-work at a time as God's people go forth in Holy Spirit power. When we obey our Lord's Great Commandment to love God with all our being and our neighbors as ourselves and when we pursue our Lord's Great Commission to go into all the world making disciples of Christ who in turn make disciples of Christ, we are, in fact, facing these terrible end times exactly the way God wants us to as we wait for the soon-coming Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, I'm afraid that I have not always faced these last days with spiritual eyes and ears. Forgive me for failing to take full advantage of the availability of your words through having a Bible in hand, a church to attend, the preaching of your Word to hear, and the opportunities to minister and serve. I commit today to be a faithful follower of Christ, to live and serve you wholeheartedly, and to get better prepared to face these terrible times in these last days while I wait on the return of my Lord Jesus. May you always find me faithful and attentive to your Word. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Transforming Power of Forgiveness

"You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you." Psalm 86:5

Notice that the psalmist included forgiving, good, and love in the same sentence describing God. Might that suggest that, as these terms describe God, they should also describe his people? To be a forgiving person is both good and loving; when we lovingly forgive, we are exemplifying goodness; if we extend love to others through forgiveness, we are modeling God's goodness. Here are a few more Bible truths on forgiveness for us to remember and model in our daily lives:
  • Forgiving others is not equal to condoning sinful behavior. Often we hold back forgiveness because we're afraid our offender might view it as us going along with their bad choices and wrong behavior. This is a subtle, satanic tactic meant to keep us withholding forgiveness, and our eternal enemy has managed to use it to destroy many families and relationships. God never condones our sinful behavior, yet he forgives us: "O LORD our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds" (Psalm 99:8).
  • True forgiveness places the memory of the offense in the ashes of forgetfulness. How many times do we refuse to forgive because we refuse to forget? We excuse our sinful unforgiveness saying we just can't forget, but the truth is we simply refuse to forget. As a result, people walk around, sometimes for a lifetime, with a never-ending bullet-list of wrongs perpetrated against them and a heart scarred and hardened by bitterness, anger, resentment, and hate. What if God treated us this way? Thank heavens he doesn't: "If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared" (Psalm 130:3-4).
  • True forgiveness does not depend on the degree or level of the offense. Many times our own sinful nature will convince us that we could have forgiven a person had the wrong we suffered not been so bad and painful. This course of thinking is also from Satan to keep us bound up in the chains of unforgiveness. On the cross, Jesus modeled for us that we are to forgive the smallest and the greatest wrongs committed against us. Hanging on the cross with a bleeding, dying body riddled with horrific wounds and nails in his hands and feet, "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing'" (Luke 23:34).
  • Our forgiveness of others is the prerequisite of God's forgiveness of us. How hypocritical it is for us to pray asking God to forgive us our wrongs against him, when we refuse to forgive others their wrongs against us. The shame that truth brings to our hearts should be enough to cause us to alter our ways. As Jesus so clearly put it, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15).
  • God commands us to forgive others. We who call ourselves Christians through faith and surrender to the Lordship of Christ Jesus have no choice but to forgive others, if we desire to stay in good fellowship with our heavenly Father. We can all attest to how broken our human relationships get from unforgiveness. How much more is our relationship with God broken from the sin of unforgiveness? Let's write it down big and plain: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).
So, let me ask you: does your forgiveness really count? Old Joe was dying. For years he'd been mad at his childhood friend Bill. Wanting to straighten things out, he asked his friend to come see him. "Bill," Joe began, "I don't want to face God with all this bad blood between us." Then very reluctantly and with great effort, Joe apologized for things he'd said and done and assured Bill he forgave him for his offenses. Everything seemed fine until Bill turned to leave. As he reached the door, Joe called out to him, "But remember, if I get better, this doesn't count" (Roy B. Zuck, The Speaker's Quote Book, 154).

Friend, don't let your forgiveness be like that. If it doesn't count on earth, it won't count in heaven. As the early church father, Augustine, put it: "If you are suffering from a bad man's injustice, forgive him lest there be two bad men" (Zuck, 155).

Forgiveness: love it, live it, loose it!

Prayer: Father in heaven, forgive me for the my sin of refusing to forgive others. Pierce my soul leaving the trail of conviction left by your truth concerning real forgiveness. By your grace and your molding hands of love, make me the forgiving person I should be as a follower of your Son, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I pray in the strong name of Jesus, Amen.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Spiritual Confusion

"I can't get up and give you anything" (Luke 11:7).

In the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow and the crew found a key-- well not exactly-- it was a drawing of a key. Trying to figure out what to do next led to utter confusion. (watch this video).

Have you ever experienced confusion in your walk with Jesus Christ? You know what I mean: you're heart has been set on being faithful to your Lord and out of nowhere - wham! - circumstances shifted, and all of a sudden confusion set in. Why is this happening? What is going on? Why me? Why won't things work out? Woa, I didn't see that coming! A million "what ifs" flood into your mind and hang around like storm waters that will not subside or drain away. You prayed but it was like heaven was silent, God was in bed, and he wasn't getting up and giving any answers.

You've tried to convince yourself that what's happening is somebody else's fault. It's not working. You've tried to spiritualize the situation and convince yourself that you're not confused. It's not working. You've performed an extensive self-evaluation. Have I been worshiping? Check. Have I been studying my Bible? Check. Have I been praying? Check. Have I been sharing my faith with others? Check. Have I been serving through my church? Check. Have I been fellowshiping with other believers? Check. You got through with your checklist and realized that as faithful as you've tried to be, there's always room for improvement.

So, you promised God that you would step-up your commitment level a notch- because you love Jesus and you really do want to serve him well. You felt better for a while but before the next Sunday you realized that confusion was still clinging to you like a sticky vine, and if anything, it got worse. Like you, I've been there. My gut-feeling is that times and seasons of spiritual confusion will be a part of our spiritual journey until our Lord takes us home to heaven. We're in good company though, Jesus' disciples spent a good deal of times confused about where Jesus was taking them, what they were learning, how they were to apply what Jesus was teaching them, and why they had to do this or that.

On one occasion, Jesus took his disciples to Peter's house where Peter's mother-in-law was sick with fever (Matthew 8:14ff). He healed her. When evening came, the house was suddenly surrounded by sick and demon-possessed people looking for healing. Jesus obliged them and healed many. The crowd kept growing. All of a sudden, Jesus got in a boat, called his disciples, and told them they were going to the other side of the lake. They must have thought: for what? What about all these sick people you haven't healed? Why are we leaving?

Then on the way over in the wee hours of the morning, a furious storm swept over the boat that scared the disciples to death (Matthew 8:23ff). How confused do you suppose they were? A father brought his demon-possessed son to the disciples and begged them to heal him, but they could not do it. After Jesus healed the boy, his disciples got a quiet moment with Jesus and asked, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" (Mark 9:28). How confused do you suppose they were?

After the Jewish leadership stoned Stephen to death, that very same day "a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). While those Christians were running for their lives, don't you wonder how confused they were about what was taking place? When John saw Herod kill James, his brother (and apostle), and then arrest Peter (Acts 12:1ff), don't you wonder how confused he was? All the times that Paul was stripped, beaten, and thrown in jail for telling others about Jesus, do you suppose confusion ever set in?

Oswald Chambers said that times of spiritual confusion can be God using circumstances to take us in directions that we temporarily don't understand in order to lead us to the understanding of what he wants for us and from us. Jesus' parable about a needy man knocking on a neighbor's door at midnight (Luke 11:5-13) teaches us something about surviving spiritual confusion long enough to come away with a better understanding of God and ourselves.

The disciples prompted Jesus with the request for him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). He shared what we've come to call the Lord's Prayer with them and followed with a story about a man whose friend arrived at a most inopportune time, midnight. Apparently, the man did not have enough bread to offer his late-arriving guest a meal, so he went next door to ask his neighbor for some food. When the man knocked on the neighbor's door, he was told that it was late, his family was in the bed, the lights were off, the door was locked, he had nothing to give him, and to just go away.
Jesus told his disciples that even if friendship were not enough to make the neighbor get out of bed and help his needy friend, he would certainly get up if the man would be persistent and not give up. Then Jesus said, "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened" (Luke 11:9-10).
Finally, Jesus ends with an illustration about a good father who always has the best intentions toward his needy son and gives him good gifts. Our Lord teaches us two insights to help us navigate the rough waters of spiritual confusion:

First, God's friendship toward us might sometimes seem unfriendly. Hearing his neighbor say "go away" must have sounded and felt very unfriendly. The friend must have been confused at his neighbor's actions, if only for a minute. Sometimes we treat God the same way thinking that if God is really our friend he would give us this or that, never allow us to suffer, respond immediately to our prayers. However, what we experience is exactly the opposite: we don't always get what we want, sometimes we experience suffering, and answers to prayer rarely come as quickly as we want them to. Does this mean God is unfriendly? Never.
When the neighbor said "no", it raised the intensity of his friend's pursuit. In other words, the pace of his chase increased to haste! Look what happened when he increased his asking, elevated his seeking, and amplified his knocking-- the neighbor got up and gave him what he asked for. If all a child is ever told is "yes", he will grow up to be a spoiled brat. On the other hand, if the child is always told "no", he will grow up to be selfish, angry and mean. The answer is: to have a well-rounded personality and disposition there are times when a child must be told "yes" and other times "no." Sometimes as parents, we have to withhold things from our children to teach them life-lessons, shape their hearts to selfless rather than selfish, and point their lives toward the greater good.
God works in our confusing circumstances in a similar way. Having to endure painful, stressful, hurtful circumstances may make God seem to us like an unkind friend. But he is not unkind. Consider Peter's advice to persecuted, confused Christians scattered all over the world of the first century: "You may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that our faith-- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:6-8). See, Jesus really is "our friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24)."

Second, God's fatherhood over us might sometimes seem unloving. Living in the 21st Century may be a disadvantage to us trying to capture the impact of this 1st Century moment. There were no Wal Marts, Double Quicks, or grocery stores open 24/7 in the 1st Century. Being "neighborly" was a way of life. When a person needed sugar, flour, water, or a meal, any of them was as close as their nearest neighbor. So, it really would have appeared to be unloving when the neighbor in this parable told his friend to "go away."
One of the most repeated grievances that people have for not accepting Christ as Lord and Savior is they really cannot fathom how, as they put it, a loving God could allow suffering in the world. Children have accused parents of not loving them when they are disciplined. Does spanking a child, grounding a child, or taking away the tv, computer, and cell phone for a period of time necessarily mean that parents don't love their children? No. According to Proverbs 13:24, "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him."
The point is simply that sometimes what might seem to be unloving is actually God loving us enough to teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us in righteousness so that we will be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Psalmist said, "All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant. . . . The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made" (Psalm 25:10; 145:13).
God's desire is that our minds be transformed to reflect his thoughts and values; that our actions display his ways; that we be conformed to the image of Christ. For a potter to make a usable plate or bowl from clay, he must pull, squeeze, and stretch the clay. For a metal worker to make a usable sword, he must heat the metal with fire, strike it, and bend it. If the clay and the metal had feelings and could speak, they would both say that becoming something usable hurts and is almost always uncomfortable. So it is with us as God makes us usable for his glory.

Oswald Chambers also said, "There seems to be a cloud on the friendship of the heart, and often even love itself has to wait in pain and tears for the blessing of fuller fellowship and oneness." None of us enjoys trouble, stress, hardship, and confusion; yet, some of us have discovered that each can bring us closer to our Heavenly Father. Listen to Jesus promise to his disciples: "For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened" (Luke 11:10). God just wants the pace of our chase to increase to haste- he wants us to pursue him and his plans for us with all we've got.
God is a good father who always has what is good for us in mind. That's why if we ask him for a fish, he won't give us a snake. If we ask him for an egg, he won't give us a scorpion. If we, as parents, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more does God? So then, in our times and seasons of spiritual confusion, if we will keep asking, seeking, and knocking, sooner or later God will bring clarity to our circumstances and help us understand everything he allows to happen in our lives.
Bro. Jack

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Personal Letter From God to Us

"Tell me so that I may believe in him" (John 9:36).

One day Jesus was walking with his disciples. They ran across a man who had been blind since birth. After teaching them that God's life and power is to be displayed in all people regardless of physical limitations, Jesus "spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes." He then told the man to "go" and "wash (his eyes) in th Pool of Siloam." When the man obeyed Jesus, suddenly he could see. The Pharisees harassed the man and even barred him from ever setting foot in the Jewish assembly again. When Jesus heard what happened, he went to find the man. Here's how the exchange went from John 9:35-38:

Jesus asked him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
"Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him."
Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you."
Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.

Isn't it so common how we want to have the facts explained to us before we will believe anything. Certainly, this is an incentive for us who have believed in Christ to share him with those who haven't. Yet, there is something more that is intriguing about the man's request: "Tell me so that I may believe in him." Is it possible that Christians today need to hear Jesus tell them some things so that they will believe him in the everyday moments and circumstances of life? Sure, the Bible is available to be read; however, how many people in the church really honestly read God's promises in the Bible as God's love letter to them?

In a book entitled Pastors at Greater Risk by H. B. London Jr. and Neil B. Wiseman, the authors interviewed some pastor's wives on the subject of living under the constant pressure of feeling like they have to please everybody and not let anyone down. One of the wives said her strategy was taking the promises of God and reading them like a love letter from him to her. This prompted me to add to her material and try to imagine a letter God might write to me. I share it with you because the letter is not just to me, but to all of us who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Read and enjoy.

A Personal Letter from God to Us: (Christian, write your name in the blank)

Dear ___________________,

Nothing is impossible for Me. I’m able to do immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine. In Me all things were created in heaven and on Earth, visible and invisible, thrones, powers, rulers, authorities. All things were created by Me and I am before all things. And in Me all things hold together, even you. Mine is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor. I am exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from Me and in My hands are strength and power to exalt. Trust Me. Nothing on Earth is My equal. It is not by your might. It is not by your power, but by My Spirit.

I know when you sit down and when you rise. I perceive your thoughts from afar. I’m familiar with all your ways. Before a word is on your tongue, I know it completely. You cannot flee from My presence. If you go up to the heavens, I am there. If you make your bed in the depths, I am there. If you rise on the wings of the dawn, if you settle on the far side of the sea, even there My right hand will guide you. My right hand will hold you fast. Even darkness is as light to Me. I stretch out the heavens like a canopy and spread them out like a tent to dwell in.

I measure the waters of the earth in the hollow of My hand and with the breath of My hand, I mark out the heavens. I’m the creator, the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. I’m the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. I’m immortal and I dwell in unapproachable light. Yet, I tell you, approach My throne of grace with confidence so that you might receive mercy and grace to help you in your times of need.

Remember that you live in a fallen world. When the world persecutes you because of Me, I will bless you. At times, your sin and the sins of others will bring pain and suffering into your life. Even though it breaks my heart, wrong choices by you and others may cause you to lose your family and friends, but remember, I will never leave you nor forsake you. Always keep this in mind: I am the Master of restoration; whatever you lose, I can restore if all are willing. I will work all things for your good if you will love Me and pursue My calling on your life.

So, call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. I will have mercy on you according to My unfailing love. I will blot out all your transgressions according to my great compassion. I will wash away all your iniquity and cleanse you from your sin. I will teach you wisdom in the inmost place. I will create in you a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within you. I will restore the joy of your salvation. I will sustain you, and I will make you strong.

Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear– for you belong to Me. Look at the birds of the air, and know that I feed them. Look at the lilies of the field, and realize that I dress them in splendor. You are more valuable to me than the birds and flowers I’ve made. Your life is more important than food, and your body is more important than clothes. Whatever you do, do it for My glory. Lead a quiet life, mind your own business, and work with your hands so that your daily life wins the respect of others. Chase after Me with all of your being, desire My kingdom, live according to My righteousness, and I will take care of your every need. Do not worry about tomorrow today. Remember, I am the same yesterday, today, and forever.

I’m telling you the truth, if you keep My word, you will never see death. I’ve prepared a place for you. One day soon I will come get you and bring you to where I am because I want you to be with Me in eternity. Until then, I promise to be with you and in you.



Monday, January 25, 2010

Open Doors for Sharing Christ

"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should" (Colossians 4:2-4).

We might well refer to prayer as one of the laws of the universe. Just as God allowed men to discover his laws of gravity and motion, he wants people to discover his laws concerning prayer. Strangely, prayer is denied by some, ignored by others, and neglected by many. However, its treatment does not changed the irrefutable fact that God works in response to prayer. The Psalmist recorded God saying, "He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him" (Psalm 91:15). God said to Jeremiah, "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3). Consider Jesus' instructions regarding prayer: "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer" (Matthew 21:22); "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you" (John 15:7).

One of our particular great privileges is to pray for doors to open for us and others to minister. The apostle Paul was in prison in Rome sometime around A.D. 60 when he wrote to the church in Colosse requesting prayer for opportunities to share Christ. He fully expected to get out of prison and return to his work of evangelism and church planting. Furthermore, he knew that the success of that future work depended on God providing the opportunities. So, what did he do in anticipation of returning to ministry? He enlisted God's people to pray on his behalf that God would make things happen. Paul could have prayed for his release from prison, more comfortable living conditions, or any number of things. Yet, he prayed for open doors for sharing Christ in the future. What does this tell us about the importance of praying that God would give us and others opportunities to share Christ with people?

If we want the blessing of God upon our lives and ministries and the gospel to be spread with success, we must pray for God to open doors for us and others. We must become mighty prayer warriors. Watch the following video that illustrates the power of prayer in evangelism and church planting.