"Go and make disciples…and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt 28:19-20)

Devotional

What will you feed?

Today is the first day of a new year, and I have been considering my goals for myself for this year. Who do I want to be at the end of this year? What do I want to accomplish this year? I know I need to set goals for myself, so that I can be working towards becoming more than I am now. If we do not set goals for ourselves, then nothing is what we do and nothing is what we accomplish. Many people will set out to lose weight or commit to working out on a regular basis and improving their overall physical health. In fact, this is probably the most commonly set “resolution” this time of year. The physical body is important, and we all should take better care of ourselves, but what other things should one consider?

Imagine for a moment that you set out on a journey to become a terrible husband or father this year. Does that sound strange to you? No man would choose such a goal for himself, would he? Like it or not, we all choose this goal and others like it when we are not intentional about our spiritual growth.

Whatever you feed will live, and whatever you starve will die. If you are not reading and studying God’s Word and striving to become more like Christ on a regular basis, then you are starving your soul and feeding your carnal nature. There is no middle ground, here, guys. You feed either one or the other at any given time.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

The concept of this verse is that you cannot serve God while you are serving yourself (or that which is in opposition to God). If you are not intentionally putting in the effort to become better than you are right now, then you are sliding down that slope of spiritual growth towards carnality. There is no standing still in spiritual growth – one moves either toward God or away from Him.  Therefore, the question for you is this: “What are you doing, right now, to become more than you are?”

Maybe you need to set some goals or make some changes in your life. Whatever the case may be for you, nothing changes when you change nothing. Be careful, men, what you feed this year, whether your own desires or the will of God. One must grow and the other must diminish. Consider the words of Paul as a guide for you as you set your goals for the coming year:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)


A Biblical Response to Irritating People

Do you know people that irritate you? Do you have some friends or family members that you find annoying? No, these are not trick questions, just honest ones. The Holy Spirit wrote the Bible to help you deal with irritating, annoying people. And, as always, God’s answers are not our answers.

The church in Philippi was having some people problems. So, Paul wrote a letter to address their concerns. There is much for us to consider in Philippians about relationships. But, I just want to focus on one point today.

God wants you to consider the irritating, annoying people in your life as being more significant, more important than you are.  Now, obeying God’s command to do this will not, necessarily, make these individuals less irritating. I can hear someone saying, “Oh great! I obey God, but I am still stuck with the irritation.”

Let me put this in context. Let’s say the president of the company you work for is an irritating individual. In addition let’s say that one of the maintenance crew is also irritating. Is there a difference in the way you respond to these individuals?You might well be grumpy towards the maintenance worker, but would you also be grumpy towards the company president? The response is no, I wouldn’t be grumpy with company president. Why?  “Well, isn’t obvious, he is the one who hires and fires. He may be irritating, but he is more significant.”

Now you understand the strength of Paul’s argument, “Consider others more significant than yourselves.” You wouldn’t fuss at the company president, but at the maintenance worker, why not!

You see, when you interact with other people and they are bothersome, you forget that you are a sinner. If you focus just on the irritations of others, you forget how irritating you might be to them. 

Trust God and see what happens when you begin to treat that irritating, annoying person in your life as being more significant than yourself. They may or may not change, but your love for God definitely will!

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus… Philippians 2:3-5a

Originally posted by : Jay Younts
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Jay Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is the author of Everyday Talk and other materials on parenting. He has been teaching and speaking on parenting issues for 30 years. Jay and his wife, Ruth, live in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He serves as a ruling elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and Ruth have five adult children


Insignificant Obedience?

Cool weather, the briskness of morning, a chill in the air, fall is here; and with it a change in the seasons. At the changing of every season, I am reminded of how God’s creation, even after “the fall” functions much in the same way as it did when He first created it. Each year the leaves change, the nights grow longer and all that is green fades off to sleep until Spring. What if Creation did not obey the Creator? What if the world around us rebelled in much the same way we do. Imagine the chaos we would live in If it did [not that it could].

Genesis 8:22 says: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

Creation will faithfully serve the Creator without question, without complaining, and without ceasing. Can you see the value of the obedience of Creation in the mundane, uninteresting, and common, every-day things? We depend on Creation doing “its job” without fail. We set our calendars, make our plans, plant our fields, and know when to harvest- all based on the seasons. Don’t you see just how much depends on being faithful in the “small things?” My pastor spoke recently about  how important this is! Imagine what history would have been like if David had disobeyed Jesse and refused to take that bread and cheese to his brothers in the camp-the very day that God had ordained and purposed for David to slay Goliath!  One small, seemingly insignificant act of obedience was the key to great victory and fulfillment of destiny in David’s life. What blessings are you forfeiting today? Who are you letting down today?  What God-ordained destiny are you forsaking today, because you will not obey, in the mundane?

And Samuel said,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams
.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge [Proverbs 1:7a], to obey is better than sacrifice [1 Samuel 15:22b]; therefore, to know the Lord is to love the Lord; to love the Lord is to serve the Lord; to serve the Lord is to obey the Lord; to obey the Lord is Wisdom. Wisdom is the faithful, obedient application of all we know of God to the will of God, motivated by our love for Him.

“Jesus answered him, If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)

Get up! Get out there, and do those mundane, boring things God has called you to do!  Today’s battles and today’s service prepare us for tomorrow’s challenges and makes us ready to receive and fulfill our God-given, God-ordained destinies! 

 

Rise up, Men of God, and let’s be “All that we can be”  for the glory of God!

To rant or not to rant…that is the question!

In the age we live in, we are surrounded by and inundated with various types of technology.   It seems as though almost everyone (under a certain age) is involved in social media, gadgets, smartphones, texting, status updates, and “tweeting” most everything that happens to them every day.  Along with this unbridled dispensation of personal experiences and thoughts comes many opinions and various points of view.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, seems to have something to say nowadays.  My grandmother always told me that opinions are much like armpits:  “everyone has them, and sometimes they stink!”

I think we, as a society, we may have lost sight of the true meaning of our “freedom of speech.”  We should always stand for what is right, just and Biblically correct, and defend those things with all our might.  In, and of itself, there is nothing wrong with expressing how you feel, or sharing experiences.  However, just because we have the “right” to say whatever we want, doesn’t mean that we should say everything we think, or that we should always voice our opinion.  The problem is that many of us have completely forgotten how to “filter” these things and choose what should and should not be said. 

In the Book of James, we read that the tongue can be used for both good and evil, that it holds great power for either encouragement or destruction and that, like a spark that births the fire that consumes a great forest, our words can start a chain-reaction that can bring great devastation in the lives of others.  I believe in using the internet, social media, and any format available to spread the Gospel, to encourage other brothers and sisters in Christ, and to speak life into the lives of other people.  With that being said, I believe we all should think a little more before we speak, consider the weight of what we say and choose our words wisely.  I fear that many Christians care more about being heard than they do about being “right.”  If we are not careful, we may teach the generation behind us that “speaking your mind” is more important that “speaking the truth.” 

“A GENERATION OF FOOLS DOES NOT RAISE UP SAGES…BUT EVEN GREATER FOOLS.” –Hevyn Allen

(http://doubleeblessedmom.com/blog-feed/5-things-before-posting-on-social-media/)

The more mindful we are of what we say, the more likely we will be to use our words to uplift, to encourage, and the benefit those around us.  I challenge us all to spend more time in the Word, and in prayer, so that we will have the wisdom to “speak the truth in love” as those opportunities arise.

“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (Ephesians 4:15)

 

  Consider the words of Paul in the following quote from 1 Corinthians, chapter 10:

23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

and:

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

Notice that Paul said that he did what he did so that “they might be saved.”  When we speak to others, when we “tweet” our update our Facebook status, may we all be mindful of the power that our words have, but most importantly, let us strive to conduct ourselves in a manner that brings glory to God, that encourages others, and that gives those who are lost a reason and the desire to come to know the God we serve!  As Christians, we have a responsibility and a calling to mingle our thoughts, our speech, and our lives with God’s Word.  As the Psalmist so eloquently put it:

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”  Psalm 19:14


“Pay Attention!”

Ever wonder just how many opportunities we either squander, ignore, or just miss to share our faith or encourage others?  I came across this story about John Wesley and just had to share it:

Wesley And The Robber
As John Wesley rode across Hounslow Heath late one night, singing a favorite hymn, he was startled by a fierce voice shouting, “Halt,” while a firm hand seized the horse’s bridle. Then the man demanded, “Your money or your life.”
Wesley obediently emptied his pockets of the few coins they contained and invited the robber to examine his saddlebags which were filled with books. Disappointed at the result, the robber was turning away when Mr. Wesley cried, “Stop! I have something more to give you.”
The robber, wondering at this strange call, turned back. Then Mr. Wesley, bending down toward him, said in solemn tones, “My friend, you may live to regret this sort of a life in which you are engaged. If you ever do, I beseech you to remember this, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.””
The robber hurried silently away, and the man of God rode along, praying in his heart that the word spoken might be fixed in the robber’s conscience.
Years later, at the close of a Sunday evening service, the people streamed from the large building with many lingering around the doors to see the aged preacher, who was John Wesley.
A stranger stepped forward and earnestly begged to speak with Mr. Wesley. What a surprise to find that this was the robber of Hounslow Heath, now a well-to-do tradesman in the city, but better still, a child of God! The words spoken that night long ago had been used of God in his conversion.
Raising the hand of Mr. Wesley to his lips, he affectionately kissed it and said in tones of deep emotion, “To you, dear sir, I owe it all.”
“Nay, nay, my friend,” replied Mr. Wesley softly, “not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ which cleanseth us from all sin.”

____________________________________________________________
Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc..

 

 

Often, the choices we make in our every day lives affect more than we realize.  For example, what if John Wesley reacted to the robber in a different way?  What if he responded in anger, or even forcibly resisted the robber [like many of us would have] ?  Think of the implications for his life, and for that of the robber’s that would have had!  This story reinforces that fact that God is fully in control of everything, that He endlessly orchestrates our lives such that we are used by Him to achieve His purposes [Romans 8:28], and that our actions [and our sins] do not only affect us, but those around us.  In this example, we see two truths from God’s Word being lived out.  The first, from the book of James:

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

 

Wesley listened to the urging of the Holy Spirit, and obeyed the will of God when he called out to the robber the second time.  The second truth we see comes from the writings of the prophet Isaiah:

“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
(Isaiah 55:11)

God had a plan when He allowed Wesley and the robber to meet.  He intended for this encounter to be the one thing that truly brought about change in the robber’s heart.  We all have that one event, experience, etc. which brings us to the point wherein we realize that we need a Savior!  May we all, each day, look for and take advantage of any and all opportunities to spread the Gospel, to encourage one another, to teach one another, and speak the truth [God’s Word] in love.  PAY ATTENTION!!  -your life or someone else’s may be “hanging in the balance”!


Living Without God

“People who live without God face five dangers. It stifles the prayer life. It makes them a friend of the world and an enemy of God. They neglect God’s will in their lives. It produces insult and slander of fellow believers. It produces people who plan their lives without seeking God.” –T.D. Lea, Holman New Testament Commentary, 1999.

James chapter 4 deals with this topic.  The fact that verse 1 uses the plural  “quarrels and fights” tells us that this was an ongoing problem for those to whom he was writing.  But, isn’t this an ongoing problem for all of us?  Do we not all struggle with our own fleshly desires and passions daily?  Any personal goal that contributes to one’s own accomplishments rather than to God’s will or plan for one’s life can be listed among these “evil desires” to which James refers.  Examples of this include, but are not limited to: money, reputation, success, and possessions. 

At the root of the issues to which James addresses is what is today known as the philosophy of hedonism.  In my reading, I have come across many definitions for “hedonism,” so I will offer a very basic one for our purposes here:

“Hedonism is the belief that the chief purpose of living is to satisfy self, above everything and everyone else.” 

In James 4:1, the Greek word used for “desires” is the same that is related in the history of its meaning to the English word “hedonism.”  Jesus used the same word in Luke 8:14 to describe individuals who were “choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures…and fail to mature.” 

These desires are remnants of our former nature, before we were saved, but they constantly attempt to surface and take control of our lives.  Romans 7:14-15 speaks to this:

 

14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

These desires will remain with us while we are here, on earth.  As Christians, it is our duty to:

“fight the good fight of faith” [1 Timothy 6:12]

by:

“taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” [2 Cor. 10:5]

and remember that:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Cor. 10:13]


The Power of Encouragement

We know from both James and Proverbs that we either bless or curse others with our tongues.

21 The tongue can bring death or life;
those who love to talk will reap the consequences. (Proverbs 18:21)

26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. (James 1:26)

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be “nice” or to encourage people that we either don’t know well or are strangers to us?  It’s almost effortless to smile at someone in passing, or speak a kind word to someone you’re standing in line with.  However, for some reason, we have more difficulty at times (at least I do) doing those same things with the people we know well and with our family.  It’s no harder to encourage our children or our spouses than it is a stranger, but we seem to be lacking when it comes to showing “kindness” on a regular basis to our family members.  In fact, we may find it to be true that we encourage those who we are closest to less than total strangers!  (It should not be like this).

Our family may be starving for our attention or an encouraging word from us…and they deserve our best “kind” words and “encouragement” but they too often only get our leftovers and our crumbs of “kindness.”  Often it is not what we say to our families, but what we don’t say.  Do we seem distant to them because we are consumed with ourselves or our priorities and responsibilities?  If we, as men, become too focused on what we need or want to accomplish in life (or just on a daily basis) we may be sending the wrong message to our family that we are “too busy” for them or we have “more important” things to do than speak life and encouragement into their lives.  Are we telling those we love the most that they are not important by the sheer fact that we do not routinely assure them that they are?

There is a war raging to stop us from encouraging others in our life.  Encouragement is the “life’s blood” of the spiritual lives of those around us.  Without encouragement, our faith may dwindle or die a slow and painful death due to the lack of others “cheering you on” in the faith.  Look at what Hebrews 3:12-13 says:

12 Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters.[a] Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13 You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.

Notice that verse 13 says that we should warn each other every day…in other words: we need constant and routine encouragement from others in the faith.

If we are not doing this on a regular basis to those around us, then we need to do two things:

1.  Figure out what is going on in your life to produce a critical, nitpicking spirit, and then allow God to heal that critical spirit in you.

**by the way…nitpicking is the opposite of encouragement!

2.  Give away the same encouragement that God has given you.

 

Encouragement is one of the most powerful weapons in our arsenal, and it has the following effects on the lives of others:

 

1.  It can reduce pressure of stress in others’ lives when you encourage them

 

2.  It can dampen the power of temptation in others’ lives when you encourage them

 

3.  It has the power to produce spiritual endurance in those who we encourage.

(ie: going through a tough time, and someone comes along and tells you how God helped them through a similar situation)

 

Every man…..craves encouragement…but we get very little of it

Every man……needs encouragement, but not every man gets it

 

Make it a point this week to hold your tongue and choose to build someone up!


Who’s in Charge around here?

When we hear something on the news or over the radio about a disturbing or terrible event or breaking development, we often (if just for a moment) experience a sense of panic.  While a heightened sense of awareness in times of distress or tragedy is normal and sometimes beneficial, allowing that to spiral downward into despair or worry is harmful to our well-being, and spiritually wrong.

The Word tells us to: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7), to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, anddo not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5).  It also says things like, “for God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7).

These are but a handful of Scriptures that teach that God is in control, and the Bible is full of other such passages that encourage us to trust God.  So, why do we so quickly and so readily worry?  Many would say that it is just “human nature” to worry and that it is just an extension of the “fight or flight” response of our sympathetic nervous system to a perceived attack or threat to our survival.  However, I believe that there is a much deeper and spiritual context to be explored.

Our enemy, the devil, wants us to doubt God.  He wants us to doubt His promises and forget about His faithfulness.  When we start to wonder whether or not God can take care of us, then we begin to focus more on ourselves as the source of our help, and not our God.

“My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2)

In the world we live in, and the times as they are, we must remember…and be reminded of what we read in 1 Samuel 2:

(1 Samuel 2:6-9)

6The Lord gives both death and life; he brings some down to the grave but raises others up.

7The Lord makes some poor and others rich; he brings some down and lifts others up.

8He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.

He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honor.

For all the earth is the Lord’s, and he has set the world in order.

9“He will protect his faithful ones, but the wicked will disappear in darkness.

No one will succeed by strength alone.

 

In all of our lives, and in every situation we face, may we always remember and take comfort in these words from God’s Word: (1 Samuel 2:8c)

 

FOR ALL THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S

AND HE HAS SET THE WORLD IN ORDER


Don’t Stop Doing What You Know is Right!

Scripture references: 1 Samuel 2:12, 17,25, 3:18… Proverbs 22:6, Galatians 6:9

Eli’s sons are living  less-than-desirable lives, and they have thus far refused to heed their father’s warning to repent (2:25).  Eli was warned twice that destruction would come to his household because of the sins of his sons, but what we see is not the image of a father that continually beckons his sons to change-instead, Eli seems to just “give up” on his sons.  In 1Samuel 3:18, after hearing what the Lord said to Samuel about the impending doom of his household, Eli seems to “give up” because he says, “It is the Lord.  Let Him do what seems good to Him.” Instead of rising to the occasion to continue to try to “win” his sons to the Lord, Eli takes on a very passive role. 

Look at 1 Samuel 3:13:

13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” 

We see in this verse that the Lord Himself is “calling Eli on the carpet” and saying that Eli was not restraining his sons, thereby not fulfilling his Biblical role to shepherd his own. 

So, what’s the point

Do not give up!  Whether it is a child, another family member, or a friend that you are trying to lead to the Lord or train in the ways of the Lord [AND WE ALL SHOULD BE DOING ONE OF THESE ON AN ON-GOING BASIS!!], do not give up!  Proverbs 22:6 gives us the promise that if we do not give up on those whom we are responsible for to train in the fear and admonition of the Lord, then they will remain in His ways:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
[****see also Galatians 6:9]

Even when the situation looks bleak, and without hope, carry on, and trust that God will be faithful to you and to the promises He has provided to us all in His Word.  God’s love, flowing CONTINUALLY through us will draw them ever closer to the family of the redeemed!


Conduct Yourself with Honor

     Remember when Jesus stood before Pilot to be questioned?  What did He tell Pilot?  I find it interesting that Jesus said very little when being questioned.  You see this portrayed in movies as well.  When this scene comes us, often the actor portraying Jesus just has this solemn, strong-silent look on his face while Pilot asks him what should be done, what “crimes” is He guilty of, etc…

     So, as I’m reading today in 1 Peter 2 about how we are a chosen race, a royal priest hood and that we belong to God.  Our purpose, 1 Peter 2 tells us, is to proclaim the “excellencies of him who called you” and verse 11 specifically calls us to “abstain from the passions of the flesh.” 

                The key verse, for me, was verse 12:

”Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

A few things I want to point out:

1. Our conduct is to be honorable (Jesus’ conduct always was)

2. Others WILL speak evil against you…just give it time and it will happen (people spoke evil of Christ)

3.  If we have honorable behavior, others will notice and see that behavior (everyone saw Jesus behaving honorably)

Here’s the most important part:

4.  WHEN others see us behave honorably EVEN when we are wrongly accused or being spoken evil of, it is a TESTIMONY to others..it will amaze them…perhaps shock them.   They will then have to give God the credit for this behavior, because we all know that a person is not capable of such behavior in and of themselves.  Others will realize that NO one is THAT good unless God is in them.  God is glorified when we live like this.

     Jesus is our model of behavior and the goal we all shoot for, right?  He is our standard of excellence and our goal is to become more Christ-like, right?  What did HE do before His accusers?  How did HE treat those in authority?  Look at what he said in Mark 12:17 when He was talking about whether or not one should pay taxes:

Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.

     They MARVELED at him.  Why?  When you are this committed to the will of God and refuse to bend, even when questioned, people notice, there are amazed and many times they are shocked at such behavior.  Our human nature tell us that it’s “ok” to bend the rules and compromise what we believe in when it is convenient or profitable to us…but Jesus NEVER did.  And that is why HE is our example.

     IF we are truly to emulate Christ and become more like Him, we must do this in EVERY area of our lives, not just those that are convenient and easy.  We must dig, deep into the depths of our souls, and bear all of ourselves to Him to be forged into His likeness…even if this means that we must suffer or feel pain.  Wasn’t it Paul that said to live is Christ and to DIE is gain?   (Philippians 1:21)

     I leave you with this final passage from 1 Peter 2 to meditate on, and it is my hope that we all will never tire in our efforts to be more like Christ.

22He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.


Afraid to Live?

 

     We talked to our children recently about what they would do if a
tornado hit our house.  We showed them the safest place to be, how to sit
or lie down if necessary, and we briefly told them what could potentially
happen to us.  You would think that in a situation like that, they would
fear for their lives or at least be concerned over losing them.  Maybe
it’s because they’re still young and don’t really get the “death” thing yet,
but I was amazed at how they seemed to show no concern, no remorse for dying.
They just said, if we die…we’ll just be with Jesus…
And then it hit me…..this is what the Bible is talking about when it says, “out
of the mouth of babes….”  What would our life be like if we paid no more
attention to whether we live or die and just trust in the fact that when we
do…we will be with Jesus.  Would we take more risks and live
carelessly?  I don’t think so.  I believe that living like that would
enable us to do the things that God has called us to without any fear of losing
that which we think we possess.  Jesus said that we would not truly find
life until we lost it, and that He came so that we may live and have life more
abundantly.  I wonder sometimes if we fear the unknown because we think we
have something to lose, or is it because we have yet to truly live?

Luke 6:40 reads,

 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone
when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
 
 
     The verse does not say one will think
like their teacher, but that one would BE like their teacher.  This means that one will act like, think like, speak like, love like, respond like, care like, etc… Chirst.
Until we live like Christ, in everything we do and others see Him in all we do, then we are not finished with our training as disciples.  We mustpress on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). 
     I
know now, more than ever, that I have so very, very far to go to be like our
teacher, Christ.  I know my journey has only begun.  There is no depth, no height, no measure by which to measure
what can be discovered and learned about our Lord.  I look forward to what
He has yet to teach me, what I have yet to learn, and the joy that comes from
knowing Him more. 

We must be near Him to hear Him

 

Matthew
14:23 (ESV):
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on
the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,”
            To
hear the voice of the Lord…to know His will.
This is a desire shared by, I dare say, every individual who calls Jesus
their Savior.  How do we know what He
wants?  How do we know what it is that we
should do in this life?  Are we pleasing
Him by the way we live, act, speak, think, and treat others?  It is one thing to say that we want to please
the Lord, but as James reminds us, we must “be
doers of the Word, and not hearers only.”

            If
we, like Jesus, are not stealing away to find that time and place where we can
be alone with God, then there is absolutely NO WAY we can know the Father’s
will.  One can only know the Father’s
will by spending time Him.  Our lives are
so busy today, and time is always a precious commodity.  All of us have the same amount of time every
day.  Spending time with the Father is
not an issue of time, but an issue of choice.
We make time to do in our lives what we deem important.  So the question becomes, “Is the Father
important enough to us to spend time with each day?”  Jesus proved by His actions that he Father
was the most important person in His life.
Time after time, Jesus made conscious effort to remove Himself from the
crowd so He could draw near to the Father.
James 4:8 teaches us to “Draw near
to God and He will draw near to you.”

            If
we are to know the Fathers’ will and live in a way that is pleasing to Him, we
must spend time with Him.  No matter what
is going on in the world, no matter what problems we face, He is the solution.  Let us thank God for loving us as we are, and
for loving us enough not to leave us as we are.
He has chosen to lead us (through
our relationship with Him)
into a life of wholeness.

Psalm 23: 4-6

The following is the conclusion of my thoughts on the 23rd Psalm. We pick up where we left off last time with verse 4:

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

Even in your lowest of lows, in your deepest dispair, when it looks like all is lost, the Lord is telling us here that He is with us.  He walks with us in our darkest times and because of that, we should not be afraid.  Change will come, sadness will have its time in our lives, people will die, and we will be hurt, discouraged, and mistreated at times.  But God gives us comfort in knowing that He is ordering our steps, and He is going before us to make a way for us. 

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Like a shepherd uses his rod and staff to both chastise and protect his flock, so the Lord uses experiences, people, events, etc.. to guide us in the right path…and to correct us when we stray from Him. 

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. 

In the sight of those who seem to be against us, God will often bless us before their eyes.  Also, in the midst of a trial we can have peace, knowing that even in the battle you may currently be in, the Lord Himself will minister to you and provide your needs while He is waging war against your enemies.  Do not forget that the battle (all battles, spiritual and physical belong to the Lord.  He is our Champion..you cannont fight your battles for yourself and expect to be victorious…only He can bring the victory!)  Our Lord knows who we are and where we are and He will not forsake us.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
God will use our trials and tribulations to change us and grow us spiritually.  Our conflicts shape who we are.  Our response to difficult times reveals our character.  God works all things together for our good.  That does not mean that life will always be easy and without strife, but that no matter what we face: God is there.  He will use our worst experiences to mold us in His image.  He is forever preparing us to be His bride.  He is setting us apart and getting us ready to be with Him.  As we let Him do this in our lives, we begin to experience blessings that are indescribable and immeasurable.  Our cup ….overflows…

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever

David has come to the conclusion that he can trust God to do what He says He will do.  We will have our times of trouble, but you can be assured that the Lord will always bring into our lives only what will help us to grow in Him , to become more like Him, and things that will prepare us for His purpose for our lives.  Because God does not withhold any good thing from us…

[11 For the LORD God is our light and protector. He gives us grace and glory. No good thing will the LORD withhold from those who do what is right. Psalm 84:11 NLT]

 …we can be assured that our lives will be seasoned with goodness and blessings and we have the promise of an eternity in Heaven with our King. 


Thoughts on Psalm 23 …continued

Where would God take us, His children, in this life?  What kind of experiences will He allow us to have?  Does He truly do everything with our best interest in mind?  Consider this:


Would a shepherd take his sheep to a place where they could be attacked by wild animals?  Would he take them where there was no food or water?  Would he take them farther than their bodies would allow?  Would he take them where there is no shelter from the storm?  The answer is NO.  The sheep are more important to the shepherd than anything else.  His life is consumed with taking care of the sheep.  


2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.(Psalm 23:2-3)

God will work all things together for our good.  He loves us and wants nothing but what is best for us.  Does that mean that He wants us to go through life without any troubles or hardships?  NO.  But, God will take any situation in life that we face and (if we surrender to His will and let Him) he will make good come out of it.  What the devil means for harm, God will take and use for our good.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) 

Even in these two verses from the book of Psalms, it is extremely clear what God intends to do for us in this life.  He intends to nurture us, and to help us to grow in our faith (even if it means times of tribulation)

  • He gives us times of renewal to recover from our trials and ‘valley’ experiences.  (verse 2).
  • He heals our wounds and picks us up when we fall.  He teaches us when we fail and encourages us when we doubt.  The Lord will take us all down the paths we need to walk in order to increase our faith and make us more like Christ.  This means that  life will not always be easy, and sometimes we may suffer so that God can heal us and/or restore us so that He may receive the Glory. (verse3) 

  No matter what we face, our Lord is in the midst of it.  If life is easy right now, and without problems, then that is what you need right now and it is what is best for you at this time.  If life is difficult at this time, and seems to be full of problems…then that is what you need right now and it is what is best for you at this time….but, God is doing something for your good, even when it doesn’t look that way.


The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want

Psalm 23:  The Lord’s Prayer

verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”

So much can be said and has been said about this particular psalm.  This was in my reading today, and I want to share some of my thoughts:

The very first verse is David’s declaration of his faith in God.  It’s a simple statement, but not a simplistic one.  In just a few words, David manages to say something quite profound.  Think about everything that a shepherd is to his sheep.  A shepherd leads the sheep, watches over them, makes sure they are fed, have water, he makes sure they are safe.  He defends them if they are attacked.  He is always thinking of the needs of his sheep, and he does what is best for the sheep, not always what they want.  Just in saying that God is his shepherd, David is proclaiming that God is in control of his life and that he trusts Him to provide for him, defend him, feed him, provide for his needs, lead him, and do whatever is best for him.

In the second half of the verse, David is telling us that God is his all in all.   He has no other needs nor wants, because the Lord has provided everything for David and he is perfectly content.  No wonder God said that David was a man after His own heart.  How many people can you think of that spend their entire life searching for something they cannot find.  When we give everything of ourselves and our lives to God ,  we discover that everything we thought we were giving up becomes that which  we don’t even want anymore.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”

I pray that we all can arrive at the same conclusion that David did, and that we would all strive to live our lives with this in mind:

God is everything I need and want.  Apart from Him, there is nothing.


Trash or Treasure?

I bought a new pair of earphones the other day because my old ones stopped working.  I took the old ones and laid them in the seat of my truck and pretty much forgot about them.  Friday, on my way home from work, I reached down to pick up my new earphones, and i found the old ones.  I remember I kinda looked at them with disgust and tossed them forcefully into the floorboard.  For some reason I stopped and looked at them there and this is what came to mind:

I’m so glad that even when we stop working, or just quit doing the job we’re supposed to do that God doesn’t toss us to the side as garbage!  In the midst of my sin and in my lowest lows, He still loved me and wanted me.  Even when we willingly disobey, and walk away from God, He still pursues us and desires for us to be reconciled with Him.  It’s humbling to think that the same God that spoke the universe into existence and that has the power (and the right if He wanted to) to just speak it out of existence would still love me and want me no matter what I’ve done.  I really struggle with understanding how much God loves us.  Our pastor delivered a powerful message on this very subject today.  We were in Ephesians 3:

16That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;

 17That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

 18May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

 19And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

Our God is forever patient, forever good, forever faithful, forever seeking us.  No matter what we’ve done, who we’ve hurt, or how we’ve failed; God still sees us as His children, the apple of His eye, and he wants nothing more than a relationship with you and I.  He will not cast us down as trash; instead (IF WE LET HIM) He will fix what is broken and make us new again in Him.  Like the prodigal’s father, He is always watching afar off to see us when we appear on the horizon.  God is the great recycler.  He always takes what others see as trash, and turns it into treasure. 

You are your brother’s keeper!

Why is it that someone who knows what God wants them to do will willingly walk away and turn from Him?  I’ve got this friend that has told me that he was called by God into the ministry.  He started going to school for it and began taking classes and studying for his calling.  He had the full support of his church, pastor and family, but he just stopped.  He ran from it and he actually avoided me for a couple of months.  Recently, I asked him what happened and he opened up to me again.  He told me that as soon as he started following God’s will for his life that he came under more attack from the devil than he has ever faced before.  He said that it was just “too much” and he ran from God out of fear of losing his friends and having to ‘give up’ so much for the ministry.  It would be easy to just draw a conclusion here and say that he was just weak, or he didn’t really surrender to God, or that his faith was not strong enough….etc…

But I think the real reason he failed was that his church failed him.  No one was checking up on him on a regular basis.  His fire was choked out by all the weeds around him. 

How many of us know someone who is a brand new Christian, or just young in the faith?  Are you reaching out to that person on a regular basis to help them grow in the Lord?  Are you taking every opportunity to encourage them and remind them that tough times come, and to just hold on to Jesus?

If we are not reaching out to those people, and to each other on a regular basis, then we are failing each other.  We are all in this together, and we need to remember our shared goal and our shared Heavenly Father.  It is so easy to get so wrapped up in our own lives that we ‘forget’ to check in on our spiritual siblings.  I’m guilty of this myself.  How many times have I sat beside someone in church and never asked them if they need prayer for anything or sometimes just: “How are you?”  The older I get, the more I think that one of the devil’s favorite tools is getting us busy.  If we’re too busy, then we won’t have time to pray, read our bible, or spend time with our loved ones.  Keep in mind that we are in constant spiritual warfare, and just because you’re having a good day and walking strong in the Lord, doesn’t mean that the guy or gal sitting next to you is doing as well as you. 

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12 KJV)


How low can you go?

Chartres2Image by Tomasz1950 via Flickr

If anyone understands that God hears our prayers no matter where we are, it’s Jonah.

I love that the bible says that “from inside the fish Jonah prayed…”  I think this is such a testament to God’s unfailing devotion to us.  He knew exactly what fish Jonah was in and He knew exactly where that fish was and He was watching every move that fish made.  God did not allow the fish to destroy Jonah, only to “consume” him for a time.  Sometimes trials come our way and they can surely consume us while we are going through them.  Just don’t lose sight of the fact that our Father does not lose sight of us.
He is always watching our every move, and He knows where we are and what we are “in” at all times.  If God can hear the
prayers of one man in a fish in the vastness of the oceans, He will surely hear us when
we call out to Him. 

Jonah’s Prayer

Johah Chapter 2:

1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. 2 He said: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. 7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. 8 “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. 9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.” 10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

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What are we supposed to do?

“Bretheren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6: 1-2 KJV). 

One of the teachings of Christianity is that we should bear each other’s burdens.  We usually do a pretty good job of this.  When we hear prayer requests at church, many of us make sure to remember those people in our daily prayers.  Or when we hear of someone who lost a loved one, or is going through a financial crisis, or lost a job, etc… we are quick to go to God in prayer for their needs to be met.  I’m sure some of us even take pride in how well and/or how often we pray for other’s needs.

But, what happens when we hear about a brother or sister who had an affair?  Or what if we learn of someone getting a divorce; or find out that someone we know is admitting to being an alcoholic or drug addict?  What is our first reaction to such news?  Sadly, I’m pretty sure I can say our first thoughts are along the lines of : “can you believe that they did that to their spouse?”  or “I thought they were a better Christian than that.”  I’m sure you can think of some other things that could be said.  However, the bible teaches us we are to bear one another’s burdens, and gently help those who fall to rise again and resume their walk with God.

Here is an example of how we have to be careful so that we don’t fall ourselves:

      Do you remember a few years back when Michael English had an affair with a member of another band?  I think he was with the Gaither Vocal Band at the time and they were on tour with another Christian group.  Now remember, these were 2 groups of people who spent the majority of their time singing for God, praising God, and serving God.  The were trying to reach the lost, minister to peoples needs, and restore the fallen, etc…These weren’t just (as my grandma would say: heathens), they were people trying their best to live for God. 
     Why did this happen?  They let their guard down.  When we take our eyes off the Lord and start focusing too much on this life, we stand the risk of making the same or similar mistakes.  Especially in the times we live, we must be “on top of our game” spiritually speaking, and we need to keep “our eyes on the prize.”  Even those who we consider to be the best of us are still susceptible to falling if they lose sight of what is important!

 Galatians 1:2 says that we should bear each other’s burdens.  So when we hear of others who have fallen, we should react as though we have fallen.  If it was you who had fallen, I bet you’d be on your face before God and not just sitting back and saying: “what a shame” or “they had so much potential.”  Brothers and sisters please, we don’t have time to be judging each other or comparing how bad we think other’s sin is compared to our own.  We have to bind together as the body of Christ (as God intended all along) and lift up our fallen ones.  It is our job to reach out to them and help them to their feet.  If they fall more than once, we have to be patient with them and help them back up more than once. 
     Our God never leaves us nor forsakes us, He is ever patient and full of grace.  Why would He expect us to be any different in how we treat our brothers and sisters in the faith?  He told us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.  He gave us parables about the shepherd who left the (strong) 99 and went out to look for the (weak) 1 sheep.  Don’t forget about the lesson of the Prodigal son!  Our God is merciful and I don’t think it would be a stretch for us to assume that He intends for us to show that mercy to each other as often as needed! 

I leave you with this quote from Charles Conn:  “Let us mark well that we are responsible for one another, and all our loud protestations do not eliminate the fact that we are indeed our brother’s keeper.”


Why we walk away

Have you ever known anyone that got saved and was so on fire for God that you could hardly stand to be around them?  And then that same person some time later seemed to just act like nothing ever happened?  Or maybe you know someone who started serving in the church only to abandon their position shortly thereafter?   There are many reasons that we could offer for this.  I’m reading a book right now by Charles W. Conn titled: “Why Men Go Back” and it deals with this issue.  He gives 6 reasons that people “defect” from the faith, backslide, or absolutely abandon God and the church.  Reflect with me on these 6 reasons and please allow the Holy Spirit to search us and let us know if any of these are issues for us:

1.  Fear
     Perhaps some leave for fear of what their ‘friends’ might think, some for fear of all they think they have to give up to be a Christian.  Maybe its the the fear of the responsibility of having to live a Godly life as a testimony of our faith that drives people away.  Surely there are many more fears that could be listed here.

2.  Lack of Spiritual Depth
     Just like the parable of the seed that falls on rocky ground….some will find themselves in an environment that does not help them grow.  If you are a new Christian especially, you must be in a church with sound bible teaching and instruction so that you can flourish in the faith.

3.  Refusal to accept God’s doctrine
     Some people just don’t want to change the way they live.  Some people just make up a God to serve in that they “pick and choose” what to believe about God.  It’s all or nothing here.  You cannot add to or take away from what God is.  He is the alpha and omega…the author and the finisher of our faith. 

4.  Discouragement
    BAD TIMES COME….SURPRISE!!!!!  The Lord Himself told us that we would have trouble in our Christian lives.  Expect trouble to come, don’t be surprised when it shows up, and be ready to call on the Lord in your time of trouble!  We all get depressed at times, but the joy of the Lord is our strength!  I think all of us have at some time been disappointed by a person or persons in the church that we respect.  The important thing is to not let your disappointment in that person or person affect your view of God.  God will never disappoint you, but men will….just give anyone enough time…and they will disappoint you!  Remember, our faith is in God, not man.  We should strive to be like Jesus, not men and women we respect.

5.  Temptation
     I think this is pretty straight-forward.   Either we give our battles with temptation to the Lord, or we are defeated by the temptation.  Just because we get saved, doesn’t mean that we will no longer have temptation.  Not even in deliverance from bondage are we immune to temptation.  I am one who was delivered from an addiction to porn.  That will always be an area of weakness for me.  I didn’t say that I struggle with it, or that I have returned to it, but the temptation of it will never go away.  The difference is that I give it to the Lord so that He can fight my battle.  I also don’t allow myself to be in situations that I can be tempted. 

6.  Persecution
      This is probably pretty rare in our country.  Thank God we still have some freedoms and we are not, at this time, physically persecuted for our faith.  We do experience some mild verbal persecution at times.  I’m sure most of us have been made fun of for our decisions, and how we conduct ourselves, and what things we will not allow ourselves to do. 

Please take some time and meditate on these things….if you are not affected by any of these, then Great!
If you know of anyone that is struggling with any of these things, please encourage them and pray for them today.  As the body of Christ we have to stand in the gap for one another and be in prayer for the needs of our brothers and sisters in the faith.   “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 NIV


Get the doubt out!

I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.”
(Mark 11:23 NIV)

     No matter how bad the world gets.  No matter what happens tomorrow, let us never lose sight that God is still on His throne and that He is aware of all that happens, and all the hurt and pain that is sometimes in this life.   Things will never get so bad that God can’t intervene.  Your situation can never reach a point that God can’t reach down and lift you up.  It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, or where you are going.  God is already there and waiting on you to come to Him. 
     I challenge us all to get the doubt out of our lives.  I challenge us to stop thinking about what ‘cannot’ be done.  I pray that God will remind us of all the mountains in our lives that He has already cast into the sea, and all of the impossible situations that we have already been brought out of.  I don’t know your situation or what it is that you are going through; but I do know one thing:  God will meet you where you are and in whatever you are in and He will do it in an instant, if you just believe in Him, and in His word.  Doubt no more!  Call on the Lord and receive your help, NOW!


Say "NO"

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:11-12 NIV)

In the days that we live, it is of the utmost importance for us as Christians to live godly lives. The world around us is in a state of perpetual moral decline. If we ever expect anything to change, then that change must start with us. We have to live to a higher standard. We have to practice what we preach. If we don’t, then what makes us different than the world?

We can start by saying “no” to gossiping, “no” to complaining, “no” to destructive behaviors, “no” to sexual immorality, “no” to that questionable tv show, “no” to inappropriate websites, “no” to our pride, and “no” to anything that does not bring glory to God. If we can say “yes” to charity, “yes” to loving our neighbor, “yes” to serving others, “yes” to the joy of the Lord, “yes” to giving God the praise He deserves, and “yes” to God’s will for our lives; then the world will take notice.

There is a saying I’ve heard: “Sometimes our lives are the only bible that others read.” How many people are you leading astray by the life you lead? Are you willing to give an account for misleading those who are watching your life? There are more people watching than you think. We have become dangerously comfortable in the lives we live and most of us have forgotten where we came from and what we were brought out of. If the world is to be won for Christ, then we have to live our lives to a higher standard and show them that what we have is worth living for!


Carpe Freedom!


                      Seize your Freedom!

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” Galatians 5:1 NIV

Since we as a nation just celebrated the day of our independance, I thought it fitting to talk about our freedom in Christ.  I used to be addicted to pornography, so I remember well what it was like to be a slave in bondage to my sins.  The Lord delivered me over 6 years ago, but there have been many times since then that I have struggled with temptation.  The verse from Galations is a warning to those of us who were once slaves to sin.  God freed us from those sins so that we might be free.  God intended for His children to have a life of peace, prosperity and to be free from all bondage.  Anything that you do that you cannot stop doing is an addiction.  You might like have an addiction to food, drugs, alcohol or, as in my case, pornography.  It doesnt matter what the addiction is because all sin is equal in God’s eyes.  The point is that when we are set free from that addiction, we should be very careful that we don’t allow ourselves to go back and pick up that burden again. 
Every thought, action and plan that the devil has for us is for our destruction.  In John 10:10 we read:
“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (KJV).
The devil knows that if he can tempt you to sin, and keep you in that sin, that you will become a slave to that sin.  That means that he will have stolen your joy and brought you into a situation and possibly a habitual behavior that will ultimately lead to your destruction.  The devil is our enemy and he wants what any enemy wants: our death!
God does not only want us to be saved from the death that sin brings [For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23 NIV] but to give us the exact opposite of what sin deserves: life, and life more abundantly.  The Lord in His infinite mercy gave us His son to die for our sins so that we may have a way to be restored to Him and be able to one day live with Him.
It does not matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been or what you’ve said, seen or heard. The Lord stands ready to forgive you, restore you and sustain you.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9 NIV.
Seek the Lord today, ask for His mercy now and seize your God given FREEDOM! 
CARPE FREEDOM!