10-07-07

When a person truly comes in contact with God, they change.  It is not possible for a finite and flawed individual to truly taste of God’s mercy and grace and not be changed.  Yet sometimes we forget just what that change should look like.  As Paul writes his young disciple Titus, he clarifies what that changed life should look like:  Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men (Titus 3:1-2 NKJV).
A life changed by grace is one that learns the role of authority and the importance of submitting to authority.  It is not a life of rebellion, but a life that is learning to obey and to be ready to do good works.  The life changed by grace is a life that learns to get along with others and to speak well of others instead of slandering or mocking them.  The life of grace is one characterized as “peaceable”, or literally, “not picking a fight”.  Grace is not about winning the argument; it’s about loving the individual.  The life of grace is one that is “gentle”, a word that speaks of treating people fairly or evenly.  The life of grace is one that shows “humility” to everyone.  Here the idea of humility is the kind of attitude that responds to each situation with gentleness, no matter what happens or how uncomfortable that may be.

Beloved, may our lives be characterized by grace.  May we be reminded over and over that God has shown us so much mercy that it has changed us.  May our relationships be marked not by how much we try to “fix” each other, but by how much we have been changed by grace.

09-16-07

And it will be said in that day: “Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” (Isa 25:9 NKJV)
Sometimes life gets so crazy that it’s easy to forget what our goal is in life.  It might be the pressure of a tough week at work.  It might be a family crisis.  It might be a situation where you feel like you are being attacked. It might be a life so filled with things to do that you have trouble catching your breath.  If you travel too far under those kinds of conditions, it’s easy to get disillusioned and want to quit.

Beloved, we have a goal that we’re heading towards.  And it is helpful once in a while to stick our heads out of the whirlwind of life and catch another glimpse of the end of the race.  We are headed to see Jesus.

What a glorious day that will be.  After all these years of following a God that we cannot see, we will one day see Him face to face.  When you drive a car through the mountains you don’t always see your destination.  Yet there comes a point where you make it around that last corner and see the place you’ve only dreamt about.  One day we will come around that final corner of life and we will see Jesus.

Aren’t you wondering what His face will be like?  I don’t think He’ll be upset to see us.  I think He’ll be glad that we finally arrived.  What joy it will be to see Him looking at me, to see His look of love, to know that He considers me His beloved, and to enter into His rest.  Beloved, don’t lose sight of the finish line.  Keep running toward Jesus.

09-09-07

If I’m going to be honest with you, I have to let you know that from time to time I become afraid.  Sometimes it’s the fear of what’s ahead in the world – when will the next terrorist incident happen.  Sometimes it’s a fear for people around me – I’m concerned for the health of a loved one or afraid others close to me will be making bad decisions.  Sometimes I’m afraid for the church – silly things like will we meet our bills this month or will that offended person hurt the church.  And if I’m going to be totally honest, I have to tell you that sometimes my fears just seem a bit too much to handle.  Sometimes my fears paralyze me like a deer caught in the headlights.

The Bible tells me what I can do about my fears.  David wrote, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee” (Psa 56:3).  That’s a good instruction for when I find the fears multiplying.  I need to turn my thoughts to the Great God of heaven who loves me more than I can ever know.  I need to remember that I can trust Him.  He hasn’t forgotten me. The Bible also tells me that there’s something I can do to avoid going down that road of fear in the first place.  Isaiah writes, “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation” (Isa 12:2).

Whether it’s by “trusting when I’m afraid” or “trusting and not being afraid”, it all boils down to trust.  We have a God who is extremely worthy of your trust.  You may not know what the future holds, but you can trust the one who holds the future.

09-02-07

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart (Gal 6:9 NKJV).

At first glance, it seems that Paul is simply telling us to “hang in there and don’t quit”.  But the more I dig into the words Paul uses, the more I realize that there’s a slightly different flavor to the text.  The phrase “grow weary” means to be wearied out or to be exhausted.  It doesn’t speak of quitting; it speaks of dropping from exhaustion.  The phrase “lose heart” doesn’t really have anything to do with your heart, but more the idea of letting go of something, of being so tired that you lose your grasp on what you’re holding.

I usually look at this verse as Paul being the coach on the sideline yelling at the runner to keep going and give it his best shot.  And certainly Paul’s goal is to encourage the believers to keep serving the Lord.  But rather than being an exhortation to keep going, Paul’s warning is really about not becoming so exhausted that you end up quitting.

Some of us take seriously our walk with the Lord.  We are looking forward to the day that He says to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.  We are constantly trying to tweak the engine of our life to get as much performance out of it as we can.  And that’s all very good.  But along the way we need to be careful to add the balance of rest.  An athlete who strives hard for the finish line trains hard to run, but also needs to have a life of balanced nutrition and rest.  Beloved, the goal is to make it to the finish line.  Be careful about becoming weary as you serve the Lord.

08-12-07

In the middle chapters of his letter, Paul is trying to address the problems that the Corinthians had getting along with each other.  He deals with their selfishness in the communion service (1Cor.11), he encourages them to realize that each person in church is important (1Cor.12), and he teaches them that having a few ground rules during the service can keep things orderly and edifying (1Cor. 14).  But it’s in chapter 13 that Paul talks about the “more excellent way” to get along, the way of love.  Paul uses the Greek word “agape” to describe the best way for people in church to get along with each other.

As Paul clarifies what love is all about, he writes, “Love suffers long and is kind” (1 Cor 13:4 NKJV).  The phrase “suffers long” is often translated “patience”, and the original Greek word speaks specifically of being patient with difficult people.  The word “kind” speaks about doing good things for others.  I usually take these two words as separate things in a long list defining love.  But the New King James translators stuck that word “and” between the two words, and it made me think. Love doesn’t just “suffer long” with difficult people and then is finished with them.  Love also does good things for those same difficult people.  Sometimes I will “put up with” those difficult people I suffer with, but “kind” things are reserved for people I like.  Do you have difficult people you are learning to “suffer” with in your life?  Then take it a notch further and learn to do good to them as well.  God’s kindness changes us (Rom. 2:4).  May our kindness change others.  This is the more excellent way.

08-05-07

Sometimes it hits you like a brick wall.  Sometimes it just comes out of nowhere.  And sometimes, just when you think you can’t take anymore, it gets worse.  I’m talking about the difficulties in life, the things we Christians call “trials”.  There are certainly good ways of handling trials and bad ways of handling trials, but no matter how you handle them, they still come.  Some people try to avoid trials at all costs.  Some live in a pretend world where there are no problems for the Christian.  But sooner or later reality will hit us all like that proverbial two-by-four across the head.

There aren’t too many people who have gone through what Job went through.  As the first wave of trials began to hit, Job did quite well, falling down and worshipping God despite the difficulty (Job 1:20-21).  As the second wave hit, he continued to do well, telling his wife that they needed to not just accept good things from God, but adversity as well (Job 2:10).  But after awhile, Job began to wear down until he let loose a cry that cursed the day he was born.  “May the day perish on which I was born, And the night in which it was said, ‘A male child is conceived.’” (Job 3:3) 
I’m not trying to let us off the hook when it comes to complaining about life’s difficulties.  I just want to say that it’s certainly normal to slip into depression.  Peter tells us we shouldn’t be surprised by trials (1Pet. 4:12), and that ultimately we should learn to “rejoice” because trials are how we grow and are refined (1Pet. 1:6-7).  If you have a friend going through a trial, don’t be quick to condemn the complaining.  Just help them move past it.

07-29-07

It can be so discouraging.  It’s bad enough when you hear of a pastor or leader in the church falling into sin.  Yet what seems worse to me is the ripple effect it has on those who knew the one who fell.  Time after time you hear stories of people who became disillusioned with their faith because of a person who let them down. 

When a person comes to church, they’re often looking for answers.  And when a church is talking about Jesus, that person is going to find the answers.  The trouble starts when we get confused and start thinking that the church is filled with people just like Jesus.  I wish.  But the truth is, church is filled with flawed people.  Some are more flawed than others.  When Paul wrote to the Romans, he warned them:  “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom 16:17-18).

Does this mean I should start thinking like the cynic who thinks that the church is filled with fake people?  Not at all.  I have this notion that most of the people that come to our church sincerely want to follow Jesus.  We have a great church.  My point is that we shouldn’t be surprised when a person at church lets us down.  There might even be a person we need to “avoid”.  But we ought to be careful not to confuse the goodness and faithfulness of Jesus with the unpredictable nature of fleshly humans.  There is only one person you can totally trust, and that’s Jesus.  He will never let you down.

07-22-07

So there you are, wrestling about whether or not to do the right thing.  You finally step out and do it. But instead of people lining the street to cheer you on in your victory, they’re lining up to throw rocks at you.  I think that this is what the Jews felt like when they finally made it back from Babylon to build their temple.  They were doing something right.  But instead of people encouraging them, they found themselves facing opposition.

It’s interesting to see how the opposition came about.  It began because someone got offended.  The “adversaries” of the Jews found out about the temple and they said they wanted to help (Ezra 4:1).  But the Jews, being extra careful to do everything the right way, declined the offer of help.  And so it began.  Accusations were made, letters were written, sides were taken, and in the end the government of Persia ordered the Jews to stop building their temple.  And for a period of years, the great work stopped.

Has God been nudging you in a certain direction?  Have you recently stepped out to serve God a little more?  Whether it’s learning to share your faith with someone at work, handing out bulletins on Sunday morning, teaching a Sunday School class, or being in full time ministry, you are going to face opposition.  And just like the temple project, sometimes people get offended. Though we might try hard to avoid it, some people will always get offended. We should not be surprised at these things.  There is an enemy that wants the work of God stopped.  He will stir up trouble every chance he gets.  Don’t be surprised.  Be ready.  Keep serving.

07-15-07

The book of Chronicles is unique as a history in that it gives us God’s opinion of people’s lives.  We read about King Amaziah, “And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, but not with a loyal heart” (2 Chr 25:2).  That sounds like he was close to doing the right things, but not in the way God wanted.  What does it mean to not have a “loyal heart”?  Amaziah’s life is instructive.

Amaziah was a fellow who trusted in his money.  When he found himself in a war with the Edomites he wasn’t worried.  He had lots of money in his bank account.  He attempted to buy his way out of the problem by hiring some mercenaries.  God wasn’t pleased because Amaziah’s lack of loyalty led to his trusting in his money and not in God.

After the victory with the Edomites, some of the Edomite trinkets caught Amaziah’s eye.  In fact, some of those Edomite girly statues would look awfully good on the mantel at home.  Amaziah found himself bowing down to foreign gods.  His unloyal heart led to lust and a wandering eye.
After his victory with the Edomites, Amaziah felt he could take on the world.  In fact, that sounded like such a good idea to him that he challenged his neighbor up north to a battle.  The northern king warned Amaziah that his pride was distorting his judgment, but Amaziah didn’t pay attention.  His unloyal heart led to pride, which led to defeat.

As we walk with the Lord beloved, we need to not only pay attention to the things we do, but we need to pay attention to the heart behind the actions.  Problems with money, lust, and pride come from a heart that’s not loyal.

07-08-07

Pride can come in so many forms, and all of them are bad.  We usually think of pride as being connected to the person whose heart is evil and whose life is in rebellion against God.  But pride can easily creep into the heart of a person who is setting out to follow God and do the right thing.  In either case, pride is offensive to God.  Pride leads to only one place, disaster (Prov. 16:18).

King Rehoboam was finally heading in the right direction.  After the kingdom had split, godly people from all over were making their way to Jerusalem in order to continue worshipping God at the Temple.  These godly people brought a time of growth and prosperity in Judah.  But with growth and prosperity comes the temptation toward pride, and that’s what happened to Rehoboam.  Now it came to pass, when Rehoboam had established the kingdom and had strengthened himself, that he forsook the law of the LORD, and all Israel along with him (2 Chr 12:1).  Things began to tumble out of control and a crash appeared on the horizon. God warned the leaders, and the nation was pulled out of a tailspin as they responded correctly by humbling themselves (2 Chr 12:6).

Humility is so important beloved.  Humility is the key to God’s blessing and help (Jam. 4:6).  Humility is the attitude of the person who recognizes that they need God all the time. Humility understands that true value in life doesn’t come from seeking what’s important to me; it comes from seeking what is important to God.  It’s not hard to be humble when things are difficult.  The real test of life is staying humble when the blessings begin to multiply.