Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Praying For Las Vegas, But Then What?

  A few words about living in the aftermath of the Las Vegas Massacre.  I do not use that word without careful thought.  In its noun form, it massacre means the unnecessary indiscriminate killing of a large number of human beings.  In its verb form, it means to kill unnecessarily and indiscriminately, especially a large number of persons.  Massacre perfectly describes the carnage that occurred in Las Vegas at the hands of Stephen Paddock.  Most of us continue to pray for those who are grieving, those who are recovering, those who are still fighting for their lives, and those who survived but have traumatized by what happened.

But in reality, many of us are questioning what's going on in our nation.  Politicians are quick to co-opt the event as a platform for their agendas.  Some religious folks will use it as a platform for Armageddon.  Most just worry about the world, the culture, and the mess we seem to be leaving our kids and grandkids.  I write these words not to indict or criticize, but simply to offer some biblically based encouragement in the face of growing evil.  So, here a few thoughts.  

        Where was God when this was happening??  He was where He was when Cain killed Abel.  He was where He was when Moses killed the Egyptian slave supervisor and when Herod murdered the baby boys in Bethlehem.  He was where He was during the agonizing torture and crucifixion of Jesus.  HE WAS THERE!!  God is sovereign and rules over all of creation and more.  But, part of being made in His Image and after His Likeness is the freedom to choose.  In a culture that grows more secular by the day, human beings exercise the power of choice and far too often, we make bad choices.  Some seem fairly benign, but others impact scores or hundreds, or even millions
        We don't know why, Stephen Paddock made a choice on Sunday night, a choice that left 59 families and countless friends grieving, 500+ others who will carry the physical scars of his depravity for the rest of their lives, thousands who will carry the emotional scars for years to come, and a fractured nation that longs for an end to violence, injustice, and inequity.  The problem is that most of the nation rejects, outright or hypocritically, the only One Who can bring an end to those things. 
        God was there Sunday night!!  He was there in the rapid, heroic response of law enforcement, fire/rescue, and other first responders.  He was there in the scores of unnamed heroes who covered the helpless, aided the wounded, and gave comfort to the dying.  He was there in every chaplain, every counselor, and every blood donor.   HE WAS THERE!

        Why does God allow this kind of thing to happen??  See above regarding freedom of choice.  We all make choices.  Some of our choices are motivated by selflessness, sacrifice, and love.  Other choices are motivated by selfishness, self-promotion, and even hatred.  It comes with the territory known as free will.  God-given free will comes with responsibility and when we choose badly, we bear the consequences.  God is not the cause of evil, but He most certainly is the Cure.  When some folks make these terrible choices that do harm to others, God chooses to reveal Himself in the form of those who counter that evil with love, aid, and selfless sacrifice.  

        Will we ever be safe again???  What kind of world will my kids and grandkids inherit??  Unfortunately, according to the apostle Paul, it's only going to get worse.   In 2 Timothy 3:12-13, he writes, ""Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  But evil people and impostors will flourish.  They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived."  (NLT, My highlight)    But then he tells us what we should be doing in verses 14-17:  'But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught.  You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you . . . All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.  It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work."    So knowing how things will go, we must be faithful to the Lord Jesus, trust the word of God as absolute truth, let that word be the authority in our lives regarding faith and practical issues.  We must teach it to our kids, model it before our kids and be busy doing HIS work.  We must trust the future to the God Who is already there.  

        Some will say, "I'm afraid," but God doesn't want us to live in fear.  He doesn't want us to live angrily, with constant disappointment, or fear.  So what do we combat those things?

1)  When we're angry with God, that's OK as long as we don't put down roots there.  Vent your anger to Him.  When we voice our anger in prayer and then submit to His will, He will strengthen us for whatever we face.  Let you faith in Him be the victory that overcomes your anger.

2)  When we're disappointed with God, that's OK as long as we don't stay there.  In Exodus 5:22-23, Moses first encounter with Pharaoh turned out so badly that Moses actually blamed God.  God listened and then simply recommissioned because God had a plan that Moses knew nothing about.  AND it would be spectacular.  (check out Isaiah 55:8-9)    There is an old cliche that says, "If God brings you to it, He will certainly bring you through it."  Down through the ages, millions of people have realized that life or death, sickness or health, prosperity or poverty, whether embraced or rejected -- Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.  (I John 5:4b)  Let your faith be the victory that overcomes your disappointment!

3)  Some folks react to the storms of life with fear.  In Matthew 8, Jesus and his disciples got into a small boat and started across the Sea of Galilee.  Then, one of those unexpected violent storms blew down from the mountains and the boat began to take on water.  Jesus was sleeping soundly until He was awakened to the sounds of twelve grown men shouting, 'Lord, save us!  We're going to die!'  Jesus, in the midst of that storm, before He even got up, says to them, "Why are you afraid?? You have so little faith!!"  Then He spoke to the wind and the sea and the storm was calmed.  Whatever the storm, Jesus is there!  So let your faith be the victory that overcomes your fears!

Perhaps this could be our manifesto for the future:
        As a follower of Jesus, I will not live in fear nor will I be intimidated into retreating into a comfort zone.  I am a follower of Christ.  I will deny myself, take up my cross daily and follow Him.  (Luke 9:23)  I acknowledge that the Way to follow Him is narrow and difficult, but I will persevere.  (Matthew 7:13-14)  I will encourage my children to follow me as I follow Christ.  (I Corinthians 11:1)  I will nurture my children in faith and encourage them to know Jesus intimately, love Him dearly, and serve Him with a whole heart.  (Ephesians 5:4)  I will pray every day that the Holy Spirit will empower me to be the salt of my environment, creating a thirst among my family, friends, co-workers and others to know the Living Water (John 4) that flows from me.  I will pray that I will be a light (Matthew 5:16) that shines on the darkness of loneliness, isolation, hatred, racism, sexual abuse, immorality, false teaching, and injustice of every sort.  I will because the Great I AM has redeemed me equipped me, empowered me, and deployed me to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that (HE) has commanded us."  (Matthew 28:18-20).  And the greatest promise of all is this -- HE is with us ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE!


Monday, May 15, 2017

Living Clean in a Corrupt Culture

I don't often write blogs that offend, but occasionally, it happens.  This might be one of those.  Why, you ask?  Well, this one is about holiness.  Not the holiness of God, but personal holiness that our holy God expects from His children.  
The pharisees of Jesus' day thought of themselves as holy.  In the "holy" zeal, they crucified their own Messiah. 

Over the centuries holiness has been equated with haircuts, mode of dress, the ability to speak in unknown tongues, and even belonging to certain churches or denominations.  The truth is that holiness has little to do with outward appearance or special knowledge.  Holiness is when the direction of our heart is focused toward God alone.  Andrew Murray said, "The greatest test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it produces an increasing humility in us.  In humanity, humility is the one thing needed to allow God's holiness to dwell in us and through us.  The chief mark of counterfeit holiness is a LACK of humility.  The holiest will be the humblest."  

Some have sought to be holy by isolation.  But that isn't biblical because holiness cannot be adequately demonstrated in isolation.  In Philippians 2:14-15, Paul tells the church to "Do everything without grumbling and arguing so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars IN the world."  Jesus Himself prayed in John 17:14-15 - "I am NOT praying that You take them OUT of the world, but that You protect them from the evil one."  Jesus knew that the holiness His followers would develop as their relationship with Him deepened MUST be demonstrated IN a world of darkness and corruption.  

The problem we face in this great nation is a weakened church presence.  It happens when professing Christians and church folks live no differently from the lost and unchurched folks around them.  When we do that, we've embraced the world! Unfortunately, we don't hear much talk about worldliness in the church anymore and perhaps that's why we have so little impact on our culture.  Worldliness has weakened our churches from the inside out.  And now the trend is to move away from God's judgment and speak only about His grace, mercy, unconditional love and acceptance.  

What happened to us?  Why do we no longer teach our attenders about the costs of following Jesus?  Why do we no longer tell them that there is not only a Great White Throne judgment coming, but also a Bema Seat judgment where followers of Jesus will judged according to their works, not for salvation, but for rewards?  Why do we not challenge the practice of sin (I John 5:18-19) in ourselves and our fellow members and attenders?   In I Peter 1:15, we are reminded that WE are to be holy because our Father in heaven is holy.   That word, holy/hagios in the Greek, literally means to be set apart. When we repent of our sins, turn in faith to the Lord Jesus, and submit to the Father's plan for our lives, we are set apart from our previous lifestyles and set apart for His plan for our lives. To know that should motivate us to strive for moral purity in every part of our lives.  

But Peter doesn't just tell us that.  He gives us some idea as to HOW to it.

1)  He tells us to Discipline our Minds.  I Peter 1:13.  God imparts the righteousness of the Lord Jesus to us at the moment of salvation, BUT from that point on, we must guard that.   That's why Paul wrote in  Romans 12:2 - " Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you might discern what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of God."  We can control what we feed our minds. What we read, what we watch, what we hear, WE CAN determine what goes in.  Peter also tells us to be sober-minded. That's clear thinking.  I like the phrase "discipline your thinking."  Everything we say or do begins in the mind.  So many people mess up their lives because of stinking thinking. We set our minds on the wrong things.  Some single folks think they can never have joy or fulfillment until they find the right mate, which is basically saying to God, 'You're not enough for me.'  Some folks who live paycheck to paycheck think, 'if only I had more money,' which is basically saying to God, 'You're not enough for me.'  That's stinking thinking and no one ever developed holiness or godliness with stinking thinking.  Check out Philippians 4:8.  

2)  Refuse to conform to the world around you.  v. 14   Those who live according to the senses, motivated by lusts, and have no real hope beyond THIS life -- don't be like them.  We have a living Hope in heaven.  His name is Jesus and He is at the right hand of God the Father as our Advocate as stumble and trip along this faith journey.  IF we are truly born again, God expects us to be in the process of becoming different and there are potholes and low shoulders along the road.  But the great thing is that it's NOT about us trying to do better.  It's about us submitting our lives to Him everyday so that He can live His life through us.  

3) Live Every Day with a Reverence and Awe of the God Who will one day judge the content and quality of our lives.  v. 17   There's that judgment thing.  It's coming for all of us who believe.  Standing there before Him as He reviews my life - every careless word, every missed opportunity to serve or witness or give, every hurt I've inflicted on others unjustly, every time that my actions or words or even stinking thinking brought dishonor to HIS Name.  That's why EVERY DAY, we must confess, repent, and submit to Him.

Now here's just a couple of other tips for developing a God-honoring holiness.  No one develops this Christlikeness without spending an abundant amount of time in the presence of God the Father.  This is your prayer time, your quiet time, your retreat into your war room.  To develop a godly character, you must get to know God more intimately.  It involves, first and foremost, a prayer life that involves meditation and listening as well as speaking.  
Second, no one develops this Christlikeness without spending an abundant amount of time in God's word.  This is still His primary method of speaking into our lives.  Both Old Testament and New are important.  Read it, Listen to it, memorize it, and apply it.  It will teach you, rebuke you, encourage you, challenge you, correct you, and bring your life in line with God's will and purpose.  

SO, what do you need to give up in order to pursue holiness?

What do you need to embrace in order to pursue holiness?  

True holiness is having our hearts so aligned with God that others see His Son, our Lord Jesus, in our language, our actions, and our priorities.   Romans 8:28-29

When that happens, our churches will be revived and we will become the salt and light that is needed in a corrupt culture.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Things I've Learned in 2016


We're moving quickly toward the end of 2016.  Like you, I always look forward to the challenges and opportunities that a new year brings, but I also like to reflect on some of the lessons learned during the peaks and valleys of the present year.  So here we go with a short list of 5 things I've learned this year.

1.  Satan is an imposter.   Have you ever looked closely at what the apostle Peter says about Satan in his first letter.  I Peter 5:8 says, "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil.  He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."  Notice that little word "like."  That indicates that this is a simile.  A simile compares two things (often dissimilar things) using the words "as" or "like."  For instance, you might look at a weightlifter as he bench presses 300+ pounds and say, "He's as strong as a bull."  That doesn't mean he is a bull.  

In this verse, Satan is compared to a roaring lion who, in his quest for prey, will lurk in the tall grass until he can find a victim who is isolated, feeble, injured, or sick.  BUT, he is NOT a lion.  He's an imposter who uses his ability to disguise himself even as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14)  Rarely will you see him as he really is.  He can approach in a way that appeals to your senses or he can sneak up on you during a moment of weakness or lack of judgment.  So in 2017, STAY ALERT!!! Satan will be seeking ways to distract you, disturb you, and destroy your witness.  

2.  Satan will use fear & intimidation to paralyze!   In I Samuel 17, Satan used a giant named Goliath to paralyze the nation of Israel.  Though they served the omnipotent God of the universe, they allowed this threat, this intimidator to render them helpless before him . . . that is until a young teenaged boy named David showed up.  

No matter how large or oppressive a problem might appear, the God we serve is ALWAYS larger and stronger.  When we, like young David, trust and obey, God becomes our warrior God. He goes before us and fights in our behalf.   In 2017, TRUST AND OBEY!  And hear the words of the angels, the words of Jesus, the words of Father Himself saying "FEAR NOT!"

3.  The Church is supposed to be on Offense!   Jesus told Peter, "Upon this rock I will build MY Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."  Matthew 16:18   Gates are for Defense. They are in place to prevent, to keep, to protect.  According to Jesus, His Church should be on the move, on offense, attacking the very gates of hell to take back everything and everyone that Satan has stolen.  But far too often, we limit our faith activity to what goes on within the walls of our church buildings.  We avoid the gates of hell where we can find those who are far from God.  When Jesus told us to GO, He didn't mean go to meetings, go to fellowships, or even go to Bible studies.  Yet that is how far too many people define their faithfulness.  Jesus told us to GO into the world and proclaim the good news.  Mark 16:15.  So WHY are we still not on the move, marching into the gates of hell to give Good News to those who are far from God? In 2017, remember that church attendance is important for corporate worship, corporate prayer, encouragement and learning.  But ALL of that is pointless if we forsake Jesus' last public command to GO and make disciples.  

4)  We can be on offense without being offensive!   When we go on the offense, we will be confronted by those who do not share our values or beliefs.  But they are people for whom the Lord Jesus died.  They are people whom God the Father loves.  So they deserve our respect and honor even if they are not honorable biblically.  Lost people do the things that lost people do.  So love them as Jesus did.  AND, when we determine to go on the offense, expect spiritual resistance.  Paul reminds that our warfare is not with people, but with demonic powers.  He also reminds us that the weapons of our warfare are spiritual.
Ephesians 6   In 2017, put on the whole armor of God daily and get out of your comfort zone and into a lost world that needs to hear about the Lord Jesus.  Show Him to them by the way you live and speak to them about what HE is doing in your life. Leave the results to the Holy Spirit.  

5)  We need to stop talking to God about the size of our problems and start telling our problems about the size of our God!   Does that sound like a cliche?  Yeah, it does, but it's true! At times, we become so overwhelmed by our problems and issues that we allow them to cloud our vision of God.  But God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  The God we serve is the same God Who spoke the world into creation.  He's the same God Who saved Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in a fiery furnace.  He's the same God Who closed the mouths of lions as Daniel slept in their den.  He's the same God Who raised Jesus from the dead.  Paul tells us in Romans 8:11 that for those of us who trust and obey, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is in us.  Jesus encouraged His apostles to have a deeper, greater faith because when they did, nothing was beyond the realm of possibility.  Matthew 17:20   In 2017, when problems and issues loom over your life, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  Trust Him and obey Him even in the midst of your trials and He will give you peace and victory.  


Thursday, November 17, 2016

You Gotta Serve Somebody

I know that the discussion of slavery makes some folks very uneasy.  Many good people, when discussing slavery, only hearken back to that dark time in our nation's history when slavery was law and a noble race of human beings were treated as sub-human.  But the truth is that slavery is more widespread globally today than it has ever been. Racial and cultural slavery stills exists around the world. Sexual slavery is a multi-billion dollar industry affecting almost every nation and culture across the globe.  I say all this so that you know that I have some understanding of the gravity of this issue.  

Perhaps that's why we in the American Church have avoided the use of the term "slave." There's a stigma attached to it. We've substituted some more sterile terms like servant.  But in reality and biblically speaking, when we turn from our sins and place our faith in the Lord Jesus, the bondage (eternal consequence) of sin in our lives is broken.  We are freed from the power of sin.  Then, we become slaves of God.  In Romans 6:22, the Greek renders us a "slaves to God."  Why is this important?  Because it is the Greek root word doulos, which is used over 100 times, in one form or another, in the New Testament and every time it means "slave."  Most English translations, will equivocate in some instances and use the word "servant."  So what difference does that make?  Well, in the first century Middle East, servants were much like modern domestic help.  They were free, they were often paid, and they could actually quit.  Slaves, on the other hand, belonged to their owners, they fulfilled what they were purchased to do, they were not paid, and they could not quit.  

John MacArthur has stated that "Jesus talked slave talk all the time."  For instance, in Matthew 6:24, Jesus said, No one can serve two . . . what?  "Masters!"  Yeah, that's right.  When you're a slave, you can't serve two masters.  You belong to one and to serve another is betrayal.  That's slave talk.  In Romans 10:9-10, Paul wrote, If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is . . . what?  "Lord!"  And what does a lord have command over? Slaves.  

Paul wrote in Romans 6:22 that we are "free from the power of sin and have become slaves to God."  Then in I Corinthians 6:20, he wrote, "Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,Who lives in you and was given to you by God?  You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price." 
When we feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, turn from our sins and to the Lord Jesus, His death on the cross is the price that was paid for us.  We are bought and paid for by the precious blood of Christ.  He owes us nothing else.  We are promised reward, but our service to Him should stem from a heart of gratitude for the salvation He purchased for us.  AND we can't quit.  Earlier in Romans 6, Paul wrote about why he was using the slavery illustration.  In v. 19, he wrote . . . Previously, you let yourselves to slaves to impurity and lawlessness which led ever deeper into sin.  Now, you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.    Note that underlined part.  When we submit to God as slaves to His will, He will make us holy as we commit to righteous living.  Just a baby is not born an adult, in the same way, those new in faith are not complete, mature nor righteous in the beginning.  But as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus as our LORD, we become more like Him

Even in 21st century America, everyone is enslaved to someone or something.  You can deny it, distract from it, or disengage those who point it out.  But because of our sin nature, we ALL are enslaved to something.  If you have never turned from your sins and turn toward the Lord Jesus in faith, you ARE a slave to your sin nature.  But when you confess your sinfulness and your inability to change on your own, then turn in faith and submission to the Lord Jesus, His Spirit comes to live within you.  This gives you an option.  You can yield to the sin nature or you can yield to the Spirit of Christ in you.  The only way for a slave to the sin nature to be set free is to accept the purchase/redemption that the Lord Jesus paid for you on the cross.  When you do, you get a different owner, one of Whom the apostle Paul wrote loves you even when you sin (Romans 5:8)  His plan is to use every situation, every experience, everything mountain top and valley to make you more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29)  Would you trust Him today?  

Right now, whoever and wherever you are, would you turn from a life ruled by the sin nature and turn in faith and submission to the Lord Jesus?  If so, you can use this a model prayer to the heavenly Father:

God, I know that I am a sinner and there is nothing that I can do to change that.  But I also know that's why You sent Jesus to die on the cross for Me.  His sacrifice paid the penalty for MY sins. On this day, I accept Him and His sacrifice so that my slavery to the sin nature can be broken.   And I accept my place as a slave to God, fully surrendered to Jesus as Lord.  Thank You, God, for saving me today!  

IF you prayed that prayer, contact me so that we can get you in touch with a church near you.  They will help you get off to a good start in your faith journey.  God bless!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hello, God??

 Let me offer you a biblical perspective on prayer -- It is universal.  It is as old as humanity and common to every culture.  The gods, the names, and the styles might vary, but in ever generation in every culture, there are people who pray.  

When God created us, He made us unique among all that He had created.  We alone are created in His image.  We alone have the potential for a very intimate relationship with Him.  That type of relationship is probably best displayed in the Old Testament in God's relationship with Adam before his fall into sin and in the New Testament in the Father's relationship with the Lord Jesus.  They walked together, spoke face to face and interacted in ways that no other human being has experienced since.  But when sin entered the world, the special relationship was altered and communication with God took on a new dimension. Genesis 4:26 indicates that during the lifetime of Adam's grandson, Enosh, people began to ". . . call upon the Name of the Lord."  

Since that time, prayer has become a solace, a balm for broken and bleeding humanity.  Culture after culture has practiced the discipline of prayer, seeking to invoke the hope and help of their gods.  They call out to what they don't know or really understand because prayer has always been rooted in the nature of the Creator.  Non-Christians and Christians pray because of God's nature.  He is all-powerful, so we seek His help in situations that are out of our control.  We go to Him because He is consistent and constant.  He never changes.  So we feel that we can trust Him.  God is love.  So we can count on His acceptance.  His nature literally draws us to Him.  And His desire is that we approach Him with our needs (Matthew 7:7-8).
IF I have confused you, let me try to clarify.  The bottom line is that the basis of prayer is the nature of God and His desire to care for us.  

Now there is no way that we can cover every angle on prayer in a lifetime and a half much less in 700 words.  So allow me to touch on just a couple of ideas regarding prayer.

Maxie Dunham, who once edited the devotional guide called The Upper Room makes this statement about prayer:
"In an ongoing prayer relationship with God, the demands of holiness and righteousness are always present."  Why?  Doesn't God accept us as we are?  Well, yes He does!  BUT!! God Himself is holy and righteous.  Both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Leviticus 11:44 & I Peter 1:15-16) stress the importance of God's people being holy.  But we cannot become holy and righteous on our own (Isaiah 64:6).  we are made righteous by our surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We can never be good enough to approach God on our own.  When you see the prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel appearing before God, they fall on their faces and fear for the lives.  Peter the apostle, after the miraculous catch of fish, falls on his knees before Jesus and says, "Get away from me for I am a sinful man."  John the apostle, in Revelation 1:17, upon seeing the risen & exalted Lord, fell on the ground as though he were dead.  Our ONLY access to God the Father is through His Son, the Lord Jesus. 

Now that puts us in a position of paradox.  A wonderful but difficult position.  It is wonderful because we CAN come to God without pretense, just as we are.  Difficult because we must then wrestle with God regarding what sins might have infected our lives and what HE wants us to be and do. 

Prayer is and must be, first and foremost, submission.  In wrestling, two adversaries go at each other until one is pinned or held in a way that causes him to submit.  Every time we go to God, we must first deal with whatever sin has wormed its way into our lives.  As we confess and repent, the blood of the Lord Jesus makes us acceptable to the Creator.  Then comes the expressions of praise and gratitude which can scarcely express how great our God is.  But then comes what some call supplication -- requests, asking, talking TO God.  That's generally when the wrestling match begins because God oft times wants us to listen more than we speak.  Think about it.  Even in conversations with a spouse or a child, listening is an act of submission.  I will be quiet so that I can hear and comprehend what you are saying.   Do you get where I'm going with this??  

God loves to hear us call out to Him.  It doesn't take much to get His attention.  But once we're there in His presence, we need to submit, get into His word, listen for His still small voice and obey what He tells us.  

Did you notice that phone at the top is not red?  It's not some kind of "hotline to heaven."  That's because prayer is not something to be used as a last resort or only in times of emergency.  God wants to hear from you . . . often, like daily. He wants your time.  Not a rushed 140 character prayer before you rush out the door to face the world.  He wants your time, attention, and your submission.  Because as He told the people of Israel through Jeremiah: "Call on Me and I will answer you and show you great and unsearchable things you do not know know." (Jer. 33:3 NIV)   Have you spent time with God today??

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Haba . . . Who?

        What a world we live in now!  The racial division has grown deeper and wider, a 14 year old kills his father and launches into a playground school shooting while yelling "I hate my life." Politically, it is no longer democrat vs. republican or even conservative vs. liberal.  It has become the political "elites" vs. the commons, or as one politician suggested - a 'basket full of deplorables.'  Everyone gets labeled with some dehumanizing word while things wax worse and worse throughout our nation.  There was a time when the United States of America was a shining symbol of freedom, strength, and integrity.  Now, we're in a condition that the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk understood well. 

       Habakkuk is an Old Testament book that is unfamiliar even to most professing Christians. But it is a beautiful prayer journal offering us an inside look at Habakkuk's intimate conversations with the God of the universe.  Habakkuk's ministry probably began late in the reign of King Josiah, who died in 609b.c.   Josiah had led a revival in Judah by destroying the idols and high places in the land and reviving the law of God and the worship of Yahweh.  Unfortunately, his son, Jehoiakim, was NOT of the same character as his father. 

       It was during Jehoiakim's reign that Habakkuk began to cry out to God for help and understanding.  Jehoiakim's reign was marked by oppression, injustice, violence, and disdain for God's law.  It was much like our climate today and Habakkuk grew impatient waiting for God to act (1:1-3)  But God responds NOT with time-specific answers, but with a call live by faith (1:5; 2:3; 3:17-19).  I would say that the theme of Habakkuk's prayer journal is found in Habakkuk 2:4b -- The righteous will live by faith.  It is a biblical principle repeated by Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11.  THIS is important because living by faith in the God of the universe must be more than just a mantra.  Speaking of faith is mere sanctimony if that faith isn't demonstrated in life.  Simply put, either you trust the Creator of the universe or you don't. 

       Now Habbakuk had engaged in this intimate conversation with God because of his distress over the conditions of his nation.  The spiritual condition, the political, cultural, moral and legal conditions made the nation of Judah ripe for judgment.  And Habbakuk interceded for himself and his nation.  He followed some basic steps that are good steps for all of us who find ourselves facing overwhelming stress, issues, problems and needs.  Martin Lloyd-Jones delineated those steps in his wonderful book Spiritual Depression.  Here is my adaptation of those steps. 

When you find yourself face to face with problems and issues you cannot resolve and don't really understand, here's a plan of action:
1)  Retreat to Plan.   Get away from the distractions caused by the problem and get into the presence of God.  Get into His word, hear His voice, embrace His counsel.  When you want to hear from God and you have the intent to obey, God will speak.  But it is more likely to occur in a place where you are still and focused on Him.
2)  Remember this Principle.   It's not the size of the problem or issue, it's the size of your God that counts.  This is the matter of faith.  Either we trust Him or we don't there is no "middle ground."  Pray in faith, submit to God's purpose and leave the results to Him.    I love to apply Jeremiah 29:11 here.  I know it was written to Israel in anticipation of their exile.  BUT, it's in our scriptures for more than historical purposes.  The principle is the same.  God has a plan and it is perfect.  Submit because He is always good. 
3)  Resort to the Principle.  Once again, this is more than talk.  It's living in obedience.   Don't just remember the principle and talk about the principle.  If you serve a big God, put it into practice.  Everything you know about God, His word, and His promises --- just load it up and believe.  If God says do something, do it!  If God says go somewhere, Go!  If God says wait, be still and know that He is in control. 
4)  Rest in the Payoff.  It's called J-O-Y.  When you live with the constant conviction that God is ultimately in control, there is peace, contentment, and joy even in the midst of chaos. 
When Pontius Pilate to Jesus, "Why don't you talk to me?  Don't you know that I have the power to release you or crucify you."  Then Jesus said, "You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above."  John 18:10   Even as He faced the cross, Jesus was content to trust His welfare, His life into the hands of the Father. 

In all that happens around us and to us, we must remember that God the Father is building HIS kingdom.  Not yours nor mine.  Not even the good old USA.  HIS kingdom. 

So in these perilous and uncertain days, we don't have to understand things.  We need simply to trust God.  And the best thing we can do is get into the presence of God early and often.  And pray the prayer Habakkuk prayed as you pray for yourself, your family, your community, your church, and our nation;
Lord, I have heard the report about You.  Lord, I stand in awe of your deeds.  Revive Your work in these years; make it known in these years.  In Your wrath, remember mercy.    Habakkuk 3:2





Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Why Can't I Hear You, God?

It's about discernment!


        I've had to accept the fact that as I get older, my hearing grows more dull.  Oh, I'm not deaf.  Occasionally, I have surprisingly keen hearing -- that is, unless there is background noise.  When that happens, deafness isn't the issue.  Discernment is!  Even when the voice belongs to my wife or one of my children, background noise like the hum of the car engine or background music in a restaurant can interfere with my discernment.  Oh, I know they're talking.  I just can't understand what they're saying.  The problem??  Sometimes we can't do away with background noise.  So we've decided to help the focus with a simple touch to assure we're always looking AT each other when we talk in those environments.  
        But you know, we can develop the same problem spiritually.  Our spiritual ears can get dull and the background noises of our lives begin to drown out what God desires to teach us through His word and our experiences.  Even within the Church, many professing Christians have a surprising unfamiliarity with scripture.  Oh, we might have our favorite verses, but even those are more about "what they mean to me" rather than how the Spirit has used them to transform me into what God wants me to be.  The PRIMARY means by which God communicates with us has become more like an IV bag to hydrate us when circumstances or sin begin to dry up our spirits.  We use it when we need it instead of drinking from it deeply every day.
        What's happened??  Have we become so busy with politics and sports, televisions and smart phones, social networking and outdoor life that we don't have time for God's word?? There is nothing wrong with any of those things UNTIL they begin to crowd out our desire to be transformed by the power of God's word.  When that happens, our spiritual ears become dull and the "noise" from all those other things affects our ability to discern what God is doing around us and saying to us.  
        Jared Wilson wrote in the Threadway Bible study Abide,  
". . . the messages of the environments we're most in and the routines we most practice shape our attitudes and behaviors."  Did you get that??  Where and how you spend your time will shape the way you think and act.  
        Now think about this!!  The Bible, God's word, was not given to help us.  It was given to transform us.  If we truly want to change the world, then we must begin by allowing God's word to change us.  The more time we spend there, the more it will shape the way we think and act.  But in order to do that, it just might require that we turn off some of the background noise that has drowned out the voice of God.  

        What could you give up or what could you change in order to spend some quality time reading the Bible each day?  Try it for 30 days!!  Don't read it in order to "learn" something.  Just pray and ask God to use your reading of His word to transform your life.  He will not disappoint you!