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Thursday, April 10, 2014

A lesson from the Ultimate Warrior

James 4:14
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

     Back in the 1980's, the WWF wrestling federation at the time was coming into it own and stars like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant were well known.  At the time, another character came along named the Ultimate Warrior.  He was known for his face paint and running to the ring and shaking all the ropes.  He was a huge man with muscles in places I didn't even know had muscles.  He was big for a while, even beating Hogan for the heavyweight championship of the world and then eventually he disappeared.

     Until about a week ago, nobody heard much from him and then he was inducted into the WWE wrestling hall of fame.  I didn't watch any of it, but I did see a little clip from Monday night where he mentioned that if a man is remembered by his fans, even if he dies, he is immortal.  I thought it was ironic that he would say that because less than 1 day after that statement he died.  He was walking to the car with his wife when he collapsed and died.

      What is stunning is that this man appeared to be such a strong and healthy man on the outside.  I have no idea if he had heart problems or was seeing a doctor.  It makes me wonder if he thought he didn't have a long time when he mentioning dying in the ring.  But, I know that he appeared healthy and was only 54 years old.  He had just signed a big contract to be a spokesperson for millions of dollars.  He had just appeared in front of millions of fans.

     It led me to think about how none of us know how much time on this earth that we have.  We can appear quite healthy and be doing all the right things and be gone in a moment.  The Bible compares this life to a vapor.  We are here and then we are gone.  It makes me think that it is so important to be wise about how we spend our time here on earth.  It speaks to how we are using our time to build up God's kingdom instead of our own.  We can't take any of the things of this world with us.

   I would see that quite regularly as a chaplain at the hospital.  Someone is on their way to work and a truck hits the side of their car and suddenly they are in the hospital fighting for their life.  Or they are painting or doing housework and they suddenly have a cardiac arrest.  I'm not meaning to be a downer here.  I am just saying I think this is a wake up call to some people.  You aren't promised a tomorrow and neither am I.  Make the most of your time, so that you can hear the Lord Jesus say to you one day, "Well done, good and faithful servant." 

   One of the most important ways to do that is to commit your life to the Lord Jesus.  Ask him to come into your heart and to forgive you of your sins.  Ask him to change you from the inside and to give His Holy Spirit to you.  This is what Jesus meant by being "born again".   Jesus comes into the hearts of people who invite him, but you have to ask.  He knocks on the door of your heart and waits for you to respond.

Matthew 6:33
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:32-34


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Abundantly beyond all that we ask

   In Ephesians 3:20 Paul writes, "Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us. . . ."

    Based on what scripture says, here in the above verse and numerous others.  It seems clear that there is nothing that God cannot do.  In fact, according to this verse, our imagination isn't great enough to think of something that God cannot do.  I cannot out ask God in what he is able to do for me.  That's pretty great because I have a pretty good imagination.  What this verse is really saying is that God is infinitely greater than my mind can comprehend.

    So, the question when it comes to our prayers is not whether or not God is able.  I think about the passage in Mark 9:23 where Jesus is speaking with the father of a boy who is filled with a demon.  The man has some doubt since he brought the boy to the disciples and they haven't been able to heal him.  When Jesus hears this doubt he says, "If you can!  All things are possible to him who believes."  And right here I want to affirm this.  I believe God is able to do all things, except violate his own holy, loving nature.

    The question for me when I pray is never then if God can.  I know emotionally and intellectually that God can do anything.  It's his universe, made by Him and for Him and through Him.  He can do anything he wants whenever he wants.  The truth about it is, that I wonder sometimes why it appears that God doesn't.  I have trouble reconciling this with the image of God as the loving father who wants to give good gifts to his children.  I have trouble understanding that pull and tug of how God interacts with his creation.  When good people die in their youth or a young child is abducted and killed.  Or when a teacher stays after school to help a struggling student and gets killed by that same student.  I struggle to understand why these horrible things happen and why sometimes when you really need an answer like "yesterday" God becomes so silent.

    And this struggle required that we walk by faith because there are no simple, bumper sticker answers for that.  I know that that is not God's perfect will.  I know that God is not responsible for the evil that goes on in the world.  I know that God will make it right one day.  But, I struggle to understand God's silence and his allowing it to happen in the first place.  Just like I struggle to understand why God can answer some of my prayers almost immediately and then some linger on for years.

    I absolutely love it how our questions and struggles don't offend the heart of God.  They are even written in the Bible and declared by David and the other writers of the psalms.  If you don't believe me read verses like Psalm 10:1 or 13:1.  God allowed these words to be written down by godly men to show us that these struggles are not new.  And it is okay to have them.  God is not going to strike you down because your struggling.  It actually means that you have faith and it is maturing.

    I think it is important when we struggle to affirm what we are sure of and what we know.  I know that god loves me and didn't abandon me.  I know that he will not forsake me.  I know that he desires to give good gifts to His children.  I know that he sent his son to die for me and that he suffered a horrible death on a real cross.  I know that one day death and sin will be destroyed and that God will judge the wicked and the unrepentant.  I know that one day things will be much more clear.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Two important words for you

21 "Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. 22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." 2 Tim 2:21-22, NASV

    I wanted to follow up with two big pieces of advice for those of you who read my last post about hearing from God.  All week I have been thinking about this and about hearing from God.  Two big lessons that it took me years to learn I want to share with you.  It took me a very long time to get these two things.
    One word regarding knowing God's will is that God cares about who you are more than where you are.   When you look at the words of Paul to Timothy, you might expect that as an apostle to a young preacher that Paul would have a lot of practical things he wanted to say to Timothy about the church that he left in his care.  But, Paul focused on encouraging Timothy in the area of his character.  He knew that Timothy was a good man, but he was also a man.  He needed encouragement like the rest of us.  Your never going to get where God wants you until you are who he wants you to be.
     In practical terms, what this means is that often times before God can do a work or move you on to a greater work he has to clean house with you.  He has to convict you of some things and give you some hard words.  He convicts us of sin, righteousness and his judgment.  He does this so that we are ready to be used in a greater way.  John 15:1-5 calls this process pruning.  Pruning is in order to create greater growth.  And pruining can be a painful process of giving up the things of the flesh.  But, you should be encouraged that this is in order for God to use you in greater ways.
    Sometimes people resist the pruning of the Lord.  There are churches full of christians who are church going people who have known the Lord for 30 plus years but they are baby christians.  They got complacent somewhere in their walk with the Lord and refused to give up the things that he wanted to remove from their life.  As a direct result, they have been in a spiritual holding pattern for years.  Do not resist the pruning of the Lord.  There are seasons when this has to happen just like when a gardener cuts away dead things.
     The second thing and I mean this mainly for those of you who read this who are already somewhere in a ministry.  God doesn't want you comparing your ministry to someone else's.  Pastors are especially bad about this comparing how big their church is to someone else or how many they baptized or how many are in Sunday School.  You can get caught up in the numbers.  God doesn't think your unfaithful if you had 50 in Sunday School and someone else has 500.  God wants faithfulness where he planted you. 
     I guess it is just natural in the flesh to see someone else getting attention or promoting books or something and get jealous.  You think that what your doing isn't as important or good.  Looking over the fence the grass always looks a litte greener.  How do you know if you went there that it wouldn't be a huge disaster for you?  Instead, our attitude should be thank God that God has blessed that other brother or sister with a great ministry and thank God for them.  But, don't be jealous for what they have.  You haven't walked in their shoes and your not suppose to.  God made you a unique ministry that is just for you.  He's going to use your dark places and your joys and everything between to do a great work and redeem even your greatest pains to bring glory to Him.  Keep your eyes on him and not that other minister or ministry down the road.

Have a great week

Saturday, March 22, 2014

An Advocate 1 John 2:1

    In 1 John 2:1 it says, "My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."

Now also look in John 16:7-8

    "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when he comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment."

     It is interesting to me that in different ways, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are at work to be both our helper and our advocate.  The Bible says that the Spirit even helps us to pray as we should.  He intercedes for us when we do not know how to pray.  And then it is Jesus Himself who is also our advocate.  The word advocate is a legal term.  It is like an advocate who speaks for someone in a court of law.  He is your defender in God's court and he is also your defense because of what he did on the cross.

    So many times, I may be unsure of how exactly to pray about a situation.  I know what my will is, but I don't necessarily know what God's will is.  It takes humility to acknowledge that your will may not be God's will instead of plunging ahead without waiting.  Mistakes are made sometimes when we rush into something without asking God if this is his will.

    I try to take the approach that I will pray and tell God exactly what my will is in the situation.  Then, I will ask him to show me what His will.  If it isn't the same, I will ask him to take that desire or plan from me.  Or show me a different path that He does want me to take.  And there have been times in my pride that I have rushed head first into what I thought was God's will and it turned into a disaster.   But, even in that, God can often use our mistakes to teach us about his grace.

    I had that happen to me about 6 months ago when I had a decision to make.  I worked hard at the problem and an opportunity came up and I took it.  It seemed to fit with my plan so well.  Well, three weeks in I was wishing that I hadn't done that and waited.  But, God still used the situation to teach me.  Mainly he taught me that I needed to slow down and wait on Him and trust Him.  God rarely shows up early.

    I have found that what is true for me is true for a lot of other people.  Most of we think if it is obvious to us it must be obvious to God.  If this path opens us before us like the red sea parting then it must be of God.  But, that is not necessarily the case.   The Spirit of God is called the Spirit of truth (John 16:13) and it is this Spirit that is in you if you are a believer.  The Spirit knows the mind of God and can reveal His will for your life.  But, the disciples were not always called to take the easy road.

Some questions to ask if you are pondering God's will in a situation
1. Will this decision help me to fulfill what God has called me to do?
2. Will this decision call me to compromise my faith or witness?
3. Does this decision help me to honor Him and my family?
4. Will I use the talents and gifts he has given me if I make this decision?
5. Does this decision call for me to take a step of faith?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

1 John 1 Walk in the Light

   The book of 1 John is one of my favorite letters in the New Testament.  John deals with a most important subject.  That the christian faith is not about what we do, but who we have fellowship with.  The word fellowship is the word koinonia which means an intimacy and communion with.  The christian faith is meant to be a constant communion with the Son and the Father.  I like how Ray Stedman in his sermon regarding this says that fellowship is not an automatic for the believer.  The key to whether or not we are walking in fellowship is if we are walking in the light.
    There is a need in the church and individual believers life to take sin more seriously than we have.  We don't realize the harm that it does.  Not just to our witness to non-believers, but to our fellowship with God.  We need to realize that sin is first sin against God.  And if you love God then you will realize that it grieves God when we allow sin into our lives.  True repentance is necessary not just one day a week, but each day of the week.
    This is because John says in 1 John 1:5 "And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all."  The darkness is the idea of sin, error or untruthfulness.  There is no error or sin in the nature of God.  And so if we are to walk in fellowship then we cannot walk daily in sin without confessing.  Our conscious mind should not allow us to stay at peace when we walk in darkness because the Spirit constantly calls us back to himself (1Thess 5:19).
    John goes on to say that if you say that you have not sinned then you are calling God a liar.  He also says this in 1 John 1:10.  This is talking about the battle that goes on between the flesh and the spirit that goes on each day in the life of the believer.  He is talking about present day sanctification.  If you think you have arrived then you are only lying to yourself because there is still sin to be dealt with in you.  Rather, the task for the believer is regular confession.  Sometimes this confession means to confess to others and sometimes it means to confess to God (Matthew 5:23-24).
     There is still a need at times for confession not just to God, but to one another.  There are times when God may grow distant for some believers because confession has not taken place.  You may pray and feel that your prayers are not getting any further than the room you are in.  God may stop working in your life and wait for you to get right with your brother.  When a believer lies about another person or is dishonest or cheats another person a break in fellowship takes place.  And the only thing that will make that right again is for someone to swallow their pride and confess they are wrong.  Notice in James 5:16 it says "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."
     The good news from 1 John 1:9 is "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  The key word there is "all".  God's Spirit convicts us of sin and our need for repentance.  Then once we repent, it is the power of Jesus to cleanse us from all of it.  He doesn't cleanse just part of it.  You notice in this verse that this is based on the faithfulness and righteousness of God.

Ray Stedman's sermons on 1 John