Tuesday, March 14, 2017

TO THE DISCONTENT


Contentment – a state of being satisfied or easy in mind

            Are you content?  Part of the time? All the time? Never?  What makes you feel content?  I enjoy quiet, unrushed moments when I’m alone with the Lord.  They give me a sense of contentment.  Finishing a task I had been dreading to tackle can also give me a feeling of satisfaction.  Of course, being with family, a peaceful vacation and many other circumstances can bring contentment.  But when those circumstances are past, the feeling of contentment goes with them.  And what about the days when there are no quiet moments, the work load is overwhelming, the family isn’t around and our circumstances have left us alone and afraid?  We need something that never changes if we want true, lasting contentment.  Situations change. Relationships change.  Our needs change.  The contentment they offer today may be pulled out from under us tomorrow, leaving us discontent.  But we can have an abiding contentment, regardless of our circumstances.
            Paul had a firsthand understanding of the complexities and even brutalities of this world.  But he had a greater understanding of the realm of God’s kingdom.  In Philippians 4:11 he made this statement: “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  Paul had learned from experience to be content regardless of his condition or status.  His comfort level was not the prerequisite for his contentment.  Whether he had plenty to eat or was hungry, he knew God would not let Him down. If everyone else was against him, God was for him.  Paul knew what it was like to have to restrain people from worshipping him, but he also knew what it was like to be tracked down, hated, stoned, persecuted and thrown in prison without a cause.  Yet he said whatever his status, he had learned to be content with it.
To ‘be’ is to exist in the present.  When troubles come, it’s easy to long for the pleasant days of the past or try to block out the present by looking to the future as we ‘wait it out’.  But even in the hard times, the unfair times, we need to be present in our existing circumstances and look for the purpose of God in them.  We can look around us and say, “What is God’s work here?  He has me here for a purpose, so what is it?”  It may be to turn our attention back to God.  It may be an open door for ministry.  When we find it, we need to move with it.  That is where Paul found contentment.  Knowing and doing the will of God.  That is where we will find it, too.
            How could Paul be content when his circumstances contradicted everything we consider essential for contentment?  He gives us the answer in verse 13.  “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”  That scripture is not just a mantra that if repeated over and over will come true.  It is much more than that.  Paul had learned from experience that it is a rock-solid truth he could count on.  Paul accepted the will of God, but not without the strength and ability of God.  We can, too, but we have to choose to set our focus and goals on a higher realm of living.
            Paul had learned that real, lasting contentment is found only in Christ.  Before his encounter with Jesus, he was a Pharisee.  He had enjoyed prestige and the best this life has to offer.  But he learned contentment was not found in the long, repetitious prayers prayed in public, or being called “Rabbi”, or even in having the esteem of the people, his peers and his superiors.  The pride of the position he had earned by a well-disciplined life fell short of bringing contentment.  He found contentment in giving everything for the cause of Christ.  And Christ became everything to him.
            Paul was always fully engaged in his present circumstances. When he stood in chains before Festus and king Agrippa, he seized the opportunity to give testimony of how Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus, and how his life was changed. When he was shipwrecked on an island, then bitten by a poisonous snake, it was all for the glory of God.  It led to the salvation of those on the island.  When he was arrested in Jerusalem, it was his ticket to Rome where God had called him.  Even during his imprisonment there, he continued to write and share the gospel with everyone who came to see him.  Paul did the work of the kingdom of God wherever he was.  He didn’t need a formal invitation.  His circumstances were his invitation.
            Because of the hardships in his life, Paul stood before kings, worked miracles, shared the gospel with most of the world, and wrote a large portion of the New Testament by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  He was content in the will of God.
            Jesus is the perfect example of finding joy and contentment in doing God’s will.  Even as He struggled in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was set and determined to do God’s will.  He had the power to free Himself with one word.  So, how did He find the resolve to give Himself over to the torturers?  It was for the joy of doing the Father’s will.  It was for the joy of knowing He was buying our redemption. 
Hebrews 12:2 speaks of Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” He knew what was ahead, and He allowed Himself to be tortured, humiliated, ridiculed and crucified for the joy that was set before Him, and for the joy He brought to those who believe on Him.
I know this is a poor example in comparison to what Jesus has done for us, but it will give us a picture of the principle involved.  I don’t like to clean house.  Scrubbing sinks, bathtubs and toilets and vacuuming, dusting and mopping don’t really bring excitement into my life. I dread it, but I do those things because I know what will happen if I don’t.  It would leave us in unhealthy living conditions, and all the clutter would overwhelm us.  I do it because I know the benefits and the light feeling that comes with a clean house.  The work is worth it.  It leaves me with a sense of contentment.
We were worth it to Jesus because He loves us.  He knew our sins had overwhelmed us and would destroy us, and there was nothing we could do to redeem ourselves.  He saw the end result – our redemption.  He also found joy in pleasing the Father by accomplishing His plan. We can find that same joy and contentment, knowing we are in the will of God.
We are called to lay aside anything and everything that will take us away from accomplishing God’s will.  If we will give up the struggle and give in to walking in God’s will (following His Word), we will find contentment there. If we offer ourselves up as living sacrifices, being transformed by His Word and refusing to be conformed to this world, we will walk out the perfect and acceptable will of God in our lives.  Even our harshest circumstances can prove to be of great value to us and the kingdom of God.
First Timothy 6:6 tells us, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”  Godliness is holiness and righteousness that is ours only through Jesus’ sacrifice and the abiding Spirit of God in us.  It cannot be earned.  We can have the life of Christ in us and be free from the guilt of sin, all because Jesus walked in the Father’s will and paid for our freedom.  Now we need to set ourselves to walk in the Father’s will and see what He will do through us. 
Jesus said, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”  (Matthew 7:21, emphasis mine) We live in the kingdom of God by doing the will of the Father.  We can have the Spirit of God alive in us, changing us to be more and more like Jesus, guiding us, giving us understanding of God’s Word.  That is the epitome of contentment – living the full life of freedom in the kingdom of God, the perfect will of God.  We can be satisfied even in the most difficult of times, because we know the One Who has promised to provide everything we need.  When we learn to trust in the all-powerful hands of God, we can have a mind that is at peace with its lot in life, hands that are ready to seize every opportunity, and an assurance that we have more than enough of whatever we need.  We can go through the hardships with joy because we are accomplishing God’s plan.
What are you leaning on to make you content?  Is it a relationship, a promotion, a bigger house or retirement? If it is the things of this world, I can assure you it is not enough and it won’t last.  It’s amazing, that most things we think will bring us contentment are dreams for the future that will probably never come to pass.  But, we can start being content here and now, in our ‘present’, wherever that may be.  Because only following Jesus will bring contentment that weathers the storms of this life and ushers us into His presence.  Only by His Spirit can we recognize the will of God and walk in it. That is contentment.

Are you content?


Do you want to be?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

TO THE BROKEN


Broken – shattered, cracked, in poor health, crushed in spirit, disappointed to the point of despair
           
None of us born to this sin-stained globe can honestly say we have never been broken.  The fact is that we were all born broken.  We were born with a sinful nature that naturally pulls us toward the enemy of our souls and away from the voice of God calling us to Himself and freedom.  This inborn brokenness will lead us down the path to more and more brokenness unless we allow Jesus to break the power of sin over us.  We cannot set ourselves free or heal our innate brokenness no matter how hard we try.
Recently, I ordered a figurine online.  When it arrived, it was broken.  I couldn’t use it in that condition.  Considering the price I paid, I didn’t want to glue it back together.  I wanted a new one.  So, arrangements were made for a replacement to be shipped to me, and the broken one was packed up and sent back.
We are like that broken figurine.  In our sinfulness, we are always trying to glue ourselves back together so we can be useful, but the glue never holds.  No matter how hard we try to rid ourselves of this inherent sin nature, we can’t conquer it.
Here is the good news. Jesus doesn’t want us to try to glue our broken nature so we can look whole on the outside.  He wants to make us whole from the inside out.  So, He paid the ultimate price for us to actually be born again and have a new nature.  And the miraculous thing is He doesn’t have to ship us off and get a replacement.  He keeps us, yet He makes us brand new.  Don’t try to figure it out.  Just accept His invitation.  “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)
There are other types of brokenness that enter our lives, too.  Aside from our sin nature, there are various elements of this world that can break us.  We can be broken mentally, physically, spiritually or emotionally.  Some brokenness cannot be hidden.  But there are many people who look like everything is in place in their lives.  On the outside, they appear to be whole, but on the inside, they are shattered.  Jesus wants to take our brokenness and turn it into something good, something that is useful. The causes of brokenness are varied, but here are a few that may be more familiar than we like to admit.
There is a brokenness that comes from deliberate, unjust actions against us that crush us into the ground and leave us bleeding and fragmented while the perpetrators trample over us as they go their way.
            Joseph is a prime example of injustices.  He went from being the favored child in the comfort of his father’s house to being a slave in Egypt, then from there to prison.  The hardest part was that his brothers were the ones who sold him.  Talk about being unjustly treated and trampled on!  Joseph was the poster child.  But God took the years of brokenness and molded his circumstances into something good for Joseph and the whole world.  He raised him up to great power and prestige, because Joseph didn’t allow his broken circumstances to break his spirit or his faith and trust in God.  He had the favor of God in his life.  He had no idea what the future would hold during those long years in slavery and prison, but he remained faithful through every hardship. He gave his best, regardless of his conditions.
For those who are faithful, even in unjust circumstances, God will bring something good out of the evil committed against us.  Give your all, your best effort, even when the circumstances are undesirable or even demeaning.  God knows what He is doing.  He will reward you.  Joseph’s brothers were jealous of his favor with their father and with God.  They were also jealous of his dreams.  So, they sold him to stop the dreams from being fulfilled.  But you can’t stop God-given dreams.  God will bring them to pass, regardless of what others do to try to kill them.  
            We can also be broken by circumstances beyond our control.  Sometimes one problem after another crowds against us and seems to never let up.  When that happens, we need to draw closer to God and let Him use those circumstances to help us learn what He is trying to teach us.
Job was a man who lost everything, but was restored in the end.  The Bible describes him like this, “that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.”  God had blessed Him with material wealth also.  He was “the greatest of all the men of the east.”  He had seven sons and three daughters.  In one day Job lost all his possessions and his children.  Shortly after that, he lost his health.  Even his wife lost her hope and told him to “curse God, and die.”  Although her trust in God had wavered, I have to say this.  She was experiencing all the loss, too, as well as seeing her husband reduced to an ailing man who was sitting on an ash pile scraping his sores.  What devastation.  Then, on top of it all, Job’s friends came for a visit.  They began to accuse him and told him he needed to repent because he had to have done something terrible for God to allow such loss.  He retained his trust in God and defended his integrity. 
Finally, God Himself came on the scene to vindicate Job’s innocence and show Job and his friends just how powerful and all-knowing He really is.  He restored all of Job’s wealth and gave him more sons and daughters.
Hold steady.  Keep your faith firmly planted in God and His word.  Don’t let circumstances uproot what you already know about Jesus.  Instead, let those circumstances open your eyes to know Him better.
Then there is brokenness that we bring to our own door by selfish and indulgent living, making poor choices, then shaking the fist at God because we reap what we sow.  This type of brokenness will lead to one of two roads – repentance or destruction.
The young man we know only as ‘the prodigal son’ is a perfect illustration of rebellion, brokenness and repentance.  This younger son of his father couldn’t wait to be free from the confines of his father’s house, so he took his inheritance and struck out on his own.  He was determined to live life his way.  And he did, for a while.  Scripture says he “took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.”  Soon, he was out of money, out of friends, out of food and out of family.  He found a job slopping pigs.  He had hit the bottom.  All the partying, living it up, and loose morals had caught up with him and left him broken and alone.  While he was in this broken condition, he began to think of his father’s house.  The place he couldn’t get away from fast enough suddenly gave him hope.  He finally got the courage to go back home.  He even had a well-rehearsed speech that he hoped would land him a job as one of his father’s servants.  What he didn’t realize was that his father had been waiting all this time, praying he would return.  He ran to meet his son and restored him to full son-ship.  All it took was making a move in the right direction.
That’s all it takes for us, too.  We have a heavenly Father Who is eagerly waiting for us to come to Him.  Repentance opens the door to restoration in our Father’s house.  So, why wait any longer?
All brokenness does not lead to restoration, because many broken people harden their hearts and turn from God instead of repenting and allowing the Father to renew their position.
King Saul is a sad case of rebellion leading to destruction.  When God chose Saul as the first king of Israel, he was humble and obedient.  But later, rather than obeying God, he became absorbed with his own status and power. 
His arrogance and pride caused him to take matters into his own hands, and he blatantly defied God on two major occasions.  Once he offered a sacrifice that was to be made by the prophet Samuel.  Saul grew impatient waiting on the prophet to get there, so he did it himself.  Another time, he directly disobeyed the Lord by keeping the spoils of battle.  When Samuel told Saul God had rejected him, Saul’s response was not one of repentance.  Instead, he asked Samuel to go with him to offer the sacrifice in front of the people.  He was more concerned with how he appeared before them than he was about having the favor of God. When David came on the scene and was acclaimed as a great warrior above Saul, jealousy and pride gripped his heart.  He heard the people praising David for his great victories, and he purposed to kill him.   Instead of repenting, Saul grew harder and more mentally disturbed, tracking David to destroy him as if that would solve his problems.  Eventually Saul was killed in battle and the Philistines hung his body on the city wall as a trophy.
Don’t be a trophy for the devil.  He has quite a few already.  Instead of being added to his collection, you can repent and be free.
No matter how determined we are to succeed, if we are fighting against what God has decreed, we will not be successful.  We will be broken and destroyed.  All the power on earth cannot stop what God has spoken.
Brokenness has options regardless of its cause.  When we are the victim of unjust actions from others, we can choose to do our best and honor Jesus in our present conditions.  We can keep our focus on Jesus and learn the lessons of brokenness.  If life’s circumstances overwhelm us with grief, fear and worry, we can choose to stand firm on the Word of God and not waver in our faith.  We will be stronger when we emerge from those circumstances.  When we have rebelled against God and find ourselves paying the price, we have the option to surrender it all to Jesus in repentance and allow Him to make us new.  Or we can keep running into the same wall and become Satan’s trophy.
            What has caused you to be broken?  Maybe a relationship, rebellion against God, a disappointment, a lost job, or a spiritual hurt that left you doubting.  Is God not able to touch the hurt and restore health?  Of course, He is.  Is He willing?  Of course, He is.  Are you?

Brokenness can result in something good, but that is up to us.

Allow your brokenness to lead you to Jesus.




Monday, January 23, 2017

GET READY


            How many times have we used the phrase “get ready”?  We get ready for work, ready for church, ready for whatever task awaits us, and hundreds of other things every day.  But how often do we think about getting ready to answer God’s call on our lives?  It doesn’t just happen automatically.  We need to learn to follow the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives.                       2 Peter 1:10 says, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”  Diligent means conscientious, careful, attentive and persistent.  In other words, it takes determined purpose and effort to walk in God’s will.  God has called all of us, but it requires preparation to answer the call. 
            In Matthew 22, Jesus told a parable about a king who had a wedding for his son and invited people to come, but they would not come.  They were busy with their own affairs and rejected the king’s invitation.  So, the king sent his servants out to gather whoever they could find to take the place of the other guests.  However, one of those guests who came was cast out of the festivities because he didn’t have on a wedding garment.  He had been called, but didn’t prepare himself to take part in the wedding feast.  Then Jesus said, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”  How can we, as God’s called out ones, prepare ourselves to be chosen?

PREPARE OUR HEARTS
            First, we have to stay close enough to Him to know what His call is on a daily basis.  He seldom gives us long-range details.  We must be sensitive to what God is saying and what He is doing now.  If our communication with Him is sketchy, we won’t hear Him clearly.  Neither will we have the power and ability to follow His leading. Those who follow Christ know Him personally, hear His voice and follow.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”  And He has called us all to play a part in bringing that prayer to pass.  If we want to have the power and authority of Jesus to do our part, we have to allow Him to change us and empower us.  That comes only through relationship with Him.  But we need to be aware that there is an enemy who is trying to keep us from preparing ourselves.  Satan wants to make us lukewarm, and keep us from hearing Jesus’ directions.  If we do hear, he tries to keep us busy or too comfortable where we are to answer. 
If I’ve ever had a life Scripture, it would be Psalm 57.  I have turned to that chapter numerous times in my life.  But, recently, I was reading it when something came to my attention I hadn’t noticed before.
In verses six and seven it says, “They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down: they have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves.  Selah. My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.” 
The word ‘prepared’ in verse six and the word ‘fixed’ used two times in verse seven both come from the same Hebrew word, ‘kuwn.’  Both words mean the same.  ‘Kuwn’ means to make ready, to prepare, set up, be steadfast.  This Psalm was written by David when he fled from king Saul.  He was hiding in a cave at the time.  His enemy was steadfastly plotting against him.  It was no accident that the traps were set for David.  Saul and his army carefully crafted each one for his destruction..  They went through the process of preparation to bring them about. So, what did David do?  He made preparations of his own.  He made his heart secure and steadfast in God.  He listened and obeyed, and not one of the snares of the enemy was a match for God.  That’s what we have to do if we want a vision and passion that is God-inspired.  We have to prepare our hearts before God if we want His holy fire burning in us.  We have to have a hunger and thirst for His Word and His Spirit if we are to be filled.  Remember, although the enemy is making his preparations, we can overcome with a prepared heart.
Examine your heart.  Is it prepared and established in Christ?

CHANGE OUR PRIORITIES
            Changing our hearts will change our priorities.  Jesus taught that this life is not nearly as important as God’s kingdom.  He said, “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life,what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.  The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment…But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Luke 12:22-23, 31)  When we make our Father’s business our top priority, He promises to take care of what we need in this life.
            It’s time for the Church of Jesus Christ to rise up above the things that pertain to this life and give our all to obtain eternal life, and then spend our days sharing it with others for the sake of the kingdom.
            We live in a land of plenty where we have been told we can be whoever we want to be and accomplish whatever we want to accomplish.  But Jesus puts it all into perspective.  This life is over too soon and then we step into eternity.
            When Jesus spoke these words in Luke 12, He had just told the story of a wealthy farmer who had such abundance that he was planning to destroy his old barns, build bigger ones and then eat, drink and be merry.  “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?”  (Luke 12:20)  He died that night and left all his abundance to someone else.
            When our soul leaves our body, everything we worked so hard for will belong to someone else and we will meet God empty-handed unless we have done everything we could for the kingdom of God.  All that God allows us to have in this life is for the purpose of building His kingdom, not to lavish it on ourselves.
Isaiah 40 records the account of God giving Isaiah a message for His people.  “The voice said, Cry.  And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.  The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”  (verses 6-8)
That message still rings true in our generation.  We get so caught up with accomplishing things in this life that we forget how uncertain it really is.  We have no guarantees on our lives here, but we do have a guarantee of eternity.  This life is spent making the choice of where and how we will spend eternity.
Examine your priorities.  Are you investing in the Word or this world?

TAKE ACTION – WALK IN THE SPIRIT
Once we hear His call, we must act.  We can have the best of intentions, but we need to put action to what God speaks to us.  Don’t just dream about it, do it, even if it scares you.  It requires surrendering our lives, all of it, to Jesus Christ. 
It’s not enough to act out of our own desires or our own intellect, no matter how noble they may seem.  We are to act out of a steadfast heart that simply hears the voice of God and obeys Him.  When we do that, we are walking in the Spirit.
            If Jesus’ disciples had built a steadfast relationship with Him and changed their priorities to leave everything behind to follow Him (which they did), it would have been of no use if they had not acted on His directions.  He told them to go and preach the gospel, not to keep it to themselves.  If they had refused to act on what He said, the gospel would have never been preached and no one would be saved.  Their obedience was essential.  God has a part for you, and it is essential, too.  We are to carry out the same commission Jesus gave to His first disciples.  “Go…and preach.”  Share the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Live as Jesus lived and make disciples.
            How can we be a follower of Jesus Christ if we don’t emulate His example and carry it out?  If I went through recipes and pulled together a delicious, nutritious meal, but only went through the process of making it in my mind, I would not feed anyone, not even myself.  The same applies to the Word of God.  We must prepare by reading and studying His Word, but if it is never worked out in our lives, we will not feed anyone, not even ourselves.
            Examine your actions.  Are they in obedience to Christ?

Get ready so you can make a difference in the world!


Monday, December 19, 2016

THE ENCOUNTER


It’s time to celebrate Christmas again!  Every year, we have a new opportunity to join with Christians around the globe to focus on the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, and to reflect on what that encounter means to us personally.
It’s the message of God with us.  God in human flesh. It is more than amazing.  But God became flesh and dwelt among us.  God entered the world as a Man.  And because He did, we can have very personal encounters with Him.
An encounter is when we come upon someone or meet with them, usually unexpectedly.  In this case, mankind was totally caught off guard.  Even the learned religious leaders were blind-sided by this encounter with God.  They were so surprised, that they rejected Him.  John puts is like this.
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:10-14)
During Jesus’ life on this earth many received Him, believed on His name, and knew He was the Messiah. One unlikely candidate was a woman who had a pretty bad reputation.  Her encounter with Jesus came when she made a routine trip to the village well for some water.  She was totally unsuspecting that the Stranger sitting at the well would change her life forever.  She probably expected to be shunned by this Jewish Man, because the Jews had no dealings with Samaritans, and especially not with women of her class.  But this Jewish Man broke tradition and spoke to her.  He actually asked her for a drink of water.  Then their conversation turned to her personal life and to the ways of worship of the Samaritans and Jews.  And before she knew what was happening, He told her He was the Messiah.  Somehow, He had opened her heart, and she knew He spoke the truth.  So, she ran back to the village and told the people she had found the Messiah, and she invited them to come and hear Jesus.  They came, heard Him for themselves, and accepted Him.  One encounter.  One unexpected meeting.  And life was never the same for a whole city.  That’s what happens when we meet the Savior.
Another encounter came in the darkness of night when one of the Pharisees came to Jesus.  Almost all the Pharisees spoke out against Jesus and were looking for a way to get rid of Him.  They didn’t know Who He really was although they had all the Old Testament Scriptures to show them.  They were jealous of His fame, His power, and authority.  As part of that prestigious group, Nicodemus couldn’t come openly to Jesus, but he needed some answers.  He needed to find out for himself Who this Man really was. So, he came by night seeking truth. Nicodemus was different from the other Pharisees who didn’t believe Jesus was from God.  He told Jesus he believed He must be from God or He couldn’t do the works He was doing.  Jesus explained to him the kingdom of God – a spiritual kingdom that cannot be seen until one is born again.  Not a physical rebirth, but a spiritual birth that connects us with Christ.  Because of His encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus’ eyes were opened.  It seems he must have accepted Him as the Messiah, because later, when the Pharisees were planning to arrest Jesus and kill Him, Nicodemus was brave enough to speak in His defense.  Then, after Jesus was crucified, Nicodemus went with Joseph of Arimathaea to prepare Jesus’ body for burial and placed Him in the tomb.  This is what it says about Nicodemus in John 19.  “And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night.”  Now he was associating with Jesus in the light.  What a difference an encounter can make when we allow it.
The Bible is filled with accounts of those who encountered Jesus.  Each of the disciples encountered Him and left everything behind to follow Him. Years later, Paul did the same when he encountered Him on the road to Damascus.  Mary encountered Him as a baby in her arms and as a grown Son Who hung on a cross and then returned from the dead.  There are too many to mention, but every life that encountered Jesus was changed.  They would never be the same.  Neither will our lives be the same when we encounter Him.

Some who encountered Jesus rejected Him.  Others were interested for a while, but soon slipped back into their normal lifestyles.  Some not only turned away, but even tried to stop the Light from shining.  But the Light still shines today and will never fade.
We can have encounters with Jesus Christ on many levels throughout our lives.  He calls us to salvation, offers us healing, speaks to us to come up higher in our relationship with Him, or maybe He calls us to a specific work. Then, we have a choice to make.

What encounter have you had with this Messiah?  Have you received Him or rejected Him?

Isn’t it time to allow Him to break through the normalcy and change your life forever? 

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"BUY THE FIELD"



            It was a normal day, and I was going through my regular routine when it happened.  I heard the still small voice of God’s Spirit speak to my spirit.  It was only three words.  “Buy the field.”  Those words have been playing through my mind ever since, and I have been searching the Scripture.  I knew those words were meant to take me to another level in my Christian walk, but I knew they were also meant to be shared.
            In Matthew 13:44, Jesus said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field.”  This man bought the field and took possession of the treasure.  It was more important to him than all of his possessions.
            How important is the kingdom of heaven to you?  Most of us would say, “More than anything!”  But is it really more than our possessions, our comfort, and having our own way?  When our spiritual eyes are opened to see the kingdom of God, it is at that very moment we have the opportunity to possess this treasure, right now, right here in this world.  The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not it is worth giving up everything of this world to possess it.
            Living in the kingdom of God is not following a set of rules, doing a lot of good works, or coming up with a plan to ‘help God out’.  It is following the King of the kingdom.  It is following Jesus just as tangibly as His twelve disciples followed Him when He walked the earth clothed in human flesh.  How can we do that?  By allowing the Holy Spirit to live inside us, listening to His voice, then doing what He says.  Jesus sent the Spirit to be with us for that very purpose.  It requires surrendering our will to follow wherever He leads.  There is a cost to follow.  We die to self and live unto Christ.  Jesus never tried to hide the fact that there is a cost.
            In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus talked about the cost of following Him and living in His kingdom.  Let’s look at three of these verses.  “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he hath sufficient to finish it…Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?...So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” (verses 28, 31, 33)  To live fully in God’s kingdom, we must forsake our own little kingdoms and the kingdoms of this world.
What has God opened your eyes to see?  What has He stirred your spirit to do?  Is it something He has spoken to you to give up or someplace He is leading you toward?  When you choose to follow Him in those areas, you are choosing to walk in the kingdom of God.
It may mean we have to give up something dear to us in this world before we can fully walk in His kingdom, because the kingdom of God is the sphere where the will of the King is carried out.  This world’s goods and our own plans often get in the way and need to be abandoned.  We can choose to draw back if we wish, but only full surrender will bring full joy.
Jesus describes the joy the man in the parable had when he found the treasure.  It had been hidden to him, but his eyes were opened and he gladly sold everything to have God’s kingdom.  Everyone does not gladly receive it.  Some hear of the kingdom and decide to go their own way.  Others come so far and then decide the cost is too great, so they turn back. But the kingdom of God is within everyone’s reach.  Whether or not we obtain it is our choice.
When Jesus sent out the seventy disciples two by two, He gave them these directions.  “And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.  But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
Notice Jesus spoke of the possibility of two very different responses.  But one factor remains the same - the kingdom of God is as close as your hand.  It is right there!  Some choose to live in that kingdom while others close their eyes to it and continue to live in darkness.
            Jesus said to count the cost before you buy the field. Living in the kingdom of God requires all we have.  It is not a sideline or add-on to our busy lives.  It is all or nothing.  We are either all in or all out.  We cannot be true disciples of Jesus on a part time basis.  We enter the kingdom as newborn babies, but we must press our way into the interior of this kingdom and not be content to play around the fringes.
            The other passage of Scripture that came to mind is from Proverbs 31:16-17.  It speaks of counting the cost, but it also shows us that finding the treasure is just the beginning.  After that, we start learning how to function in His spiritual kingdom at the same time we are living in this physical kingdom.  That is only possible with God’s Spirit in us.  Once we have the treasure, what will we do with it?  You don’t buy a field and let it lie dormant.  The woman in Proverbs 31 shows us that.
“She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.  She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.”  Notice this woman considers the field before she buys it.  She looks it over to see if it’s worth the price, if it will produce fruit, and she considers if she is willing to put forth the effort to work it.  She decides it is good and pays the price.  Then she works it, cultivating, planting, and watering it.  And it brings forth fruit, not just for her, but for her whole household.
The treasure in the field is worth the price.  So, we are back at this deciding factor: Are we willing to put forth the effort to make the field useful?  Our work is not over when we buy the field.  It has just begun.  The treasures of God’s kingdom are not to be hoarded for ourselves alone.  God is not pleased when we hide it in our hearts and never let it flow out into the lives of others.  We need to be sure to make good use of that which has been entrusted into our hands.
The whole plan of buying the field and living in God’s kingdom includes our salvation, but it also includes working in the field.  On our journey from here to heaven, we are to spend everything we have to sow and reap the harvest.  We have to freely give our time, money and talents to carry out the will of the King.  Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give.”
He also said the harvest was ready for reaping, but the laborers were few.  He needs those who will give and give and give some more to see that the harvest is brought in, that not one soul is left out.
            If you have bought the field, what are you doing with it?  Does it produce just enough to feed you, or do you share the abundance with others?  There is a world full of people who need someone willing to work in the field and bring them to a knowledge of Jesus Christ. 
Has Jesus been drawing you to a certain work?  Buy the field.  Has He opened a door that seems too big for you to walk through?  Buy the field.  Has He asked you to let go of something that seems to be a good thing?  Buy the field.  Is He asking you to give more than you feel you can give?  Buy the field.  Buy the field and work it with all your heart.
Don’t leave the kingdom of God to walk in the kingdom of men.  Don’t stop following the King of the kingdom when the path gets rough and steep.  Because we are exchanging temporary blessings and rewards for eternal ones.  The price is more than worth it.


“…and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

“BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL”



            When I was a child, people seldom locked their doors, children played freely all through the neighborhood without fear, and murders were only heard of in the big cities, and that was few and far between. Times have changed.  We lock our doors and install security systems.  Children have to be watched carefully so they will not be abducted.  Murders happen on a regular basis even in small town neighborhoods. The places that used to be considered safe havens are no longer safe.  Because the days are evil, we have changed how we live, how we think and how we act in order to protect ourselves and to survive.
            We need to have the same diligence in protecting ourselves spiritually.  Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”  In these two short verses, we are given a clear message of who we are to be, what we are to do, and the reason it is all so urgent.
            First, we are urged to walk circumspectly. We don’t hear the word ‘circumspectly’ very often anymore, but it simply means to walk carefully, cautiously and discreetly.  There are several characteristics that show up in the life of one who is walking carefully.
            The Amplified Bible says they live their lives with honor.  Those who have the Spirit of God in them have high standards of behavior because they have high standards of godly principles established deep within them.  We are so used to people flaunting their evil lifestyles, but true followers of Christ still honor and love Him enough to live respectfully toward His Word, themselves, and other people…even the people who choose evil over honor.  Honor and respect seem to be lost in our world, so we should be careful not to shift into that gear, like blending into traffic on a highway. Living life with honor may be abnormal in our culture, but it is normal among those surrendered to Jesus.
We also need to be careful to live our lives with purpose.  What do we want to have accomplished when we reach the end of this life?  We cannot wait until the end and hope it comes to pass.  We have to work closely with Jesus toward that goal on a daily basis.  If you set a goal to make a cake, you can’t just sit back and wait for everything to come together.  You have to gather the ingredients and then follow the directions before you will reach your goal.  Jesus guides us through life to give us the provisions for the work He has called us to do, but we must cooperate with Him, draw close to Him and listen for His voice.  Only then can we hear and follow His directions.  Although our primary purpose in life is to make the gospel known to everyone, there is no rubber stamped method to carry it out.  Jesus equips each of us with just what we need to accomplish our part.  There is a diversity of methods, but one main purpose - to take the gospel to the nations.
Courage is another character trait of one who is walking carefully in this world.  We must be bold and intentional about how we live our lives and share the gospel.  When God speaks to us through something we see in the Bible, we need to immediately obey.  It takes boldness to stand when we face opposition.  There is plenty of opposition in the world, but God will give us the boldness and wisdom to overcome.
The Amplified Bible also tells us that those who walk carefully and discreetly will be “shunning those who tolerate and enable evil.”  If we blend in with those who choose to live apart from the Word of God, we will find ourselves on a downward trend.   When we become like those who do evil, we have ceased to show them the truth by our lifestyle, and we have ceased to speak truth to them.  We cannot make a person change inwardly by forcing them outwardly, but we are not to partake of their evil deeds in any way.  Accepting sin is enabling the sinner.  Jesus was clear about sin and its wages.  He was equally as clear about His love for every person and His desire that all would be saved.
Another characteristic of those who walk carefully in these evil days is discernment.  Discernment enables us, by the Spirit of God, to see through a thing whether it is right or wrong, whether it will bring harm or good.  Have you ever felt a warning in your spirit about a certain situation or an alliance with a person, but you saw nothing that should make you feel that way?  That is how discernment works.  God shows us things we have no way of knowing on our own.  He doesn’t show us things about people so we can tell everybody else.  He may show us so we can avoid making a wrong choice as who to align ourselves with.  Or He may show us so we can help guide them to Him.  When we have discernment, we can make choices with our eyes wide open rather than in uncertainty and confusion.

Redeeming the Time
If somebody gives you money, you probably want to get the best value for whatever you exchange it for.  We are to do the same with the time God has given us by exchanging our time wisely for things of eternal value.  Misuse of time keeps us from reaching our goal of what we want to accomplish with our lives.  Also, if we use our time frivolously, we won’t hear God speaking to our spirits, and we can’t be obedient to a voice we haven’t heard.
The Amplified Bible says, “making the very most of your time [on earth, recognizing and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence].”  God gives us certain commodities to use in this life to accomplish something of value.  Time, money, and talents are definitely some of them.  Opportunity is also one of those commodities.  Opportunities come to us daily.  Every time we have an opportunity to pray for someone, share Jesus with them, or be in God’s presence to hear from Him, we need to take advantage of that opportunity.
My family and I often have opportunities to share with congregations, nursing homes, on the internet, and on television.  We seize those opportunities to proclaim the word of God.  But we also have opportunities to pray for individuals and share encouraging words with people one-on-one.  Every opportunity is important.  We can’t afford to miss them.
Years ago, I met up with a friend in the grocery store.  I hadn’t seen her in quite a while and was glad to see her.  She told me that the Lord had been bringing me to her mind, and she had been praying for me. I hugged her and cried.  I had been having some problems at the time, and it was so encouraging to know God had spoken to her to pray for me even when she had no idea what was going on.  I don’t remember what the problem was, but I do remember the faithfulness of God and one of His saints to lift me up in prayer.  Seize the opportunities that come up, no matter whether they seem insignificant or overwhelmingly significant, whether they are big or small.
Many opportunities are open to us.  We need to open our eyes to see them and set our hearts to redeem the time.  It’s time to start buying everything of eternal value that we can with our allotted time on this earth.
Before we leave this idea of redeeming time and recognizing the opportunities God gives us, let’s consider social media and the internet.  People spend many hours there, but what do we use it for?  I know there are a lot of bad things on the internet, but we don’t have to visit those places.  We have the power to take the opportunity some are using for evil and use it for something good.  Be careful what you read, what you post and what you like.  Recognize even the common opportunities that are right before us.
What will we do with the time we have?  What will we leave behind of eternal value?  Today is the day to seize every opportunity we have.  Life goes by faster than we realize. 
            The days are evil, so what we do matters.  Why is that so urgent?  Because someone needs to point the way to Christ.  Someone needs to live in such a way that others can have hope of a better life.  Someone needs to let others know there is a place of peace even in the midst of turmoil, freedom in the face of physical restrictions, and a way to fill the void that every soul hungers for.  We don’t have to keep struggling and failing on our own.  Jesus is the only One Who can satisfy our soul hunger.
Live life carefully and discreetly.
Don’t miss any opportunities to share Jesus Christ.
Use your time to ‘buy’ things of eternal value.

Because the days are evil.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

THE GODS OF THE EGYPTIANS



            Life can be a battle. We see evil vs. good, the devil vs.God, this world vs. the kingdom of God.  Nations battle against one another, and sometimes even families go to war with each other.  Does anyone ever win?  It seems evil wins in this world, but it doesn’t.  There is coming a day when evil will be destroyed and those who have followed Jesus through the battles of this world will stand victorious.  It may not seem so now, but we are promised that God wins and He will reward those who are faithful to Him.   
We probably all remember the famous battle between Pharaoh and Moses that is recorded in the book of Exodus. It must have looked like Moses was fighting a losing battle, but he knew better.  Pharaoh seemed to have the power, control, authority and manpower to win easily.  But things are seldom as they seem.  God had it all planned from the beginning.  Even the ending was already set, and it happened just as God said. 
            When Moses first approached Pharaoh to “let my people go”, Pharaoh asked, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.”  But after ten rounds, Pharaoh had gotten a chance to know the superior power of the God of the Israelites.  Each of the ten plagues sent against Pharaoh and the Egyptians was a direct conquest of their gods…one by one.  It was no accident.  It was designed by God.
            The first plague, turning the water of the Nile River into blood, was a show of power against the god and goddess of the Nile, Osiris and Isis as well as Khnum who was their guardian of the Nile.
            The second plague of frogs was against Heqet, the frog-headed goddess of birth.  It is said the Egyptians believed frogs to be sacred, and would not kill them.  But when Pharaoh sent for Moses to get rid of the frogs, they died and were piled in heaps causing the whole land to stink.
            The third plague was lice.  Moses was instructed by God to take his rod and hit the dust of the ground and it became lice in the land of the Egyptians.  This was a direct attack against the Egyptian earth god, Seb (also noted as Set or Geb).
            The fourth plague was flies.  It showed God’s power against their god of flies, Uatchit.
            The fifth plague was disease and death of their cattle. Hathor, the Egyptian goddess and Apis, their god, were both depicted as cattle.  They had various other gods who were associated with bulls and cows, such as, Ptah, Mnevis and Amon.  All these gods proved powerless before the God of Israel.
            The sixth plague came as boils.  To set this plague into motion, Moses was to take ashes from the furnace and sprinkle them toward heaven.  They became dust that caused boils to break out on the people and animals in Egypt.  The false gods and goddesses they worshiped remained silent and powerless to stop it.  Among them were Sekhmet, Sunu and Isis who were gods over health and disease, Thoth who was god of intelligence and medical learning and Serapsis who was an Egyptian god of healing.
            The seventh plague came as hail accompanied by fire that ran along the ground.  It could not be stopped by Nut, their sky goddess or Osiris, their crop fertility god or Set, their storm god or Shu, their god of the atmosphere and wind.
            The eighth plague was the coming of locusts that killed any crops that remained from the hail and fire.  This showed how powerless their god for protection from locusts, Serapia, was. They also worshiped Anuhis, guardian of fields and Nepri, the grain god.  None could stop the locusts except the Lord God of Israel.
            The ninth plague was a thick darkness that settled across the land for three days.  Even at midday, Ra, their sun god could not bring them light.  Neither could Horus, the god of sunrise and Tem, the god of sunset.  Even Thoth, the moon god, could not give them moonlight.
            The tenth and final plague was the death of the firstborn in Egypt.  This was a show of power against Isis, the protector of children.  But it was actually a conquest of all their gods combined.  Pharaoh himself was considered to be the greatest Egyptian god and ultimate power of Egypt.  There was nothing Pharaoh could do to stop the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 
After the Israelites had been delivered from the hands of Pharaoh, Moses recounted the whole story to his father-in-law.  Jethro said, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.”  That battle was actually between the gods of Egypt and Jehovah, the Lord God above all.  No contest! 
Before the first plague and before every plague thereafter, Pharaoh was given an opportunity to repent and obey God.  But his heart was hardened more and more. God was not   finished until He had shown Himself above every god the Egyptians worshiped and trusted in.
            God will show Himself above the areas in which we deal proudly, too. Pride is an independent spirit, a sense of self-sufficiency that causes us to lean on our own abilities and beliefs instead of submitting to God.  Pride, stubbornness and rebellion refuse to depend on God.
            The Egyptians were depending on their so-called gods to protect them, provide for them, keep them healthy and bless the work of their hands.  They did all the right things to appease these gods and insure their success, but it was all futile.
            What are we depending on?  If our trust is in our retirement plan or bank account, our doctors, influential friends, our ability to provide for ourselves, our plans for the future, or anything else, we are trusting in gods that are totally impotent.  Our trust belongs in God alone.  Wealth can vanish in a moment. Doctors’ knowledge is limited. Our plans may or may not be realized. Our friends may not always be there, and we may lose our abilities.  These things are not wrong in themselves, but if we begin to put our trust in them and depend on them, God may begin to shake things up to cause us to look to Him.
            Where is our place of pride?  It is the place where we act independently of God, the place where we feel strong and capable in our own wisdom, abilities or provision.  When we act out of our own sense of control, we are acting out of pride.  God will deal with us in these areas, and we will either submit or fail.  He will show us that our “gods” are inadequate.  They may make us feel in control, but their false security will destroy us.
            Where is our place of humility?  It is in every area where we recognize our need for God and submit to His Lordship.  It is the place where we surrender our will to God and rely on His wisdom, power, ability and provision.  It is when we say “not my will, but Yours be done” and really mean it.  We will only win the battle when we relinquish our will to His.
            When God begins to deal with us in an area, He is giving us a chance to surrender our independence and become dependent on Him, the One Who has all power, wisdom and authority.  If we are determined to have our own way, He will deal more strongly with us so we will see our error and turn from it.  Why is God so persistent?  Because He loves us.  He is giving us the opportunity to live a life more abundant in an everlasting kingdom.  But a day will come, when He will cease to offer that opportunity if we continue to refuse Him.
Pharaoh was a powerful ruler and refused to concede to God.  If he conceded to that, he would have to give up his own glory, his self-sufficiency, his control, his reputation, all that was familiar to him, and all that he and every other Pharaoh before him trusted in.  He refused to concede and lost it all anyway.
Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life [in this world] will [eventually] lose it [through death], and whoever loses his life [in this world] for My sake will find it [that is, life with Me for all eternity].”  (Matthew 10:39 – Amplified Bible)
If we hold to the things (gods) of this world, we will lose the kingdom of God.  If we give up the things (gods) of this world for Jesus, we will gain the kingdom of God.  The two are so far apart, and yet, at the same time, we can live in His kingdom while we are alive in this world.  Jesus said we have to make a choice. The two cannot coincide in our hearts.   Our sense of duty or love cannot be toward both because they are diametrically opposed.
            Living in His kingdom while in this world means we will live this life in a battle between the world and the Spirit, but God is above the world and will show Himself strong on our behalf.
Are there any “gods” pulling you toward independence and pride?  Lay them down.  Jesus says we must let them go completely - our own glory, self-sufficiency, control, reputation, all that is familiar to us and what we have trusted in.  No god can stand before the Almighty God.  But we can choose to stand with Him.

            “Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Hebrews 4:7b