Sunday, December 25, 2011

1 Thessalonians 5:14

Now we exhort you brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all

Is there someone in your life that you have given up on?  Perhaps a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor who has rejected and maybe even been hostile toward God and His Word.  Might you have reached the point where you try and avoid interaction with this person when possible and tolerate him or her when necessary? While there was a time when you were eager to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ by way of your example and your words, you have now given up trying and even praying for what you have deemed a "lost cause". We all have people like this in our life and we all struggle to overcome the rejection that has confronted us each time we try to express our love with our words and actions.  We wince when met with this person's overt antagonism toward Jesus Christ.  Paul's exhortation to the believers in Thessalonica richly pertains to us today as we struggle to be patient with those who are unruly, weak, and fainthearted.  By patience, Paul is not offering a substitute for the great command of our Lord and Savior when He said: "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34)".  Patience is not toleration but waiting patiently for the next opportunity for you to love as Christ loves you!  It is not for us to deem someone a "lost cause" for this is God's business.

Paul, perhaps more than any other believer in history would know about "lost causes".  In his own words to the believers in Galatia Paul provides some dark autobiographical details about his life in unbelief: "For you have heard of my former manner of conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it (Gal. 1:13)".  Paul made it his life's work to eradicate as many Christians as he could. While he had no doubt heard many times that which the Messiah had said and done, he was unimpressed and clearly hostile.  Saul of Tarsus in the eyes of the Christians of his day was the ultimate "lost cause".  Then in a moment in time the Truth convicted Saul of Tarsus when Christ brought him to his knees on the Damascus road.  Paul was convicted, he was now a believer in Jesus Christ!  This "lost cause" who was responsible for persecuting and murdering countless Christians was now one of the brethren.  Who would have ever thought to speak the Gospel to Saul of Tarsus?  The answer is Jesus Christ, Himself.  Now that Paul had received Christ as his Savior his fellow believers were sure to welcome him into the faith, right!   Not exactly, for when Paul entered Jerusalem "he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple (Acts 9:26)".  How welcoming would you be if the same person who tortured, tormented, and killed your friends and family members now wanted to count himself as one of your brothers?  Paul was now being pursued by the Pharisees who viewed him as a traitor and sought to kill him and he was being rejected by his fellow believers.  Enter Barnabas: "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.  And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road and that He had spoken to him and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:27)".  Paul was neither a lost cause to God nor God's servant Barnabas.  

We are all lost causes apart from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We are all weak, unruly, and fainthearted apart from the grace of God which is sufficient for us.  As you sit down this afternoon to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, remember that there are no "lost causes" on this earth.  Consider the life of Saul of Tarsus and compare him to the person in your life that you have deemed unworthy of your efforts- there is no comparison- Saul was the worst of the worst!  Engage this person (or more likely people) in your life who needs the truth.  Pray for this person, maybe even pray with this person.  Set aside your trepidation that you be rejected or embarrassed and instead orient your thinking to that of Christ, Himself!  Remember Barnabas who welcomed Paul and ensured that Paul was received by other believers. Heed the words of Paul to be patient with others in order that you love as Christ loves you!  Forgo the notion that anyone in your life is a lost cause and take the opportunity that Christmas Day provides to sit down and engage with others who are in need of the Truth! Don't hesitate!  Love them, pray for them, encourage them, and tell them the truth.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hebrews 5:12

"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food"

Are you equipped to teach the principles of God's Word to others?  The writer of Hebrews clarifies that teaching is the responsibility of all believers.  Regrettably, like the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, most Christians are not only unable to teach others, they barely understand the basic principles of the Faith themselves.  Prior to His departure Jesus issued the "Great Commission" to the apostles: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations....(Matthew 28:19).  The word "disciple" means student and the command applies not just to the apostles but to all Christians. Paul warned Timothy of believers who desire to have their ears tickled rather than endure sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3).  The believer would do well to ensure that he is not of that mindset which Paul was speaking about for apart from an insatiable desire to understand the Word of God the Christian will perpetually need to be taught that which he should be able to teach others. Like a cracked vessel needs to stay under the running tap in order to maintain its water level so does the Christian need daily exposure to the Word of God to avoid forgetting that which he has already learned. 

Consider Phillip who was moved by God to encounter the Ethiopian eunuch as he read the words of Isaiah concerning the Messiah.  The Ethiopian man had come to Jerusalem to worship and he desired to understand that of which the prophet was speaking (Isaiah 53:7-8).  When asked by Philip whether he understood what he was reading he responded: "how can I, unless someone guides me (Acts 8:31)".  Philip removed this man's confusion by "opening his mouth and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him (8:35)."  The eunuch ended up accepting Christ as his savior (8:37) after Philip informed him that all he had to do was believe. Had Philip been ignorant of this passage he would not have been equipped to teach this man and remove his confusion which was all that was preventing him from accepting Christ.  The Christian who cannot rightly handle the Word of God is tantamount to the surgeon without a scalpel as neither can do that which they otherwise should to help another.

Exposure to the Word of God should be the last of that which is set aside to accommodate a busy schedule. Assume the priorities of the warrior as he prepares for battle and consider the charge of the apostle: "put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:11).  No army has been outmatched as the believer is by Satan apart from the armor which God has provided. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17) by ensuring that you set aside time each day to learn the Word of God.  Let the Word of Christ dwell richly within that you be not just a hearer of the Word but a doer as well (James 1:22).  Set aside the desire for worldly entertainment in favor of being edified by the word of the Creator.  Value above all else your readiness to proclaim the truth of God's Word to those ready to receive it.  Be ready to provide a defense to those who question the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).  Your desire and preparedness for the equipping of others will enable you to draw nearer to God. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

2 Corinthians 10:17-18

'But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord.For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends."

Are you a self-promoter? Is the praise of men a priority to you? Do others know of your works more than they should? The self promoting Christian proclaims to the world that there is something in which to boast other than Christ.  Effective self promotion will often accomplish that for which it was intended which is the world's affection, attention, and praise.  However, the boastful Christian would do well to compare temporal glory with eternal reward prior to seeking the former as he forfeits the latter.  Jesus spoke of this as recorded in Matthew: ""Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." (6:1-2)  In the same way Esau sold his birth right for a swallow of stew in a moment of hunger so does the boastful Christian exchange eternal glory for worldly commendation. 

Consider king Belshazzar's worldly praise and Daniel's response when called to interpret the handwriting on the wall.  Belshazzar rightfully recognized Daniel's unique ability to solve problems and interpret that which none of the diviners or magicians could understand, however the king displayed his ignorance regarding the source of Daniel's special abilities (5:16). Had Daniel sought worldly status it was his for the taking.  He had the opportunity to accept the king's praises and receive the king's promotion to the third highest position in the most powerful empire in the world.  Daniel could have boasted in his own superior abilities in order to further enhance his stature.  However Daniel's boast was not in his abilities nor did he desire worldly fame for his boast was in the Lord and his desire was God's glory: "Then Daniel answered and said before the king, "Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else (5:17)...."O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father (5:18).....but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; ..... But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways, you have not glorified (5:23).  How focused Daniel was on the glory of God that he would be so bold as to inform the king where his sovereignty came from and scold him for not recognizing it.  Daniel was pre-occupied with the glory of God to the exclusion of worldly praise and fame. 

Approach each passing moment with the following motivation: "how can God be glorified by my circumstances"?  Place a higher priority on having God rather than yourself on the minds of others. Seek to serve others that you may have opportunities to be a witness for the Gospel rather than that you may receive praise or advancement. Ensure that your idle thoughts veer toward prayer rather than scheme.  Practice righteousness not for the purpose of being noticed by man but that God be glorified.  Love others not superficially for the purpose of gain but genuinely that they may better understand God's love for them.  Utilize opportunities for boasting that you may boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31).  Refrain from selfishness and regard the needs and wants of others as more important than your own (Phil 2:3).  Such emphasis on the priorities of God will enable you to draw nearer to Him.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Colossians 3:1-2

"Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

How real to you is that which is to come? God thought it necessary to reveal future things to us not for the purpose of satisfying our curiosity but that we might live in light of them.  No event is more inevitable than our own physical demise yet we often live as though the day will never come when we will be face to face with our Savior. The reality of our future with Jesus Christ is to permeate every aspect of our thinking as we approach each task that God places before us throughout our day.  The fruit bearing Christian has nothing to fear and much to anticipate when God transitions him from the temporal to the eternal.  The Christian in whom the Word of Christ richly dwells will share in the glory of Christ when He returns and for eternity (Col. 3:4). This was on the mind of the apostle Paul when he proclaimed: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).  As the student studies in light of the future exam so must the Christian live in light of his eternal future.

Consider God's great servant Daniel's response to the misguided law that no man was to make petition to anyone but king Darius.  After the law had been made official, Daniel "entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously (6:10).  Daniel's reality was not the death sentence that surely awaited him but his eternal future with God.  Had Daniel lacked an eternal perspective he would have surely given thought to his possession of the king's favor and his likely appointment over the entire kingdom (6:3). Had Daniel prayed discretely so as not to be seen, his position as second most powerful man in the most powerful kingdom in the world would have been secured. However, Daniel recognized that the glory of God was the issue and not his own earthly riches and fame. As Daniel emerged from the lion's den unscathed to the amazement of all he made it clear that it was God who had provided for his safety (6:22). How great was Daniel's testimony on earth and his reward in heaven as a result of his eternal perspective on his circumstances.

Priorities reflect perspective.  A perspective that is based on earthly things will result in earthly priorities whereas an eternal perspective will result in our seeking the things which are above.  Surely, there is nothing wrong with earthly success for Daniel would enjoy great success in Darius' kingdom (6:28).  However, such success must be gained in such a way that God be glorified not man.  Ensure that you are starting and ending your day with the study of God's Word.  Make certain that you are in constant communication with God through continuous prayer.  See to it that you approach every task with the goal to glorify God not yourself.  Consider every person who crosses your path as an opportunity to love as Christ loves you and remember that love is not the absence of hate but the desire and action in the best interest of another person.  Remove yourself from your thoughts as much as possible and instead set your thinking on that which is above that your perspective be eternal.  It is this eternal perspective that will enable you to draw nearer to God.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Col. 1:16

"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him."

Have you ever sat in church on a Sunday morning and realized that it had been days since you had thought about God?  Have you ever paused in the middle of a workday and realized that you had not thought it prudent at anytime to pray to your Creator?  Have you ever made a decision about something in your life and failed to consider involving God in your deliberation by means of prayer?  Do you go days at a time without opening the revealed Word of the Creator? Apart from continuous prayer and observation of the Word of God it is impossible for us to fulfill the purpose of our lives which is to glorify God and draw nearer to Him with each passing moment. Consider the words of David as He pondered the sovereignty and omnipotence of the Creator: "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? (Psalm 8:3-4).  David recognized how amazing and counter-intuitive God's relationship with man truly is - that the Sovereign Creator is mindful and desiring of fellowship with fallen man is truly worthy of wonder and should cause us to desire nothing more than moment by moment fellowship with Him.

We should set our minds on the gem of truth revealed in Colossians 1:16: that all things were created by Him and for Him.  Never should we ask: "what is the purpose of my life" because we are told here - the purpose of our life is to glorify God because He is the Creator.  Consider how gracious God was to reveal Himself to us in written form and give us the capacity to understand that which He has revealed by means of God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-3:4). The theologican L.S. Chafer said the following: "Having made man in His own image and having endowed man with the capacity to commune with Himself, it is reasonable to expect that this competency in man would be exercised". David asked: who is man that God be mindful of Him? We should ask ourselves: who is man that he reject the hand of fellowship from God. 

The continuous moment by moment pursuit to exhaust the truths revealed in Scripture would leave one infinitely short of his objective.  This should cause us to be ever drawn to it.  The Bible is the revelation of God, what He has done, and what He expects from us.  It is in Scripture and Scripture alone that we find the meaning for our lives and the means by which we are to achieve it.  In his letter to the Colossian church Paul commands the believer to "let the Word of Christ dwell richly within you" (Col. 3:16).  We are to read, study, and ponder the Word of God on a continuous basis.  The Word of God is to be our authority for every thought, motive, decision, and action in our life.  We are to be so excited about it that we can't wait to tell others about it.  Such passion for the Word of God will no doubt result in an active prayer life whereby we take advantage of the eternal forum that we are given to offer praise to and ask of our Sovereign Creator that which is on our mind at any given moment.  This is the life of felloswhip that we are commanded to have in response to the hand of fellowship offered to us by our Creator. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

1 Thessalonians 5:17

"Pray without ceasing"

written by Mark Rabon

Have you ever read this verse and asked yourself: "and how am I supposed to do that?  Does God expect me to be continually in prayer with Him?" The answer is yes, He does.  Paul does not add "except if....".  However, God knows that our feeble minds are easily distracted by the events of our life and that we can get caught up in our own world.  When we are not in conversation with God, we lose that intimacy in our relationship with Him that is so important to our spiritual growth.  God's desire for us is to be conformed to the character of Jesus Christ, that we display His righteousness in our lives as the Holy Spirit works in us.  We are not capable of doing this ourselves, since our flesh is constantly trying to satisfy its own desires instead of submitting to God.

In the Greek, this verse is comprised of only two words: "adialeiptos proseukesthe", an adverb preceeding the main verb.  The adverb adialeiptos means "constantly" or "unceasingly" and is used four times in the New Testament (Romans 1:9; and Thessalonians 1:3; 2:13; 5:17).  The main verb proseukesthe is a second person plural present middle/passive imperative of proseukesthe meaning "I pray".  The imperative mood here tells us that this is not an option for Christians to do when they have time or only at regularly scheduled times.  This must be done much more often than that in order for us to know God better each day.  The middle voice lets us know that when we pray, we do receive a benefit from the action of praying: we are talking one on one with the Creator of the universe.  What a privilege this is!  Let's not fail to take advantage of it by allowing our sin nature to make excuses to not pray.  "If the spiritual life be healthy, under the full power of the Holy Spirit, praying without ceasing will be natural"- Andrew Murray (South African writer, teacher, and Christian pastor). 

So when you wake up in the morning, thank God for that day.  And when you finish getting ready for whatever you will be doing, pray again.  Pray whenever your thoughts about other things have departed.  Pray when you want to focus on something.  Talk to God about anything and everything in your life.  Let God into your life and you will never have to wonder about what if.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Romans 12:3

"For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith."

Have you recently stopped yourself in the middle of a day and recognized that to that point your thoughts have been exclusively focused on yourself? When our thinking is not properly oriented to the Word of God we succumb to the natural worldly temptation to be occupied with ourselves and place our temporal wants and needs at any given moment ahead of the priorities of our Creator.  Arrogance is often perceived as an easily identifiable vice on display in the form of condescension, thoughtlessness, and boastfulness, but in fact the essence of arrogance is the elevation of ourselves to the point of focus in our daily thoughts. This can take the form of guilt, pride, self-loathing, self justification, self-promotion, and many other patterns of systematic breakdowns of our thinking from God centered to self centered.  Perpetual arrogance leads us on a path to self destruction for as Paul explains to us in Romans 12:3 when we think more highly of ourselves than we ought we lose the ability to have sound judgment.  The theme of the book of Romans is that we are justified (eternally saved) not on the basis of our own power and ability but by the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Apart from grace we would be facing eternal suffering in the lake of fire!  Imagine if someone rescued you from a burning building, would you spend the subsequent moments occupied with yourself or with thoughts of thanksgiving and a desire to express your gratitude for the one who has saved you?  Now consider that you were eternally rescued at the cross!

Reflect for a moment on Paul who went from being the worst persecutor of Christians of his time to the greatest of all believers and the author of most of the New Testament epistles. 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 states- "For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Paul became the most respected believer of his time and perhaps the greatest believer of any time but he never allowed anyone to forget who he was when our Lord Jesus Christ called him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).  Paul's perpetual humility was sustained by an ever present realization of his depraved past and the grace which saved him.  We are told in 1 Corinthians 11:1 to imitate Paul just as he imitated Christ.  The basis for our imitation is humility for Christ humbled Himself to the point of death and it was in the cross of Christ not in his own works did Paul boast as he tells us in Galatians 6:14- "But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
We have no basis for placing ourselves at the center of our thinking nor do we have anything to boast about as we are told in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."  Our thoughts must perpetually focus on this eternal reality which means continuous thanksgiving and a desire to walk in the works (whatever they may be) that God has prepared before hand as part of the measure of faith that He has allotted to us.  Take inventory of your thoughts throughout your day to ensure that you are not succumbing to the natural inclination to focus on yourself, instead turn to continuous prayer to re-orient yourself to the eternal priorities of God.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Ecclesiastes 5:4-5

"When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay."

Do you find yourself being cavalier at times with the promises and comittments that you make to others?  The busier that our lives get, the more we struggle with failure to follow through on our promises.  We often rationalize the breaking of our word with legitimate reasoning according to the world around us; however it is the Word of God and not the culture around us that provides the norms and standards according to which we are to adhere. Proper orientation to the Word of God provides us with an eternal perspective in which we value our witness to the world around us for the Gospel of Jesus Christ above all other priorities. When we make a promise we are doing so not independently but as a representative of the Creator God of the universe for 2 Corinthians 5:20 states: "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us".  It is because we represent God that all of our promises are made not only to the person to whom we make them but to God, Himself.  When we think about it in these terms what possible rationale could suffice for the breaking of our word?

Reflect for a moment on the form of interaction used by God to relate to His creation.  Throughout history God has voluntarily entered into contractual relationships (covenants) with man, thus binding His Sovereign will to actions in fulfillment of these contracts.  Following the world wide flood which destroyed everyone except for Noah and his family, God entered into a covenant relationship in which He promised the following: "I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth." God said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth (Genesis 9:11-13). Every time we see a rainbow in the sky we are reminded that we worship a God Who keeps His Word not just for a little while but forever! God does not treat His promises to man in light of man's complete inability and helplessness to enforce their terms and conditions. We are never to regard the worldly status of the person to whom we enter into a promise as an indicator of the importance of our fulfillment.  A promise made to a child is just as important as a promise made to an adult.  A promise made to a subordinate is just as important as a promise made to a superior!  A promise made to someone with little is just as important as a promise made to someone with much. 

Consider the message that we, as believers bring to the unbelieving world: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).  We bring a message of hope and security on the basis of our God Who has told us that He was satisfied with the work of Jesus Christ on the cross as payment for our sins and based on the fact that He will never change His mind.  Our hope is based on God keeping His Word.  This is the God Who we worship and the God who we represent on earth.  It is for this reason that we must be sure that when we make a promise that we can and will fulfill that promise. Remember, when you stand before an unbeliever, you are the picture that he has of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  Conduct yourself accordingly!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ecclesiastes 7:5

"It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man Than for one to listen to the song of fools."

Are you careful to regard the loving correction of a fellow believer above the flattery of a worldly unbeliever?  We all struggle with the desire to have our decisions and actions be authenticated by others while avoiding the painful rebuke of Biblical council. Think back to a time when you had gone a few days without praying or exposing yourself to the Word of God. Surely, your thoughts during this time were shaped not by Scripture but by the world around you. How many phone calls and personal encounters with fellow believers that you otherwise would have welcomed did you avoid because you just didn't want to hear it!  Much like an avalanche picks up speed and size as it rolls down the hill, so too do we become emboldened with each day that passes in our arrogance resulting in an inability to submit to Scripture or a willingness to allow other Biblically minded believers help us see where we have gone wrong. It is quite revealing that the first instruction that King Solomon gave to his son Rehoboam in Proverbs 1:5 pertains to keeping and listening to wise council: "A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise council  (The account of Rehoboam's failure to heed to this advice is recorded in 1 Kings 12). 

There is a recurring theme throughout the New Testament especially in the Pauline epistles that is communicated though the word parakaleo which means to encourage, or literally to call another alongside to where one is. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says: "Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing." God has provided His Word to be the source of all correction, conviction, and training (2 Timothy 3:16), but he does not simply leave us to ourselves to receive this instruction.  Just as God works through the believer to communicate the Gospel to the unbeliever He works through individual believers to encourage and correct others in the Body of Christ.  We are responsible to encourage and correct others and we also must be ready to receive the same encouragement and correction when we are struggling. 

Nothing betrays us more than our feelings.  How we feel at any given moment is the last thing that should govern our thoughts, decisions, and actions.  Never is this more true then when we have strayed from the dominance of a Biblical perspective in our lives.  It is at these times more than any other when we must overrule how we feel and humble ourselves so that we submit to the Scripture which may take form in subjecting ourselves to the rebuke of a wise fellow believer.  In so doing, we are not submitting to another believer but the truth of Scripture as the basis of that believer's encouragement to us.  1 Corinthians 3:19 states: "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, "He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness".  When we forego the tough love of wise council for the song of the fool we are trading the Truth for a lie.  Be careful and use good judgment regarding the council you keep.  Regardless of the problem that you may be encountering, the answer is always found on the pages of the Word of God. Good council will always bring you back to the text of Scripture not the world's system to help you through your struggle and they will have as their motivation the desire to see you draw nearer to God. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

1 Thessalonians 5:18

"In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you"

Do you find it difficult to give thanks to God when you are enduring hardship and suffering?  We all struggle with this despite knowing that God is in control of our lives and is aware of our circumstances.  How many times have you looked back on difficult times that you are thankful for now that you are able to see what God was doing in your life but while you were in the midst of them you were anything but thankful? God's command to us to be thankful in all things is a message to us from our Sovereign Creator that we are not to question His love for us. Nor are we to question His omniscience or His omnipotence in that He knows our struggles and is able to resolve our circumstances at any time.  God created us to have a personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, our High Priest.  God desires fellowship with us, a fellowship in which He brings everything to the table and all that He requires of us is faith.  Therefore, we must orient ourselves to the Biblical truth that the purpose for our lives is to draw nearer to God each day through faith in what He has said in His Word.  Our faith is strengthened when we endure hardship: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance (James 1:2-3).  When our thoughts are grounded in this reality it becomes easier for us to give thanks when we are immersed in struggle.

You may have asked God "why me" at some point in your life.  You just could not figure out why God was allowing such adversity to come upon you.  This was on Job's mind when God provided him with an answer: "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, "Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge? "Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me! "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, (Job 38:1-4)".  God continued to grill Job along these lines and then Job responded: "Then Job answered the Lord and said, "Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth." (Job 40:3-4)  Job's perspective changed immediately for he had been more oriented to his earthly circumstances than he was to eternal reality.  Without an eternal perspective we will be overwhelmed by the thinking of this world which is limited to what the eye can see and the ear can hear. The writer of Hebrews tells us: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (11:3).

Colossians 3:16 commands us to "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you..."  Saturate yourself with the Word of God. Start and end your day by exposing yourself to Scripture.  Pray on your way to work or school and don't stop praying just because you say "Amen".  Pray continuously as Paul commands us in 1 Thess. 5:17.  Pray about everything, this will keep you oriented to the reality of your relationship with God and help you to be thankful no matter what happens because the reality of your fellowship with the Sovereign Creator overwhelms the earthly reality of your temporal circumstances.  This will enable you to draw nearer to God throughout your day.

Monday, April 25, 2011

1 Peter 1:3-4

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,"

Do you have an eternal perspective about your future?  Do you live each moment in light of the reality that you have a future inheritance, reserved for you in eternity?  Are you occupied each day with our resurrected Savior, Who will return in the manner Paul described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17-"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord." We should wake up each morning with the reality in mind that today could be the day our Savior returns to gather us to meet Him in the air.  How different would your perspective be if this was the case? As the culture around us places their collective hope on fleeting targets such as political elections, stock futures, and new energy technology our hope is in a future that has already been determined, one which we look toward not with cautious optimism but with absolute confident expectation.  How overwhelmed by joy and contentment should our perspective be considering the certainty and richness of our future!

Paul had this perspective when he wrote the letter to the Philippians while in prison, facing possible execution for his stand for the Gospel.  Paul's struggle was not based on worry about whether or not he would survive his circumstances but whether or not it would be for the better if he did. In Philippians 1:14 Paul acknowledges that "to live is Christ and to die is gain". He knew that his life as a member of the Body of Christ had an eternal purpose which was the furtherance of the Gospel.   He goes on to tell the believers in Philippi that while he desired to depart and be with Christ his presence was needed for their benefit and therefore he knew that he would remain with them to ensure their progress (1:23-24). Paul was torn, not because he feared death or wanted to use death to escape the physical punishment that likely awaited him but because he knew that if he died, he would be in the presence of the risen Savior but also knew that his work on earth was resulting in the spread of the Gospel.  Paul's priority was God and therefore people.  He wanted to endure in this life not because it would be better for him but because it would be better for the believers to whom he was ministering.  The more oriented we are to an eternal perspective the more time we spend thinking about others to the exclusion of ourselves as the center of our reality.

There is no justification for the worry and anxiety that governs our thoughts at times because of our temporal circumstances.  Whether our difficulties are related to finances, health, family, relationships or any other type of struggle, the reality of our eternal future should overwhelm our temporal circumstances.  Be occupied throughout your day with the inheritance that awaits you and live in light of it.  Dwell on our Risen Savior and his imminent return.  Look forward with confident expectation to a time when you will be in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. in a place where you will have unlimited access to Him.  As Moses sang in the ninetieth Psalm: "As for the days of our lives they contain seventy years, or if due to strength eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away".  Our physical life is but a drop of water in the ocean compared to eternity for our purpose on earth is to live in light of our eternal future.  It is this perspective that should govern your thinking and overpower the worries of this world. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

James 1:2-3

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance."

How do you respond to adversity?  When our faith rests not on the wisdom of men but on the power of God (1 Cor. 2::5) we possess an eternal perspective on our lives, enabling us to view all circumstances with thanksgiving.  When we enable the world to shape our thinking we embrace the cultural norm of a changing perspective based on events and circumstances rather than the rock solid principles of Scripture.  The writer of Hebrews commands us to run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).  The Greek word for race is "agon" which means struggle or fight and it is where we get the word "agony". We don't want to stand on the sidelines while the race is being run by others, we want to run.  If this is our desire, we must embrace that which enables us to run which is the endurance we receive from the testing of our faith.  We are to be thankful because God has not only established our race but knows and has provided exactly what we need to run it.  When we engage in self-pity, anger, arrogance, or frustration when we encounter trials we relegate ourselves to the sidelines while others run the race that God designed for us.

Reflect for a moment on how your perspective on your circumstances would change if the veil that separates time from eternity were removed and you were able to see the eternal impact of your daily walk as was the case with the great believer Job.  How great a believer Job must have been for the eternal conflict between God and Satan to converge on the battlefield of this man's soul.  For a moment in time the center of the entire heavenly realm focused on Job.  Had Job known this, his perspective on his incredible struggle would have been far different than the one that he had when he pronounced that his "soul was poured out because of his plight and the days of affliction had taken hold of him" (30:16).  He then went on to say that he had become like the dust and ashes of the earth (30:19).  Job lacked the perspective that he gained when He heard God's answer to his groans: "Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.  Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" (38:2-4).  Job's response: "I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You..... Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand" (42:2-3).  Job received the perspective that he did not understand which is that God had a purpose for allowing him to suffer and that purpose had eternal ramifications. 

We do not need for God to descend and reveal His purpose for testing us as He did with Job for we have the pages of His Word which tell us that the testing of our faith produces endurance for the race that He has set before us.  We have the account of Job in its entirety for the benefit of our perspective.  We are without excuse for the improper perspective on the adversity God has placed in our life.  We are to run the race for our race has an eternal purpose of which we do not see but is real nevertheless.  When you encounter struggle in your life embrace it! Rejoice in it!  You are running the race that God has set before you.  Do not murmur as though you lack understanding.  Rejoice because your life has eternal meaning and purpose. This, along with continuous prayer for stamina and wisdom will enable you to draw nearer to God.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ephesians 4:32

"Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."

Do you easily forgive others when you have been wronged? When we are oriented to the thinking of God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture it is easy to recognize the special place that forgiveness should hold in our thoughts. God the Father was so oriented to forgiveness that He sent His Son to the cross to bear the burden for our sins so that He could justifiably forgive us. Christ had to pay the penalty that we could not pay ourselves in order for the righteousness of God to be satisfied. Consider how infinitely greater His righteousness is than our own when you have been wronged and have an opportunity to forgive the person who has wronged you. If God has forgiven, who are we to withhold our forgiveness? The Greek word "forgiving" in this passage in Ephesians occurs in the present tense which means continuous action. Paul's communication of the continuous action of forgiveness has a two-fold meaning. First,we are not just to forgive a wrong that has been done to us in a moment in time but we are to persist in that forgiveness, never rescinding it even for a moment. Second, we are to be continuously oriented to forgiveness throughout the day.

Reflect on the parable of the prodigal son recorded in Luke 15:11-32. Jesus tells about a man who had two sons the younger of whom requested his inheritance from his father so he could travel to a distant country and spend the money as he desired. After suffering the consequences of his bad decisions he desired to return to his father but agonized over the response that he would receive so much that he was prepared to consider himself no longer a son but a hired hand. When he returned he was welcomed by his father with a loving heart and a great feast. The father's offer of forgiveness removed the burden that his son was carrying, enabling him to focus on gratitude rather than guilt. God wants our focus to be on thanksgiving for what He has done for us rather than guilt for what we have done by sinning. We are to imitate this by forgiving others and removing the burden of guilt from their midst.

Rejoice when an opportunity to forgive another person presents itself in your life. Don't wait for the person who has wronged you to ask for your forgiveness, re-engage with that person so as to make it clear that they have already been forgiven not because they asked but because you offered. Why is this important? Because this is a picture of the cross and a wonderful introduction the the Gospel. We did not ask for forgiveness in order to receive salvation, we simply acknowledged that we had already been forgiven because of the work of Christ on the cross. By removing the burden on the part of the offender you have communicated by example what God has already done for that person. This opens the door for you to explain the real reason why you have offered your forgiveness- because God has already forgiven that person based on the work of Christ on the cross. Elevate the need of others to receive the Gospel above your own need to be offered an apology. God does not require an apology, simply an acknowledgment that He has forgiven us because of the work of Christ on the cross. We draw nearer to God when we establish this same standard for the forgiveness of others.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Philippians 2:3

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves"

Do you view the needs of others above your own?  Obedience to the command to regard others as more important than ourselves places us further away from the norms and standards of the culture around us than perhaps any other the believer is given regarding his daily walk. The reality is that only those who are placing themselves at the center of their thoughts will receive encouragement and re-enforcement from the world around us.  If we are looking for the example of how one elevates the needs of others above himself we must shift our view from the world to the cross where Jesus "humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).  Paul tells us that we are to "have this thinking in ourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5) as the motivation for our thoughts and actions in our Christian walk. While we will never be able to duplicate what Christ did at the cross we are to imitate Him and this is what Paul commands us to do in Ephesians 5:1.  Leadership more than anything is about imitation of that which is principally correct.  We are to imitate Christ who gave up His life so that the very ones Who took it could have eternal life. Others need encouragement.  Not the encouragement according to the world's shallow standards of the building up of false self-esteem in another person but in ensuring that not only do others know the truth but can see how the Truth impacts the life of the person who is guided by it.  That person is you!  The purpose of our lives is not for our own benefit but for the benefit of others.  God works through us to not only speak the truth but live it and be an example for it. 

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul explains to the believers in Philippi why he is rejoicing despite being in prison and possibly facing execution: "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear."(Philippians 1:12-14).  Paul's concern was not for himself but for the the guards who had received the Gospel and for other believers who had become emboldened to speak the Gospel because of his imprisonment.  The most important need that the unbeliever could possibly have is salvation and that requires him to hear the Gospel.  The most important need the believer could have is encouragement to run the race that God has set before him.  Paul has elevated the needs of both the believers and unbelievers in his periphery above his own needs.  Paul is imitating Christ by elevating the needs of others above his own.  We are to imitate Paul as he imitated Christ.

Be more mindful of others rather than yourself.  When something unpleasant happens to you rather than focus on your need to blow off steam by venting your frustration, or ensuring that you plead your case for the wrong that you have suffered, dwell on others who stand to gain by seeing you handle the situation in a manner that reflects your position in Jesus Christ.  This may lead to an opportunity for your to communicate the Gospel to someone or provide encouragement to a struggling believer.  Our comfort in times of trial and testing is in the Lord not in ourselves as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." This is how we are to regard others as more important than ourselves and therefore draw nearer to God.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Proverbs 12:27

"A lazy man does not roast his prey, but the precious possession of a man is diligence"

Do you struggle with the temptation to be lazy? Do you value diligence as a precious possession?  When you think about the day ahead do you give thanks for the work that God has put before you? When we are thinking Biblically about our day it is easy to recognize that work is something to be treasured, for it provides the environment for us to apply our understanding of Scripture for the purpose of glorifying God.  When we stray from Biblical thinking we view the day's work as a race to get to the leisure activities that await us when we get home, in other words: "me time".  God has such a high view of work that He chose to introduce Himself to man as a working God in the opening chapters of Genesis.  This does not mean that we are to work ourselves into the ground for Proverbs 23:4 states that we are not to overwork to be rich.  We are to rest, but we are to utilize our rest to reflect on the grace of God and His provision.  There is no place in our walk for "me time".  Time is a valuable resource given to us by God for His pleasure, not our own.  We should be spending our rest engaging in activities that draw us nearer to God rather than the culture. Rest also enables us to appreciate what we accomplished during the day.  Failure to be diligent in our daily work removes the opportunity that God has provided for us to enjoy genuine appreciation for our day's work. Scripture is clear: there is a time for work and a time for rest.

Reflect for a moment on the greatest failure of the great believer King David as recorded in 2 Samuel 11.  "Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem."  While David's army was fighting, their leader stayed home and engaged in an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.  After finding out that Bathsheba was pregnant, David devised a devious scheme to call Uriah back from the battle so that he would lie with his wife and cover up the fact that David was the father of Bathsheba's child.  Uriah refused to go into his house and see his wife.  When David questioned him as to why, Uriah said the following:  "The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in temporary shelters, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? By your life and the life of your soul, I will not do this thing." (2 Samuel 11:11).  Uriah recognized that the time for rest had not arrived, because there was work to be done.  David then ordered Joab to place Uriah in the front of the battle in order to ensure his death.  His plan worked, making David both an adulterer and a murderer.  This was quite a fall for the man who God described as a "man after His own heart".  The road to this great failure began when David failed to engage in the work that God had given him to do which was to lead the armies of Israel into battle.  David had rested when it was time to work.

Rejoice in the work that God has set before you.  Be diligent to accomplish each task to the best of your ability for the glory of God.  Be known as a person who can be counted on to get the job done without cutting corners.  Do your work in a manner that brings honor and glory to God and provides you with the opportunity to be a witness for the Gospel.  Lead by example in the manner of Uriah rather than David.  Don't rest while there is work to be done.  When it is time for rest, draw nearer to God by reflecting on His gracious provision of your work.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Matthew 5:10

"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Have you ever had your well-intentioned attempt to present the truth to someone else backfire?  Have you ever been rebuked for being too narrow minded or insensitive because you took a stand for the Word of God?  Perhaps you may have even gotten in trouble with your employer because you brought Scripture into a conversation at lunch, or allowed your Biblical worldview to govern your thinking about a particular matter.  The world around us is hostile toward Scripture and therefore is hostile toward anyone who espouses It as absolute truth.  The history of the church is filled with those who have sacrificed their freedom, their health, and even their very lives for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus was mindful of these loyal disciples when He made this statement in Matthew 5:10.  However, He was not only speaking about those who would be physically persecuted, but those of us who are socially persecuted for the sake of the Gospel as well.  Jesus made it clear that we should view this persecution as a blessing, for it provide us with further opportunity to glorify God.

Paul was mindful of this fact in his second letter to Timothy when he said: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).  Paul went on to explain how we are to handle this type of hostile environment: "But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:5). Paul was consumed with his call to proclaim the truth of God's Word.  He looked at every hardship that was brought about because of his stand for the truth as blessing, because God was being glorified.  While in prison, Paul spoke these words to the Philippians: "For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29). This is how we are to view the hostility that greets us when we proclaim the Truth. 

Be an imitator of Paul by removing your fear of hostility and social estrangement from your thinking.  Don't let fear prevent you from being open about your relationship with Christ and your desire to see others have that same relationship.   "Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season....." (2 Timothy 4:2a) and remember - we are out of season.  Change your fear of social backlash into rejoicing in the opportunity God has given you to deliver the greatest news of all!  Joyously tell others that Jesus Christ paid the penalty they could not pay and if they believe that He did they will immediately enter a personal and eternal relationship with God and their eternal future will be secure.  This attitude will enable you to draw nearer to God.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

1 Peter 3:15

"but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;"

How far do you stray from a state of readiness to present the Gospel at any given moment? When we are oriented to the Word of God, we are eagerly waiting for the next opportunity to speak about the truth.  When we are not properly oriented, we find ourselves holding on to any reason not to speak up for the Gospel.  Excuses like: "it just isn't the right time or place" or "I was in a hurry and couldn't talk" or "you just can't go there with him".  These excuses are exactly what Satan encourages; the last thing Satan wants is the free and open communication of the Gospel.  The Greek word that Peter uses for defense is ἀπολογία which means to make a carefully reasoned defense in attempt to change the mind of the other person.  We do this all day long about all sorts of things.  Think about how we respond when we or someone we care about is accused of something.  How do we respond when someone disagrees with our opinion about a job-related matter?  We have little hesitancy to persuade except in the most important of all matters: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Reflect for a moment on Jesus' call of His first two disciples (Matthew 4:19). Peter and Andrew were fishermen and they were casting a net into the sea when Jesus came upon them.  Jesus said to them: "follow me and I will make you fishers of men".  The analogy of fishing is quite revealing in that He was about to teach them how to capture others by making a persuasive argument that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus Christ.  This marked the beginning of the earthly ministry of Jesus.  The close of His earthly ministry dealt with the same issue for his final words to the apostles in the Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28:19 were: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."  We are responsible to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This requires us to be prepared to speak the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ at anytime and in anyplace.

Be in constant prayer for opportunities to speak the truth of the Gospel to unbelievers.  When you interact with others, take the time to ask them questions and then pay close attention to their answers.  Get to know them in hopes that you may have the opportunity to talk to them about eternal life.  Remember, the motivation is always love.  Love is the wanting of and acting upon the highest and best for someone else and there is nothing higher or better than eternal life.  Don't be afraid to tell them that you love them, and remember to pray for anyone to whom you present the Gospel.  Lastly, don't ever be discouraged if the person rejects the Gospel.  As Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 3:6, some plant and others water but God causes the growth. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

1 Thessalonians 5:11

"Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing."

Are you a leader?  The answer to this question does not depend on your rank or your position in the hierarchy of your company.  We are to function as leaders regardless of any formal authority that we have over others.  Leadership depends on our capacity and willingness to encourage and build up others.  The Greek word that is translated encourage in this passage is παρακαλέω which is made up of two smaller words: παρα which means beside or alongside and καλέω which means to call.  Calling others alongside is a leadership function which has both an active and passive component.  Our example (passive) must precede our words (active). 

Reflect on Paul use of both passive and active leadership as he encourages the Philippian believers.  Despite being in the worst possible circumstances one could imagine Paul rejoiced.  Philippians 1:12-14 states: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.”  Despite being in prison, Paul did not go to pieces but instead rejoiced because the Gospel was being spread as a result of his situation.  Paul was leading by example. He did not feel sorry for himself; he was not angry, bitter, or frustrated.  He did not seek vengence because he was wrongly imprisoned.  Instead, he rejoiced!  He was exemplifying the Christian life that he had been teaching.  He then followed up with the active component in leadership by issuing a command to them in Philippians 1:27- “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”.  Paul was calling the Philippians alongside where he was- disregard for his own personal, temporal comfort for the sake of the Gospel.  This is leadership as defined by Scripture.  This is what we are to imitate.

Be a leader in the mold of Paul.  Recognize that your Christian walk is not for your own benefit but for the benefit of others.  Be prepared and willing to encourage others.  Preparation requires your constant exposure to the Word of God.  Be Scripturally saturated- not so that you will be puffed up with knowledge but so you will be prepared for God to use you to teach and encourage others. We cannot bring others to a place where we are not at ourselves as the writer of Hebrews points out in his rebuke of the believers that he is writing to- “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (Hebrews 5:12).  Establish your example by living a life that is grounded in the Biblical truth that you have learned and then be ready for opportunities to encourage others.  Fear not for God will provide the opportunities.  Your preparation for and engagement in the encouragement of others will result in your drawing nearer to God.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Proverbs 9:10

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."

What do you fear?  Are you afraid of losing your job and therefore your ability to provide for your family?  Are you afraid of a health crisis for you or someone that you love?  Are you about to embark on a new venture, perhaps a new job or career and as a result you are afraid of how you will perform or fit in with the new culture around you?  Are you afraid of getting older and closer to death?  Are you afraid of the direction that our nation is headed?  Fear is about respect or awe for something that you know to be greater and more powerful than you. The only thing that helps to combat our fears is when we are comforted by someone or something that we know is greater and more powerful than the object of our fear.  Remember when you were a child and had a fear of the dark.  Perhaps your fears were multiplied when you would hear thunder or see lightening in the middle of the night.  You may have cried for your parents or ran into their room.  Once you were in the presence of your parents your fear subsided because you were comforted in knowing that they would never let anything bad happen to you.  In this Proverb, King Solomon is teaching son Rehoboam about wisdom.  Wisdom is skill for living which is the result of gaining and then applying understanding.  The starting point for wisdom is the fear of the Lord.  We are commanded to fear the Lord because He is the sovereign creator of the universe and there is nothing over which He does not exercise His dominion for His good pleasure.  He is both omniscient (all knowing) and omnipotent (all powerful) and therefore the only legitimate target for our respect and awe.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because it is the recognition of where wisdom and power originate.  Like the comfort of our parents arms overwhelmed our fear of the dark when we were children, the comfort of the Lord should overwhelm anything which we fear in our lives.

Reflect for a moment on Peter’s experience of getting out of the boat and walking on the water to Jesus in Matthew 14:29-31.  When the disciples saw a man walking on the water they were afraid and thought He was a ghost.  Jesus spoke to them, identifying Himself, and told them not to be afraid.  Peter doubted and asked Jesus to prove that it was Him by commanding him to walk on the water toward Him.  Peter then got out of the boat and started walking on the water toward Jesus but when the wind kicked up he began to fear and started to sink, he then cried out to the Lord and Jesus saved him.  We tend to beat up on Peter for his lack of faith but the reality is that his experience of walking on water defied the basis laws of nature.  What we should learn from Peter’s experience is that our fears should be trumped by our comfort in the provision of God.  The more that our fear (awe or respect) of God overwhelms our fear of anything else in our life the more we are ready to acquire understanding which leads to wisdom when applied in our lives.  Isaiah 41:10 says: “‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”  The Lord is our comforter and will never leave our side. We are to fear Him and Him alone.

Dwell on what you know to be true about God.  Remember, God spoke the universe into existence.  He created “ex-nihilo” (out of nothing).  Everthing that exists was created by God and is subject to His omniscience and omnipotence.  Think about every challenge in your life in light of your relationship with God.  Remember that your comforter will never leave or foresake you.  God does not put challenges in our lives to break us but to build us up.  James 1:2-3 says “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance”.  Be honest with yourself and recognize what your fears are.  Engage in prayer for these things and be comforted by what you know to be true about God and His love for you.  Let the fear of the Lord govern your thoughts throughout your day!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Philippians 2:3-4

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."

Are you easily inconvenienced?  We all live busy lives and as a result tend to be guarded with our time, focusing on our interests rather than the interests of others.  When we are in this state of mind we regard the needs of others as intrusions in our lives and though we may choose to get involved and help, we lack the proper motivation.  Scripture, unlike anything the world has to offer is about motivation and means rather than overt action.  Sure, we are told to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27), not by our own power for our own purposes; it is God Who is at work in us to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).   We are not to be selfish with our time or any resource that God has given us, for everything that we have is a gift from God designed for us to serve Him.  Serving God requires us to serve others and this means getting involved in the lives of others.  Jesus said in Matthew 20:28- “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  Our lives are about imitating Christ Who entered the world for the purpose of serving others by giving His life as a ransom for all.  There is no way that we could ever rise to this level of service but this is what we are to strive for.  This is how we draw nearer to God.

Reflect for a moment on the account of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37.  A man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho has been robbed, stripped of his clothes, beaten and left for dead.  First a priest, then a Levite saw this man and walked right past him, choosing not to get involved.  Then a Samaritan (of all people) came upon him, bandaged up his wounds, poured ointment on them, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  He then paid the inn keeper on behalf of the injured man. Jesus told this story to his disciples as an example of what He expected of them as it pertained to getting involved in the lives of others.  We should be racing to help others for when others are in need and we fill that need it becomes a wonderful opportunity for us to communicate the Gospel, which is exactly what our motivation needs to be. Getting involved in the lives of others is the business of the Christian.  Selfishness is a lack of orientation to the reality of where our resources, talents, and skills come from and what they are to be used for.  Imagine the horror of walking past (literally or figuratively) an unbeliever who needs help only to have another unbeliever step in and help him instead.  Sure, the unbeliever can supply his temporal needs but he is incapable of supplying what is really needed - the Gospel!  This should be the most horrific thing that you could possibly imagine - an unbeliever supplanting you in your duty to love and serve others for the sake of the Gospel and therefore the Glory of God.

Regard service to others as an opportunity not a burden.  In fact, don’t wait until you are asked, instead make yourself available before you have to be asked.  Recognize that whatever you have was given to you by God for the very purpose of serving Him which requires us to serve others.  Also recognize that proper motivation is required in order to fulfill the command to love others as Christ loves us.  We are not to serve others so that we will “feel good about ourselves” or so we will be recognized or because we believe that “if you do good to others it will be returned to you”.  We do these things not so we will receive something but because we have already received something- the infinite blessing of having a personal relationship with God because Jesus Christ intervened on our behalf and paid a ransom that we could never pay.  Take an interest and get involved in the lives of others because of Who you represent.  God works through us (Phil. 2:13) to reach others.  If we choose not to get involved God will surely find someone else to accomplish His will but is this what we really want?  Do we want to sit on the bench while someone else takes our spot?  Be a workhorse for the Gospel by making yourself available for God to use you in the lives of others and do so for the glory of God. Doing this will draw you nearer to God.

Friday, April 15, 2011

1 Cor 10:31-32

"Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God;"

Do you take yourself too seriously?  Do you allow your own preferences and hang-ups to define how your think about and interract with others?  Do you align yourself with some and distinguish yourself from others based on disputable matters.  We all struggle with this from time to time because we fail to realize that Scripture defines only two categories of people: the saved and the unsaved (those who are members of the Body of Christ and those who are not).  This type of fragmentation was a problem throughout the New Testament and something that Paul dealt with extensively.  The context of the passage in 1 Corinthians is Paul telling the believers in Corinth not to make an issue out of eating or not eating meat when it was offered to them in the home of an unbeliever.  Jesus had already made it clear that eating meat was acceptable when He told Peter in Acts 10:13 to “kill and eat”.  Therefore, the Corinthian believers were fragmenting themselves based on faulty reasoning and as a result were making themselves distractions from the main issue which is the Gospel.  Paul fought the same battle when he excoriated Peter in his letter to the Galatians and when he rebuked the Corinthians who were dividing themselves into factions (those of Paul, Apollos, Cephas).  Paul’s message was clear in all cases: the stand that must be taken is the stand for the Gospel.  All other matters are to be withheld so as to not offend anyone for the sake of the Gospel.  God is glorified when His message is being communicated to the unbeliever and the purpose of our life is God’s glory.

What defines you? How do others identify you?  Are you identified according to the sports teams that you root for?  Are you identified according to the type of music that you listen to or the television programs or movies that you watch?  Are you identified according to your ethnic heritage?  Do you separate from people based on your particular preferences about matters that do not pertain to the Gospel?  In Paul’s letter to the Romans he states that all believers are members of the same body (the Body of Christ) and therefore individually members of one another (Romans 12:4-5).  Just prior to that he states the following: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).  Our identicatiion is with the Body of Christ and as a result we (believers) are all united to one another.  Our membership in the Body of Christ is how we are to identify ourselves and desire for others to identify us.  When we align ourselves with something other than the Body of Christ we are elevating our basis for distinction above God’s and therefore exalting ourselves beyond what we ever ought.

Remove the distractions that stand in the way of your ability to talk to unbelievers about Jesus Christ.  Before you ever convince an unbeliever to root for the same sports team, or buy the same car, or eat the same type of foods you need to spend your energy (of course through the power of God the Holy Spirit) convincing them that they need to accept what Jesus Christ did at the cross on their behalf.  This does not mean that you pound them over the head with the Gospel.  What it does mean is that your focus needs to be on the furtherance of the Gospel and you must take great care not to be a stumbling block by making an issue out of something that is not.  Be a witness for the Gospel in your life.  Live in a manner that manifests your position in Jesus Christ.  Make it impossible for you to be identified by anything else other than your relationship with Jesus Christ.  We don’t lack for an example on how to do this. Read Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Is there any doubt what his priority is?  Here is how Paul describes his mental attitude while in prison: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear (Philippians 1:12-14).  If your priority is the progress of the Gospel you will draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Romans 12:4-5

"For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."

Do you struggle with the temptation to minimize what you do each day?  Are you constantly looking around you and seeing others who function in roles that you consider more contributory to society or more glorifying to God?  As with all struggles, you are not alone for we all have these moments of weakness when we are disoriented to the thoughts and priorities of the Lord.  In order to draw nearer to God we must orient our thoughts to the reality of our position in Jesus Christ.  We are members of the Body of Christ and as Paul states in this verse, just as one body has many members and all the members do not have the same function, so too is the Body of Christ comprised of many members who have been assigned different functions.  The line of thinking that leads us to conclude that our race is one of less value than someone else’s is that thinking which draws us nearer to the world instead of God.  1 Thess. 5:18 states: “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.  God determined in eternity past what our respective roles would be in the Body of Christ and we should engage in continuous thanksgiving for whatever role that He assigned to us.

Reflect for a moment on the endeavor led by Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  Nehemiah after inspecting the situation in Jerusalem summed up his findings in 2:17- Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.”  The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem was not only one of the most challenging construction projects in history but a difficult military endeavor as well for the pagan nations around them led by Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite sought to use force to see to it that the the walls would never be rebuilt.  Therefore, the rebuilding of the wall required some to focus on the construction while others focused on military defense.  Nehemiah 3 is an amazing account of the dispersement of the workload which was assigned to families based on their locale.  Each family was responsible for building a section of the wall where they were located.  At the same time others were selected to stand guard and protect the city.  In order for the wall to be built, everyone had to do their part and execute the role that they were assigned.  No one’s role was more important than the other, in fact if anyone did not fulfill their role the entire project would fail.  Imagine an inpenetrable wall except for one small section that one particular family believed was less important than some other section.  The wall would no longer be inpenetrable in such a case. The project would have failed.

You are a member of the Body of Christ and have been given a role to function in just like each family had been assigned a section of the wall to build.  You have been handpicked by God for the role that He has assigned you.  This is the race that He has set before you to run (Heb. 13:1) in order to draw nearer to Him for the purpose of glorifying Him.  Don’t ever look at your role in your organization or your role in your home the way the world looks at it.  We are not to look like the world and we are not to think like the world.  Do your work like the families rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  Remember that your are fulfilling your role in the Body of Christ.  Do your job and do it right.  Col. 3:17 states: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  Let us be oriented to this line of thinking in order to draw nearer to God today.