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.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

John 13:34

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

Do you view people as a hindrance to your day?  If so, you are not alone for we all face this challenge. Interaction with people takes time, patience, and concentration which are three resources that we would rather conserve for tasks.  We have all had days when we would prefer to bury ourselves in our work then run the risk of having to interact with others and utilize our valuable time and energy on someone else.  When we have this attitude we need to immediately check ourselves and re-align our thoughts with God’s thoughts.  We are commanded in Philippians 2:5 to have the attitude in ourselves which was in Christ Jesus.  People were such a priority to Jesus when He walked the earth that He not only gave the command for us to love one another but He went on to say in verse 35 that all men will know that we are His disciples if we have love for one another.  WE WANT TO BE IDENTIFIED WITH JESUS! There is no greater and more important marker of identification that we could ever have then our relationship with Jesus Christ.

God loved the world so much that He gave up His Son so that whoever believes in Him will never perish but have everlasting life.  People are a priority to God and are the object of His love and in order to draw near to God we must draw near to His priorities.  Love is the wanting of and acting upon the highest and best for another person. In order to do this we need to interact with others.  We need to get to know them and cultivate relationships.  This will never happen if we set a path before us that is designed to avoid them. God makes it clear to us in James 4:8 that He desires to draw nearer to us.  The infinite, eternal, perfect, righteous, sovereign God desires a relationship with us.  As David said: “who is man that you are mindful of us?”  If God desires fellowship with people, who are we to desire something different?

Make people a priority in your day by desiring fellowship with them.  Get to know someone new or re-engage with someone that you already know.  Don’t do this as a superficial exercise - going through the motions so that you can check people interaction off your “good Christian to do list”.  Remember the command is not to talk to others but to LOVE others.  Obviously loving them requires us to talk to them but don’t do the bare minimum; Jesus didn’t- He gave His life on our behalf and it is He Who we are to identify with.  Most importantly, pray for others today.  You will surely hear someone say something that requires prayer.  There is no action that expresses our love for another person more than our going to God in prayer on that person’s behalf.  Don’t ever make the mistake of minimizing prayer.  Pray, but also make yourself available for God to work through you in other ways to reach others.  This can only be done if you make yourself available to fellowship with them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Romans 12:1

"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship."

Each day brings about new tests and challenges.  For the believer the challenge is the manner in which we approach them. Each morning we must present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God ready to serve Him and walk in the good works that He has prepared beforehand for us (Eph. 2:10).  “Presenting ourselves” literally means standing at attention ready to receive our orders (works) for the day. These works were prepared in eternity past for us to walk in, so that God could mold and shape us, allowing us to draw nearer to Him as we execute them for the ultimate purpose of glorifying Him. There is no specially colored label identifying the “good works” as opposed to the works that have nothing to do with what God has set before us.  Good is anything that is done by means of God the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16) for the purpose of glorifying God. These works are not a series of random tasks or events but are today’s leg of the race that God has set before us to run (Heb. 13:1) with the objective in mind to draw nearer to Him. 

Begin your day today by properly orienting yourself in prayer.  Stand at attention, ready to receive your working orders which you will be receiving as the day unfolds.  Understand that the day is not for you to live for yourself, but for God as you are a Holy sacrifice which means that God has set you apart as a result of the work of Christ on the cross to be a sacrifice in service to Him.  Approach the day with excitement and thanksgiving for the race that you are about to run. Excitement, because you are about to run a leg of the greatest of all races-the race to draw nearer to Him.  Thanksgiving, because He has given you everything you need to run that race.  Don’t view your day like the world would have you; what is about to happen in your life is not random and the purpose for your day is not your own glory and amusement.  You day has eternal significance and the purpose for everything that you do is the glory of God.  

Monday, April 11, 2011

Proverbs 16:13

"Commit your ways to the Lord and your thoughts will be established"

Our greatest struggle throughout the day is what we think. The reason this is such a struggle is because of the rapidity with which our thoughts can change- in other words, how easily distracted that we can be. Remember the last time you were praying while driving and then someone cut you off, what happened. Did the fact that you were engaged in prayer overwhelm the thoughts of anger and frustration with the person who cut you off or was it the other way around. This verse should give us great comfort as it tells us that if we commit our ways to the Lord He will establish our thoughts. This does not mean that we make our mind go blank and God delivers the right thoughts to us. We are commanded in Gal. 5:16 to walk by means of the Spirit and we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. The desires of the flesh are not just what we do with our members but with our minds- the thoughts that throw us off track from what we should be consumed with which is a desire to serve the Lord and to draw nearer to Him (James 4:8). As Christians we must realize that there is now and always will be an absence in the world around us of encouragement to commit our ways to the Lord. However, the abundance of encouragement that is available to the believer dwarfs anything that the world could possibly offer as we have available for our immediate and enduring consumption the Word of God. Walking by means of the Spirit requires us to be Scripturally saturated- completely emmersing ourselves in the Word of God. This doesn’t mean that we bring our Bible to work and read it on company time. It does mean that we should be starting our day and ending our day in the Word and be thinking about what we read and applying it throughout our day. This is the key (along with not having any unconfessed sin in our life- 1 John 1:9) to walking by means of the Spirit and therefore having God establish our thoughts.

Have you ever noticed that the more you pray the more you want to pray. When you are in this status your first instinct is to pray for everything and anything that comes to your mind. You are ready and willing to grab someone who just laid a problem or struggle that they are having and pray with them right there on the spot. You realize that the problem the person is having is not one for you to solve and so while you may make a suggestion or two (based on Biblical principles) you won’t make your ability to solve the problem the issue. When you are not in this status, prayer is a struggle and if you pray at all it is a grind just to get through it. You probably find it difficult to concentrate and therefore get easily distracted. When someone comes to you with a problem you are more inclined to try and solve it for them with human solutions rather than go to the Lord in prayer. You may tell that person that you will pray for them (because you know that is what you are supposed to do) but you probably won’t pray with them on the spot.

Start your morning with prayer and don’t end that prayer just because you say amen. No matter what you do there will always be moments when you are alone with you thoughts. Use this alone time to pray. Try to pray for others and when you pray for yourself ask the Lord to help you to glorify Him with your thoughts, decisions, and actions. Ask for opportunities to present the Gospel to unbelievers who you know are surrounding you. If someone comes to you with a problem grab that person and pray with him. The more you do this the more you will want to do this! This is how the Lord establishes your thoughts. You make the decision to saturate yourself with His Word, you make the decision to engage in prayer and He establishes your thinking throughout your day.