Thursday, August 30, 2012

From Tragedy to Triumph - Strangers in a Strange Land

Ephesians 2:17-19 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.

The country of Myanmar (Burma) has systematically hunted down and killed ethnic minorities in their land for many years.  One Christian group, known as the Karen, began to be welcomed into the United States about a decade ago in large numbers.  Many of these refugees settled in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and my family was privileged to help them when they arrived. We developed a friendship with one family that warmed our hearts.

When we met this family at the airport, they arrived with a single suitcase each and nothing else.  No money, no credit cards, no Starbucks coffee.  The city of St. Paul provided a small apartment and funds for necessities until they could get back on their feet.

I often wondered what their first night in our country was like.  They were hated and unwanted in the country of their birth.  In Thailand, where they lived in a refugee camp, they simply existed with thousands of other refugees. They could not work, own property, speak freey, or travel.  In America, on their first night, they were welcome here, but they didn't really belong.  They had no citizenship papers or money.  They had no household with comfortable furniture, no food in the refrigerator, and no welcoming party at their apartment complex.  Essentially, they existed and not much else.

Years later, this couple is employed, has two children, and is thriving in their new home.  They are American citizens, and their home is filled with delicious food, the chatter of excited children, and many friends.

I think sometimes that the Lord gives us little glimpses into what the kingdom of heaven is really like.  For Americans, sometimes it's difficult to understand the hopelessness that accompanies the one that is far from God.  Perhaps our affluence, comfort, and security is a curse that prevents many from experiencing the joy of citizenship in God's kingdom and being welcomed into his house.

Remember are blessed.  For once you cross the line of faith and embrace a relationship with Jesus, you are a citizen and you are welcome in the house of God.  There is a great mansion in the sky being built for you and the activities in that mansion will one day be pure and beautiful worship of our savior.

Yes, things are nice here, but let's all get a little perspective.  Something better is coming.  We just have to see it for what it really is.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Forgetting to give back - the legalistic pastime.

2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

It works in power plants and it SHOULD work in our life.  What goes in must come out.  If 1000 gallons per minute is drawn from a tank by a pump, the process can only continue if that 1000 gallons per minute has somehwhere to go.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that if we are comforted by the Lord, then we in turn should comfort others.  This implies that the optimal comfort for anyone involved in suffering comes from God AND from those closest to them.

Unfortunately, when we've had trouble in our life, we've received comfort, and then many times, we have failed to look for and comfort others who encounter similar situations.  When this occurs, we quickly forgot that we had the problem, and then we may judge others with the very same problem as being weak, incompetent, or lazy.

Unless there's a steady stream of love emanating from us that equals the amount of love we receive from the Lord, we became self-righteous blowhards spouting legalism at every turn.  You don't have to look far to see this phenomenon, just pick about any church in America that is stagnant and inwardly focused and that is what you will get.

My advice to you is three-fold.  First, exercise your Christian faith enough to encounter some troubles.  Second, joyfully receive the comfort of the Lord and the comfort of others.  Finally, be another one's comforter and not their judge.  This is how God's glory is displayed for all to see.  Have a great day!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Attendance at the First Church of the Spitwad

Revelation 3:14-20 To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I now your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

In this church and in your church, there are plenty of those who have not crossed the line of faith. They hang around the services, soaking in the music, the fellowship, and the teaching.  They may be involved in leadership or teaching, serving and leading.  Yet, it has little or no effect on their lives.  They’re living a charade of epic proportions.  They're the Milli Vanilli of evangelical America.  The Lord chooses to define these folks as lukewarm, something that is not energetic or lethargic, not enthusiastic or critical, it’s someone who wants to be around the people of God, but deep inside, wants nothing to do with God Himself.  And as this verse says, after a while the Lord wants nothing to do with them later.  They became spit in his mouth, ready to be ejected as worthless and worthy of dirt.

In this church, in the life of the rich young ruler, and in our churches, often times the reason, is not just the acquisition of wealth, but the attitude that comes with it.  You see, the rich have funding, but they are scared.  The more one possesses, the more one worries about what could become of it.  They say they “need nothing,” but in actuality, they are scared and have little peace about the future. However, they never show fear in public.  They're as cool as a Lake Michigan summer.  You see, the maintenance of a portfolio and a public profile is far more important than a relationship with the Lord.  It's the greatest miscalculation that has ever occurred.  It's like trading a dinner at Morton's for three crispy tacos at a drive-through.

It’s so sad.  As one preacher put it, “The greatest mission field in America is not in the ghetto, but in the pew.”  I would like to modernize that slightly by saying this.  "I'm not sure where the greatest mission field is, but take your pick of any church in your community, and you might not be too far off.  It's not a conservative or liberal problem.  We're all equally greedy.

The Lord’s advice is to shed your desire for wealth accumulation.  Acquire gold from His Word, then you will be rich and whiter than snow.  For these folks, they simply need to trust Jesus Christ with their lives.

In our churches, judge for yourself.  Since we're obsessed with wealth accumulation and retirement security and will justify it to anyone who will listen, what does that tell you about the heart of our churches today?  Many folks, if honest, would rather hear what Dave Ramsey has to say than the words of the Lord Himself. 

Maybe put it this way.  Over the next week, record how many times you check your portfolio versus how deeply you dig into the word of God.  I think you may already know the answer.

You see much of the church today is like an eighty four year old country club golfer. We're inflexible, stubborn, and writing down fives when we really made sevens.

Commit today that your church, beginning with you, will seek the gold of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday in God's word

Matthew 9:8 But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God,who had given such authority to men.

When Jesus healed the paralyzed man in Matthew 9, the crowds were struck with awe.  This is how someone feels who is in the presence of an infinitely superior person.  Some today in the news have expressed awe in the presence of an athlete such as Usain Bolt, or a world leader like Lech Walesa.  We may thrill at the exploits of those who climb Mt. Everest, or marvel at the intelligence of a Stephen Hawking.  But these are just people.

Biblically, "awestruck” describes the reaction of those who witnessed several events in scripture: the shepherds hearing of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2, the apostles when their Lord walked on water in Matthew 14, the guards at the tomb when the angels rolled away the stone in Matthew 28, the people in the early church right after Pentecost in Acts 2, and the reaction to the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.

The awe-filled response by most of the people in the crowd as they witnessed what Jesus did for the paralytic was certainly the right one, especially since it resulted in their giving glory to God. Such an attitude should never be far from us as we strive to faithfully worship and serve the Lord.

So ask yourself this question?  How magnificent of a revelation does it take for you to be “awestruck” at God’s splendor and glory? What simple, basic, everyday things are ready examples of His greatness, though disguised as something ordinary and insignificant?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Thursday in God's word

Luke 12:1-7
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Jesus makes it very clear in scripture...many are called, but few are chosen. In this passage, the very few, the disciples, are contrasted with the many, the crowd of thousands.  The few are walking in truth, but many are hypocrites.  What makes someone a hypocrite, you might ask?  It's someone who fears what people think more than they fear what God thinks. An attitude like that will cause us to want to please others by representing ourselves as someone we're really not.  But don't worry, the hypocrite is always discovered, the truth will always come out.  So, with God, the following seems like a conundrum for the believer:  Fearing God allows us to live without fear.  Fearing God allows us to be brave and courageous, to speak the truth in love, and to grow in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Isn't that a great thought?  So today, walk with Christ, talk about him to others, God knows you really are His child, now let everyone else know!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wednesday in God's word

Psalm 149:1-4
Praise ye the Lord.
Sing unto the Lord a new song,
and his praise in the congregation of saints.
Let Israel rejoice in him that made him:
let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
Let them praise his name in the dance:
let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.
For the Lord taketh pleasure in his people:
he will beautify the meek with salvation.

We can think of many ways that the Lord is good to us. Because of our gratitude, we should desire to give Him praise each and every day. He deserves and is worthy of our praise. So how are we to praise Him?  In Psalm 149, we see the how and the why of praise. Our songs are to be new and fresh, sung together, rejoicing in our creator and our king. We dance wildly and use instruments to accompany our songs. Now you’ll notice here that there is no comment on the quality of our voices, the selection of who has to be present, how joy is expressed, how dances are choreographed, or how instruments are played. Just like a parent at a recital, the Lord takes pleasure in hearing the songs of His people because these people belong to Him. We know from our Bible, that in God’s eyes, the last among men are the first in God’s kingdom. The cursed and the scorned become the welcomed and beloved.  The ridiculed and rejected become the righteous and renowned. His people may be, in the world’s eyes, unsuccessful, unimaginative, uninspired, and ugly. But look at the last sentence. We may never be considered beautiful or accomplished by the world’s standards. But that’s OK.  The world’s standards are pathetic and are to be ignored. Why? Because the world makes idols of physical beauty, wealth, and power.  The Lord, on the other hand, made us rich through the poverty of Christ, he made us powerful through the Holy Spirit.  And most wonderfully, He has made us beautiful through salvation. And that is the most beautiful truth of all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday in God's word

Isaiah 33: 20-22
Look on Zion, the city of our festivals; your eyes will see Jerusalem,
a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved;
its stakes will never be pulled up, nor any of its ropes broken.
There the Lord will be our Mighty One.
It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams.
No galley with oars will ride them, no mighty ship will sail them.
For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver,
the Lord is our king; it is he who will save us.

Many U.S. cities are facing bankruptcy today.  Usually, the cities made risky investments in order to gain larger returns.  When the financial system was in peril in 2008, their plan begin to unravel, causing those cities to respond by cutting spending and raising taxes.  Several years later, they are unable to pay their bills.

In Old Testament times, God’s chosen people, the Israelites sometimes thrived and sometimes faltered.  This was directly caused by their adherence to God’s law, or lack thereof.  He carefully and completely laid out His law, He ruled over them, and He judged them harshly when they turned their back.

How does this work for Christians today? We live under God’s law, but today, for the believer in Jesus Christ, it’s the law of love, for all the Old Testament law is wrapped up in the following:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  God does judge us today, but thankfully he judges us based on the righteousness we have received from Jesus Christ, and that is perfect righteousness.  God does rule over us, but with Christ, if we follow Him, we serve under His hand of kindness.

So, in our homes, if Christ is at the center, we will have peace.  If we follow His precepts, we will have peace.  If we put Him first, we will have peace.  Otherwise, we may not.  Pray today that the Lord your God will be your Peace.

Have a great week.  Bill

Monday, August 6, 2012

Monday in God's word

Psalm 119:129-136

Every word you give me is a miracle word, how could I help but obey?
Break open your word, let the light shine out, let ordinary people see the meaning.
Mouth open and panting, I wanted your commands more than anything.
Turn my way, look kindly on me, as you always do to those who personally love you.
Steady my steps with your Word of promise, so nothing malign gets the better of me.
Rescue me from the grip of bad men and women, so I can live life your way.
Smile on me, your servant; teach me the right way to live.
I cry rivers of tears because nobody's living by your book! 

I love the Psalms.  It's David's cry to his Lord, raw and revealing, heartfelt and hurting at times.  In Psalm 119, these eight verses give a glimpse into David's prayers and his desires for his own life.  It's beautiful and very useful to us.  Let's look at it together.

What does he ask of God?

Break open, or reveal, your word to me.
Turn my way.
Look kindly on me.
Steady my steps.
Rescue me
Smile on me.
Teach me.

What does David ask for?

To understand the meaning of God's word.
To let nothing bad get hold of him.
To teach him how to live.

The God of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New Testament.  He reveals himself, he cares for us, he rights us, he pulls us out of trouble, he smiles and laughs with us, and he teaches us.  All we have to do is ask.

It should be our heart's desire to know God's word, to consume it, to ask God to let nothing stand in the way of our growth in the Word, and then that His word would shine clearly in our lives.

Having said that, the closer we come to God, the more our heart should break for those who do not know him.  David cries rivers of tears for the lost.  Our response should be similar.  We have no need to hate the sinner, but to embrace and carry them along the way.

That must be our prayer.  Have a great week,everyone!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday in God's word

Jeremiah 33:2-3 This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it = the Lord is his name: "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know."

In Old Testament times, God's word was being revealed to his prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah.  Some things were written, but most wisdom from God came through those that He chose to reveal himself to.  The promises were great and direct.  The Lord will show you truth you cannot imagine!

Today, we are in a much more enviable position.  God's word has been revealed and completely written down.  We can access 100 versions of the Bible on the internet.  We can see what men and women think about every verse in the bible.  We can even see what our friends think about the Bible on Facebook.

But, as great as all these tools are, here's the thing.  God wants to tell you what His word means to your life.  That only comes through reading, praying, and meditating over His word.  Call to Him, and He will answer.  Come close to Him, and He will come close to you.  Ask him to guide you through His word and He will guide you.  However, remember this.  A Christian who never spends time in God's word, is like a golfer who only swings the clubs on a Wii game.  It's not real, and it gives you a sense of false confidence that you can do the real thing.  So, get in the game, and play the game with a Bible close by.

Today is the Lord's day.  May it be special to you.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Saturday in God's word

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that you can have peace because of me. In this world you will have trouble. But cheer up! I have won the battle over the world."

When New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees severely injured his shoulder in 2005, he leaned hard on what someone had shared with him years earlier, “If God leads you to it, He’ll lead you through it.”

You cannot gain strength and muscle by looking at a treadmill, a barbell, or a pair of running shoes.  You must do the work.  God’s way of making us stronger and shaping us into the men and women He wants us to be is by giving us tough times.  But in the midst of these things, the promises of God are ever present.  First, He says, we will have trouble.  But when trouble comes our way, although there may be pain deep within us, eventually we can smile, because the battle is already won, the race has already been run, we just have to claim the victory. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday in God's word

James 1: 22-23:  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror, and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

The most revealing moment on this side of heaven, is each morning when we look in the mirror.  The mirror does not hide our imperfections, lighted mirrors or well lit rooms will even emphasize the things that we may not like about the way we look.  There may be blemishes on our skin or features on our face for which we do not care.  Good news?  As believers in Jesus Christ, we know that he does NOT judge us by our imperfections, but only by our righteousness that comes solely from His work on the cross for us.

If we read the Bible, and fail to notice our imperfections, how we are NOT like Jesus, then it is a fruitless pursuit.  Yes, the Bible is meant to inspire and encourage us, to lead us and give us hope, but as James tells us, unless we take God’s word deep inside of us and let it purge out those things than need to be purged, then it has little lasting value.

So do this.   Get up tomorrow morning and say this to yourself in the mirror (go ahead, you can talk to yourself, it’s OK, I do it all the time), "I look just as Jesus intended me to look, and HE loves me that way.  But I know that God also loves me too much to LEAVE me like I am.  When I read my Bible today, i will see how much I match up to His command, and I will pray that I will become more like Jesus each day."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thursday in God's Word

John 1:12-13 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

If we were asked, “What is the single most significant event in a person’s life?”  many would say marriage, the birth of a child, a college graduation, first communion, or other significant events.  We know that as believers in Jesus, the moment that we turned to Jesus, when we believed, that was the time we received eternal life, and that is the greatest thing that will ever happen to us.

Not even death is a more momentous event than this.  Eternal life does not begin when this life ends, for the believer in Jesus Christ, eternal life begins the minute we trust His death on the cross as payment for our sins.  The biggest change in our life has already occurred.  Hallelujah!

Have a great day!