Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Prayer for Hostages in Afghanistan

It is into day 11 and a second Christian hostage has been murdered. Why isn't the world condemning or even interested in this?

Do as I say … and do

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul says to imitate him – how bold. He also sends Timothy, who is “faithful in the Lord”, to remind the Corinthian church of his way of life in Christ. So, Paul is also saying to imitate Timothy who is walking the walk according to Paul’s teachings. These passages have really challenged me and also built-up my faith that God can do a rather thorough job of transforming our lives as he did in the lives of Paul and Timothy.

Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. - 1 Corinthians 4:16-17

Paul continued by stating that the way he lives agrees with all of his teachings. He is not afraid to say “do as I say and as I do” because Paul does what he teaches. He is not a hypocrite. Do we hear this from many pulpits these days? Better yet, do we see it backed up if it is said? We need more teachers who, like Paul, can say “imitate me” rather than “hey, I still struggle with committing this sin too”.

We should ask ourselves if we are at a place where we could tell someone to imitate us.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Start your day out right with this prayer

This prayer was compiled from scripture by a friend of mine for himself and his family. I love it!

Father in heaven, I am entering a spiritual battle today against an enemy who is waging war against my soul. 1 Peter 2:11 I must be self controlled and alert, because my enemy the devil is looking to devour me. 1 Peter 5:8 I will resist him today and he will flee from me. James 4:7 I know that I will be tempted to sin against you today. I am so thankful that you will not allow me to be tempted with anything that I cannot overcome. You promised to provide all the strength I need to say no to any and all temptations today. 1 Corinthians 10:13 Jesus I am comforted in knowing that you understand this war I am fighting. You understand what it is like to be tempted. You were tempted in every way that I am, yet you were with out sin. Hebrews 4:15 I am eternally grateful that sin is no longer my master, and I am no longer a slave to sin. Romans 6:6 I have been set free from the power of sin and have become a slave to righteousness. Romans 6:18 By your Spirit and grace I will not allow sin to reign in my life today. Romans 6:11 Your grace teaches me to say no to ungodliness and worldly lusts, and I will live a self controlled, upright, godly life today. Titus 2:11 Lord, I know it is your will for me to be sanctified 1 Thessalonians 4:3 I thank you that your divine power has given me everything I need for life and godliness 2 Peter 1:3. I praise you that you have given me a hunger and a thirst for your righteousness and your kingdom.

I know that discouragements and setbacks may hit me today. Things may not go the way I planned or hoped. I am thankful that no matter what happens, you promised to cause everything to work together for my good, because I love you, and have been called according you your purpose. Romans 8:28

Lord today I need help to wage war on the pride in my life. I know that you oppose the proud but you give your wonderful grace to the humble. James 4:6 Help me to think of the needs of others before my own today. Philippians 2:4 If I don’t get good service, if someone is rude to me, help me to respond with love and kindness. Please remind me to pray for them. Mathew 5:44

Saturday, July 28, 2007

She was "All In"

I appreciate Chet Swearingen's short article about Bonnie Witherall who was brutally martyred in Lebanon while she was selflessly ministering to Muslin women. Hers was a life well-lived for God. Close to two years ago I had the opportunity to meet Gary Witherall and hear much of Bonnie’s story at that time. I also read his book: “Total Abandon”. I pray that more people would have this kind of passion and commitment to serving and obeying our Lord Jesus. We are called to nothing less than total abandonment to Christ.

I also can identify with what Chet had to say at the end of his post:
Why is it that after I am around some Christians I feel like I need to take a bath? Their love for their life, and their love of their possessions and position in life make me feel dirty and polluted. I don’t want any of it rubbing off on me! How much more when I get around pastors of churches who pacify and entertain those Christians… God help me!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Now that’s a servant’s heart:

We are very familiar with the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. But, have you thought about the circumstances that occurred just prior to this event and what Jesus was dealing with on a personal and emotional level? Jesus had just received news that John (the Baptist) was brutally murdered and decided to retreat to a solitary place. However, thousands of people followed him because they wanted Jesus to teach them and minister to them.
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. – Matthew 14:13-14.
How Jesus handles this situation is incredible and completely selfless. Jesus didn’t say “I need my space; don’t they understand that I need to time to process this, I can’t minister to them right now, I need to be ministered to. Even though Jesus was fully man, he did what was contrary to human nature. Jesus, in his time of grief and mourning, didn’t turn away the thousands that wanted ministry and teaching. Instead, he embraced the opportunity presented to him. He was selfless and did the work that God gave him to do. He was faithful to his calling and he placed others above himself. Most would say that he had every right to some time alone. He was entitled to some privacy and time to mourn the loss of his loved one.

God gave Jesus opportunities for rest and time alone. However, this was not one of those times. It is likely that the man Jesus was tempted to send them all away; however, the obedient servant stepped forward in a big way and ministered not only with spiritual food but also with physical food. He cranked it up a notch. He didn’t just give a short teaching and close in prayer - he went late into the day.

How often do we fail to help others, minister to others, or do the work God has clearly given us because we are tired, need some alone time, have issues in our own lives to “deal with” or have set up boundaries to supposedly protect ourselves? God, may I have the heart and mind of Christ and think of others above myself. Tear away all selfishness so that I will do your will at all times and be used by you in all circumstances. May I be like Christ and put others above myself. I know you will provide all my needs. You will give me the strength I need, the rest I need, and the resources I need. And, may I never say no to you or others out of selfishness but willingly serve with a servant’s heart.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thank God for “One More Year”

I accepted Christ as my savior at age 11 and called him my Lord. However, my heart was not completely surrendered and circumcised. Although it was not necessarily outwardly apparent to most (since I was a good church boy), I still primarily lived for myself, my flesh, my comfort, and my pride. Looking back I guess you could say I had accepted Christ as my savior but had not truly made him my Lord.

I thank God for his patience. I am grateful that he gave me time to come to true repentance. In addition to the book of Romans, God used the following parable found in Luke 13 to wake me out of my spiritual coma:
Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' 'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' "
God was speaking very clearly to me three years ago through this parable. He was telling me that it was either time to submit to him fully and begin producing good fruit or he was ready to move on.

While he had been extremely patient with me, his patience was just about to run out and the soil put to better use. I knew that I had to either (1) completely submit my life to God through repentance, service to only him, and begin to bear pure and holy fruit or else (2) I would be “cut down”. But wait, I saw God’s grace and patience in this message in the form of giving me “one more year” and his willingness to continue to work my soil and fertilize me (giving me everything I needed to begin to produce fruit). Praise God for his patience, his clear calling, and his incredibly fast-working transforming power. That year was filled with incredible growth and much fruit. It was the beginning of a new life filled with true love for Christ lived out in sincere faith and repentance.

Is this message for you? Are you anything like I was for so many years: lukewarm, producing little fruit, and lacking full commitment? Have you fully made Christ your Lord or are you still the real lord of your life? Remember, “He (God) is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The key is that we must come. We must give up, turn, and follow God completely. Is this your “one more year”? Repent, fertilize your mind with the Word of God, and allow God to begin to transform you, really begin to use you for his kingdom, and produce good fruit. Then, there will be no need for cutting down.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What does it mean to believe?

“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” - Romans 10:9.
What does it mean to “believe”? It is often presented to be a state of mind; a sincere thought; a feeling; a point of knowledge; an understanding; a confession. However, when we read on in Romans 10 we see that Paul provides some additional insight into what it means to believe. Paul points out the need to accept the good news. To accept something, you receive it. You take ownership of it. You make it yours and put it to its intended use.

Paul clearly shows that belief is not simply hearing about something or having knowledge of it when he states, “But I ask, did they not hear? Of course they did.” He continues by pointing out that it is also not simply about understanding: “Did they not understand?” We can hear it and we can understand it. But, it is when we "live it" that it is truly belief.

Paul gets to the heart of the matter when he points out, through the words of Isaiah, that it is really about whether or not we submit to Jesus as our Lord: “But, concerning Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’” What we see here is that it is about whether or not belief changes our lives. Do we respond to Christ? Do we embrace him with everything we are? Do we repent? Are our hearts circumcised and wholly given to him? Or, are we obstinate and disobedient? Do we continue to live for ourselves? Do we disobey God? Do we confess he is Lord, but not make him Lord? Does it change from being all about us to being all about God?

So, “confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead…” Make Christ your Lord. Give it all to him and obey him. Die to self and submit to God. Live it out.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Turkey Goes Islamic

Will Turkey "Islamify?" This is the big question after the elections held yesterday. I am scheduled to travel to Turkey again later this year and am curious to see what changes I will experience. I am thinking positive and pray that this will actually be just what the country needed to cause the Turkish people to seek and respond to the gospel. Often, progress is made when opposition increases.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Getting to the heart of the matter

Why is it that some people say fasting once a week, praying, reading your Bible every morning for 30 minutes, going to church weekly, obeying God, not going to rated R movies, tithing a minimum of 10%, not drinking alcohol, or exercising are legalistic while others see that these are the farthest thing from legalism?

To answer that question, let's use the following illustration:

You have two sons: ages 10 and 12. You have a rule in your family that they must clear their dishes after dinner, rinse them, and put them in the dishwasher. Both boys do this every day. However, the actions of one of the boys is very legalistic while the others actions do not even have a hint of legalism. How can this be? Well, let's look a little deeper into the scenario. You see, the first boy does this chore because he wants to show his parents honor, respect, and love. His motives are pure. The other boy does his chore because he knows if he doesn't he will not get any dessert. His motives are corrupt and selfish.
Can you see the difference? The difference is in the heart. Is your heart pure? Is your motivation pure and Godly?

What is your motivation? Is it your happiness, your comfort, your reputation, your acceptance, your desire to avoid pain? Or, is it a heart-felt desire to obey God, to follow Jesus, and to glorify the Lord? How you answer this question matters tremendously. It is all about the condition of your heart – your motivation. Is your motivation (heart) turned to you or is it turned to God.

Here’s how Paul addresses it when he wrote to Titus:

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. - Titus 1:15-16
We cannot go around telling someone they are being legalistic unless we truly know their heart. Instead, what I would encourage is that we all daily examine our own hearts and make sure they are pure, circumcised, and repentant.

Do you cry out, like David did, “create in me a clean heart O’ God. Renew a right spirit within me.” Is this your prayer? Is this your deepest desire? Are you willing to allow this to happen? You will have to give up yourself for this to happen. The focus must change from self to God. Do you know what that is to turn from a self focus to a God focus? It is repentance. It is exchanging your desires and the things of this world for a life lived solely for God.

We must have a circumcised heart, a pure heart, a repentant heart otherwise everything we do will be tainted and filthy in the sight of God. Even the good stuff we do will be ugly and considered legalistic.
Characteristics of a pure / circumcised heart:
· Repentance
· A deep desire to know God
· A desire to Love God
· A desire to touch God
· A desire to live every moment with God
The pure heart will live every day for God. The pure heart will be motivated out of love to be in his word, be in prayer, stay away from the world (sin), and love his neighbor. To the pure in heart all of this stuff is not legalistic. It is pure, it is clean, and it is lovely. It is a matter of the heart, an affair of the heart, a heart issue.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I was called for what?

Peter’s introduction to his first letter presents in very clear terms why we were called, why the church exists, why we are Christians: “for obedience to Jesus Christ”. It is really no surprise that Peter would consider this the primary and essential reason for the existence of all who call themselves Christians because Jesus said it himself, “if you love me you will obey my commands”. Jesus also commissioned the church to “go and make disciples … teaching them to obey all I have commanded”.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. - 1 Peter 1:1-2
It is sad and frustrating to see so many who call themselves Christians not responding to this calling. So many do not consider repentance and obedience to be an essential elements of their faith. These are being presented by many as optional. Too many think that we were called to salvation simply for salvation's sake. Others think we were called to simply make a profession of faith. However, according to Peter we were called for obedience. He also points out that we will definitively look different from the world when we are called. We will be strangers in the world. We will no longer look and act like the world or like we used to before submitting and receiving Christ. Does the church look different? Do you look different? Are you a stranger? Would the world consider you a stranger? An Alien? Or, are you still part of it?

We’re called to glorify God and we do this by demonstrating our faith in him through complete submission to and reliance upon him. Two of the primary ingredients to this are repentance and obedience. Peter also provides some good news in this short, but powerful introduction: through the Spirit sanctification can be accomplished. The other thing that Peter underscores is our need for grace to accomplish our calling of obedience to Christ. This isn’t that grace that forgives our sins. This is the grace that empowers us and helps us obey God.

Let’s live out our calling. Through the Spirit and with God’s grace, let’s live lives that are obedient to Christ.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Fundamentals of Paul’s Message: Faith and Repentance

Paul’s writings are rich with theology, insight, and instruction on what it means and looks like to be a follower of Christ. He also modeled the Christian lifestyle in his own life. However, in Acts 20 as he speaks to the elders in Ephesus and again in Acts 26 as he presents his case to King Agrippa, he distills his message down to two fundamental truths: faith and repentance.

Let’s look at how Paul himself summarizes his life’s message:

I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. Acts 20:21

So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. Acts 26:19-20

God’s saving grace is amazing and is abundantly available to those who come to him in faith and true repentance.

Friday, July 13, 2007

How Wonderful is the Cross?

How wonderful is the cross? Are you willing to die because of it? Are you willing to give it all up for the cross? Are you willing to repent and walk away from your pride, selfishness, and sin? Are you willing to kill your flesh and say no to worldly passions? Are you willing to speak truth and boldly proclaim the gospel message even when others will call you a freak or a fool? Are you willing to take action and truly surrender your heart, your soul, your life, your everything? Are you willing to take up your cross?

Jesus didn't just talk about the cross, he didn't just think about the sacrifice, he took action and lived it. It was completely real to him. He gave up everything. His death was real. His sacrifice was real. His commitment was complete. He took up his cross - the wonderful cross.

I was worshipping this morning in my office and my heart and mind were so incredibly moved by the lyrics of "The Wonderful Cross":
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

See from his head, his hands, his feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ever such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown

O the wonderful cross, O the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live
O the wonderful cross, O the wonderful cross
All who gather here by grace draw near and bless Your name

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Leave your Bibles at home. We’ve got you covered.

I am a big proponent of using technology to present the gospel and to assist in the worship service. The use of projectors, video, graphics, and software like PowerPoint can add a lot of value to a church service. What a wonderful tool to help provide visual aid to teachings and lyrics during worship. However, this great tool is producing some potentially deadly side effects. It is actually discouraging people from bringing their Bibles to church and searching the scriptures during a teaching to verify truth. It is stunting the growth of many Christians and leaving them in a state of infancy, not able to feed themselves, and always relying on others for nourishment.
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11
How can we examine the scriptures to verify what we’re hearing is truth if we don’t even bring our Bibles to church anymore? I know this isn’t the case with every church and I know this is not a new argument or phenomenon, but the practice of bringing Bibles to church is continuing to decline. Pastors don’t intend for this to happen. But, it is still happening in churches every week all across America.

This is also bleeding into peoples lives away from church. Bibles are being left on shelves, in bookcases, and under beds on Sunday mornings and also throughout the week.

Unfortunately, church pews are increasingly being filled with “kool-aid drinking” members who choose to put their trust in the big screen rather than examine the scriptures for themselves. Paul was thrilled that the Bereans actually verified his teachings with scripture. Luke called them “of more noble character”. I propose that churches don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water. I believe you can still utilize technology including scripture on the big screen as long as the culture of the church strongly encourages its members to come equipped every weekend with their Bibles, ready to examine the scriptures for themselves, and committed to playing an active role in their own spiritual growth.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Righteous People Are Always The Same

Jeff Weddle at The Anti-Itch writes, "Righteousness has not changed for eternity. We know what it is. It’s not that hard to figure out. Hear it and respond accordingly. Pure genius."

This link provides a good reminder that nothing has changed. Righteousness still means righteousness. The ways (actions & fruit) of the righteous have not changed.

The Anti-Itch Meditation: Righteous People Are Always The Same

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

In the meantime…

So, what do we do while we are waiting for God to release us into a new place of life or ministry? Paul had a deep desire to travel and preach in the province of Asia. However, the “Spirit of Jesus” was not allowing him to make that move. He was being held back from his desires. So, what did Paul do? Did he just sit, wait, and do nothing until he was released into Asia? Absolutely not. He continued to aggressively and tirelessly perform his ministry in the places God had given him. He didn’t sit on his hands. He didn’t pout. He got about the work of God.
"Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia." Acts 16:6
Do you have a desire for the next thing? Do you feel a calling to something else but just don’t feel the release yet? Don’t push the Spirit or jump the gun. On the other hand, don’t use it as an excuse to do nothing. God may not be done using you in the place he currently has you.

One other item of extreme importance in these passages is Paul’s sensitivity to the Spirit. Paul had an ear for the Spirit and he had a heart to obey the Spirit. We too must be sensitive to the guidance and timing of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Live Earth

I just watched portions of Live Earth today (my TIVO got a workout). I truly enjoy music and a few of the acts were worth the watch. The political and humanistic messages got old very fast.

What really caught my eye was the use of S.O.S. throughout the whole show. It was on the screen every 5 minutes. I couldn't help but think - how ironic. Here is the world trying to save itself while crying out "Save Our Souls" (SOS). The message was, if we just drive a smaller car, don't eat meat, and recycle then we can save ourselves. While all of these actions aren't a complete horrible idea, they won't save your soul. If only they would make this plea with complete sincerity to Jesus Christ - the one and only soul saver.

“I won’t” is not an option

I recently was drawn to this book “Daily Thoughts for Disciples” by Oswald Chambers. It was in my library. I didn’t even know I had it. But, when I opened it up I understood why I was drawn to it. The depth, the challenge, and the announcement of truth are so refreshing. Here is an excerpt:
“so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe” Philippians 2:15
“Is it possible to be blameless in our social life? The apostle Paul says it is, and if we were asked whether we believed God could make us blameless, we would all say “Yes”. Well, has he done it? If God has not sanctified us and made us blameless, there is only one reason why he has not – we do not want him to. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification.” We have not to urge God to do it, it is his will; is it our will? Sanctification is the work of the supernatural power of God…

Beware of praising Jesus Christ while all the time you cunningly refuse to let the Spirit of God work his salvation efficaciously (effectively) in your life. Remember, the battle is in the will; whenever we say “I can’t,” or whenever we are indifferent, it means “I won’t”. It is better to let Jesus Christ uncover the obstinacy. If there is one point where we say “I won’t” then we shall never know his salvation. From the moment that God uncovers a point of obstinacy in us and we refuse to let him deal with it, we begin to be skeptical, to sneer and watch for defects in the lives of others. But, when once we yield to him entirely, he makes us blameless in our personal life, in our practical life, and in our profound life. It is not done by piety, it is wrought in us by the sovereign grace of God, and we have not the slightest desire to trust in ourselves in any degree, but in him alone.” - Oswald Chambers

Friday, July 06, 2007

Would you want to follow this guy?

A very interesting picture and possible exchange of dialogue ran through my mind as I contemplated Acts 14:21 “They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples…”

You see, Paul was just stoned and left for dead the day before in Lystra. Can you even imagine what this guy must have looked like? He was, at the least, bruised, cut, and swollen. But here he was in Derbe preaching the gospel with everything in him. I imagine that those listening to him and looking at his beaten body had to be wondering what had happened to him.

Could you imagine the potential dialogue between Paul and the crowd?
Crowd: “What in the world happened to you?”
Paul: “I was stoned in the city of Lystra”
Crowd: “Why were you stoned?”
Paul: “Some people didn’t like what I was saying. This gospel offended them. So, they stoned me. This isn’t the first time I have experienced persecution.”
Crowd: “So you are encouraging us to follow this Jesus? The one you have been
persecuted for speaking about?
Paul “Yes."

With all that was going on in the region, the news of Paul’s stoning, and the beaten appearance of Paul himself, it is just incredible that they “won a large number of disciples” in Derbe. Maybe it is hard for us to understand how this could have happened when we see people in America having difficulty being disciples of Christ because they need to give up some TV time, say no to sin, congregate with other believers on a regular basis, and spend time in God’s Word.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God

Scripture: Acts 14:19-22
“Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’…”

Hey, what about God taking away all of my problems? Didn’t I become a Christian so that I could escape all of my problems and the hardships of this cruel world? Unfortunately, this is the mentality of many Christians these days because this is the message of many pastors and preachers. In America we often try to “attract” people to Christ with messages about prosperity and happiness. The avoidance of hardships was definitely not a reason to become a Christian in the first century. In fact, becoming a Christian almost certainly meant more hardship and persecution. In many places throughout the world this is true today. Take Turkey for instance. I personally have a heart for the nation of Turkey and the small number of Christians in that country (only 3,000 in a country of 70 million). It is a significant decision for a Turk to convert to Christianity because he is almost definitely going to experience much hardship and persecution because he has become a follower of Christ: loss of family, job, and recently even life.

Paul moved beyond the statement that we would experience many hardships. He actually said that we “must endure many hardships to enter the Kingdom of heaven”. Look, God loves us and doesn’t desire that we experience hardship. He sent his son, Jesus, so that we wouldn’t have to endure eternal hardship in hell. But, he doesn’t remove hardship completely from our lives so that we can walk on easy street. Experiencing hardship and trials, and ultimately enduring it, is an integral part of the sanctification process. That is why James said “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything… Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

Don't hear what I am not saying and what Paul is not saying. Don't look for hardship for hardships sake. There is nothing biblical about that. However, when it does come, consider it to be a time of refining and a chance to give God glory.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Swimming with the Sharks

Jeff Myers at Passing the Baton has done a good job illustrating the need for Christians to live our lives boldly based on truth not based on our feelings and emotions. He does this by telling us a story about he and son son swimming with some rather large sharks in the Philippines.

"Of all people, Christians should be the best risk-takers. We have a sovereign God who cares for our needs. We have been instructed to banish fear. We know the bad things that can happen when we FAIL to take risks for what is worthwhile."

Read Entire Article

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Truth is rarely popular - Acts 13-14

Early on in the Paul’s ministry he found out that it was not a popularity contest. In fact, he found out that people would hate what he had to say so much so that he would have to endure much rejection, persecution, and ultimately death. In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas were set apart and sent off to minister the gospel. They embarked on what we now call Paul’s first missionary journey. In Pisidian Antioch they experienced persecution because of the message they were speaking. They were expelled from the region. How did they respond to this treatment? They shook the dust off their feet and moved on to Iconium. However, in Iconium they also faced much opposition to their message of Jesus Christ and fled because there was a plot to stone them. So they proceeded to the region of Lystra and Derbe preaching the gospel to the surrounding country. In Lystra it got really crazy as they were first called gods and then stoned after the religious leaders from Iconium and Antioch stirred up dissention.

What a challenging beginning to a ministry. Did all this rejection keep them from preaching the gospel? Did Paul water down the message so that he wouldn’t “offend” anyone? Did he try to alter what he was saying so that it would be more palatable? The answer to these questions is an emphatic NO. He “spoke boldly for the Lord who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders”. Maybe if we would boldly proclaim the whole gospel we would also see this confirmation of God’s grace through signs and wonders.

I think it is interesting to note that it was the religious leaders in these cities that were involved in the persecution of Paul for his teaching. It was the established religious community that stirred up persecution in Pisidian Antioch. The leaders were involved in the plot to stone them in Iconium. And finally, in Lystra they did convince the crowd to stone Paul. Like Paul, we are not called to make peace with the religious community and its leaders. Rather, we are called to boldly proclaim the whole truth; the entire gospel.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Do not take God’s credit

Scripture: Acts 12:21-23
"On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man." Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God continued to increase and spread."

When God blesses us and uses us, it can often be viewed as though we have done something great. We can even get to the point where we think it is all about us and all because of us.

This passage is a clear warning that we had better never allow ourselves or others to ever consider us a god or for us to be lifted up in the place of God. We had better never allow ourselves or others to think too highly of us. We cannot take credit for the things that God has done. Paul and Barnabas showed us how to handle this situation while they ministered in Lystra. They were proclaimed to be gods after they participated in a miracle. Their response to this was to immediately tear their clothing in sorrow, deny the accusation, and give God the glory. I have a related post from March 2007 called “Don't be like the woodpecker”. This post goes into more detail about how we often take credit for what God has accomplished.

We must never boast in ourselves. Rather, we must boast in the Lord. We are to be humble and God is to be lifted up. We can either humble ourselves or God will do it for us. As we witnessed in this example of King Herod, God can do a very thorough job of humbling us.

These passages also remind us that the power of this world is fleeting. The powerful, mighty and wealthy of this world will always pass away. But, the Word of God and his church will not perish.

Related Post: Don't be like the woodpecker

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Baptism: granting entrance to the church of Jesus Christ?

Scripture: Acts 10:47-48
Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

I continue to read through Acts for the purpose of looking for more insight into the practices and make-up of the early church. I “contemplated the importance of baptism” earlier this week and find yet another example in this text (Acts 10:47-48) of how baptism was portrayed by the first apostles.

These passages are Peter’s response to gentile believers being filled with the Holy Spirit. It appears as though Peter is saying that because they have received the Holy Spirit (evidence of conversion) that they should also receive the invitation to participate in the Kingdom of God. In these passages the act of baptism looks like some sort of initiation or formal act of membership into the greater church of Jesus Christ.

The act of baptism was extremely important to the early church. They didn’t wait. They immediately baptized. It was more than just symbolism. We see that baptism represented a formal invitation or membership to the church and thus one’s identity as a Christian. This act was not taken lightly in the days of the early church because once you became a Christian; there was a good chance of persecution. Therefore, the act of baptism could also be considered the new believer’s first act of faith – personally identifying with Christ whom the world hated and killed.

Related Post: Contemplating the Importance of Baptism