Tuesday, April 7, 2015

To Be With Him

“Then He appointed twelve,that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach...” – Mark 3:14 (emphasis mine)

The first priority of the Christian is “to be with Him.”  In Acts Chapter 4, Peter and John were recognized as men who “had been with Jesus.” (vs. 13)  I hope people can say that of my life.  Here is a man that walks with Jesus.  When we spend time with the Lord it shows.  When I spend time with the Lord, I can sense His Love, His peace, His Spirit flowing more freely in my life.  That doesn’t mean I’m perfect, or that I don’t still get frustrated or angry sometimes, struggle with temptation, get discouraged, or say things I shouldn’t say.  Nevertheless I can sense God’s Spirit in my life, and I hope others can see Jesus through me too.

I think it is important to spend quality time with the Lord.  Some people may talk to the Lord as they go through the day or as they commute to work.  Of course, that is great!  I don’t want to take away from that.  God certainly speaks to us as we go through out our day. We can worship Him at all times and in every place.  Yet, I also think that quality time alone with the Lord is important.  We need time alone with Him (or as alone as is possible), in a room, or perhaps in the living room, in worship, in the Word, and seeking His face.  I know that often the busyness of life threatens our ability to seek the Lord.  Sometimes it’s a challenge for me to make time with the Lord a priority, and we don’t have kids yet!

Perhaps the greatest impact on my life, as a child, was seeing my mom worshiping and seeking the Lord in our house.  It was common to hear her seeking God.  She was not quiet about it.  I believe mom’s relationship with God impacted me profoundly.  She was a woman who was hungry for God.  She also had some intense struggles in life, and I think she was often crying out to God for help.  But I believe I grew up knowing God's presence because mom prayed.

I want to challenge you (and myself) to spend more time with God, to “be with Him.”  Maybe it’s getting up 15 minutes early with coffee and your Bible at the breakfast table.  Or maybe it’s an hour in the morning or evening, seeking Him.  Prayer is life-changing.  God is powerful in us when we pray.  He changes us, and gives us His power to change the world. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Come Forth!

Have you ever felt like you were wrapped up in grave clothes, unable to break free?  You’ve walked a hard, disappointing path.  The life has left your body; your spirit feels crushed.  You get up and do what you need to do, but without energy.  Today Jesus wants to breathe His life into you.  He says, “It’s time to come forth!”  It’s time lay aside the grave clothes of doubt, discouragement and despair, and come alive.  It’s time to be free from the bondage that has held you captive for so long. 

The enemy has wrapped his grave clothes around you.  Negative thoughts swirl around your mind.  You feel suffocated by a demonic cloud of confusion.  You feel stuck inside yourself, banging on the outer wall of your own soul, but unable to break free.  These wounds may be rooted in your childhood, no fault of your own.  You feel trapped, but you can be free!  God has not called you to remain in this tomb.  It is for freedom that He sets you free! (Gal. 5:1)    

In John Chapter 11, Jesus knew that Lazarus, the one he loved, was sick.  He had within His power to go to him and immediately heal him.  But he chose instead to wait.  His reason?  So He would be glorified.  When Jesus finally arrived Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.  “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (vs. 21)    

Sometimes it seems that God waits and delays.  We pray, fast, cry out to Him.  We live in expectation of His deliverance.  We persist, longing for the freedom we know that He offers.  Yet, the enemy seems all the more persistent in keeping us in our grave clothes.  Lord, if you would just do something, I wouldn’t be stuck here.  But Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  (vs. 25)  Jesus weeps over our condition.  He is moved with compassion.  He steps up to our tomb.  He says, “Take away the stone.”  (vs. 39)  Yes, the odor of our condition is bad.  But Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”  (vs. 40)

“When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’” (vs. 43-44)

I know that the journey towards freedom can be difficult.  The struggle towards freedom can seem unending, but it is not impossible.  Often it is a process of walking with God and trusting Him.  Sometimes freedom is hard-won, but victory is yours!  You can be free.  You can be whole.  You can be delivered.  Reach out to God today and believe that His glory will be revealed in your life.  It’s time to come forth!          

Friday, March 13, 2015

Church of Broken People

What does home mean to you?  When I think of what a home should be, I think of a place of belonging, security, identity, unconditional love, acceptance, and rest.  Isn’t that what we long for?  And isn’t that exactly what the gospel offers?  Adopted as children of God, we belong to the family of Christ.  Safe in our Father’s arms, we find rest for our souls.  Forgiven by God, we are accepted and loved.  Although we are broken people, He has chosen us.  In Him we have identity and purpose.    

Though God created earth as our home, something is wrong with our home.  We know there is a better home.  We know we are not yet really home, but someday we will be home, when the City of God descends from the sky and God dwells with us for eternity. (Revelation 21:1-4)

When I look at the church I see broken people.  All of us have experienced pain in life.  We’ve experienced betrayal, abandonment, sickness, or abuse.  We know the pain of children gone astray.  We have known the shame of moral failures.  We’ve known the heartache of divorce.  We’ve struggled in marriage.  We’ve known depression, anxiety, worry, and stress.  We’ve experienced the death of loved ones.  We’ve endured the long-term illness of a family member.  We’ve fought the persistent pressure of temptation.  We’ve felt “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36)

In a world tumultuous, we long for a safe place to call home.  We long for a place where, despite our brokenness, we are loved.  We long for the holy presence of God.  We long to hear Him say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

I think that even the most healed person among us carries some pain through life.  God does not promise to free us from all pain.  He does promise to work all things for the good.  (Rom. 8:28)  He promises to be strong in our weakness.  (II Cor. 12:9)  His glory shines through our broken, earthen vessels, in which we possess a treasure of immeasurable value and wonder.  (II Cor. 4:7)  What goes unhealed in this life will be fully healed in heaven.  (Revelation 21:1-4)

I do not think we should be discouraged by our brokenness.  As I’m writing this, to my left is the loose cover of a book by Charles Stanley entitled, “The Blessings of Brokenness.”  Often our brokenness keeps us from God, because we feel rejected.  Yet, when we receive a revelation of God’s unconditional love for us, our brokenness can propel us into His arms.  We are incomplete, but He is whole.  We lack, but He is all sufficient.  We are weak, but He is oh so strong.  We come to Him knowing He can make us whole.

In the Parable of the Great Banquet, as told by Jesus, all of the invited guests made excuses as to why they could not come.  So “the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’” (Luke 14:21)  Sometimes we may feel like this – poor, crippled, blind and lame.  But our brokenness does not define us.  God defines who we are. 

We may be a church of broken people, but we will dine eternally with the King.

We may be wounded, but we are a mighty army.  We may be hurt, but we are victorious.  We may be imperfect, but we are accepted.  Above all, we are loved.  We are not rejected.  We belong.  We are the family of Christ, marching on to victory.  We will not be defeated, because the gates of hell will not prevail against us.  (Matt. 16:18)  We can offer the world a safe place, a healing place.  We are a church of broken people, but we are loved and redeemed.  This church is our home. 

“God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Scaling Mountains

Imagine yourself the side of a mountain.  You’ve come with a group of guys (and gals) to do some hiking and camping in the mountains.  You get dropped off overlooking a valley.  Above is the snowy, rocky summit.  But then your party disperses.  One guy heads off down the valley by himself.  Another heads in a different direction down into the valley.  Your friend stays with you and you have a choice to make.  Do you ascend the summit?  Or do you descend into the green valley?

The summit would be an extreme challenge but the valley would be a much easier.  Much more smooth and peaceful.  But, the summit.  Going up would be hard, but the reward would be great.      

In the Bible, a mountain can symbolize a challenge or obstacle that needs to be overcome by faith (Matt. 17:20, 21:21).  It is a symbol of the eternal kingdom of God, Mt. Zion (Heb. 12:22).  Mountains are also places of great significance.  In Psalm 24, it says, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?... The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (vs. 3, 4).

Sometimes, I think, we want an easy Christianity.  But walking with God is not easy.  God never said it would.  It is challenging, sometimes difficult.  Sometimes, to walk with God is to be stretched, baffled, bewildered, and strained beyond what we may have felt we could ever possibly handle.  But the reward is great!  I Peter 1:4 says we have an inheritance kept for us in heaven, which “never perish, spoil or fade.”  Hebrews 10:35 says we should not throw away our confidence, “it will be richly rewarded.”  We know that Jesus has promised that he is preparing a place for us in heaven (John 14:2-3).

In 2008, Alex and Bret Harris wrote a book called, “Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.”  I’ve never read the book, and don’t know much about it.  Nevertheless, I like the idea.  God hasn’t called us to do easy things.  Walking with God, like scaling a summit, can be an extreme challenge.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  But God does promise us strength for the journey.  He promises to walk with us. 

Is there a problem in your life you need to overcome?  Be strong in the Lord (Eph. 6:10).  You can do it!  Is there something you believe God has called you to?  Walk by faith and embrace the challenge!  With God’s help, you can scale that mountain!  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Learning to Love Like God

When I was a kid my mom and I visited a rummage sale.  My memory is sketchy, but most likely mom was looking for used clothing for us.  Several years ago I felt the Lord reminded me of the rummage sale to instruct me regarding love in marriage.  I felt the Lord say to me, “Love her like you loved that rummage sale.” 
Mom rummaged through the clothes searching for something of value, something worth her children wearing.  Likewise, in marriage, sometimes we have to look past the “junk” in our spouse and see the eternal value of the person God created.   
We all bring a certain amount of problems into marriage.  We bring sin issues, weaknesses, and fears.  We may have brought deep pain from childhood wounds into the relationship.  We may bring in problems like anger, deep insecurity, unresolved bitterness, or sinful attitudes.  Things we may have thought had been resolved rear their ugly heads. 
Marriage is a great opportunity to learn unconditional love.  I am certainly very far from perfect.  Leslie has imperfections too.  But we love each other and we are committed to each other no matter what.  I am thankful that Leslie sees past my “junk” and sees my potential in Christ. 
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  When we were lost in sin, God loved us.  Even now, when we are hurting, broken, or in sin, He sees that within us that is of eternal value.  And He redeems our pain, He heals the brokenhearted.  He sees our potential.  He draws the best out of us.  He does not look at us based on what we are; He looks at us based on the spirit inside of us that Jesus died to redeem. 
Likewise, in marriage, it is my responsibility as a husband to draw out the best in my wife.  It’s my job to look at her and see her potential.  I’m called to love her as Christ loved the church, to love her unconditionally.  When I look at her, I must see her eternal value, God’s eternal purpose for her life.  God is expanding the capacity of my heart to love as He loves.  I’m not there yet, but I am learning.
Will you take the challenge, to look past any “junk” in your spouse (or any other person) and, with God’s help to learn to love as He does? 

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her…”
Ephesians 5:25-26

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

God is Your Judge

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “He’s his own worst critic.”  There are those of us who tend to judge ourselves too harshly.  We’re hard on ourselves!  We know it.  But it’s so hard to change it.  Some people don’t feel good unless they feel bad, know what I mean?  On the flip side, there are those who, perhaps, don’t judge themselves enough.  It’s not that I think they should inflict harsh condemnation upon themselves; it’s just they ought to give a little more thought to how they treat others or the words they speak.  At the end, ultimately, God is our judge.  He is the one we have to stand before some day and give account.  

There have been times in my life where I have beaten up on myself for nothing.  I’m thankful for good friends, and my pastor, who help lift that weight off of my shoulders. 

The Apostle Paul writes, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (I Cor. 4:2)  As Christians, we want to do right.  We want to be faithful.  We want to honor and please God.  Yet, we’re also all too aware of our sin, our failures, and our struggles.  But we want to prove faithful.  We want to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

Paul goes on to writes, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (vs. 3-4)

I am aware that my conscience can be clear, yet, I may have done something wrong.  Perhaps I really hurt someone, but I don’t even know it.  Even when I think I’m walking right, I know I may not be completely innocent.  On the other hand, it’s an incredible burden to bear if you walk around in life constantly thinking you’ve done something wrong. 

There are things in my life I have to leave in God’s hands.  God is my judge.  There is freedom in this, when I free myself from the opinions of others, and live my life to please the Master.  His opinion is the opinion which matters the most.  And, often, when He speaks to me, I hear that He thinks much better of me than I often think of myself.      

Paul says, “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” (vs. 5)

God sees past our mistakes and sees our hearts.  Certainly, He cares about our behavior, our attitudes, our thoughts, and our character, and is in the process of working on these things.  At the same time, He sees our potential.  We may see the person of the flesh, but God sees the person of the Spirit (Remember Gideon?).  He sees beyond the season of life we are in right now, even if this season is hard.  He sees not just what we are, but what we can be in Him.  So, don’t be too hard on yourself!  Keep pressing on.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Simple, Pure Devotion

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
-II Cor. 11:3

After graduating from high school, I moved out on my own.  I rented a room in a house with some college guys, but I had my own, private room.  During the fall of that year, I worked at Burger King, the night shift.  I’d come home around 5 o’clock in the morning.  There were mornings I’d spend with the Lord, praying, worshiping, being quiet.  I earnestly wanted to hear His voice and know His direction for my life.  The world was dark and quiet, and it was just God and me.  I look back at that time in my life and remember such sweet fellowship with the Lord. 

Since those days I have had some awesome moments with God.  The Lord has touched my life in profound ways.  God has promoted me spiritually, I believe, elevating me to greater levels in Him.  At times I’ve stepped out in faith and seen Him use my life for His kingdom.  And He’s taken me through some severe testing (or at least it feels that way to me!).  Dark valleys have tried my faith, and hopefully refined my character too.  My prayer life has rarely been as consistent as I’d like it to be.  Yet, at the end of the day, I want to walk closely with the Lord. 

In a dream I had several years ago, a pastor of mine was standing on the platform at the church I attended in Michigan.  All of a sudden, he completely disappeared.  I was standing in the back of the church.  While everyone sat in the pews, I walked to the front.  I picked up the microphone and declared to the congregation, “Enoch walked with God, and he was no more.”  That pastor was a man I had really admired, someone who, in my view, walked closely with the Lord.  When I think of that dream, I feel challenged to walk closely with God. 

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “to know Him and make Him known.”  That about sums it up at the pearl of simplicity, doesn’t it?  Or, as Jesus put it, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37, 39, quoting the Old Testament).  When we walk with Him, we’re able to love others better.  When we love Him first, in purity and simplicity of devotion, His love, grace and peace beings to flow.