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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Back from the "Dead"

"While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader.  'Your daughter is dead,' they said.  'Why bother the teacher anymore?' (Mark 5:35).

 It was on the evening of November 2, 1948 that one of the grandest gaffes in presidential election reporting was made.  Certain of what all the polls had been predicting and what the early returns were foretelling, a defeat of incumbent president, Harry Truman, was all but guaranteed.  So much so, that 150,000 first edition copies of the Chicago Tribune were printed with the now notorious headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman."  There were two big problems with this.  The headlines were printed based on prediction and not on what really would happen.  It was based on what seemed like the inevitable death of the current presidency.  Problem number two, at least for the Tribune, and Mr. Dewey, Truman was reelected, and took great pride in showcasing, forever to be remembered in print, the headline that proved it was possible to come back from the dead, to never be counted out just because of the way things look.

So has been the case many times in our own lives.  Right?  Because this "thing" that is so precious that you've been praying for now seems dead, there's no reason to continue to bother Jesus anymore about it.  You've prayed and believed, but nothing seems to be happening.  I must just not be meant to be.  This seems to be our mindset so many times.  But, the thing we miss, is that unless God Himself has closed the door, that is exactly when  we should be "bothering" Jesus.  Because, that's when our faith is required for a supernatural miracle that we could not do on our own, nor take credit for on our own.

Our faith must be tested, or it's not faith.  This is how we know, and how God knows how sincere we are about what we say we're believing for.  We must be determined to be motivated by, convinced by, persuaded by, and confident in Him without seeing, verses a feeling that is inconsistent and based on circumstances.  Sometimes, there are going to be some special things that God wants for us in our lives, that He's going to allow to "die" in order to see how bad we want them, and how passionate we are to pursue Him, and believe Him, in spite of what we may or may not be seeing.  Trust Him and be confident, that even if He allows something to die in your life, He will reveal to you that His promise for you is not bound by death.  He is life, and in Him, you will have life to the fullest!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Perfect Rest

"Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.  The disciples woke Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, don't you care if we drown?'" (Mark 4:38).

One of the greatest things I love to do as a dad, is to go into their rooms sometimes at night and watch them sleep.  Sometimes they're propped up in weird positions, maybe sleeping on the wrong side of the bed, and at times, even sleeping on the floor because they rolled off the bed.  But even still, they are asleep.  What blesses me the most, is how unaware they are of the concerns and pressures of the world around them.  They don't know about the economy, or the rising gas prices.  They aren't trying to figure out the stock market, gold prices, or the latest political argument.  They are sleeping.  Perfectly.  Why?  Because they know that Daddy and Mommy are there.

Imagine being with Jesus in the storm on that dark night.  The winds are howling, the seas are raging, waves are crashing up against the boat.  You're feeling anxious, uncomfortable, confused, and afraid.  As you're looking around and see everyone else as frantic and panicked as you, you see Jesus.  He's not performing miracles.  He's not walking on water.  He's not even preaching about how to stand in the storm.  He's asleep.  You know He can rescue you...that He should rescue you, but He's asleep. 

The disciples woke Him.  They even chastised Him.  But, they were with Jesus.  They should have had the same peace as Jesus and enjoyed the same perfect rest as He.  The storm wasn't what they expected or desired, but they were with Jesus, and that should have been enough.

There are so many thing that I, too, face that are completely unexpected, that haven't gone according to plan, or at least not completely the way I had desired.  What God is continuing to teach me, however, is that as long as I am with Jesus, I can be at peace.  I can rest...even in the midst of the storm.  Even when there is not peace around me, there can always be peace within me.

Do you sometimes worry or even get upset with God because it seems like the storm around you are overtaking you?  Do you ever feel as though Jesus is no where to be found?  Perhaps, today, you need to look around that boat a little more carefully.  He's there.  Yes, the Bible says that He is a God that neither sleeps nor slumbers, but He is the Prince of Peace and shows us how possible, as long as we are with Him, to have perfect rest in the midst of any storm.  Rest in Him today.  He's right there with you.  As long as you have Jesus in the boat of your life...you have nothing to fear!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Selfless

"Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there"
(Mark 3:1).

Over the years that I have been a part of church life, I have heard a similar phrase spoken in different ways.  "I just don't get anything out of the worship."  "That church just doesn't meet my needs."  "I go when I need it."  "I just don't prefer what they offer at that one."  Of course, there are some churches that are not either as healthy as they could or should be, or are not pursuing to be as healthy as they should be.  However, many times, we face this mindset of a consumer rather than a worshiper.  Plain and simple: it's not about me!  It's not about what I can get, because I am not the object of worship...at least I shouldn't be!

Jesus wasn't about getting something when He went into a house of worship.  That was never the focus.  He sought out the opportunity, and was open to seeing opportunities before Him.  He was there to be a blessing to others, not just to seek His own blessing.

So many times we miss out on the bigger picture because we become self-focused instead of God-focused when engaging in an atmosphere of corporate worship.  Think about it.  When you go to church, or gather around other believers in a group setting for worship, is it about you?  Is it more about what you can get from it, or what you can give to it?  It's about exalting the name of Jesus.  It's about expecting to be used of God to be a blessing to those He brings you in contact with.

Don't underestimate the sovereign work of God to place you right where He wants you to be.  And, it may not be just for what He can do for you, but maybe what He can do for someone else through you.  Worship is about being selfless.  It's about Him.  And in the process...He blesses!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Beyond the Walls

"On hearing this, Jesus said to them, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners'" (Mark 2:17).

Recently, I spent some time  in the UK with a great team of people that attend the church that I pastor.  We were there partnering with another great church in reaching out and loving the community "beyond the walls" of their church building.  What became so incredible for the those that accompanied me from our hometown, was the awakening that began to happen in their hearts.  How easy it is, at times, to become so familiar with what has become the "norm" of "everyday church."  We can get so used to coming to the same building, seeing the same people, singing the same songs, eating the same chicken at the same church picnics, and become satisfied.  But, there IS a world beyond the walls of what has become familiar.  Jesus addresses the same need for awareness.

This was the response of Jesus when He overheard the "church people" of the day questioning His disciples about hanging out with the sinners and the outcasts.  Jesus came for people like this.  And, it would be people "like this" that He would use to change the world.  He showed an example, that we are not to isolate ourselves from the ones He came to reach.  They will be ones, too, that He will use to reflect the life changing power of the love of God.

If we isolate myself in our spiritual "refuge," we forfeit the opportunity to be used of God and to effect change in the lives of others just as Jesus did.  We must be open to seeing past the exteriors, the pasts, the mistakes, the sins and the struggles, and see a heart that God longs to hold, and realize that we could be the one God desires to use.

It's not that we should forgo being a part of the local church.  On the contrary, the local church should be the hub, the center, of where a heart for reaching all people is birthed, developed, mentored, and then commissioned.  What are you doing to reach beyond the walls?  What are you allowing God to do that might, as it should, be stretching you beyond what is both comfortable and familiar?  Ask God to give you a heart that beats passionately for the people He loves, even though they might not yet know it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Desert Seasons

"At once the Spirit sent Him out into the desert..." (Mark 1:12).

Have you ever had one of those moments with God that seemed so powerful that it was almost "electric?"  Perhaps you've had an encounter with God so incredible that it seemed like nothing could possibly go wrong as long as you kept on doing what you were doing.  And then...it happened.  One thing after another and all of a sudden you find yourself not "feeling it" anymore.  What happened?  Why did God let me have such an incredible season in His presence to then send me off in the desert??

Jesus had just spent an amazing moment with God.  It was the great showing of the Trinity of God at the Baptism of Jesus.  The voice of the Father God who spoke of His Son; the Son of God being baptized; and the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove.  WOW!!  Immediately following this unmistakably incredible God-encounter, Jesus was sent out into the desert.

So many people get disillusioned when, after hearing from God, and experiencing times of His favor, that they then have to through a season in the desert.  Maybe that's exactly where you find yourself today!  Be encouraged!  The "experience" with God prepares you, but the desert produces in you that which allows the experience, the favor, and the blessings of God, to persevere in your life.

No, we don't always like the desert, but we must remember that it is a time of testing, developing, and maturing things that God has already placed within us.  The desert isn't to punish, but to produce.  If getting all that God wants for us means enduring and persevering through the desert, then we should be "all in!"  Because, we know, that even there, He's right there with us!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Willing to Serve Him

"Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve..." (1 Peter 5:2).

The attitude we have about something has the power to radically alter both our perspective and how we affect change in that area.  Even when it seems as though we have no choice, we do.  Sometimes we feel forced to perform in a situation and we begrudge the effort we have to expend.  Instead, we should see it as another way of bringing honor to God.  In spite of feeling like we have to, we become willing, not because it's easy, but because we are eager to serve both God and those created in His image.

Are you willing to serve?  I know we say we are, but what about when those opportunities come and take a twist and a turn like an unexpected bend and detour in a road, and it's not exactly what we thought or even wanted?  Are we still willing?  Is our willingness contingent on our control in the direction?  Sometimes it does feel like a series of routines and as though our choices have all been taken away.  But, we still choose how we respond.

Each day, we have a choice to make.  It's more than just an attitude, but a commitment to total surrender unto God.  Are you willing to serve?  Are you willing to convey an attitude in all things and at all times that validates that commitment to willingness to serve?  Never forget, that it's not because you must, but an answer to the even greater question of are you willing.  For me...I am willing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Perseverance!

"Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whosoever suffers in the body is done with sin" (1 Peter 4:1).

There are some days when pushing through is the furthest thing from our mind.  When it get's tough, why keep going?  Why continue to push on when you don't think there will be any change?

Jesus could have given in to the pressure of His struggle.  He faced hunger.  He faced temptation.  He faced rejection and betrayal.  He faced weariness and anxiety.  He could have surrendered to any of these physical or emotional obstacles.  But instead, He depended upon the strength of the Father, and persevered victoriously.  We are to have that same attitude of dependence and perseverance.

The fact is, we are going to experience seasons of suffering.  In basic training, it was often said that "pain is nothing more than weakness leaving the body."  Each day, we have the choice not give into the physical, emotional or spiritual pains that I experience in our day to day life.

Choose to use those tough seasons as reminders to depend upon His strength and persevere in the victory He has already ordered.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

He is Lord, Part 2

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord" (1 Peter 3:15).

There are many who call Jesus Lord with their mouths in a certain setting, but do not present evidence of it being true with the conversations, tones, attitudes, motivations, actions, or thoughts.  Peter brings home the fact that we are going to face both trying periods and trying people, and through it all, we must continue to revere Him in our hearts.

At very core of who we are, we should live pure, holy, reflection of who He is.  THIS, in return, should be the life-source by which all manifestations of our lives are produced.

Even now, in our own moments of frustration and disagreement, we must purpose to honor God, and seek to be holy before Him in our hearts.  Out of our hearts, pure or otherwise, will produce the fruits by which we will be identified.  No matter the emotions that may exist on any particular day, the choice to be made is whether or not we will choose to honor God in our hearts.  This will be the deciding factor in producing that fruit that will serve as evidence of that choice.

Is He Lord in your life?  Is He your authority?  Are you living in obedience to Him?  In every way?  If the answer is "yes," then the fruits that are being produced in your life will show evidence that He is, in fact, Lord.  If the answer is, "Maybe some areas of my life, but not all," then He is not Lord.  But don't lose heart.  Surrender and repentance are the access codes that enable Him to be what He's always desired to be in your life.  Lord

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Respect: A Matter of Honoring God

"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to the governors, who are sent by Him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right" (1 Peter 2:13-14).

Ever since I was a young child, I grew up with very keen interest in two main areas: God & government.  I was raised to know Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior at an early age.  I loved going to church.  I loved singing songs of worship to God.  I love sharing my faith and talking about what God has done in my life.  I also grew up reading every book on American presidents that I could find.  I have read research on every presidential campaign and election since the very first one that elected our very first chief executive.

As I have grown, I have observed two very distinct extremes when one attempts to combine these two areas of interest.  One is that they become totally and completely separate.  "Never the two shall meet."  You've heard it said before, that there are two things you never talk about outside your close circle of friends: "religion & politics."  The other extreme is that as they combine they morph into something that is rude, obnoxious, disrespectful, dishonoring, and so many other ideas that contradict the character of God.

This is what I believe God has and is showing me.  And, as I read 1 Peter 2:13 and other verses like it, I am convinced of this:  All leaders are ordained and placed by God.  As a Christian, what does this mean to me?  In short, I have a choice when I go to the ballot box to place my vote for who I'd like to see in leadership.  After that vote has been placed, all votes counted, and a winner declared, my preference is now replaced by my responsibility. 

We all have a responsibility to submit (which is to also respect) our leaders.  It doesn't mean we have to agree.  It doesn't mean that we can't oppose or campaign to replace.  But what a travesty it is for Christians, those who proclaim to love and to honor God, to dishonor, disrespect, and disregard those who God has called us to submit to "for [His] sake."

How do I reconcile this with my views and beliefs?  I pray for my leaders.  I pray for my president.  I encourage you to be cautious of the words that come out of your mouth and the attitudes that arise from your hearts in regards to the leaders God has placed over you.  Whether it's your boss, your pastor, a councilman, or the president, we are called to respect and honor, as though we are honoring the Lord.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Days Like These

"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials" (1 Peter 1:6).

"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..."  It's the most famous line in the Declaration of Independence.  It's often quoted and even misquoted in order to try to make a point. But notice something about it.  It says that we have the right to life.  There's great debate on that and what it means, but there it is written in the black & white.  It also says that we have a right to be free.  That, too, has been fought over since the day those words were penned, but we have made great strides in this nation to assure freedom to every American.

But, it's the next phrase that gets people mixed up and confused.  We have the right to "pursue happiness."  Dolly Parton, in the starring role as "Dr." Shirley Kinyon n the movie, Straight Talk, had this to say to a woman who was demanding her happiness in life.  "The Declaration of Independence says you have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  You don't even have a right to be happy, only to pursue it!"  So it is in our lives.  Happiness may not always be there every moment of every day, but we can still rejoice!!

For those that seek Christ as Lord and Savior, there are so many blessings and reasons to rejoice and to be looked forward to.  There will, however, be times in the present that we will encounter seasons where it feels as though the weight of the world is on our shoulders.  There will be days of sadness, heaviness, temptation, and trial.  But, we must never get so focused on something as though it is permanent.  God never intended it to be more than temporary.  Peter was saying, "Live in the present, but do it with an eternal perspective."

The best days are before you, not behind you.  As a follower of Jesus, you can know this for sure!  No matter what you face today, or what faced you, you can know that you will spend eternity with Jesus; walking and dancing on streets of gold, forever worshiping Him.  Because of this confidence you can have in that truth, you can live NOW and EACH DAY with a peace unexplainable.  What you face is for NOW, but seeing Him face to face makes it all a little more bearable when you face "days like these."

Monday, June 6, 2011

He Is Lord

"Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord!'" (John 21:17).

We are stubborn people, aren't we?  We have our own way of thinking how things should go.  We organize, plan, strategize, and execute.  We have logic and our understanding, and anything that conflicts with that, we quickly excuse it and move on.  After all, we've thought about everything already and have come up with the best possible plan!

However much sense this makes to us in our natural thinking, it does not give room for Jesus to be Lord in our lives.  When He is Lord, we don't call the shots.  The disciples had been in the boat all night fishing, doing what it is that they were experts at.  They were tired, worn out from being up around the clock on an unsuccessful fishing expedition.  They were discouraged, facing great confusion and uncertainty.  The Jesus that had served and believed in was gone and now what they thought  they were good at wasn't even panning out!  Jesus speak out from the shore.  They don't recognize Him from the distance, nor do they recognize His voice.  He gives them an instruction that renders them an immediate and miraculous return.  Instantly, John declares..."It is the Lord!"

There are times that we do get discouraged and begin to look inwardly at our situation.  But, even during those times, we must recognize when God is working on our behalf.  It won't always mesh with our logic and many times will contradict our limited understanding.  But, we must be willing to surrender to Him, not just at savior, but also as Lord.  "Lord" means "authority," "ruler," and "one who has control."  When we give Him ALL control, we will see some amazing results that we would have never been able to accomplish on our own.  Their is great fruitfulness in surrender and in obedience, and when we live with HIM as Lord!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Disbelief

"He asked her, 'Woman, why are you crying?  Who is it you are looking for?'  Thinking He was the gardener, she said, 'Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him , and I will get Him'" (John 20:15).

Mary was talking to Jesus.  She was so overwhelmed in grief and disbelief that she was blind as to whom she was speaking.  Jesus had done exactly what He had said He would do.  He had never lied.  They had seen Him do some amazingly miraculous things that could not be explained, reasoned, or rationalized.  They had believed Him to be the Messiah,  and yet when their faith was tested, they didn't believe.

Here, they acted as though He was only a very close friend that had passed away and not as they Son of God who was One with the Father.  He had already declared on more than one occasion that His body would be destroyed, and that three days later would be resurrected.  They believed Him when He said it, but now when it really counted and seemed to be an unpopular concept, they doubted.

How often do we do the same thing?  We hear Him, but when we are in the midst of exactly what He said, we live and act as though we never believed in Him.  When God speaks a promise into your life, you can stand on it, trust in it, expect from it, and hold on to it.  He is faithful, eternal, big enough, strong enough, and just plain GOD enough to come through!  He may not, and many times will not come through in the timing you had hoped for or were counting on.  The enemy can NOT change what God is up to, but he can seek to pervert how you see what God is up to.

Take some time right where you are, and began to thank God for His faithfulness and be reminded of His promises in your life.  He will not fail you.  He will not reject you.  He will not abandon you.  So, don't you abandon Him.  Don't give up on Him.  Don't turn away as though you've never believed.  He is faithful and true.  He is God.  Trust Him.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Checkmate

"The Jewish leaders insisted, 'We have a law, and according to that law, He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God'"
(John 19:7).

Because I am not too keen on boardgames and strategy games, unless of course it's Candy Land or Chutes & Ladders (ok, I know there's not much strategy in those, but I'm GOOD!), all of my deep insights and knowledge concerning chess can be summed up in one line: Checkmate means, "IT IS OVER!"  The entire game is not built around meaningless and random moves, but on carefully calculated strategies that are designed to put the opposition into a "checkmate" position.  And, at that point, it's GAME OVER.

According to the Law, only a spotless lamb was acceptable as a sin offering.  Jesus was that pure and spotless lamb.  They had condemned Him to die.  Without realizing it, the Jewish leaders helped to prove everything that had ever been said concerning Jesus: who He was and why He had come.

The Law had condemned us all.  Therefore, for our redemption, He had to die.  This was all possible because of the power and the love of this One who claimed to be, who was and who is, the Son of God.  And, at that moment, He put the opposition into a "checkmate" position.  The pure and spotless lamb was to die...just as the Law had said.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are redeemed!  We are saved!  We are changed!  He did for us what we could have never done on our own.  The Son of God loves us.  But, it all leads us to daily answer this question: How will that truth change me or affect me today?  Will I live as though I am changed?  Will I walk and talk like one who has been redeemed?  Is being "saved" just a word to identify me as a closed-minded hypocrite, or does it truly define me by what I've come through and where He's leading me?  Today, you and I have another opportunity to live out our recognition of all He is, and all He has done in our lives, for our lives, and through our lives.