Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Yourself, Yourself, Yourself

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

I like this rather sarcastic definition of a philosopher I got in my Philosophy 101 class in college: “Philosophers are people who talk about something they don't understand and make you think it's your fault!”

Anyone who thinks is a philosopher. That means there are lots of philosophies floating around. I find a lot of them to be more confusing than they are helpful. And if you pay attention, they usually center around “self.” When groups of people with the same philosophy come together, the focus remains the same: 

Education says, "Be resourceful; expand yourself!"
Psychology says, "Be confident; assert yourself!"
Religion says, "Be good; conform yourself!"
Epicureanism says, "Be sensuous; enjoy yourself!"
Materialism says, "Be satisfied; please yourself!"
Pride says, "Be superior; promote yourself!"
Humanism says, "Be capable; believe in yourself!"
Philanthropy says, "Be generous; release yourself!"

I say, “Be real; get over yourself!”

Yourself, yourself, yourself. The world is full of itself. It seems at times it is involved in only three things: doing something for yourself or with yourself or to yourself. Jesus, however, was different. His was a different model and message. He offered a much-needed, fresh approach to a "me-first" culture. It’s found in the Christmas story as told by the apostle Paul to the Philippian Christ followers: 

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. [Philippians 2:3-8 KJV]

The Christmas story is a story of salvation. As the angel told Joseph, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins’” [Matthew 1:21 KJV]

Jesus came to save us from our sins and, joy of joys, to save us from ourselves. The Christmas story invites you to replace "selfishness" and "conceit" with "humility of mind"—the mind of Christ. And that requires an attitude that would rather give than receive.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Word Made Flesh

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

There are words that just don’t go together. Words like: a fine mess, good grief, act naturally, artificial intelligence, same difference, virtual reality, minor crisis, well you get the picture. The technical term is oxymoron.  

The Christmas story has two such words. They are flesh and glory. They come together by the pen of John when he wrote, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth [John 1:14]. 

The way John states it is rather a slap in the face. He could have said, And the Word became a man, or The Word took on a human body. But no, he chose the rather crude term flesh. A Christ follower knows that there is nothing that is less godlike than flesh. Paul agrees, and used the term flesh in order to show the stark contrast with the Spirit [Galatians 5:16-17]. 

Flesh. It almost sounds heretical to describe the very Son of God that way! But can you think of a better way to communicate the startling revelation that God had become just like His created beings so that He could be known intimately by them?

His wasn’t imitation humanity, neither did He just indwell a human body [as demons would later be described as doing]. On the contrary, the Son of God, the eternal Word, the “wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace” became a human being in order to show us what God was truly like. 

He became flesh. And with that, approachable, knowable, believable. Christmas is nearly here. Let’s behold His glory, the glory of the One and Only, full of grace and truth.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Simple Birth; A Grand Act

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Christmas! The fulfillment of God’s promises given through the lips of ancient prophets, and the dreams of His people. That simple birth was a grand act, the greatest act of history as God sent His Son because of His deep love for us. 

The advent is a story of contrasts on many levels. Jesus gave up His heavenly home for a filthy stable. He walked away from unfathomable joy for the cross and shame. He gave up a secure relationship to serve people deeply broken by sin. He surrendered His freedom to learn obedience. He exchanged the love of His Father for rejection by people. And, one more, a most intriguing prospect, He forsook independence for complete dependence on Mary.

A simple birth? Yes. A grand act? Absolutely! Think about it, dear Christ follower. The supreme God of the universe loved you so much that He sent His only Son. I can’t think of another time in history when a simple birth was such a grand act—an act leading to a great sacrifice, which would take away the sins of the world. Yours and mine! 

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:5-7

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Would Have Been Different...My Way

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

It’s a good thing I am not God because things would be handled a lot differently. Take the birth of Christ, for example. God brought about the advent of His Son in a way that was completely different from how I would have done it. As He did so often, God sent His Son in a way that was unexpected, but exactly what was needed. He came as one of us—into our smallness, our lostness. 

So how would the first Christmas have been different if it had been done my way? For starters, I would have sent Him as a powerful king. Instead, He came as a powerless baby. 

I would have sent him as a triumphant warrior. Instead, He came as a silent, sacrificial lamb.

I would have sent Him to attract the strong and powerful by His charismatic presence. Instead, He came to serve the “least of these”—the lost.

As you can see, I would have messed up everything. Had Christ come as I would have sent Him, it would have only exacerbated the distance between the human and divine. But God in His wisdom devised a plan that bridged the gap between Himself and humanity. And because of that, because He became like us, we can become like Him.  

And that is indeed “glad tidings of great joy, which will be to all people,” and the glorious “Good News” of Christmas. 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Joy

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Each and every December I can’t help but think about the songs that speak of joy. We offer “tidings of comfort and joy.” Or we sing that great hymn, “How Great Our Joy,” offering “Joy, Joy, Joy.” Of course no December would be complete without offering “Joy to the World.” I love all of these and others. But I think we have a serious problem. Not everyone seems to be very joyful!

Some will blame it on commercialism. Others think it’s all the parties and programs that keep us so very busy. I’ve heard a few who think that overcrowded malls are the biggest joy sappers. After watching videos of Black Friday shopping, I think we should change the name to shopping mauls!

There are many contributing factors for our lack of joy, but I think there is one thing that stands out from the rest - our selfishness. That shouldn’t be a big mystery to any of us because selfishness is at the core of who we are. Actually, being unselfish strikes at the very core of our being. 

And that thought reminds me of the first Christmas and an incredible act of selflessness. Our precious Savior released Himself from the splendor of heaven to a humble stable. He became the ‘babe of Bethlehem’ that was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger because there was no room for Him in the inn. 

If you lack joy this Christmas, may I suggest that you seek the same selfless attitude that Jesus had:

Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

A Christ follower understands that an attitude of selflessness is the key to experience true Christmas joy. So please don’t put it off for a more convenient time—that time doesn’t exist. I have learned from experience that God will honor your decision to act unselfishly. Try it. True, Christmas joy awaits!   

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Gift

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

There are many words associated with Christmas time; carols, tree, family, angels, joy, and others. But I think there is one word so inseparably connected, we hardly think of one without the other. That word is “gift.” 

Too often our thoughts focus on the gift[s] under the tree. It seems to me, however, we need to establish a priority—that we first think about God’s gift to us.

What was that gift? It was His Son, the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and of course with Him, the salvation He offered to all humanity. That gift was also announced in one of the most popular verses in the Bible, perhaps the greatest Christmas verse ever: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” [John 3:16]. 

Christmas set in motion a plan God had established before the foundation of the world; to give us the greatest gift possible—eternal life through His Son, Jesus. He came to us because we could not come to God. Our sinfulness kept us away. But now, because of His gift, we have access to God Himself. Because of the gift, we can draw near. 

We, as Christ followers, can join the apostle Paul’s great proclamation, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2nd Corinthians 9:15 NKJV). 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Where He Leads Me I Will Follow

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

It was just over 2,000 years ago that Joseph and Mary made their journey to Bethlehem. It would not be long, approximately two years, and they would be on the move again because of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents [Matthew 2:13-18]. It was at God’s direction that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus made their way to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod’s death. 

I find it interesting that each move the family made found its cause in God’s leading—fleeing to Egypt, their return to Israel after Herod’s death, their avoidance to return to Bethlehem [Judea] to settle near the Sea of Galilee. It was God’s will for them to make that long journey. First, the life of Jesus was at stake. He had to be protected. And secondly, each directive fulfilled ancient prophecies about the Messiah, which Matthew notes in his narrative of the events. I don’t think that Joseph understood all of that in the beginning, but in hindsight it should have been very clear. 

Another thing that strikes me is that Joseph didn’t argue with God or question the wisdom of His leading. And that is a good model for us. Even though we don’t always understand why God is leading us in a certain direction, we can have complete confidence that it is for our good and His glory. 

If you haven’t realized it yet, you’ll find that God leads by His wise, and often unusual directives. At times it may even seem a little mysterious, but don’t fret, it always proves wiser than our impatient requests for the complete itinerary He has for us. Trusting God along the path of the unknown honors Him. 

Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. Matthew 2:19-21

It's Christmas Time

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Ah, Christmas is nearly upon us. Usually at this time of year we are asked, “What would you like for Christmas?” Our culture responds with, “Whatever you want.” Whatever it is that makes you happy, that satisfies you; whatever it is that fulfills your ambitions, your desires and your dreams; that’s what Christmas offers you. 

That is a very confusing message and a very unbiblical one. It complicates what should be a very simple answer. In a word, what Christmas offers you is Christ. That is the simple, straightforward, one word answer to, what is for some, a confusing issue. Christ is Christmas. He’s the main object of both Old and New Testaments. If you have Christ, you have everything. If you don’t have Christ, you have nothing.

We have only one Christmas message and that is Christ. Why Christ, you ask? The author of Hebrews put it this way:

He is superior to angels [1:4] having a more excellent name than they
He is greater than Moses [3:3]
He is a better High Priest [4:14-15]
He is greater than Abraham and Melchizedek [7:1-7]
He is better than Aaron [7:11]
He made a better covenant [7:22]
He was the greater sacrifice [9:11-12]

Christ is our Christmas message - nothing more, nothing less.

Lets not be bashful in our celebration of Christmas. Let’s be bold, not arrogant or militant, but CONFIDENT in celebrating our Savior.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Overwhelmed at the Presence of God

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” Luke 1:46–55

Mary saw a most remarkable thing about God: He was about to change the world forever. The most important thirty plus years of history were about to begin.  

And just before that time started, God was interacting with two women; one old and childless, Elizabeth, the Mother of John the Baptizer, and a young virgin, Mary, the soon-to-be Mother of Jesus. Mary was so moved by the experience that she broke out in song—a song that has come to be known as “The Magnificat.”

One thing that strikes me about Mary and Elizabeth is their humble faith. I think Luke was impressed by it as well. He seemed to emphasize that lowly and cheerful humility to Theophilus, his “noble” reader. Listen to Elizabeth, “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” [Luke 1:43] And again to Mary, “For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;” [Luke 1:48].  

Christ followers are also people whose soul can truly magnify the Lord like Elizabeth and Mary—people who acknowledge their lowly estate and are overwhelmed by the loving presence of the magnificent God.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

You Can Make A Difference

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

I once heard the story of a young boy on a beach where hundreds of starfish had washed up on the sand. He thought they might die if they remained on the sand during the heat of that summer day. So he began to pick up the starfish, one-by-one, and put them back into the ocean.  

An older man watched for a little while and approached the boy. “Just what are you doing,” he asked. 

“I'm putting these poor starfish back into the ocean so they don't die in the hot sun.”  

“But what difference can you really make,” said the old man, “Look at this beach; there are hundreds of starfish here!”

The boy picked up another starfish and, placing it in the water said, “Well, it sure made a difference to that one!”

“Faithful in a very little”, the Word of God says! It is faithfulness in the little things that the Lord approves and said He would reward mightily.

A Christ follower knows that the world is like those starfish in the story - dying if they aren’t rescued. In the name of the Lord we do our best to reach those that the Lord has put in our path. We may not rescue everyone, but we can certainly make a difference in some!  

And he said to him, “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.” Luke 19:17 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Times in the Wilderness

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

It is a popular theory among contemporary “believers” that a life of ease follows those whose seek the Lord, and conversely, those who struggle to that end, cannot possibly be in God's will—labeled by some as a wilderness experience.

Perhaps we should be reminded that nearly all the great men of faith in the Bible spent some time in the wilderness. Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, John the beloved, and Paul, just to name a few.

Interestingly, the Hebrew word for wilderness is meed-bahr. It stems from the root word leh-da-behr, which means to speak. I love that because it implies that the Lord “speaks” to us in the “wilderness.” 

Perhaps you are in a “desert” place at the moment—a spiritual, physical, or emotional wilderness with no end in sight. Please understand it can be a place of growth because the “wilderness” is the place where God can “speak” to us most effectively. Let’s be honest; in the wilderness there are less distractions, making it easy for God to get our attention!

And please know, dear Christ follower, that God is with you today! He is present, walking through the wilderness alongside of you. We have not been abandoned. Listen, He is “speaking” in your “wilderness,” and the promised land awaits! 

Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19

Friday, December 6, 2013

You Can Trust Your Father

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

There’s a legend about some botanists exploring the remote regions of Mt. Hermon, the highest peak in Israel. They had met to catalogue the species of flora in the area. 

One day, they noticed a flower of great beauty. It was so rare that none of the botanists knew its name. They wanted to examine in but it lay deep in a ravine with high cliffs on both sides. To get to it, someone had to be lowered by a rope. 

A curious young boy was watching them, and the group told him they would pay him well if he would agree to be lowered over the cliff to retrieve the flower below.

After a long look down the steep cliff, the boy said, “I’ll be back in a minute.” A short time later he returned, followed by a gray-haired man. Approaching the botanists, the boy said, “I’ll go over the cliff and get the flower for you if he gets to hold the rope. He’s my dad.” His assurance was based in the trustworthiness of his father. 

A Christ follower has that kind of confidence in our Heavenly Father. We can trust Him to hold us even when it seems we are on the very edge!

My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arm shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust. Isaiah 51:5 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Don’t Stop Digging

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Bill Bright tells an amazing story in his book, How You Can Be Filled with the Holy Spirit:

During the Great Depression, poverty swept across America like a whirling tornado, ripping up dreams and scattering hopes to the wind. One such poverty twister hit a small part of Texas where a man named Yates ran a sheep ranch. Struggling even to keep food on the table, Yates and his wife did all they could to survive. Finally, they had to accept a government subsidy or lose their home and land to the creditors.

One day, in the midst of this bleakness, a geologic crew from a large oil company came knocking. With Yates' permission, they wanted to drill a wildcat well on his property, promising him a large portion of the profits if they struck oil. "What could I lose?" thought Yates, and he signed the papers.

The oil crew immediately set up the machinery and began drilling. Five hundred feet down, they came up dry. Eight hundred feet, dry. One thousand feet they sunk the shaft, and still no oil. Finally, at a little over eleven hundred feet, they tapped into one of the richest oil reserves in Texas. 

The hole sprayed its black wealth high into the air, and soon the well was pumping eighty thousand barrels of oil a day. Overnight, Yates and his family became millionaires. His property, once called Yate's Field, became known as Yate's Pool. 

How different the outcome would have been if the crew had stopped digging at a thousand feet. The pool of oil would still have been there, just waiting for someone to dig a little deeper. 

Christ followers have found that life is like that at times. The breakthrough we need is just under our feet! Be encouraged! Keep digging! God has more in store than you can imagine! 

The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Isaiah 58:11 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I’ve Never Been Better

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

I can’t remember [if ever] a day reading a newspaper full of good news, can you? If I take the news at face value, there is hardly any ongoing good in the world. Tension in the Middle East, economies on the brink of collapse, and natural calamities one after the other - these are troubling times.

That’s why I love the message of the Psalmist, “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me...” [Psalm 27:5].

Yes, these are troubling times, but as a Christ follower, I’m well because my life is hid with Christ in God [Colossians 3:3]. It reminds me of a cowboy I  once heard about. 

He was pulling a horse trailer on a long Texas road, his faithful dog by his side in the pick-up. He happened to take a curve too fast and lost control of the truck. The result was a terrible accident.

A Texas Ranger happened upon the scene. He saw the horse, the dog, and the cowboy all in terrible shape, laying near the overturned vehicles. Being an animal lover, his attention was first drawn to the horse. He recognized the serious nature of the injuries, pulled out his pistol, and put the horse out of its misery. Then he went to the dog, which was also critically wounded. His heart was gripped as the dog whined in pain, so again, he pulled out his revolver and ended its suffering. 

With a smoking gun in hand, he next went to the cowboy who had witnessed the action of the Ranger. He had suffered multiple fractures and could barely breathe. The Ranger asked the cowboy, “Hey, are you okay?” With unexpected energy the cowboy responded, “I’ve never been better!”

We are pilgrims in this sinful and dangerous world. Sometimes we get wounded which, at times seems unbearable. It’s at those times the truth of the Psalmist comes to bear. It’s there I can find a spiritual and supernatural strength to say, “I’ve never been better!”  

One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. Psalm 27:4-5 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Living and Dead Seas

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Israel has an interesting geographical phenomenon. It contains two landlocked lakes, or seas. One is thought to be alive and one dead. The sea full of life is the Kinneret - you probably know it as the Sea of Galilee. The dead sea is - you guessed it - the Dead Sea. 

The Kinneret constantly gives up its water as it flows through the Jordan Valley into the Dead Sea. But the Dead Sea is stingy; it does not empty its water at all. Since it refuses to release its water, the Dead Sea is continually shrinking because the intense heat evaporates more water than is flowing into this lowest spot on Earth. 

You’ve probably figured out the point of this eDevotion. The Sea that is alive is the one that gives. So it is with a Christ follower. The more of your life you pour out, the more alive, filled up, and refreshed you will be. Of course, if you hold back, well you should keep this Jewish limerick in mind: 

There once was a sea that was dead
It was, 'cause it only got fed
And never gave up
Not one single cup
Now that's something to keep in your head

By this we know love of God, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 1st John 3:16-18

Monday, December 2, 2013

Why God Used D. L. Moody

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

D. L. Moody died in the last days of the 19th century, December 22, 1899, to be exact. At that time, Dr. R. A. Torrey was probably his closest associate and friend. 

When Moody died, Torrey soon took worldwide lead in great citywide campaigns in Australia, England and America. In 1923 Dr. Torrey was asked to speak at a service on "Why God Used D. L. Moody." It was a powerful sermon that became a book by the same title. I have read that sermon many times, and each time, I am stirred in spirit to do more for the Lord. You can buy the book here for $0.60.

Torrey mentioned seven reasons God used Moody. Here they are without commentary:
  • Moody was a fully surrendered man, he held nothing back from the Lord 
  • He was a man of much prayer 
  • He was a deep and practical student of the Bible 
  • He was a humble man 
  • He was not a lover of money 
  • He had a consuming passion for the salvation of the lost
  • And he was endued with Power from on High 
Dear Christ follower, do you want to have a close, intimate relationship with God and bear lasting fruit for Him? I can think of no better way to go about it than the example of Dwight Lyman Moody. My heart is convicted, how about yours?