Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Quiet and Holy People

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Back in the third century, Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, wrote to his friend Donatus: "It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered, in the midst of it, a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy, which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are Christians, and I am one of them."

I just love the phrase, a quiet and holy people... There is so much yelling, and name calling, and sniping in this world. We are bombarded with these and many more things daily. Yet the true Christ follower can be quiet and holy. The word that comes to my mind is peaceful.  

There is a kind of peace that Christ followers can experience that blows the world away. Maybe because it is not of, or from this world. It is a Christ given peace to those who follow Him. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. [John 14:27]

That’s the kind of peace that people notice, especially when we display it through our troubled times — when we're despised, when we're persecuted, when we’re marginalized, when we’re in the middle of chaos. 

To quote an old movie title, we live in a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World — an incredibly mad world.  But we have victory in our Lord. Let's begin to trust God for that victory in a way we haven't before. Let His unworldly-like peace rule your heart and mind. 

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Colossians 3:15

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Orders Remain Unchanged

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

One of the most fascinating sites to visit in Washington D.C. is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The Tomb is guarded 24-hours-a-day and 365-days-a-year by a platoon of 30 honor guards of the 3rd United States Infantry (The Old Guard), through rain, snow and even hurricanes! 

A single sentinel takes his post, walking exactly 21 steps then pausing for 21 seconds before turning around and continuing his duty. The number 21 is in reference to the 21 gun salute which is the military's highest honor given to a soldier. When the changing of the guard takes place, the orders are passed from one soldier to the next — "Orders Remain Unchanged."

That got me to thinking. The world is rapidly changing before our eyes! We could very well be living in the days described by Paul as the “perilous times” — the “end times.” And while it has been about 2,000 years since a our Lord’s ascension into heaven, one thing is the same — our "Orders Remain Unchanged."

Be on guard, dear Christ follower. Be watchful and alert for every opportunity to carry out your orders. Remember, they have not changed: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Turn on the Lights

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

During the Feast of Tabernacles, the temple priests would set up four great lampstands in the Temple courtyard. It was quite the project requiring the use of tall ladders. The lighting of the candelabra began the celebration of the "Great Hosannah." The celebration went on all evening, lasting into the morning hours. It was a time of great rejoicing with music and dancing, while the Temple shown in brilliant light. Jerusalem was a breathtaking, illuminated city on a hill. One historian said that the Temple was gloriously visible as far away as Bethlehem — about 6 miles to the south.

As the week progressed, the people began rehearsing the prayer that they would recite on the last day of the Feast. It went something like this: "Be praised, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who makes light and causes darkness, who makes peace and creates all: the light of the world as the treasure of life…"

It so happens that Jesus attended a Feast of Tabernacles. And it was in that context  that Jesus announced, "I am the Light of the world!"

What a wonderful thought; our Jesus, the Redeemer, is the light of the world! It follows that we need not walk in darkness because we have the light of life [John 1:4]. Perhaps some of you have been walking in darkness — maybe for a while now. Today is the day to turn the light on. Or maybe I should say it this way: give your life to the Lord again and let His light shine in you. 

Just like the Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem, your life can once again shine like a city that is beautifully illuminated for the world to see. 

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world: he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life." John 8:12 

Monday, January 27, 2014

While He Was Still A Long Way Off

Encouragement for your daily walk with God
I reread the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, which prompted some thoughts about the reaction of the father to his son.

What struck me most in this reading was the short phrase, “And while he was still a long way off...” The father did not wait for the son to come to him. Instead, he ran to greet his wayward son. 

My first observation is, we, the Church and individual Christ followers, cannot sit back and wait for people to come to hear the message or be welcomed. We must be proactive and run to meet those who most desperately need to be restored. When we do this, we are emulating the father that Jesus described to us in His parable.

The second observation is that when the father met up with his son, he didn’t express condemnation or criticism, although the lad certainly deserved it! He was just happy to have the relationship restored. As a matter of biblical fact, the only emotion expressed by the father was rejoicing. His lost son had returned! Why is it that so many who are outside of the church feel condemned by the church? If anyone should be the most welcoming and joyful for restored fellowship, it is Christ followers – The Church. Were we to be like the father in this parable, we would be a reflection of our Christ, who left His glorious home in heaven to come and rescue us! 

And he arose and came to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. Luke 15:20

Get Out of the Way

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Do you remember the bracelets and necklaces that Christians wore years ago that had the letters WWJD? It was an acronym for “What Would Jesus Do?” It was a great idea, but as I have gotten older, I think I have a problem with it — not with the idea, but how can we, mere humans, really know what Jesus would do? He had a way of doing the unexpected, like the time a lame man was brought to Him and Jesus forgave his sins [Mark 2:1-12]. Or like the time when, in front of an angry crowd, He defended the woman caught in adultery [John 8:1-11]. Or like the time when a demoniac was delivered and was told that he had to go home and not follow Jesus [Mark 5:18-19]. 

The point of all this is if I do as Jesus did, then I must see things as Jesus sees them and love as Jesus loves. It’s at that point that I fall short. If I may be honest with you, I put everything through the grid of what would Rick do or what is best for Rick?

So, is it really possible to accomplish WWJD? We would come a lot closer to it if we followed the exhortation of Paul to, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Philippians 2:3–8]

To do what Jesus would do is a worthy goal and the first thing we have to do to accomplish it is to get out of the way! That’s right, walk in humility and get out of the way. The good news is that, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” [Philippians 4:13] I just need to get out the way of the One who can actually do it!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Can I Trust God in Hard Times?

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

I know that I am not alone in whining to God when things don’t go my way—at least I hope I’m not the only one! As a matter of fact, there are times when I get rather petulant when things don’t improve as quickly as I think they should. Yes, I know we live in a fallen world, and that disappointment is inevitable. But my pettish response is neither appropriate nor helpful. 

That is where the truth of Scripture comes to play. It challenges me to face my petulance and cry out to God for change.

Yesterday, my Scripture reading was the story of Joseph in Genesis. What a story! Mistreated by family members. Sold into slavery. Imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. What more could go wrong?

Well, a couple of his inmates were benefitted when Joseph correctly interpreted their dreams. One of them was restored to a position in the King’s palace and promised to tell the king about Joseph. However, he got caught up in his own good fortune and forgot all about Joseph for two years [Genesis 41:1]. “Two whole years,” is how the ESV states it.  

We’re not told in the text, but I wonder if Joseph threw a pity-party during that time. Surely he had questions for God while he languished in prison. Let’s face it, he had gone from a favored son to a prisoner through no fault of his own. 

What we forget is that we have the benefit of reading the story in one setting and find out that Joseph would, indeed, be released and rise to a high position beside the King. But Joseph didn’t have the benefit of that knowledge. He had to live out the entire two years one second at a time — all 32 million of them!

No Christ follower knows how the story of their life will play out. That’s why we need to be like Joseph and trust in God’s providential care. I know this in my mind, it’s my heart that falters when the going gets tough. 

Again, it’s the Scripture that feeds my soul. It comes through the pen of King David, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” [Psalm 37:25, ESV]

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Encouragement for your daily walk with God

I read an interesting article by a missionary about the difficulty of communicating the Gospel to people groups, especially when they don’t have words equivalent to our English words. He went on to tell about the first missionaries to share the Gospel with Eskimos. They couldn’t find a word in the Eskimo language for forgiveness. So they made up a word by putting together a number of Eskimo words. It was the word, issumagijoujunnainermik. 

Broken apart it looks like this: Issu-magi-jou-jun-nai-ner-mik. That was the new word for forgivness and it means, not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore. 

What a wonderful word! Christ followers often remember or rehearse their hurts over and over again, rather than relinquishing them to the care of God. And while we know that we can’t forget them, we can release its hold on us by putting them aside. Isn’t that what Paul told the Philippian believers? He said, “...but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead...” [Philippians 3:13]

It’s better that we not replay the hurts that we may have acquired. Rather, replay God’s mercy, His grace, His love for us - and those who have hurt us - when He freely gave His life on behalf of us all. That will help us release the power of those hurts, and enable us to move forward again. 

But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. Mark 11:26

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Can You Hear Me Now?

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

I’ve been accused [and rightly so] of selective hearing. I can easily dismiss all kinds of messages — except the call to dinner!

Christ followers know that our Lord talked about this a lot. He was fond of saying, “You’ve got the necessary equipment to hear, so listen up!” OK, that’s my loose translation of, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

What strikes me most about His words is that it is a present command — keep on hearing, or don’t stop hearing. Since it is a command, it requires participation on my part. I must decide to keep the channel open so that I can hear what God says in His Word. Unfortunately, there are times when I am like His disciples...slow to hear!

There is a sense in which my heart and ears need calibration. They need to be tuned to God’s frequency. The song writer had it right when he wrote:

Come, thou Fount of every blessing, 
Tune my heart to sing thy grace 

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. John 10:27

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hard Sayings of Jesus

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

It’s not the things I don’t understand about the Bible that bother me so much. It’s what I do understand, but find difficult to live out. Take the Sermon on the Mount for example. Jesus told His followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Really! 

What I know is that the world would be a much better place if every Christ follower did this well. It should be possible since God has taken up residence in us — that is, we should see progress to that effect. 

Unfortunately, a quick view of the Internet belies that teaching. Professing Christ followers seem more prone to speaking hatefully or condescendingly to their “enemies” rather than loving and praying for them.

I want to follow Christ. Somehow, He was able to put sin in its place while loving the sinner. As a matter of biblical fact, He hung around sinners, or they with Him, so much so that He was criticized for it by the hyper-religionists of His day. That is seldom said of Christ followers today. 

There is a double tragedy here. Our inability or unwillingness to follow Christ’s example to “love your enemies,” not only damages those around us, but it damages us as well. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matt 5:43-44

Monday, January 20, 2014

Fully Consecrated to God

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

D. L. Moody was challenged by a statement he heard from Pastor Henry Varley: "The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him."

What strikes me most about the statement is that it doesn’t suggest God is looking for a person with superior intellect, or post-graduate degrees, or one who is unusually gifted. Rather, what God wants is someone that is a “living sacrifice,” as described by Paul.

History records that as Moody pondered on it, and prayed about it, his ministry radically changed. Every Christ follower should think about it too. What God is really looking for are people who are simply sold out for Him.

There really is no secret to a successful walk with the Lord. It reduces to one thing — COMMITMENT. To be TOTALLY committed requires a daily cross bearing and, despite the obstacles, to press forward in the Lord’s work. 

I want that, don’t you? As Christ followers, let’s commit our ways to the Lord. Take up the challenge as Moody did. His life was never the same afterward. It will be life changing for us too! 

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. [Romans 12:1]

Sunday, January 19, 2014

God - King of the Universe

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Nearly every Hebrew prayer begins with, “Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha Olam” meaning, Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe. King of the Universe! Wikipedia defines "universe" as, "the composition of all the planets, stars, galaxies, the contents of intergalactic space, and all matter and energy." 

Think of it — the King of everything! Someone like that may seem unreachable by you or me, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Our King came and lived among us so that we could know Him better. Yes, He’s big—bigger than we could possibly imagine. But He is accessible because He became like us.

He knows our thoughts, our worries, our fears, our anxieties and our troubles. So what do we have to fear? If He is for us, who can be against us? He truly is Melech Ha Olam – the King of the Universe, but He's also our best and closest friend. 

These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful. Revelation 17:14

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Power of God for Salvation

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Divine Poem I by John Donne [1572 – 1631, English poet, satirist, lawyer and a cleric in the Church of England]:

Father of Heaven, and him, by whom
It, and us for it, and all else, for us
Thou madest, and govern’st ever, come
And re-create mee, now growne ruinous:
My heart is by dejection, clay,
And by selfe-murder, red.
From this red earth, Of Father, purge away
All vicious tinctures, that new fashioned
I may rise up from death, before I’m dead.

It’s the last line that commands my attention because it describes the regenerative power of the Gospel — to really live before death. Unfortunately, some have reduced the gospel to a mere set of rules and regulations, an ethical system, or some scheme to prosperity. But Christ followers know it is much more than that. 

According to Paul, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation, which is not merely a belief of what happens when we die, but rather, a life transforming process now. [Romans 1:16]

I so desperately need that transformation. I need it to hear the voice of God above the commotion around me. I need it to be other than I now am. I need it so that “I may rise up from death, before I’m dead” as John Donne so eloquently put it. 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes... [Romans 1:16 NASB]

Faith and Stability

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Christ followers are just ordinary people, right? Therefore, it should not come as a surprise if you have ever felt uneasy, unsettled or unstable. Who hasn’t? The greater question is, how do you deal with those feelings? 

This is what George Muller wrote in His diary on May 9, 1841:

"Now, I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed…by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart."

Muller got his stability from daily meditation of the Word of God. Stay with me just a moment because this gets really interesting. The Hebrew word for faith is emunah. Interestingly, Isaiah used the same Hebrew word when he wrote, “And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the LORD is his treasure.” [Isaiah 33:6] 

Faith and stability are linked; they go hand-in-hand together. How does a Christ follower become more stable and settled in uncertain times? By gaining faith. And how does he get that faith? Paul said it best, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." [Romans 10:17]

The more we get into the Word of God, the more stable our walk. Faith and stability await those who spend time in His word. 

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. Psalm 1:1-3 NKJV

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

“To Err Is Human”

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

“To err is human” [Alexander Pope (1688-1744)]. Failure is a part of the human condition, and the best we can do is strive to keep them as small as possible—but they are failures nonetheless. 

The bigger question is is not whether or not we will fail, but what is our response to failure. Every motivational speaker has a particular methodology to respond to failure. Typically it involves picking yourself up and moving on, or learn from your failures and keep moving forward. Good advice? Yes! There is some substance to that. But for a Christ follower, our moral failures require more that just “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” [Pick Yourself Up - 1936, Jerome Kern]

The Bible doesn’t hide from us the colossal failures of the great men of God in its pages. Abraham twice lied about his wife and nearly caused international incidents on both occasions. Isaac perpetrated the same lie about his wife with similar result. David committed adultery and covered it up by sending the woman’s husband to the front line of a war, leading to his death. Peter denied Jesus three times. Paul began his career as a bounty hunter bringing Christians to persecution and death. 

We, like them, have experienced failure. And just like them, we need to experience forgiveness and restoration with the God of second chances. Will God truly forgive us? Yes! When we confess and repent. [1st John 1:9]

By the way, God often uses our failures as lessons in humility and dependence on Him. One of my Bible College professors was fond of saying that failure is the only sure path to humility.

There is nothing so heinous that cannot be forgiven by God, and each and every Christ follower should not be slow to practice that same forgiveness. My guess is that if we did a better job of forgiving, our stress level would go down and our church attendance would go up. 

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. [Ephesians 4.32 NKJV]

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Lesson from Fish

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

When storms blow across the surface of a body of water, fish know where to go — deep below the surface. That’s right, while winds and waves ravish the surface, there is complete peace below. Christ followers can learn a lot from fish. 

If your relationship with God is a shallow experience, you will find yourself tossed about by the waves of circumstances. Christ followers have learned that from the pen of James, our Lord’s brother. He describes such a person as “double-minded” and unstable. Literally it says, “double-souled.” When the storms of life come, as they inevitably will, he cannot exercise faith because he hasn’t gone deep in the Lord. 

Take time to seek a deep relationship with God through Christ Jesus who is our Sar Shalom — our Prince of Peace. In Him there is a peace that passes understanding in the storms of life. A shallow (double-souled) Christ follower hasn’t yet found that place because he hasn’t made the effort to go deeper. 

If you find yourself distressed, worried, and tossed about when difficulties come, the best answer is to go deeper in Christ. As the Good Shepherd, He will “lead you beside still waters” and fill you with His shalom that passes understanding. 

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Lord Is With You

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

When Daniel faced the den of lions, the Lord was with him. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced the flames of a fiery furnace, the Lord was with them. When David faced the giant in his life, God was there.
God could have easily prevented these men from experiencing their difficulties. He chose instead to be with them while they experienced their trials. That is a great lesson for all us to learn. God often chooses to reveal His power through the trial, rather than showing His mighty power to remove the trial. 

Trials and difficulties are simply a part of life. I don’t know why that surprises some Christ followers. So let me ask this important question; How do you react when your faith is challenged by adversity? Do you grumble and complain? Do you accuse God of abandoning you? Do you throw a pity-party?

Let me suggest a more biblical approach. Remain joyful through them! I know what you are thinking. Rick, are you out of your mind? James, the Lord’s brother said it this way, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials...” [James 1:2 NASB]

How is is possible to be joyful in times of trial? Do as the Psalmist did, “Unto Thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in Thee...” [Psalm 25:1-2a KJV]

It’s your choice. You can complain during your trial or you can have complete confidence in God during your darkest hour - believing and, yes, knowing He is with, always, and all the way.

Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save.” [Zephaniah 3:16b-17a]