Thursday, July 31, 2014

Painful Memories

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Young people have fewer memories than the elderly, but we all have them. And some of the memories of the past are painful. In fact, there may be an experience or experiences that make you cringe whenever you think about it. Broken relationships. Bankruptcies. Molestation. Moments of weakness. Chemical abuse. The list is endless. It’s possible that as you read this, something comes to mind—a haunting memory.

If that is the case, then you have a friend in the apostle Paul. He wrestled with the same thing. As a matter of fact, he considered himself the worst of sinners and “the least of all God’s people.” He didn’t write those words for literary etiquette or for the appearance of humility. Because he mentioned his past many time in his writings, the reality of his sinfulness never left his side.  

Paul didn’t let the painful memory of his sinful past hold him back. He had been forgiven by a loving Savior. Now, those memories served to highlight God’s redeeming love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Paul went on to serve the Lord with thanksgiving.

Do you have a painful, paralyzing memory from your past? Well, join the club. But consider this; in Christ, that memory spotlights the Lord’s grace and mercy in your life. You are forgiven. Because of that, not even your haunting memory can hold you back from effective ministry.  

What a blessing! 

Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. Ephesians 3:8

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dismissed in Peace

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Just a couple of months ago, I lost a dear friend to death. Then, just a week ago, my dear wife’s aunt died. Needless to say, I have given some thought to the subject of death these past few weeks. The thoughts are not morbid, scary, or sorrowful. They are, well let me tell you about one of them...

I was thinking back to my childhood school days. When class was to be dismissed at the end of the day, two short rings of a bell warned us that in 5 minutes we could go home. Then, right on the dot, a long bell ring indicated that we were dismissed. 

In those 5 minutes, our teacher would make sure our little area was cleaned up; books  and supplies put away, and the floor around our desk clean. When we were finished, we would sit with our hands folded on our desks, waiting ANXIOUSLY to be dismissed. I remember on many occasions my teacher’s promise, “When you are ready, you will be dismissed.”

God made a promise like that to the priest, Simeon. It was not identical, but something like, “When I am ready, I’ll let you see the Christ; then you will be dismissed.” He didn’t get a warning bell or a timeline either. He had to trust in the LORD for His perfect timing. I can imagine that he was a lot like we kids, waiting anxiously for that time to come. 

Simeon had to wait a few decades for the promise to be fulfilled. And when God was ready, Christ was born. Simeon saw the salvation of God with his very own eyes. Now, he could be dismissed in peace. 

Dismissed in peace! It’s possible, you know. One of God’s great promises is, “...whoever believes [puts his full and complete trust] in the Son of God will not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16b]

With Christ as your Savior and Guide, being dismissed from this life is peaceful. It’s no scarier than being dismissed from an elementary school class—but a lot better! Being dismissed from the classroom meant going home for the night, just to return, yet again, the next day for school. But being dismissed from this life, Christ followers go home, to heaven, not for merely a night, but forever. 

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-31

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Christmas In July and Always

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

While I was away at my dear wife’s Aunt’s funeral, the young people at the church I pastor had a “Christmas In July” celebration. I didn’t get to attend the event, but it did provoke me to thought. Why do Christ followers seem to merely celebrate Christmas at Christmas? 

I’m not referring to Christmas “hype.” That’s what merchandisers do. Once the shopping season is over, they get rid of the Christmas stuff and move on to New Years, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, et al. 

The same is true for some families. Once the Christmas dinner leftovers have been devoured, there’ll be no more Christmas until next year. No matter the situation, it’s hard, or nearly impossible, to keep up the hype. 

Christ followers know differently! God raised up a great leader in Israel whose name was David. A promise was made to him that a Savior would come from his descendants, who, with His life, death, and resurrection, would redeem the world. He would establish peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. All of His followers would be a part of His great kingdom of life, a kingdom that would not end. 

That is the Christmas to celebrate. Gifts, songs, lights and decorations are just a small part of the joy at Christmas time. But God’s gift of the Savior, of Christ, is Christmas joy for Christ followers every day — now and always!  

When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 2 Samuel 7:12-13

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Curve Balls

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I loved being a catcher when playing baseball in high school and college. I especially liked it when we had a pitcher with a great curve ball—the sucker pitch. When the ball left the pitcher’s hand, it started on a certain trajectory, hopefully long enough for the batter to think he knew where the ball would arrive at the plate. But somewhere in the 60.6 feet from the pitching mound to home plate, the ball curves in or out or down, fooling the batter and making it difficult to hit it. 

Life is like baseball sometimes. No, I’m not trying to imitate Forrest Gump, but it really is true. Abraham knew all about the curve balls of life. One of them had to do with his son, his only son, Isaac. God had given him a promise that he and his son would be the ancestors of the promised deliverer. And that’s when the curve ball came in to play—and it was a big one!

God instructed Abraham to bind up and sacrifice his son, which didn’t make any sense at all. How would it be possible for all the nations to be blessed through Abraham and Isaac if Isaac were to be eliminated? 

Yet Abraham trusted God, and left on that fateful day to do God’s bidding. He took his son to Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. He bound the lad and, together, they marched up the mountain. However, God stopped him before he could harm his son by providing another sacrificial animal, a ram in this case.

Abraham was so delighted he gave that place a special name. He didn’t name it This-Is-Where-God-Threw-Me-A-Curve-Ball. No, he called it The LORD Will Provide!

Think about what God has provided for you, too. He gave His Son as a sacrifice for the death that each of us deserved. We receive His favor, so undeservedly. And who among us really deserves forgiveness, yet, that is ours, too, when we are in Christ!

The Lord provided the perfect sacrifice for Abraham and the perfect sacrifice for us as well. Jesus died to free us from sin, and make it possible for us to live with Him forever.

And Abraham called the name of the place, The–LORD–Will–Provide; as it is said to this day, in the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided. Genesis 22:14

The Simple Truth

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Telling the truth clears the air. It’s amazing how much good is accomplished when the plain truth is revealed. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is, And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free [John 8:32].

But the simple truth is not always understood. Sometimes, our prejudices get in the way. There are times when our minds are made up, so we refuse the simple truth by saying, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is already made up!” And often, the simple truth is just hard to believe. 

That was the case with Jesus and His disciples. When He spoke plainly about His suffering and death, they took issue with Him. Peter is the one who spoke out, but they all thought the same thing. After Jesus announced His rejection by the religious leaders, His suffering, death, and resurrection, Peter blurted out, “These things shall never be!” His response drew one of the most scathing remarks ever leaving the lips of our Savior. He said, “Get thee behind me Satan!” Wow!

Everyone has their own beliefs, thoughts, and impressions regarding Jesus and His ministry, many of which are contrary to biblical teaching. So here is the simple truth.

Jesus was punished for what I deserved to be punished for. 

Jesus was crucified and bore the burden of death that my sin demanded. 

Jesus rose from the dead to rescue me from the clutches of hell and the grave. 

Jesus’ ministry uncovers the awful truth that I am blind, dead, and hostile to God. 

In Jesus, I see just how helpless and hopeless I am, and that He is the only One who can secure my eternal freedom.

The simple truth is hard to swallow. I desperately need Jesus. But isn’t that why He came; to rescue people like you and me? “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10]. 

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. Mark 8:31-32

Monday, July 7, 2014

In Harm’s Way

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

When I lived in Germany as a missionary, I never tired of hearing the vivid and detailed accounts of American soldiers who fought in WWII. One soldier, in particular, fascinated me because with each story he told, there was a lesson to be learned. The lesson that stuck most in my mind was “never intentionally put yourself in harm’s way.”

That’s sound advice for anyone, military or not. Vorsicht, as they would say in German — caution, watch out. In other words, the highest priority must be given to common sense and self-preservation.

What is striking to me is a record of Jesus described in Mark’s Gospel. He wrote, Immediately the Holy Spirit drove Jesus to go into the wilderness. He was there for forty days, being tempted by Satan. Mark 1:12-13a

The first question that comes to my mind is “why would the Holy Spirit put Jesus in harm’s way?” Why would He intentionally expose Jesus to forty days of temptation?

The answer might surprise you. The Spirit sent Jesus into the desert, and Jesus knowingly placed Himself in harm’s way, to defeat Satan and to rescue me. This is how the beloved apostle John stated it, The reason the Son of God came was to destroy the devil’s work. [1 John 3:8b]

[NOTE: the word destroy in 1 John 3:8 is the same word Jesus used in John 11:44 when He told the people who witness the raising of Lazarus to “unwrap” or “loosen” him. When Jesus “destroyed” the works of the devil, He loosened his grip or control.] 

For forty days Jesus withstood the attacks, the cunning and deadly assaults, of Satan. And in the end, He secured the victory and freedom over Satan that we so desperately needed.  

The lessons I draw from Mark’s account are these: because Jesus placed Himself in harm’s way, I now have the ability to STAND FIRM in my faith [Galatians 5:1], I have the strength to SAY, “NO” to ungodliness [Titus 2:12-13], and I HAVE ASSURANCE that there is way out of my temptations [1 Corinthians 10:13]. 

Jesus intentionally put Himself in harm’s way. Now I am safe!

Immediately the Holy Spirit drove Jesus to go into the wilderness. He was there for forty days, being tempted by Satan. Mark 1:12-13a

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Liberty - Sing and Dance for Joy!

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

America really knows how to celebrate its independence. We do it on July 4th, and oh what a day it is! In our small mountain community of Julian, CA, we block off Main Street and have a parade. It’s a lot of fun because there are no professional floats, just a bunch of Americans decorating their old cars, tractors, wagons, flatbeds, pickup trucks,  motorcycles, bicycles, tricycles, or just plain walking down the street, to celebrate our liberty. There’s a lot of flag waving, music, dancing, not to mention all sorts of entertainment around town. Julian sure knows how to party!

It’s good to have days of celebration to remember our freedom and those whose blood was shed to pay it. But there’s one work of freedom that we need to remember as well - the price paid for our spiritual freedom. 

So here’s my plan for the 4th: I’m going to break out the confetti, turn up the music, and celebrate freedom. We were bought with a price; we were set free from the law of sin and death; our mourning has been turned to joy. Let’s all celebrate. If the Son has made us free, we are free indeed!

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rejoice in the God Who Wants You

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Does God really want us or not? Would He forsake, for example, the one who turned his back on Him? Would He abandon those who have run from Him? Would He disown the filthy? The selfish? The greedy? You might say, “But wait a minute, how can you know the mind of God?” And you would be right. That being said, I still think we can answer the question because of what God has revealed to us about Himself.
He shows all mankind a little of His heart and mind in His desire that “all ends of the earth” humble themselves in repentance and be saved. And He will save them—save you! No matter how wicked your past, no matter who you have hurt, or how badly you have been hurt — Yehoshua: "the LORD is salvation!"
That was the message of the angels to the shepherds at Christ’s birth - For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord [Luke 2:11]. A savior for us, born to rescue the world from their debt of sin. And He did it. He died on the cross and rose victoriously from the grave to prove that our debt to sin was paid in full. 
I know of no other god with such a plan. None! No stone god or wood god can remove our sin, and guilt, and shame. That gift comes only from the true and living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
Be encouraged dear Christ follower. Be sure to gather in an assembly of like-minded believers each week. While you are there, hear the gracious and loving words of your God and rejoice.  
Gather together and come, you fugitives from surrounding nations. What fools they are who carry around their wooden idols and pray to gods that cannot save! Consult together, argue your case. Get together and decide what to say. Who made these things known so long ago? What idol ever told you they would happen? Was it not I, the LORD? For there is no other God but me, a righteous God and Savior. There is none but me. Let all the world look to me for salvation! For I am God; there is no other. Isaiah 45:20-22