Wednesday, June 29, 2016

God Can Use Me? or God Can Use Me!

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

The other day I was reading through the book of James when a verse grasped my attention. “Elijah was as human as we are…”  [5:17 New Living Translation, 2nd Edition].

I’m so glad the Lord prompted James to say Elijah was just another guy (my loose translation), because we sometimes think the miracle workers in the Bible were super-human or super-spiritual — bold, courageous, and fearless. 

Well, that certainly wasn’t the case with Elijah! He had moments of fear and despondency, so much so, that he wanted to throw in the towel; give up and die [see 1 Kings 19:3-4].

Perhaps you’ve felt that way too. If so, then I have good news for you. God can use a flawed, imperfect person, a person who has weaknesses. Truth is, it seems that God goes out of His way to find people like that. If God were to choose only the super-talented, the highly educated, the rich, the beautiful… well, that would eliminate most of us! So when God chose Elijah, a guy like we are, there is hope that He can use us too!

Paul said it this way, “Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.  1 Corinthians 1:27-29

Rather than asking the question: God Can Use Me?, make it an exclamation: God Can Use Me! Do you believe it? Then get busy; there is so much kingdom work to be done!

Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. James 5:17-18

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Get to Work!

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I’m concerned at the alarming number of professing Christ followers who believe that there is no relationship between what they believe and what they do. In their minds, requiring good works violates the principle of faith. In other words, one is judged solely by what they believe, not by what they do.

And yes, there are those who swing the pendulum in the opposite direction and say that one is judged solely by good works. I understand where they get that [see James 2:24], but a belief that says you earn your salvation through works alone is heretical.

It’s that age old “Paul said - James said” argument. Can you know if someone is a true Christ follower by watching his or her behavior? Both Paul and James resoundingly say, “Yes!”

Paul said that we are saved by grace through faith, God’s gift to us, so that no one could boast that they earned their salvation by any means [Ephesians 2:8-9]. In the next breath he explained that true salvation results in good works, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…” [2:10].

Likewise, Paul wrote to Titus that we are not saved by our works, but rather through the mercy and grace of God [Titus 3:5]. But he also told Titus what that grace leads to, “…to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly right now” [2:11-12].

James taught the same thing, that God redeems the ungodly by the implanted Word, which enables a person to progress in holiness [James 1:18, 21]. That’s divine work, not human effort. And yet, he followed that by saying if the divine work has taken place in your life, it will show up in good works, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” [James 2:18].

The Greek word, deiknuo [pronounced dake.noo’.oh] translated show, means, to exhibit, to demonstrate, or put on display. Mincing no words, James points out that it is impossible to verify true faith in God apart from a holy life because doctrine and deed are inseparable.

You shouldn’t be confused how faith and works relate. They go together. Your works are a living testimony of the saving grace of God. When a person tells me they are a Christ follower on the basis that they “believe” in Jesus, but there is no evidence of that belief in their actions, I say they should examine themselves to see if they are really in Christ or not. 

So, let’s get to work, dear Christ follower. Make it your aim to glorify God through your obedient response to biblical truth, because true faith produces good works!

What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?... You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. James 2:14, 24

Monday, June 27, 2016

Divine Discontent

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

One of the things that really excites me about being a Christ follower is divine discontent. That may sound strange to some of you. How does discontentment fit in with the joy and satisfaction of knowing your sins are forgiven and that a place is reserved for you in heaven?

The answer is simple. Divine discontent doesn’t have anything to do with my salvation - my position in Christ. It has to do with my walk. I’m not satisfied that my walk is a mirror of who Jesus is therefore, I long to be be more like Him. Does that resonate with you? 

If you think of divine discontent that way, then the Psalmist wrote the cry of your heart when he said, “I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness” [Psalm 17:15]. There’s my divine discontent. I want to be more like Jesus and I won’t be satisfied until I am.

I have a theory about this. A true Christ follower hungers and thirsts to be righteous, to be like Jesus. Unfortunately, many will spoil their appetite by snacking in between meals. There are things, relationships, and pursuits in life that, while harmless in and of themselves, take the edge off the godly appetite we should have. 

I know the best way to deal with them is to ask yourself: Does this pursuit make me more or less hungry for spiritual things? Does it draw me closer, or keep me away from Jesus? Does this pursuit weigh me down in the race of life? 

I also know that if you hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be like Jesus, you will be filled [see Matthew 5:6]. 

So, are you hungry or have you been snacking too much lately? If so, lay aside the snacks and feast on Jesus. Keep pursuing righteousness.

Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. Psalm 105:4

Friday, June 24, 2016

Think Joy

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Joy! It’s lost to a lot of people because they think it comes from being problem free. Still others think it is a perpetual state of happiness - NOT!

No other book in the Bible embraces joy like the letter to the Philippian Christ followers. If you know something about this letter, you know that it was not written while Paul was seated on the Mediterranean coastline, catching some rays, and sipping something with an umbrella in it. That wasn’t the case. Paul was a prisoner in Rome when he wrote it, and yet Philippians resonates with joy.

How could this be? How could Paul exude joy under those circumstances? Maybe a better questions is, can I experience joy in my circumstances?

The answer is a resounding yes! Joy was not something unique with Paul; joy is for you. Paul said the same thing in a letter to the Romans, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, and peace, and JOY in the Holy Ghost” [Romans 14:17 - KJV, emphasis mine].

While joy permeates the Philippian letter, there is another word that is often overlooked — the mind. It is used ten times, linked to thinking five times. and coupled with remember once; sixteen references to the mind.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about positive or possibility-thinking, word-faith, or mere optimism here. The Bible is not a self-help book that puts a little spring in your step and a smile on your face. The Bible wasn’t given to us to make us a little happier. When Paul wrote about the mind, he was thinking biblically, along Scriptural lines. 

Joy is not found in a problem-free world, there is no such place. Rather, joy is found in the way we think about who God is and what He can do!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your mind on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Be Industrious and Don’t Worry

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

What about tomorrow? Will I have enough to eat? Will I have anything to wear? When it came to food and clothing, Jesus told His disciples not to worry about it. I think the emphasis should be placed on worry. He didn’t say, “Don’t think about your needs.” Nor did He say, “Don’t plan ahead for your needs.” Rather, He said, “Don’t worry about them.”

Keep in mind that the biblical record is critical of lazy people (aka sluggard) - Proverbs 13:4; 15:19; 20:4, for examples. There is nothing wrong with being industrious to provide for the future. We are even encouraged to plan and work hard for the future just as the ant does [see Proverbs 6:6-8]. At the same time, we are not to worry about it. 

Worry is the way of the world. When Jesus told His disciples not to worry about food and clothing in the future, He said, “…the pagans run after all these things.” So why shouldn’t we worry about them too? “…your heavenly Father knows that you need them,” Jesus said. In other words, put God first and don’t worry about the rest.

The lives of many people revolve around the material. The problem is that material things never satisfy the deepest need of your life. What will satisfy, you ask? God, first and foremost in your life! He knows what you need, and will provide it, when you seek Him and His righteousness.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:33

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ananias and Simple Obedience

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Before Saul became a Christ follower, he was a Pharisee, and according to some scholars, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin as well. We know that he was present at the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr [see Acts 7:58], and possibly presided over it [8:1]. When Saul had his encounter with Jesus, resulting in his conversion, the contemporary Christ followers were suspicious of him, and understandably so. 

It’s what follows next that captures my attention. God directed a Christ follower named Ananias to pray for Saul. In fact, God told him where he could find Saul, and gave him specific instructions to pray that he would receive his sight (Saul had been blinded when he met Jesus on the Road to Damascus). He also received a message from God to give to Saul.

Who was Ananias? We know he was a disciple [9:10], but not one of the Twelve. He didn’t write any of the New Testament books. We have no record that he preached any notable sermons or performed the miraculous. What we do know is that he was an obedient disciple, one who did what God wanted him to do. He prayed for Saul and took him under his wing. It’s possible that he is the one who baptized Saul [9:18].

On this occasion, God didn’t call an Apostle like Peter or John to accomplish His will. He chose an obedient Christ follower, and look what happened! In time, Saul became the legendary Apostle Paul, arguably the greatest evangelist in church history. 

God still calls ordinary Christ followers to do His work; the ordinary to do the extraordinary. Thank God for all those like Ananias who do kingdom work, often behind the scenes. Their simple obedience makes a difference. And while they may be unknown to men, they are beloved of God.

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! Saul is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. Acts 9:15

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Pray from Your Heart

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

The church experienced difficult challenges in its early days. It drove them to their knees in prayer, and because of it, they witnessed many miracles. Acts 12 is an example of that. James had just been executed by Herod, and when he saw the advantage it gave him with the Jews, He thew Peter in jail to await execution.  

Peter would later escape with supernatural help, but what intrigues me the most is how the Body of Christ, the Church, handled his imprisonment. They were in “constant” prayer for him [Acts 12:5].

The idea of constant prayer doesn’t have to do with a 24 hour prayer vigil. It wasn’t the timing of the prayer, it was the intensity of the prayer; passionate prayer from the heart. 

The Greek word translated constant is ektenes [pronounced ek.ten.ace’], which means, ernest, strained. Another way of saying it is, they prayed with intensity. It’s the same word used to describe the Lord’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane [see Luke 22:44].

Our cute “Now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep” prayers lack power because they are so laid back; there’s no passion, no intensity. Let me ask you, when was the last time you went to God with an intense, passionate desire? 

Prayer that prevails is prayer with intensity—offered continually and passionately, from the heart.

Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. Acts 12:5

Friday, June 17, 2016

Real or Shipwrecked Faith

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I’ve been on many cruises in my lifetime and I can say in all honesty, I prayed for clear sailing. For the most part, I think we all hope for clear sailing in life too. That’s why many people get “wonky” when they encounter the storms that come our way in life.  

The Apostle Paul encountered three shipwrecks in his lifetime [2 Corinthians 11:25]. That would most likely cure anyone of ocean travel! It’s interesting to me that he used the analogy of a shipwreck with regards to faith [1 Timothy 1:19]. He mentioned two names, Hymenaeus and Alexander, as examples of shipwrecked faith [1:20]. 

I’ve seen it happen to people when their faith was tested. They gave up on God, the church, family and friends. Their faith was shattered like a wooden ship that runs into a rocky shore. That’s why Paul told Timothy to, “Cling to your faith in Christ.”

If your faith is often shattered by the storms of life, get rid of it and replace it with a living faith. That way, when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow [James 1:3].

You can’t go through life storm free. One may come tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year, but a storm will eventually come. Be prepared for it with a real faith in a real God. Instead of a shipwrecked faith, you will grow stronger because you are clinging to the Lord through it all.

Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. 1 Timothy 1:19

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Live Holy, Be Happy

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Surveys by three organizations, the Gallup Poll, the National Opinion Research Center, and the Pew Organization, show that religious, spiritually committed people are more likely to be happy than the non-religious. My conclusion is: Happy people are godly people. The Bible says the same thing, "Happy are the people whose God is the Lord" [Psalm 144:15].

This is by no means an appeal to seek happiness, but rather an appeal to seek HIM. Happiness is the bi-product of knowing God. "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" [Matthew 6:33].

C.S. Lewis said, "God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about faith. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

We could say this another way and get the same result; Live holy, be happy. God is holy, and as we seek Him and live in His ways, we find true happiness. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” [Matthew 5:8]. The Greek word translated “blessed” is makarios. It also means, happy and spiritually favored. 

Happy are the pure in heart” — the holy ones. It’s not those who live in sinless perfection, that’s impossible. It’s those who seek God, who seek to live in His ways, who seek holiness. Henry Ward Beecher said, "The strength and the happiness of a man consists in finding out the way in which God is going, and going in that way too.”

Got happiness? Live holy — wholly committed to God.

How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the Lord’s instruction! Happy are those who keep His decrees and seek Him with all their heart. Psalm 119:1-2 [Holman Christian Standard Bible]

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bitter or Better

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Difficulties in life are unavoidable. They are part of our fallen condition. And just so we would not forget it, Jesus reminded us about it too, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” [John 16:33].

No one enjoys the hardships in life, but they do serve a purpose for Christ followers - they will make you bitter or better. Here’s an important thing for you to know, you are the one who decides which direction the difficulty will take you. You can trust Christ and get better, or you can turn from Him and become bitter. 

I’m saddened when I hear someone say, “I’ve lost my faith through this.” For some reason, they thought they should have been protected from their particular tragedy. That false expectation came out during the trial. One of my Bible College professors was fond of saying, “Christians are like a sponge. You can tell what’s in them when they get wrung out.” 

The point is, trials and tribulations take our faith from the realm of theory to reality. It’s one thing to talk about our faith, but it’s another thing to live by it. Difficulties in life reveal what we are really made of. Trials and tribulations do not create character; they reveal it. 

Faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted.

Yet He knows the way I have taken; when He has tested me, I will emerge as pure gold.  Job 23:10

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

In trying to wrap my head around the recent, horrific tragedies in our nation and around the world, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked God, “Why?” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with asking the question. Bible characters asked it too. And then it strikes me that if God were to answer my question, would it satisfy me or only be a cause for more questions; after all, His thoughts and ways are far higher than mine! [Isaiah 55:9]. Yet I still wonder, “Why?”

There are a lot of “Whys?” in life. 

Why did my soul-mate have to die?
Why do I have cancer?
Why did my friend die in a car accident?
Why did the fire burn down my house and not my neighbors?
Why did this person die in the shooting and not that person?
Why? Why? Why? 

“I don’t know why.” That’s my answer. I’m OK with that. One of my Seminary professors use to say, “Never trade what you do know for what you don’t know!” What do I know?

I know that God loves me.
I know that Christ died for me.
I know that God works all things out for my good and His glory.
I know I have an eternal home that Jesus has prepared for me.

Chuck Swindol wrote this in his commentary of Job:

“God never promised He would inform us all about His plan ahead of time; He's just promised He has one. Ultimately, it's for our good and His glory. He knows–we don't. That's why we shrug and admit, 'I don't know.’"

Today, I’m disturbed, outraged, and feeling vulnerable to the actions of fallen, sinful mankind. At the same time, I’m confident and secure that God is at work, accomplishing His mysterious, at times frustrating, unknowable plan.

The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that He has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. Deuteronomy 29:29 (New Living Translation)

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Touch of the Master’s Hand

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I once read about a concert violinist who announced that he would play an expensive $20,000 violin at a music hall. That night, the building was filled to capacity, the audience anxious to hear the prized violin. When the concert was over, the thunderous applause and standing ovation was interrupted as the violinist threw the violin on the ground and stomped it to pieces. He then walked off the stage. There was a moment of stunned silence.

In a matter of seconds, the stage manager announced on the loud speaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, to put you at ease, the violin that was just destroyed was a $20 violin. The master will now return to play the remainder of his concert on the $20,000 instrument." 

The obvious point is: It’s not the violin that makes the music; it’s the violinist!

We are like $20 violins that the Master transforms into priceless instruments for His glory. He takes the raw material of your life and, through teaching and experiences, shapes you into the servant He wants you to be. 

For the longest time I kept a copy of this poem in my first Bible. It was a reminder that God can transform any life and make it an instrument of worth.

'Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.

"What am I bid, good people", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,”

But, No,
From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with its' bow.

"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.

The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The Touch of the Masters Hand.”

"And many a man with life out of tune
All battered and bruised with hardship
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin;

A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.

But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters' Hand.
- by Myra Brooks Welch

In God’s hands you can be a precious and effective instrument.

Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you: A prophet to the nations—that’s what I had in mind for you.”  Jeremiah 1:5 (The MESSAGE Paraphrase)

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Greatest Joy

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

One day, Jesus sent His disciples on a “Mission Impossible” kind of event. There were 70 of them, sent as “sheep among wolves” — not a particularly encouraging picture. I wonder what went on in the minds of those guys. I wonder what they expected as an outcome. We’re told that when they returned, there was great rejoicing. Luke records the return of the group: “When the seventy disciples returned, they joyfully reported to Him, ‘Lord, even the demons obey us when we use Your name!’” [10:17].

What struck me when reading this account was that Jesus didn’t enter into their joy. I’m sure He understood the elation of the disciples upon “mission accomplished,” but He warned them of misplaced joy. “Don’t rejoice in your success, but rather that your name is securely written in heaven” [my loose translation of 10:20].

What was Jesus doing here? Is He the ultimate killjoy? I don’t think so. I think He emphasized the supreme basis for Christian joy; the assurance of our redemption in Him. Our greatest joy is knowing that we have a secure place in heaven because our names are written in the Book of Life.

Success in ministry comes and goes. Delightful times pass as quickly as they arrive. The joy of knowing you are secure in Christ, that your name is written down, will survive all the ups and downs in life.  

The joy of knowing the Lord really is our strength!

Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.  Luke 10:20

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Hearer and Doers

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Jesus didn’t pull any punches when it came to telling the truth. Sometimes He said things that were like a punch in the solar plexus, which nearly takes your breath away. One such Scripture was recorded by Matthew. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” [Matthew 7:21-23 - NIV]. 

Ouch! Here, the Lord made it crystal clear that there is a distinction between professing Christ followers and true Christ followers. What is the difference, you ask? True Christ followers hear and obey the Word of God. Or, as Jesus said, true Christ followers “do the will of the Father.” James, the brother of Jesus, and the author of the book bearing his name, said something similar. He called true Christ followers “doers of the Word.” Those who merely heard the Word, but did nothing about it, were deluded into thinking they were Christ followers.

What are “hearers” like? They are like many people who are content to sit in church services each week and hear the Word, but never seem to change. They hear, but never apply the Word to their lives. Like the people that Jesus condemned in Matthew 7, they are comfortable with religious activity rather than true faith in Christ. 

One of the saddest things that could happen to anyone who thinks they are saved, but are not, is to hear Jesus say on that day, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” That will happen to hearers, but never to a doer of the Word. 

It’s a delusion to think you can hear the Word of God, then dismiss it, or disobey it, without cost.

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. James 1:22