Monday, December 31, 2012

Year-End Inventory

Year-End Inventory


For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;  that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;  strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;  giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.  He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” – Colossians 1:9-14

At the end of each fiscal year, many large corporations go through what is called Physical Inventory.  This is when they count their inventory and compare it to what they think they have in stock.  They adjust the number of units of each item they have with what they physically count.  Then they compute the loss or gain of inventory value in dollars and adjust their books.  This is done so that inventory, which is an asset, will not be overvalued and inflate their corporate worth.
From time to time I think the church should do the same.  But I don’t suggest we count our members that are on our church roles.  That would be like counting unopened boxes of stock, assuming we have the contents printed on the outside in the box.  A membership role in a church is of so little value that I’m still not certain why they exist.  It has no Heavenly value.  God won’t give you little gold stars for having your name on a church roster.  It has no binding power over its members since most are littered with the names of people who never show up.  It offers no benefits to those that are on the roster.  You don’t get better parking spot for being a member or more juice at communion.  It’s just paper!  Dead trees!  Instead, we need to count the things important to God. 

God has a specific design for the church.  Unlike the country club we’ve often made them to be, they are to be spiritual warehouses, filled with people strong in their faith that yield God’s word as a sword against the world’s circumstances.  When you are broken, their prayers should deliver restoration.  For the lost, their witness should lead to the salvation in Jesus Christ.  They are to be known as those that have a ‘God first – You second – Me last’ attitude. When you are sick, their prayers should bring healing.  When you have a need, they should help. 
Colossians 1 begins Paul’s letter to one of the churches in Colosse.  Paul loved the church of Colosse as a father loves their child.  And for that purpose, he and Timothy continually prayed for the church.  But what did they pray?  What was Paul’s desire for this church?  In Colossians 1:9-14 we read the list of things that they prayed for the church:

·        Be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding

·        Walk worthy of the Lord and please Him

·        Be fruitful in every good work

·        Be strengthened in all might according to God’s power

·        Be patient and longsuffering to each other

·        Be grateful to God for salvation and forgiveness of our sins

In short, they were to know it - live it - and do it (‘it’ being the things that bring glory to God).  The work of the church should be three parts: Edification, Benevolence, and Evangelism.  These are the things we should count when inventorying our churches.
First, take a look at those that attend your church. Are they growing in God’s word?  Are they “being filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding”?  If not, your inventory asset just shrunk.  People that do not know God’s word cannot understand Gods will and grow in spiritual understanding.  If your members are spiritually anorexic, they need a new diet.  A successful church is filled with people who hunger for His word, and savor every morsel.  If you have a much smaller number attending Bible study than potluck dinners, you’ve got an inventory problem.

Secondly, is your church actively working for others both inside and outside its doors?  Benevolence is the working of the command to ‘love one another even as I have loved you’.  It’s charity in both finance and deeds.  There are plenty of churches who offer their money to fund certain things through ‘Benevolence Committees’.  But if you don’t also offer yourselves and your time, only your money is doing God’s work.  The real work is when you “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your REASONABLE service.”(Romans 12:1)  People need more than a check.  People need companionship, examples of Christianity, role models, ‘Jesus with some skin on’.  A church without bodies at work for others needs employment – like raking leaves for the elderly, visiting nursing homes, childcare days for working moms to take a break, and ___(insert what God just told you to do here)___.
Last, and most importantly, the church should be winning others to Christ.  While the salt that we are to be should flavor the world around us, the light that we are to be shines on Christ and leads others to Him.  Don’t count your baptisms; don’t count the growth of your church’s membership.  Count souls, which is what matters.  How many have you lead to Christ this year?  Do your members long to see others – not just attend church services – but see lives transformed by the entrance of Jesus into their hearts?  A church that is not growing others in Christ is like the withered grape vine that is thrown into the fire.  John 15: 5-8 says that if we are God’s, we bear fruit (souls saved – new growth – new branches).  But if we don’t bear fruit, we wither and are pruned off and thrown into the fire.  It says that God is glorified when we bear fruit, and by this we are His disciples. 

Take a look around your church.  Who within its population do you see as an evangelical Christian, one who will tell others how to gain eternal life?  Who has a broken heart for specific people without Christ, a genuine desire to see salvation come to them?  Now…listen carefully.  If you don’t see your whole church as evangelizing, you have an inventory problem.  We are to ALL be His disciples, not just the preacher and the Sunday School teacher. Your inventory is not growing, and therefore, your assets are not growing. 
There are no perfect churches, and we can be certain of this for one reason.  Churches are filled with imperfect people.  Though we are saved by God’s grace, and His chosen people, and a Holy Nation, we are still being sanctified, transformed into who He desires us to be.  We are a work in progress, and will continue to be such until He returns.  That’s why He commanded us to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”(Matthew 5:48).  There’s work to be done – from the inside out.

So what do we do when our inventory comes up short?  A successful inventory doesn’t stop with the count and the correction of the books.  A truly successful year-end inventory determines what process or transaction is broken or needs work, and resolves to correct the problem so that the next inventory will have a smaller variance.  With that in mind, what changes do we make to insure we move closer to the vision God has for the church?
Oh, the resolution of our problem is so simple!  2 Timothy 3:16 tells of one cure for all that ails our churches.  It says “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. In other words, if God’s word were in an over-the-counter medicine bottle, it would read “Use for correction of all infirmities and spiritual sickness, to right the wrongs of your life.  This product can cause righteousness, and completeness in Christ.  If overused, side effects may include unexplainable joy and a desire to do good things for others.”

The church is made of individuals.  Cure the individual problem – the single inventory transaction – and you better the church.  God’s word, applied to our problems and circumstances, will bring about change.  And, it’s a cure with a guarantee! God guarantees it in Isaiah 55:11, saying “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” 
When assisting a company with a year-end inventory, the first question is not when to do it or how to carry it out.  It’s what kind of inventory do you want.  Do you just want to know the dollar variance, or do you want to correct the issues causing the variance long term?  You’d be surprised at how many corporations just want to log a dollar value of variance, and ignore the problem.  You’d likely be surprised at the number of churches that know they have a problem, but won’t correct it.  And for these, as Paul did, we pray.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

When God Lifts You Up

When God Lifts You Up


But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Birds are one of God’s most varied species.  They are adorned in every color in the spectrum.  They have legs in all sizes and shapes.  Their beaks range from small and short, to long and thin, and even huge like the scoop beak of a pelican.  They can be as tiny as a the Bee Hummingbird, weighing only 1.8 grams, or as large as the Ostrich, which can weigh up to 290 lbs.
God must be pretty proud of His bird species!  His word uses many different ones in analogies as well as events, such as the dove released from the Ark, and the rooster that crowed three times at Peter’s denial of Christ.  Yet, above all other birds, even above the dove, the Eagle appears more in God’s word than any other bird.

The eagle is often used in the Bible to describe God’s deity and care over His people. Exodus 19:4 tells of God saying to the Israelites “how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.  Deuteronomy 32:11-12 talks about God’s care over Jacob and says, “As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the Lord alone led him, and there was no foreign god with him.”
Eagles are amazing birds.  They make their nests in the rocky crags of the mountains, watch over their young until long after they’ve left the nest, and have speeds of up to 50 miles per hour while soaring in flight.  They can have wing spans of up to 8 feet wide. 

We’re all familiar with Isaiah 40:31, which speaks of those that wait upon the Lord to renew their strength, and how they will “mount up with wings like eagles.”  This verse is used to describe those that put their trust in God.  The passage actually begins in verse 27, and says:
“Why do you say, O Jacob,
And speak, O Israel:
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
And my just claim is passed over by my God”?
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.”

The passage uses Jacob as the subject, but Jacob represents all believers.  The believer begins by feeling as if God has forgotten him (“My way is hidden from the Lord”), and ignored his prayer (“my just claim is passed over by my God”). But then focus is turned to God, who is described as everlasting, creator, never weary, understanding all things, powerful, mighty, and giving.
The message is this: When you give God your burdens, be patient and wait for the answer to your prayer.  He will give you strength to not grow weary in waiting, and He will stay on the job, never sleeping.  He will give you more strength and perseverance than the young.  He will give you the strength of spirit to “mount up on wings like eagles.”

Ah, the eagle!  The eagle is such a graceful bird in flight!  Unlike a goose or a sparrow which continually flaps its wings to stay in flight, the eagle can simply soar, gliding on the wind that God puts under his wings.  He’s not working to stay in flight.  He’s allowing the wind to carry him. 
Sometimes our burdens are indeed too heavy to bear alone.  Friends are great in times like these, but they can’t change the circumstances that reign over your trouble.  They can’t even understand it all.  But God can.  In these times, He is the one refuge for our soul.  He understands and does not grow weary.  He does not ignore our prayers or forget our circumstances.  He says in Hebrews 13:5 “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” The absence of an answer from God is not the absence of His love and care.

When you feel like quitting, like giving up on God, pray.  You can find more strength and more might in Him to endure the wait. You can soar, and allow Him to lift you up.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Young People

Young People


Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” – 1 Timothy 4:12-16

Young people get a bad rap, and I’m not talking about their musical tastes either!  I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard people say “What’s this generation coming to?” or sigh and say, “Young people, these days!” I’d retire and move to the beach!  Please people! Open your eyes! Not all young people wear their pants to their knees, talk like thugs, and do drugs.  Some of them, in fact, are standing strong in their faith in a time that it’s so much harder to do than ever before.  We need to give them “props” for being true to who they are and standing for what they believe in.
I know a few young people who are doing things the right way.  They’re attending church, feeding on God’s word, living a life that respects God and themselves, and it shows up in how they are blessed. In fact, I know a certain church where just about any Sunday morning, you’ll find a group of these young people gathered in the altar praying for each other.  Let me tell you…that’s a sight that puts a knot in this old throat every time! 

But then I know a few who have turned from the good life, and let themselves become entangled with the wrong things and the wrong people.  Do we now throw the baby out with the bath water?  As much as you’d like to say  “no, of course not!”, that’s often what our churches do.  Consider what your own church does, what your own heart does, when they become pregnant at 16, get arrested for DUI, end up kicked out of their parents homes, or worse?  Do we really stand up for them and help them, or do we despise their youth, throw up our hands and say “it’s not my kid!”  We are to minister to the WORLD – and not just the ones our age. 
Do you want to know what the problem with our young people is today?  We’ve allowed them to live up to OUR expectations.  Shame on us for not holding our kids to a higher standard!  Raising kids does not stop when they become teens.  It’s NOT okay for them to have sex outside of marriage.  It’s NOT okay for them to move in with their boyfriend/girlfriend.  It’s NOT okay for them to party all weekend.  It’s NOT okay for them to get arrested.  It’s NOT okay for them to disrespect their parents or themselves. And it’s NOT okay for US to turn a blind eye to the whole thing.  When we, the church, start holding them accountable for their behavior, instead of proclaiming “they’re just sewing their wild oats”, we’ll see these that have gone astray return to their roots!  God corrects the ones He loves (Proverbs 3:12), and He expects us to do the same.

Not all of us, including the writer, were a saint at 16.  Some of us needed grounding and God’s word to find our way.  Remember that?  Remember those that gave you guidance?  How grateful are you for it today?  It’s the responsibility of the church, young and old, to instruct our youth, whether they are inside or outside your church walls.  We have to be the ones that teach them how to regain the good life when they’ve allowed life to go bad.  We have to encourage those that are still walking in their faith to stay on the rocky, but right, path. 
Paul knew one of the good guys, Timothy.  Timothy was a disciple of Paul’s, and young.  We don’t know how young, but young enough that Paul could see a potential problem with his youth affecting his ministry.  In 1 Timothy 4:12-16 we hear Paul tell him “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

Young people, it’s a hard life to be a Christian today, but the benefits are worth it.  You have to show it to those your age and the older folks that are watching.  They need to see your strength in God’s word, your good conduct both in public and private, your love toward others, your spiritual strength, your faith that CAN move mountains, and your purity.  In other words, live wrong-side-out, showing everyone what’s inside your heart.
Paul goes on to tell Timothy how to keep himself strong in a world that expects him, because of his youth, to be weak.  He tells him to “give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you… Meditate on these things, give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all…for in so doing, you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”

Young friends, here’s how it works.  What goes into your head goes to your heart.  Give attention to God’s word, fill your head with it, meditate on it, and your heart will be renewed, rejuvenated, and your life transformed.  The mouth may fill the belly - but the head fills the heart. And your head and your heart will be filled one way, or another!  If you choose not to fill your head with God’s word, the world will fill it with other ‘stuff’.  You can either take control and fill up on God’s word, or allow the world to fill you up and make you who it wants you to be.  Choose carefully. This is the fork in the road you were warned about.  There’s only one road to truly successful living, and this is where you have to choose it.
Paul goes on to tell his young friend, “Don’t neglect the gift that is in you”, for your salvation did not come cheap.  Friends, the Holy Spirit in you will guide you if you listen.  All mistakes come from one thing – deciding to do what you want instead of what He says.  Mistakes cause setbacks, troubles, self-disappointment, and others to lose confidence in you. 

Young friends, consider the cost of your choices.  By doing things the right way and staying true to God and your faith, you have so much to gain in blessings alone!  So many of us at your age didn’t start on the right path, and our bucket of blessings can’t become as full in our older age.  You also have the unique ability to influence others your age whom are without Christ so they will be saved.  We’re old, “outsiders”, the “parents”, the opposing team, and more often than not, they won’t listen to us.  But you have the chance to lead others to Christ simply by doing what you’re called to do – live for Him! 
We all learn by watching others.  That’s how we learn to walk, talk, and find our ‘swag’.  It’s how trends and fads are started.  Skinny leg jeans, which are not comfortable, became popular because someone who wore them had others looking to them for fashion tips.  Ugg(ly!) boots became popular because someone wore them that someone else saw as a role model.  Crocs (don’t judge!) became a best seller because someone influenced others to buy them. 

You’re always selling yourself – whether you want to or not.  What’s your brand?  What’s your trademark?  Consider what you sell when you sell yourself.  Is what you're selling worth the price you paid for it?  Would you want others to buy the life you have?

Older folks like me, stand up for your young people.  Don’t let them be judged incorrectly, and be every so quick to correct them and keep them on the right path.  The “not my child” excuse will not hold up in Heaven.  God called us to be disciples.  There are no excuses for not doing the job. Correct with love those that need it before they neglect the great gift that’s in them, choose wrongly at the fork in the road, and walk away from God and joyful living. When they’re our age, they’ll thank you for loving them enough to tell them the truth. 


Friday, December 28, 2012

The Skeptic

The Skeptic


“Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” – John 11:16

We all know at least one.  They’re the kind of people that can always find a storm lurking in the clouds.  They can always dream the worst ending to any story.  They are consumed with the evil and wrong in the world.  Every new disease becomes a threat, and every horrible crime report becomes a worry.  These are the skeptics, the ones who refuse to see good in anything, and by their actions doubt that good exists.
Thomas, the apostle, was a ring-leader of skeptics in his time, and is known as ‘Thomas the Doubter’.  We know very little else about Thomas.  We don’t know his occupation before he became a disciple.  Though he was called “the twin”, we don’t know anything about his twin – if he indeed had one.  There are only four times in the Bible that Thomas speaks, one of which occurs in the story of Lazarus.

In John 11 we read that Lazarus, a friend to Jesus, was sick and his sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”  But Jesus sent back a message saying “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
The apostles, having heard that Lazarus’ sickness was for the glory of God should have anticipated a miracle would be coming.  This is how Jesus revealed himself to the world, by showing the supernatural connection He had to God in working miracles. 

Two days after Jesus got word that Lazarus was sick, He announced to His disciples that Lazarus was dead, and that He was going to Judea.  Now this raised concern with them because the people of Judea had sought to stone Jesus the last time he was in town.  And why go now when Lazarus was already dead?
This is when Thomas speaks from the dark cloud of doubt and destruction that hung over his head and said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

Really Thomas? 
Did you not see Jesus give sight to the man who had been blind since birth? 
Did you not see Him cause the lame man to walk? 
Were you not there by His side when the leprous man was cured? 
What about the woman who had been sick for 12 years with a blood disease, and Jesus healed her? 
All this, and you worry that you, who have been one of 12 closest to Jesus, will die in Judea? 
How many more miracles will it take for you to believe?
We know the rest of the story of Lazarus, and how Jesus came to Judea, called him from his tomb, and Lazarus lived – again.  Jesus proved he had power over death, and that He could raise himself up when the time came, just as He had raised up Lazarus.  Many who were there that day and saw this miracle believed in Jesus…but not the skeptic Thomas!

Even after Jesus had died, risen, and was walking the earth for 40 days after his resurrection, Thomas still doubted.  Even when the other disciples said they had seen Jesus, Thomas said “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) It wouldn’t be enough to see it.  Thomas would have to feel it, to stick his hand in Jesus’ side.  There would be no smoke and mirrors involved when Thomas believed!  He was going to find out for sure that Jesus was alive!

With so many believing in Jesus at the sight of one miracle, Thomas’s lack of faith would have been nerve racking for some, but not for Jesus.  He was willing to do whatever it took to prove Himself to Thomas.  To that end, He appeared to Thomas and said in John 20:27 “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

The cold hard fact is this.  Sometimes people just have to see it to believe it.  And sometimes they have to see it more than once!  But when a skeptic becomes a believer, they are unshakeable! Thomas went on to be martyred for preaching the gospel of Christ in India, as non-Biblical records report.  Once he found faith in Christ, His stand was steadfast.

We’re all going to face a Thomas in our personal ministries.  They will be the ones that doubt that God could cause any fish to swallow a man.  They’ll not believe a bush that burned with a voice coming out of it and was not consumed.  They’ll disregard all evidence of the flood of Noah.  They’ll deny that Jesus was the Son of God.  But we cannot give up on the skeptics!  Though they may walk on our very last nerve, just as Jesus was patient with Thomas, we must be patient as well.  No one believes in Jesus until God draws him (John 6:44).  God has a way with skeptics.  And when God has revealed Jesus to them, a great believer will be reborn!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Playing Hide-N-Seek With God

Playing Hide-N-Seek With God

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;

When I awake, I am still with You.” – Psalms 139:7-18

Hide-n-Seek is something we did as children, finding little crevices to fold ourselves into and hide from the one we played with.  We’d bend into the laundry basket, go deep within the closets, get behind the sofa, or under the bed.
As we grew older we'd hide from our parents. We'd hide the things we did on the weekends, the things we did when they weren't home. It was a need to rebel from their authority. We were even successful in keeping hidden some of what we did in secret.

But for some, the game never ended.  Some never grew up, never moved past hiding.  As adults we play it with God, thinking there are things we do that He cannot see.  Sure, He sees us on Sunday when we go to “His house”.  But the rest of the week, we go into hiding.

Actions speak so much louder than words.  It’s by our actions we see what we truly believe about God.  Let me just be completely clear.  You can hide from the law, you can hide from your friends, you can even hide from your spouse or your children.  You CANNOT hide from God.  He sees it all, and His mercy does eventually turn to correction. “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.”(Proverbs 3:12)

Are you playing hide-n-seek with God?  Do you think you have secret things hidden from His eyes?  I have bad news for you.  You are His house.  You’ve taken Him with you.  He’s seen it all. 

You can’t go where God isn’t.  That’s the power of His love.

Psalms 139:7-18 is from one who wanted to hide.  Listen to the words of one who understood the meaning of omnipresence. 

If you go to Heaven, He’s there.  But even if you could descend to Hell, He will still see you there.  Hell isn’t the absence of God for there is no absence of God.  He created Hell, and He sees it.

If you go deep into the sea, He sees you.  He works through the waters to even command fish to swallow up men who’ve gone astray (Jonah 1:17).

Shroud yourself in the darkest dark of night.  He has night vision too. In fact, He created it.

He has had His eyes on you from the day you were conceived.  He saw when you were conceived, saw you in your mother’s womb, formed your inner parts, formed your bones, and wrote all of your days into His plan.  He knows every breath you breathe.  He sees every hair on your head that falls (Matthew 10:30).

You want to play hide-n-seek with God?  Go ahead and try.  You will lose every time.  And you should consider the cost. 

He is seeking you now.  He seeks you with great thoughts of you, with love in His heart.  He seeks you to break you free from the bondage you have put yourself in while in hiding.  It’s time to stop playing games with God.   

I pray that when you awake from this game, He will still be there with mercy in His hands. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

He Gave

He Gave


“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete.“ – Hebrews 8:12-13

It wasn’t that anything was wrong with the old covenant, other than those of us that were trying to live by it.  The old covenant was justice.  We got what we deserved.  We obeyed the laws of Moses, or we paid the price of sacrifice.  If you did not seek atonement, punishment came. 
Isn’t that what we want for mankind now?  A young man kills in a fit of rage, and we seek justice by calling for his death. A drunk driver kills an innocent family, and we seek to see him spend the rest of his life in prison.  It’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  Justice works for our satisfaction.  We want punishment for those who fail the law.  That is…until we’re the ones on trial.  Then we want mercy.  The problem is, we all need mercy, for none of us can keep the entire law, and therefore are guilty of the whole law in God’s eyes (James 2:10). 

That’s what the new covenant is really about, mercy.  God came near.  He sent His Son as a child, a newborn, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, raised as the perfect man Jesus, yet convicted and crucified for our sins.  Jesus did not receive justice.  Instead, He gave.  He sacrificed His life for ours.
Why?  Because He saw that we needed mercy.  We needed righteousness that in and of ourselves could not be obtained.  It’s not about justice.  It’s about grace.  It’s about love.  It’s about His love for us being more than His love for Himself and His son.  He gave.  He gave the ultimate sacrifice because He gave of Himself.  He gave more than we could ever deserve, which is good will toward man, creating peace on earth between God and man.

“For God so loved the world that HE GAVE His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have EVERLASTING LIFE.” – John 3:16
“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them HE GAVE THE RIGHT TO BECOME CHILDREN OF GOD, to those who believe in His name:  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:11-13

“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, HE GAVE up HIS SPIRIT.” – John 19:30
HE GAVE.  He gave sacrificially.  He gave mercifully.

Today is the day to share His gift.  Tell others what He has done for you, which is the greatest way to deliver the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is a gift greater than anything you can package and put under a tree. 
Thank you, Father God, for the Most Perfect Gift, your Son Jesus.  Thank you for our Savior, our righteousness through Him, and our guidance through Your Holy Spirit. Thank you for peace on earth between man and yourself, through grace and the new covenant of Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Unwavering Faith

Unwavering Faith


“So he said, “Why are you going to him today? It is neither the New Moon nor the Sabbath.”
And she said, “It is well.” – 2 Kings 4:23

Faith is often described as belief that’s not based on proof, or confidence in what is not seen.  Hebrews 11:1 says that it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Consider an egg.  We don’t see what’s inside, yet don’t throw the egg out, doubting what’s inside.  We plan to use it.  We expect when we crack it open to see a yolk and a white inside.  We have confidence in what we do not see, and expect what cannot yet be proven while we hold the egg in our hand. 

Great faith is seen by a woman in 2 Kings 4:8-37, that we only known as a “notable woman” of the Shunammite tribe.  She was “notable” because of her was her character and her faith.  When we read of her we learn that she is happy serving God, and trusted by her husband.

The prophet Elisha often travelled by her house.  When he did, she would feed him.  But one day she made a request to her husband that would inflict fear and suspicion in most husbands.  She asked him to make a room for the prophet in their house, complete with bed, table, chair, and lampstand.  Most men would have questioned why their wife wanted to move another man into their house.  But the fact that her husband did not question her, and created the room for Elisha, says that he found her trustworthy as well.

Elisha, wanting to repay her for her service to God and him, called her to him, and spoke a blessing into her life, saying “About this time next year you shall embrace a son.” Now at this time, her husband had already aged, and she had never had children.  She replied to Elisha out of disbelief, saying “No, my lord. Man of God, do not lie to your maidservant!” But in a year’s time, exactly as Elisha had said it would happen, she had a son.  How much she must have loved this child, being her only child, and a blessing from God.

The son grew to be several years old, and from what we read he was most likely of around preschool age.  One day he was helping his father in the fields and he began to complain “My head! My head!”. He came back to the house, sat on his mother’s lap till around noon that day being comforted, and then the unspeakable happened.  This dear son died.

Consider what the Shunammite woman does and says at the death of her only child.

She does not wail and cry. 

She does not change into sackcloth and cover herself in the ashes of mourning.

She does not prepare a grave.

She does not call her husband into the field and tell him of his son’s death.

Instead, she lays her dead son on the prophet’s bed in her house, and closes the door. 

She goes to her husband and says “Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and come back.”  When her husband asks why she’s going to see the prophet, even though it’s not a New Moon or the Sabbath day, all she says is It is well.”

“It is well”.  Three small words that tell us she had unwavering faith.  In the midst of the worst event that could occur in a mother’s life, she saw past her circumstances, and had expectation of God reviving her son.

She went to Mount Carmel, where Elisha was staying, which was about a twenty mile ride, and would have taken several hours.  When Gehazi, his servant saw her coming, he alerted Elisha, and Elisha sent his servant to meet her and ask her, Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?”  But again, she answers three small words of faith, “It is well.”

She rode until she met Elisha, came off the horse and grabbed him by the feet.  Elisha then knew that her soul was in pain, and that God had not revealed it to him.  We don’t know why God had not told Elisha of the events.  Elisha often heard of God about things that had not yet come to pass, and things that had occurred that no one had told him.  But perhaps God had not revealed it to him to test her faith, to see if she would lose confidence in Him on the long ride from Shuman to Mount Carmel.  But she did not. 

She spoke to Elisha and said, “Did I ask a son of my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”  Then God reveals to Elisha the situation, for she never told him that the son had died.  She never spoke it, because she refused to accept it.  She saw past her circumstance and was living in her confidence in God. 

Elisha told Gehazi, his servant, to ride ahead to her house with his staff.  He told him not to stop along the way, not to answer anyone who spoke to him, but to ride until he saw the child, and lay his staff on the child’s face. 

This may have seemed odd, but a staff was more than just a stick of wood.  A staff was carved by the owner with engravings of God’s faithfulness.  When carried by a shepherd it might have a carving of a bear on it, where the he had killed a bear or a lion where he had killed a lion.  Looking at the staff, the owner could recollect God’s faithfulness.  A staff, in many ways, was like a journal we would keep of answered prayers. 

When Elisha and the woman met up with Gehazi, who had already reached the house, the news was not good.  He told them “The child has not awakened.”

Several hours would now have passed by.  Here, in her own house, after travelling to get help, her son was still dead.  Yet, she still does not cry out in sorrow, but still waits on God to deliver.

Elisha began to pray to God for life in the child.  He lay on the child to bring warmth back to his body.  He put his mouth on the child’s mouth to breath into him.  Yet, the child still was dead.  He walked about in the house, and returned to the child, and did the same thing again. 

Then a miracle happened!  The child sneezed – seven times – and opened his eyes!  Seven is the number of completeness in God’s word.  God’s test had been completed, and she had passed.  Her faith never wavered, and her son was returned to her. 

When Gehazi called to her to pick up her son, she didn’t run to the son first as we might do.  She bowed to the ground at Elisha’s feet in gratitude, and then picked up her son.

When we pray we must have unwavering faith, a faith that lives in expectation of our prayers being answered.  We must have conviction in the matter, in spite of a lack of visible evidence.  James 1:6-7 says that we shouldn’t expect to receive anything from God when we pray if we doubt, “for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind… he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

But sometimes the burden can be too much for our faith to bear alone.  That is why we have each other.  The Shunammite woman did not pray to God herself for the life of her son to return.   Perhaps she felt her faith was not strong enough.  Instead, she went for the prophet, knowing the prophet had already prayed and seen God work miracles. 

All things are possible with God, as we know from His word.  But faced with the evidence of things already past, it can be difficult to place our faith in God to change our circumstances.  Nowhere in God’s word does it tell us we have to pray for God’s miracles alone.  In fact, some of the greatest miracles in His word occurred when many prayed, such as the forgiveness of Nineveh in Jonah, and the protection of the Jews in Esther.

Faith is seen in our expectations of our prayers.  If that expectation is strengthened by having others pray with you, then you should not see it as a personal weakness to ask others to help you pray.  It is in fact strength to recognize your need for reinforcement.  When you need to believe God for something you doubt, reach out to those who have a staff engraved with answered prayers.  Reach out, and find strength in their faith.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Changing Anchors

Changing Anchors


This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 6:19-20

Christmastime can be such a beautiful time.  Snow often comes and blankets the entire outdoors in beautiful glistening white.  Christmas trees shine their lights through windows.  Houses are decorated with wreaths and colorful lights.  In the country, where few lights are on at night, it’s a beautiful sight to see red, blue, yellow and green lights twinkle in the darkness.  But the most beautiful thing of all is not seen, but felt. 
The joy of Christmas and the excitement of getting up Christmas morning takes us back to an easy childhood joy.  There’s something about that day, being with family, celebrating God’s love for us, and celebrating the birth of Jesus that fills the heart of a believer to a bubbling-over level.  It is the celebration of true hope and genuine love.

But for some it can be a very depressing, dark time.  It can be a time when expectations don’t exist, because hope is betrayed.  It’s a time when the memory of loved ones who have passed hangs like a gray cloud.  For some the heartache of broken families floods over any joy that the day could bring, and the thought of just staying in bed and sleeping through the day is the most comforting thought of all.
I believe what makes a difference is where you find hope.  We don’t all store it away in the same source.  Some of us have placed our hope in man, in family, in friends.  Yet friends and family often let us down, break promises, grow distant, and sometimes never know the pain they cause.  But those of us that have placed our hope in Christ know that He does not lie, He does not fail, and He is a faithful and steadfast friend.

Hebrews 6:19-20 refers to Christ as an anchor for the soul and says This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil,  where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” He has gone where no man can go – behind “the veil” into the presence of God – as our high priest.  He has “entered for us” and stays there for us at God’s right hand.  He is our legal representation in times of trouble, our advocate in time of need, our friend in times of heartbreak.  He is an anchor that holds, that is steadfast and dependable.
There once was a ship that went out to sea at night.  During the night a horrible storm came, the winds blew, the waves rocked the ship, and the crew became fearful.  Not knowing what was around them in the darkness of night they cast out their anchor and prayed for morning to come and for the waves to subside.  They allowed fear to anchor them into the storm and among the waves, which prolonged their pain.  But in the morning, when the sun came up, they saw a beautiful white beach had been nearby all along, a port waiting for them to turn in.

Jesus can be your port, the anchor for your soul.  He waits for you to cut loose of the anchor of hurtful things and turn to Him.  Turn to Him, and find hope that never fails.  Anchor your soul to Him.  He does not disappoint.
Hope lives in the hearts of those who believe in Him.  Within two chapters of Psalms, 42 & 43, the same verse regarding placing our hope in God occurs not once, not twice, but three times.  It says Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.(Psalms 42:5,11;Pslams 43:5)”

The answer for the depressed soul is hope and faith in God.  Praising Him will bring about healing.  He is the balm for your soul, your ever present help in times of trouble (Psalms 46:1).
Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD.” – Psalms 31:24