Monthly Archives: January 2017

Always abounding in the work of the Lord

fit-bit

Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.  1 Corinthians 15:58

What if God had a Fitbit tracker?  We have a variety of devices that tracks how many steps we take each day, what our heart rate is, how many times a week we exercise and how much water we drink.  What if we could see how many things we have done in a day, week or month for the sake of Jesus?  Maybe it could count unselfish acts, things done to serve others or tell of God’s great name, times that we prayed, read the Bible or memorized Scripture.  Just as a Fitbit encourages me to take 10,000 steps each day and exercise even when I don’t feel like it, perhaps a God-bit tracker would encourage me to be less about myself and more about engaging in Kingdom business until Jesus returns.

1 Corinthians 15:58  tells us that if this is our lifestyle, one of abounding in the work of the Lord, it is not in vain.  The reward is better than winning a Fitbit challenge.  What takes place for us in the Millennial kingdom depends on what we do here.  Consider the parable of the talents in Luke 19.  To refresh the story, a nobleman went away and left money with ten of his servants.  He said, “Engage in business until I come.”  Then the master came back and met with the servants to see what they had done while he was gone.  The ones who doubled their money were rewarded by being put in charge of cities in his kingdom.  The master had the one who buried his money give it to the others.  In Matthew 25:30 it adds that the worthless servant was cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Not a good outcome.

Jesus is that nobleman and He has gone away to receive for Himself a kingdom.  When He returns, He will meet with us to see what we have done with what talents and assets that He has given to us.  There will be reward for those who have been diligent and punishment for those who don’t.

We may not see the results of our labor in the Lord.  You might be diligently obeying God, doing your best to do what He has put in your heart to do.  You may be kind and loving, quick to give to anyone in need when you can.  And then you might think it’s not going to amount to much of anything for the Master.  Take heart!  Keep serving!  Galatians 6:7-9 tells us, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap…Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  Psalm 126:6 promises, “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shout of joy, bring his sheaves with him.”

Do not be quick to pass up an opportunity to help others or to serve the Lord.  Pray about it so you don’t wear out with too much activity and then go do something.  It might just be purposing to do one act of kindness a day in Jesus’ name.   Do not give up.  It is not in vain.

How many points does your God-bit have?


Exit Strategies

exit-strategy

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.  1 Corinthians 10:13

In the Greek, there is just one word for temptation and trial.  They can be used interchangeably here.  A trial would be an adverse situation allowed by God to transform your character.  A temptation is the desire to do something sinful, or evil.  James 1:13-15 tells us that God does not tempt us with evil, but temptation comes from our own fleshly desires.

You might feel that you are the only one to go through the struggle that you are wrestling with.  But the words, “common to man” means that we all go through the same sort of temptations.  Satan may want you to think that you are the only person dealing with being single, or with a difficult husband, or the only one with a difficult childhood.  Then he may use that line of reasoning to draw you into a victim mindset, which could sound like this: “I did it because of my difficult past.  Who wouldn’t be bitter (or whatever)?”

Don’t buy it!  You are not the only one.  You must take responsibility for the choice you are making.  You can’t blame it on anyone or anything else.   Another bait of Satan is to convince you that you had no other choice but to sin.  “I had to steal to feed my children.  We were out of money.”  Or, “I had to punch that person.  He hit me first.  I was only defending myself.”  God is faithful.  He will give you an exit strategy.  Look and pray for a way out and then take it.

God protects us because we belong to Him.  That means that He knows how much we can handle and won’t put us into situations that are beyond our ability to stand.  So we can’t say, “It was too difficult to withstand.  I had to do it.”

With practice, you can develop exit strategies for your sin triggers.  That means you need to  honestly examine your own heart and life.  Ask yourself where you have been the most prone to sin, and what makes you weak and vulnerable.  If you know that being with certain people triggers a rebellious attitude, don’t hang with those people anymore.  If you know that not getting enough sleep makes you short tempered and prone to taking short cuts, then guard your sleep.  

Remind yourself that God has His eyes on you, that He is there to help, and that He will provide a way of escape.  God won’t give you more than you can handle and He is there to send aid, encouragement, and forgiveness.  

(picture from empresa-journal.com)


The power of the cross

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For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  1 Corinthians 1:18

Jesus was hung on the Roman’s instrument of torture.  It was a bloody, criminal, shame-covered pathway to our forgiveness and eternal life with God.  To the unbelieving,  Jesus’ death was inconsequential, not worth focusing on or exalting in.  But to us, it is the heart of our belief system and power.  The cross is the power of God and the glory of God.

It seems that many Christians don’t really believe that the message of the cross contains power.  I was just listening to a sermon online where the preacher spent seven minutes on an opening illustration that led into his unfolding of the passage of Scripture.  It seemed that he thought his power came through telling a good story to hook the interest of the listeners.  Others rely on emotion evoking music or even in their own charisma.

Our power in daily life comes from the message of the cross, not just in sermons.  It is what we stand on and where we find our identity.  I am who I am by the grace of God, demonstrated by Jesus’ work on the cross.  He made me the way I am, from the family line I am from, with the strengths and weaknesses I possess because of God’s plan for my life.  My self esteem must come from that, not from what I can do or what I look like.  It places the spotlight on God and not on me.

Rely on God to be your focus, your ability and the source of your strength.  You no longer have to be competitive to prove yourself worthy.  1 Corinthians 1:20-31 tells that God chooses the opposite of what unbelievers would in a schoolyard pick.  The world goes for the flashy, the strong, the smart or the beautiful people.  God chooses the weak, the not-so-smart, the plain Jane and the felon to be carriers of His grace.  Why?  So we won’t boast in ourselves, but in God’s saving grace that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

It might make us less self conscious.  Instead of focusing on what you can and can’t do, put your trust in what Jesus is doing in and through you.  This will overcome fear or the things you lack.  And when you need power to get through the day, to succeed in some way, look to Jesus to pull it off through you.  And as 1 Cor. 1:30-31 puts it, “Because of Him you are in Christ Jesus… so let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord .”

God, thank you for the cross.  May the death and resurrection of Jesus be the focal point of my life.  Teach me how to center my identity on who I am because of You.  May the power of the cross be at work in my life.

 


Grab a hold of the God of hope and the Spirit of power

romans-15

 

Are you ever short on hope? God is the God of hope.  Have you ever thought of that?  Turn to the God of hope!  You may look back on your life and feel deep regret for things that you have done that has caused great pain.  Or, you may look ahead and not feel hope, just tiredness and pessimism.  If you belong to Jesus, the good news is that you can rewrite your script.  God holds the key to hope and  when you cry out to Him, you can grab a hold of things you never imagined.

Our hope isn’t built on fantasy.  It is built on God’s promises that are true.  He has delivered on them in the past and He will in the future.  His character backs that up.  Our hope is based on a God who can do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,” as Ephesians 3:20 proclaims.  We are placing our trust in the same God who made the lame walk, fed 5000 people with a bag lunch, and  raised Jesus from the dead.

As we place our faith in the God of hope, He fills us with joy and peace.  I can’t think of any other thing that can promise and deliver true joy and peace.  Drugs and alcohol offer a temporary blast of elation, but they are soon followed by regret and an emptiness that only magnifies despair.  In Romans 5:1-5, Paul describes how God has accomplished peace with Him through the blood of Jesus and how the Holy  Spirit  pours His love into our hearts.

It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to abound in hope and to have the faith to believe in this. It is His power that pours so much hope into our hearts that it overflows into others’ lives.  Our faith is in the God of hope and in the Spirit of power.

Put into the context of our lives, this means that all of the things that lie behind and before you are covered by the God of hope and the Spirit of power.  It could be lack of money, uncertainty of health, troubling relationships, or fear and anxiety that keep popping up.  Call on the power of the Holy Spirit today to give you the faith to trust that God will pour His hope, joy and peace into your heart.  Give Him the specifics of your life today, and picture God taking a water bucket and pouring His living water on them.

(The studies that I have been posting were originally written to send to some women in prison that I correspond with. They get a more in depth study to go with each devotional thought.  I connected with them at our county’s jail Bible studies that I lead.  They have invited Jesus into their lives, but struggle to break free from the things of the past, old habit patterns and ways of living, and to walk victoriously. As you read these posts, please pray for them–Tina, Arlene and Randi–that they would grab onto Jesus because He has grabbed a hold of  them–Philippians 3:12.)

 


Inside Out

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Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:2

Romans 12:1 is urging us to live differently because we have been rescued by God’s mercy.  In view of that, we are to put our lives on God’s altar.  When we purpose to be a living sacrifice, our lives become a worship song to God.  Verse 2 tells us more of what that looks like.

First, we are not to be conformed to this world.  “The world” is that body of beliefs that stands the opposite of what we now belong to.  In John 15:18, Jesus started using it to tell His disciples about the bumpy road ahead: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”  To conform means to ‘comply with rules, standards or laws, or to behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards,” according to dictionary.com.

Put into what God is asking us to be like, that means we don’t follow the crowd or subscribe to ‘group think.’  We have been delivered out of the world system of thoughts and actions and now belong to the kingdom of light. That doesn’t mean we go out of our way to be different, thus being obnoxious.  We just are different become of Who we belong to.  John Piper said, “We are useless as Christ exalting Christians if all we do is conform to the world around us,” in his sermon on Romans 12:1-2.

Instead of being conformed to the world that we don’t belong to anymore, we are to be transformed.  Back to dictionary.com, to be transformed is defined as “to make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.”  Transformation isn’t accomplished by following a list of do’s and don’ts.   It is accomplished by at least two things.

The first is accomplished by the Holy Spirit inside of us, not just when we become Christians, but throughout our Christian life.  In Titus 3:4-5 Paul describes how the goodness and kindness of God has come into our lives, saving us by His mercy and “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

Piper continues in his sermon on the renewed mind: “It is the triumphant power and transformation of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ — our Savior, our Lord, our Treasure. [God] has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). So transformation is a profound, blood-bought, Spirit-wrought change from the inside out.”

Second, the Holy Spirit works inside of us as our minds renewed and changed by the Word of God. Our minds are changed from being like the world to being like Jesus when we bathe frequently in the Bible.  As you do this, you will think and act differently.  Being in the Bible ignites the work of the Spirit in your life.

Finally, as we do this we are going to find out, or prove,  God’s acceptable and perfect will for our lives.  We will be who He designed us to be, doing what He has saved us for.  Ephesians 2:10 proclaims, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for us to do.”  Do not be conformed by the world, but be transformed by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit and the Bible.

This is a link to Piper’s excellent sermon on Romans 12:2 (click on it)

 

 


Living Sacrifices

 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Romans 12:1

This is from Dr. Helen Roseveare’s book, Living Sacrifice, Willing to be whittled as an arrow (Christian Focus Publications, 1980)

bookSacrifice is a term of the past, not of today.  Today, no one is expected to sacrifice anything.  We are surrounded by game shows that give you riches if you answer a few questions on general knowledge or guess the right box to open.  The unspoken of the age is ‘if something is difficult, do something else instead.  If something is expensive, borrow it or borrow the money to buy it.’

What place does sacrifice have in this world?  The Bible says it is central–and that sacrifice is not only a key to the future, it is the essence of a Christian’s life today.  God does have a right to demand our sacrifice–with all our heart, soul, mind and strength–and it is our privilege to respond to that demand.  If those words sound alien to you then you may not have yet entered into the joy of Christian belief and service.  The key to an authentic life is sacrifice.  (Taken from the back cover of her book)

Helen was a missionary doctor in the Congo/Zaire.   In 1964 there was a civil war, causing guerrillas to come into the villages and take the teenagers to fight with the rebels and to kill and destroy what was left behind.  A 9 year old, Paul, was trapped by rebels in their Christian school.  The others had fled and it was Paul’s turn to be the last one into the jungle and to make everything look in disarray and take down anything with current dates on it so they would think the school had been abandoned.

He knew he couldn’t tell the soldiers where the other students were, lest they be killed.  He also knew that if he didn’t, he would be beaten and killed.  He prayed to God for courage.  He had only to know Jesus as His savior a few months before.  Certainly there was no one else to help him now.  He kept repeating P-M to himself over and over.  It was the secret code of their youth group.  It was a part of the phrase Pasipo Mupaka, meaning “For Jesus Christ with no limits.”

They flung him around, kicking and hitting him.  Suddenly Paul knew what to do.  He pretended to be Jackie, a deaf-mute classmate who only made garbled sounds and gesticulations.  The guerrillas gave up, deciding there was no school there.  “Under my breath,” he told Helen later, “I kept repeating P-M to remind myself  that Jesus loved me so much that He died for me, and so I could go through anything they did to me, for His sake.”  (pages 18-20)

There is a cost involved in responding to God’s insistent demands on our lives.  But it is also a privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ and to be a living sacrifice “For Jesus Christ with no limits.”


The Table

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In Beth Moore’s new Bible study book, “Entrusted,” daughter Melissa cites Benjamin Meyers and his book called Christ the Stranger: The Theology of Rowan Williams (T and T Clark International, April 2012).

In it, Meyers describes Williams’ view of theology.  Williams was the Archbishop of Canterbury, a leader in the Anglican/Episcopal church.  Though not from a background I typically draw from, his description of theology caught my attention:

“Theology…is not a private table for one but a rowdy banquet of those who gather, famished and thirsty, around Christ.  The lonely work of reading and writing is not yet theology but only its preparation.  Theology happens wherever we are drawn together into the congenial and annoying labour of conversing, listening, and disputing–in short, where we are drawn into a collective struggle for truthful speech.” xi

It seems that everyone has a theology of some sort about all kinds of things related to God, the Bible, the Christian life, and life itself.  It bleeds into our viewpoints about politics, relationships, how and where we spend our money, and many other things.  So often the development of our pet theories are formulated by ourselves in our own private Bible studies, our movie and TV watching, or in our families.  Or we latch onto a system of thinking or doctrine that was imparted by a revered author, pastor, or teacher.

But the working out of it has to be at “the table.”  That table, as Williams put it, “is not a private table for one but a rowdy banquet of those who gather, famished and thirsty, around Christ.”  If I am am famished and thirsty I will seek out a table to join with others to find Christ, to speak and to think about Him, and to marvel in His mercies.  That table is not a place for people to use Scripture as a weapon, to ramrod a particular theory, or to point out everyone else’s mistakes or flaws in thinking.

Melissa then cites Shauna Niequist in Bread & Wine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013) adds to this:

“We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend…We come to the table because our hunger brings us there…The table is a place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children…If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.” pg. 258.

The table can be a Sunday school class, a small group, a gathering of friends, or a group of bloggers.  My way of looking at the world can be developed in my own studies and contemplation, but I must be open to the refinement of those doctrines at the table–the place where I come for nourishment because I want more of Jesus in my life.  I need more tables in my life.  I get too busy and task oriented.  But oh, the joy of sitting down to a good meal, with fellow travelers who are committed to relationships and to the give and take of the family table.

 


Check this out!

 

 

This is a video of the Kimyal people of West Papua New Guinea receiving the New Testament for the first time.  This is moving, and makes me think about how we take our Bibles for granted.

But there is another part to this story that is equaling moving–maybe more.  I read the book “Lords of the Earth,” by Don Richardson this last summer.  It told of the life of missionary Stanley Dale.  Stanley was a stubborn man that had lost a couple of jobs because of his bull headedness, causing conflicts with co-workers.  But he had a heart for God and a heart to see the Gospel brought to the people of Papua New Guinea.  For every mountain and tribe there was one more behind it, and he wanted to get to those people.

He was able to reach one tribe with the good news of Jesus Christ after he had drawn a line in the sand that demanded that they totally abolish their animistic ways to follow Jesus—–no mixing and matching.  Some criticized this move as being yet another way that Stanley was too narrow minded or bull headed to continue serving on the mission field.

But soon thereafter, a revival broke out and not only did that tribe begin to follow Jesus whole heartedly, but so did several neighboring tribes.  Not so with the Yali, the people group behind this video.  In 1961 Stan had made a trip to make an attempt to reach them.  They would have nothing of it, vowing to never give up their way of life and to kill the man who would try to pervert it.  Stan was shot with five arrows and he pulled them out and continued on.  One or two would fell an average man, so this man must be a god, they reasoned.

Stan did retreat and made the trek again, determined to reach them with the Gospel.  He went with a man, Phil Masters, whom he had just begun to work with.  The news of their approach spread quickly throughout the Yali tribe and they launched out an all out attack on the duo.  They could have retreated again, but Stan would have nothing of it.  Again, his dogged determination forged him ahead.  Perhaps it was from God all along, but it just needed to be tempered.

They did not run.  They could have cut off a foot bridge across a steep gorge, prohibiting the warriors to get to them.  Again, Stan would not cut it off, hoping to use it as a bridge to them, not a separation from them.  The warriors caught up to Stan and Phil and the arrows began to pelt them.  Instead of running, Stan stood there and took each one with a set look on his face.  Encouraged by Stan, Phil did the same.

As the arrows hit Stan, he pulled them out, one by one.  “He must be a god,” they thought.  Surely again, no man could live.  Finally, the two men became too weak to continue to stand and they fell that day.  The Yali cut them up and ate them, scattering their bones so that they could not be resurrected.  Cannibals have traditionally ate people so they could get their powerful spirit, making them a better warrior.  They did eventually become better warriors as a result, ones for Jesus.  What an irony.

This was in 1968.  Another missionary couple were able to make inroads in the 1990’s.  This video was made in 2011.  It took quite a while for the Gospel to reach this people group, but its impact is stunning.  Stanley Dale’s stubborn bull-headedness was tempered by God to make him able to forge to unreached territories for the sake of the Gospel.  May we all be so indomitable.

Stan and Phil could not see the result of their last stand, but we can.  I try to remember that as I sow seeds that do not have an immediate, visible result.  May I continue to proclaim Jesus with a holy stubbornness and an indomitable spirit.

 

 

 


Mercy: More powerful than words

live-mercy

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Romans 12:1

I appeal to you by the mercies of God. Paul is asking us to do something on the basis of God’s mercy shown to us.  Mercy has to do with God’s lovingkindness, His compassion and sympathy for us.  In light of God not giving us what we deserve, we are to do the same with others. John Piper writes about this phrase, “Treating others mercifully is the best way to make others see that God has treated you with mercy.”  

Because God showing us His favor that we don’t deserve, we should live a life of mercy.  Romans 12 goes on to tell us what living a life of mercy looks like:  do cheerful acts of mercy…love genuinely…love with brotherly affection…show honor…show hospitality…be fervent in spirit as you serve the Lord…bless those who persecute you…weep with those who weep…associate with the lowly…feed your enemy…overcome evil with good.  

To present your bodies as a living sacrifice.  We don’t have a sacrificial system in our culture, but the Jews did.  They were used to the idea of bringing animals to the priest to be sacrificed as an offering for their sin or for their thankfulness even.  But now Paul is urging us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, in view of God’s mercy to us.

What does that mean?   Earlier we looked at John 12:24 about being like a grain of wheat that falls to the ground to die to produce fruit.  Along with dying to ourselves as a lifestyle, what we do with our bodies matter because they belong to God.  In 1 Corinthians 6:19 we find that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, bought with the precious blood of Jesus.    We are not our own, and we were bought with a price.  Romans 6:13 admonishes us to “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”

So it means living a sacrificial life, willing to do what God asks us to do, even if it is at our own expense.  That is counter-cultural and counter self-preservation.  We don’t go out of our way to do things that hurt, that take more from us than what we get back, and that costs us something.

Holy and acceptable to God.  To be holy means to live a life of obedience in every area of your life, not just some areas.  And acceptable–it would be doing what God asks you to do, not what you conjure up.  By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, as Hebrews 11:4 tells us.  By faith we do what God asks us to do and enables us to do.

Which is your spiritual worship.  When we live a life of mercy because of God’s great mercy for us, put ourselves on His altar to use us as He pleases, offer our body for holiness and not just pursuing our fleshly desires, we are worshiping God with our lives.  It is more powerful than our words could ever be.  And it is definitely better than any song we can sing.

“The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”  Martin Luther.  May God lay hold of you today!

 


God’s love

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For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39

Nothing shall separate us from the love of God.  Nothing.  Verse 28 tells us who that love is directed toward: “for those who love God…for those who are called according to His purpose.”  If you are one of His, this love is for you.  And this is a love that we cannot be separated from.

This is who God is  and this is what He thinks of those who are His children.  Nothing you can do will sever that tie between you and Him–not anything you have done or will do, not evil forces, not anything.  Some people think that they have messed up too much and that God can’t forgive them.  That sin, or series of sins, cannot separate you from God’s love.

Others can’t forgive themselves and are mad at themselves.  That causes anger to spew from within at others.  If this is you, pour out your heart to God and confess your sins, repenting of those stubborn sins and memories, and He will forgive you.  As His forgiveness pours over you, you will be able to experience His love.  God’s love melts away anger.  It might not be at once, but over time you will see that change you from deep inside.

Romans 8:31 declares, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  God is for you.  He loves you with an everlasting love.  Check out Psalm 103:3-14:

(He) who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s…The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him.

Let that soak in today.