Monday, January 26, 2015

Thoughts vs Prayers


"The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."
James 5:16

Just a quick note today - I was working on dinner and had FOXNEWS on this morning, and much of the coverage is the big blizzard that is hitting the east coast later today.  The anchor was explaining that this storm not only affects the 50 million people in its path, but the rest of our country and potentially the world, considering 1700 flights have already been cancelled which throws off travel worldwide.  At the end of her segment, the anchor looked into the camera and said, "Your thoughts for America are appreciated."

Hmmm…

Thoughts or prayers?  Do our thoughts affect the heart of God?  What a strange comment.  Let's say I am in Paris, sipping some hot chocolate at a street cafe and my thoughts turn to the blizzard.  Does that do anyone any good?

I think you get my point.  I am not saying that we can pray the storm away, but I am saying that God hears the prayers of righteous men.  Not only are there many believers on the east coast, but there are 50 million image bearers who are going to be affected by this blizzard.  Lives will be lost, power will be out, there will be shortages of food and kids will not be in school.  Flights will still be cancelled and all travel will be inconvenienced. I heard this morning that crews from Michigan are already on their way to help with the power outages.  These are but a few of the consequences of a major storm like this, and who knows how long these difficulties will last?

We must pray for our country. We must ask God to be merciful and to protect the people, restore the power, provide the help, and minimize the suffering from this storm.  It's not that we deserve His grace, but He loves us and wants to hear our prayers.

So friends, stop thinking about it and please pray.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Power of Underestimating


"Or do you think lightly the riches 
of His kindness and tolerance and patience, 
not knowing that the kindness of God 
leads you to repentance?"
Romans 2:4


John MacArthur in his commentary on Romans says that self-righteous people make two mistakes - they underestimate the heights of God's standards and the depths of their sin.  In other words, they think too highly of themselves and too little of God.

This past lesson in Romans we were confronted with a question about God's all-powerfulness, His love and His goodness. The question was posed to one of our women at Harvest in regards to a horrific crime forced upon an 8 year old girl, how can God be all-powerful or even good if something like this happens?  

Really bad things happen every day, and there are definitely bad things that are worse than others.  A dishonest "I'm fine" pales in comparison to rape and murder, right?  All of these bad things fall on the sin scale - it comes in all shapes and sizes.  Lies, murder, gossip, envy, arrogance, untrustworthy, unloving - it's a long list (Romans 1:28-32) but we've got to own it.  So, yeah, bad things happen every day - some because of us and some to us - all of it sin.

In addition to sin, there are also bad things on the "Life is Hard" scale - accidents, droughts, illnesses, starvation, down-sizing, suffering and storms - things that make life broken but are not necessarily directly connected to a sinful act.  We have to accept the fact that these things are results of our sin, however.  In God's perfect created world, car accidents and cancers weren't in the design.  But sin has affected all of life - Romans 8:22 tells us that all creation groans in the pains of sin and longs to be restored to its original state.  All life suffers under the weight of man's sin.

But when bad things happen our first question tends to be, Where was God?  Ding, ding, ding!  The Underestimation Machine just went off.  Or when we are cornered by that old high-school-friend-turned-atheist with a really hard question, we begin to wonder, Why did God let that happen?  Ding, ding, ding!  Or when ISIS beheads another kidnapped reporter, we cry out, God, why?  Ding, ding...ding.

Friends, God is not the author of sin…we are.  He has also placed the care of this world in our hands. As image bearers of God, we have been not only given the task of stewarding the physical world and cleaning up the messes our sin has caused, but also the task of bringing the evil we brought into this world to justice.  When we point our finger at God and blame Him for "bad things", we are underestimating the depths of our sin and the heights of His holiness.

Does God answer to us?  The world would say yes (ding) and they have already arrested, tried and convicted Him.  But when we demand answers of God, we are humanizing the Almighty (ding).  We are bringing Him down to our level (ding) and demanding performance and explanation of Him (ding) which can readily be found if we turn our gaze inward.  The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked - this is the same heart that accuses God and denies responsibility.

Oh, friends, let us not take for granted the kindness, tolerance and patience of our holy God! When we mourn over sin, I get it - we want justice!  The scriptures guarantee that justice is coming but in our haste to see it, we are neglecting to see God's kindness in salvation towards man.  He is working in and through the brokenness of life to draw men to Himself. Do we forget that had justice been immediately poured out on our own sin that salvation would not have occurred?  Had Adam and Eve dropped dead in the garden, all life would have ended.  But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which He loved us, when we were dead in our sin made us alive Christ - let us not forget His drawing, His patience and His tolerance of our sin that brought us to repentance, let alone the price He paid for that sin.

The world underestimates God and sin - it is a powerful tool of Satan, for if the world would look realistically at both, the results would be devastating to the enemy.  Let us not live self-righteous lives who judge others, as well as God - but let us humbly and graciously live in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and let us immerse ourselves in the Word of God so that we may be able to answer the questions of those who are lost, pointing them to the truth of Jesus.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year, Same Old Choices


"And He Who sits on the throne said, 
"Behold, I am making all things new."
Revelation 21:5

Happy New Year, friends.

How's that resolution list?  

Of course, I am speaking to my younger friends, because the friends who are my age or older gave up resolution lists ages ago.  It's not that resolutions are hopeless, but the reality that life is hard and simply because we've turned the page on the calendar doesn't make it easier to do what we know we should be doing no matter what day or year it is.  If it were that simple, then we would celebrate the New Month every month by turning the page, shouting "Happy New Month!",  and writing our resolutions over and over until we finally get them down.  

Here's the truth - God is the One Who makes all things new.  A day is coming when He will do this for the entire earth.  If you need some refreshment for your imagination, read Revelation 21 and remember, that day is approaching.  

But in the meantime, God still is in the business of renewing:
  • Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me - Psalm 51:10
  • Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle - Psalm 103:5
  • And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect - Romans 12:2
  • Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day - II Cor. 4:16
  • He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life - Titus 3:5-7
My prayer for myself, as well as you, my friends, is that in this new year we would turn our hearts and minds even more so toward the Lord, that we would start each day at the foot of the cross, that we would soak in the richness of His word and walk in the newness of the life that cost Him dearly, that we would choose to be humble and to place ourselves under His protective hand, that we would serve the Lord with gladness at every turn and that 2015 will be a year of growth and wonder, as we open our hearts to God's transforming work through His Spirit and His Word.  

Yes, the battle to lose weight will continue to be waged in this home, as well as the call to get fit, be nicer to those around me and sort out my junk drawer.  But instead of doing this to be a better person, I believe if we place Jesus at the center of all things, the journey will no longer be a battle but a blessing.

May the Lord renew your spirit today and may He continue to draw you into His care.



Monday, December 22, 2014

Where Would We Be Without Christmas?


Where would we be without Christmas?

This question was posed at church this weekend.  At Easter we emphasize the empty tomb but at Christmas the manger must be filled.  Both locations are vitally important.  Together they encompass the gospel - Jesus put on flesh, lived a sinless life, died for our sins and rose from the dead.  He qualified Himself to be our Redeemer by becoming man and He defeated death by raising from the grave. Both the filled manger and the empty grave are essential truths upon which our faith is built.

So here is my latest observation - we really do live in a world void of God. Oh, I know He's here and the only reason we can take the next breath is because He is alive and ever present.  But we live in a world that ignores God.  Ignore isn't even the right word - the world is filled with people who live without a second thought toward God.  Their lives are completely void of an awareness of God's presence, His deity, His will, His holiness, His activity, His precepts, His way and His hand.

Maybe this sounds obvious, but for some reason it's really hit me hard this past week.  I might just be a bit slow, but let me show you what I mean:
  • When's the last time you watched a sitcom that mentioned Jesus that wasn't in the context of swearing?
  • What about music?  How much secular music has no hint of God's presence or even a mention of His majesty?
  • Movies, books, magazines, websites - all filled with stories and information but no mention of the Creator or His goodness
  • Weathermen surely don't credit or thank God and news reporters don't mention Him, as well
  • Politicians make laws and policies without considering God and His law
  • Detective shows and mysteries only throw in religion to add to the mental instability of the suspect
Seriously, day after day after day people eat, drink, work, converse, think, decide, travel, create and cry without thinking about God.  This is such a strange truth for a believer because our first waking thought is of Jesus and the last words in our head are prayers of thanksgiving.  We meditate on scripture, talk about sermons, think "what would Jesus do?", listen to worship music and cry our troubles out to our Savior on a daily basis.  But life around us is operating completely void of God.

In essence, the world's manger is empty.

They don't understand the gospel and they don't see God when they look in the manger.  They don't see how that baby has anything to do with them and they aren't even sure it's a true story.  And they don't really even give it a thought, to be completely honest.

So this is bad enough, right?  But lately I've been noticing how many believers live as if the manger was empty as well.  We aren't thinking of Jesus when we awaken, we aren't spending any time in the Word, we can't remember what the pastor preached on the day before, we never consider what Jesus would do, we pride ourselves on knowing the top 40 and we worry about anything and everything - going to Jesus is a last resort because we're not sure He's really paying attention or cares anyway.

So now it's Christmas week.  We have a choice to make.  We can live as if the manger is empty and let this week fly by without even as much as a nod in the baby's direction, or we can celebrate the life that has been purchased for us because of the filled manger.  It's never too late to change our focus and start living the transformed life that Jesus paid for - like the Christmas gifts that sit under the tree, will we simply look at the beautiful wrapping or will we open and use them?

Remember, friends - we do what we do and we feel how we feel because we think what we think.  Let's set our minds on the manger this week and each of us answer the question - where would we be without Christmas? Pondering the answer can be life-changing.