Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reaching People Where They Are 1/30/2013 (rp)

"He said to her, 'Go, call your husband and come here.' The woman answered and said, 'I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, 'You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.'” John 4:16-18

It is important to understand the context of this passage. Jesus had arrived in a place called Samaria. As a Jew, this was not a place most would find themselves. The problem was that the occupants of the area were once Jews themselves. The Jewish point of view was that while much of Israel was taken captive by the Babylonians in 721 BC, those who remained in the homeland mixed with the Assyrians making them in the minds of many, unclean half-breeds.

Further, it was very much outside the norm if not considered downright wrong for a Jew of Jesus' rabbinical stature to interact one on one with any female, let alone a Samaritan. At Jesus' request that the woman give him a drink, even the woman asked in verse 9, "How is it that you being a Jew, asks drink of me, who am a Samaritan woman (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans)." So what was Jesus doing? What was he thinking?

Beloved, Jesus was thinking as we all should think. Far too many times, we miss the opportunity to share the gospel because of biases and prejudices. Somewhere within us, we just do not want to deal with "those" people, whoever they may be. Do not make the mistake of thinking this is just about race, ethnicity, color, etc. It also includes sexual preference, religious proclivity or socioeconomic standing, drug use, cohabitation, alcoholism, etc. The list is vast.

Jesus was willing to defy convention and go to a person who had needs. Not only were the circumstances not an issue, they may very well have been the reason for him doing what he did. He once said, "They that are whole have no need of a physician but they that are sick," Matt 9:12. In short, the Lord was willing to meet the Samaritan woman right where she was in the circumstances she was in and ministered to here there.

The epilogue is that she went and told her village who, based on what she told them, came to see and hear Jesus for themselves. After a time with Jesus, they told the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said: for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world," John 4:42.

Do you remember when Jesus met you where you were? Thank God for new life.



Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Committed to Prayer 1/29/2013

"Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously." Dan 6:10-11

An integral part of living the Christian life is prayer to God in the name of Jesus.  We teach our children from the earliest of ages the famous "Now I lay me down to sleep" prayer and we are always careful to pray over our food.  Likewise, we dutifully and reverently bow our heads and close our eyes when prayer is rendered during worship or other corporate occasions such as weddings and funerals.  Is that, however, the extent of our prayer life?

Daniel had an intimate relationship with God. This was expressed in many ways, not the least of which was through prayer.  Those who were jealous of Daniel's title, position and favor with the king coerced the king into signing irrevocable legislation that would cast anyone who prayed to any other entity than himself into the lion's den.  Despite knowing this, Daniel would not be deterred from his regular and vigorous commitment to prayer.

Beloved, it is critical that we understand the purpose of prayer.  We serve a God who is tender hearted toward us, passionately in love with us and desires an intimate relationship with us.  Though he knows all things and is a discerner of our hearts, he has given us this avenue to Him that allows for direct communication.  Imagine that!  We can communicate directly with the Creator of the universe and He hears!  The bible is replete with examples, instructions, postures and occasions, all related to prayer.  It is clearly a critical aspect of our relationship with our Father.

Finally, Jesus taught that we must move beyond these perfunctory prayers that can sometimes be automatic responses to the occasion.  Prayer must involve sincerity, quality and commitment:
"But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you," Matt 6:6.



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Handling Adversity 1/24/13 (rp)

"And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks." Acts 16:23-24

Paul and Silas find themselves in one of the worst situations that we can imagine. Two questions that come to mind are, "How did this happen to them" and "How did they handle it?"

The answer to the first question, simply put, is that they were doing the work of the Lord. During Paul's second missionary journey, he freed a woman of the spirit that possessed her. In that she was a bit of a fortune teller and a source of income for her "handlers," they dragged Paul and Silas into the market place, reported them to the local authorities, libeled them and had them beaten and thrown into prison. Even in prison, they were put in the innermost cell and shackled.

How did they handle it? "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto god: and the prisoners heard them," Acts 16:25.

Beloved, in this life, we have many things about which we can complain if we so choose. They can range from the mundane inconveniences of having to cut grass to the concerns of serious health issues. The reality of living is that bad things happen, even to good people. The measure of a person, however, is how these things are handled. For the Christian, our faith is in the Lord through whom we can do all things (Phi 4:13). We are to "count it all joy when we enter in to various trials," (James 1:2). We remember that our salvation is tied to endurance (Matt 24:13). Lastly, we acknowledge that Christ suffered for our souls.

Knowing these things, it becomes clear that we should praise God in every circumstance imaginable! There is no place we can go that we are not in His sight. There is nothing that can happen that He does not know about. He alone has truthfully said that He would never leave us nor forsake us. For this reason, we can have confidence that everything is going to work out fine. God Himself caused Paul and Silas to be freed. Based on their faith and their public praise of God, the same jailer who was charged with locking them up obeyed the gospel and he and his family received salvation.

Sometimes, the way we handle adversity, particularly while actually doing the work of the Lord, can mean life to others.



Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wrestling With Faith 1/23/2013

"Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.  Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Gen 32:24-26

Jacob was facing the daunting task of facing the brother whose birthright and blessing he had stolen and then escaped.  In the ensuing time period, he had prospered mightily under adverse conditions.  Having fulfilled his obligations and built his family, it  was now time for him to find a place of his own.  To do so, it was necessary to cross the territory of his estranged brother and he was fearful.  Having isolated himself, he was accosted by an unnamed and unidentified angel (Ho 12:4) with whom he wrestled and won.

Beloved, there are many quiet moments we endure before facing daunting tasks or situations.  These situations can challenge our faith mightily.  We ask both ourselves and God, "Why am I in this situation?  Why is this happening?"  We are often unsure of what to do and even what is real.  At some point, we must come to a decision about whether we are going to trust God or go it alone.

There are a variety of opinions surrounding the meaning of Jacob's wrestling match.  For our purposes here, it is submitted to you that it is not unusual to contend with our faith but as with Jacob, we should ever seek the blessings associated with it.  This is a stark reminder that the Lord is always aware of our plights because He is ever with us.  If we would but stay in the fight, we will prevail against doubt, despondency and faithlessness, and we will be blessed.

The very next morning: "Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept." Gen 33:4



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Proximity Warning 1/22/2013 (rp)

"Now the men of Sodom were wicked and sinning greatly against the Lord." Gen 13:13

It is now as it was then that we live in a wicked world. One need scarcely cast a glance to see that the effects of sin are all around us. It is piped into our homes via the television and the internet. It is broadcast into our ears via the radio and popular music. Our eyes are assaulted by morally impure billboards and magazine covers. None of us need go looking for its evidences. It is all around us.

So it was in Lot's time. You will recall that at the time it became necessary for he and his uncle Abraham to part ways, Lot was given a choice. He chose the lush and fertile plains and "pitched his tent near Sodom." Chapter 19 finds him sitting at the gates of and ostensibly living in the city itself. It was already well known what type of place this was yet he evidently chose to live there.

Beloved we must be aware of our proximity to wickedness. Often times we watch certain movies or television shows, listen to certain radio programs and read certain books and maintain certain relationships that are not in keeping with what is best for our spiritual development. We tell ourselves that we are mature enough, strong enough and discerning enough to glean from them without becoming subject to them. 2 Cor 6:14 asks, "What fellowship does light have with darkness?" What would we be missing from our lives if we rejected and eliminated the unholy and the impure from our lives?

Lot began his life in close proximity to God. By the end of his life, he had lost his possesions during the destruction of the city, his wife, who could not distance herself from her past and he unknowingly fathered children by his wicked and incestuous daughters. From these children came the Moabites who then became enemies of God's people. These are ample enough reasons to watch your proximity to wickedness.



Monday, January 21, 2013

No Fear 1/21/2013

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."  Psa 23:4 (KJV)

At one point or another, we all find ourselves in the depths of despair.  There are times that we, through a variety of circumstances, can find ourselves hanging on to hope by our fingernails.  Our situational surroundings are threatening and seem to have no opportunity for escape.  These can be derived from soured relationships, failing health, unjust persecution or financial woes.

In Gen 37, youthful Joseph found himself in this situation.  Guilty of no more that youthful exuberance about his dreams and steadfastness about his responsibilities, he inspired the hatred of his brothers.  They hated him so much that they plotted to take his life.  Talked out of it by one of their own, they stripped him, threw him into a deep hole, sold him into slavery and reported him as dead to their father.  Imagine what must have been going through Joseph's mind.  Think about what goes through your own in your valleys.

Beloved, the good news is that despite Joseph's terrible circumstances, God was with him.  Gen 39:4 tells us, "And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.  And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand."  Even better news is that the same God who was with Joseph is with you.  Though you may be experiencing the lowest lows, God does not abandon you but guides you through.  He is our great Shepherd and shepherds lead, guide, feed and protect from the front, not from behind.  The comfort we derive from the rod and staff is the knowledge that God is always there, even in the valley of the shadow of death.  Let us have no fear.



Thursday, January 17, 2013

Saying No to Naysayers 1/17/2013

"Then Saul said to David, 'You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth.'” 1 Sam 17:33

Naysayers.  They are so pervasive in our lives, we often times become accustomed to their influence without realizing their impact.  If we were to feel compelled by our love for God to evangelize our neighborhood, someone would inevitably come along side and whisper in our ears about the likelihood of rejection and futility.  If we want to do a great work within the congregation to get us more focused on the things God would have us to do, someone will offer, "We've tried that before and it didn't work."  There is no shortage of those who are all to willing to play the role of discourager.  They are the first to criticize and the last to offer solutions or help.

Beloved we must be on guard against these influences.  Were we to allow them to convince us to do nothing, the cause of Christ would never be served, we would fail to live up to our commitment and commission and we would cease to be the Lord's church, becoming an organization of people who play church.

David's answer to Saul was to share his experience going against the odds, the fact that God had always been with him and his confidence that he would prevail.  He said, "The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine" 1 Sam 17:37.  You have probably figured out by now that David was just a boy and the Philistine was the 9 ft giant, Goliath.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Let always remember that naysayers will come and go but that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Path Less Traveled 1/16/2013

 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it."  Matt 7:13-14

No one ever said that living the Christian life would be easy.  In fact, if one were to follow conventional wisdom, it is well understood that nothing worth having is.  In this day and age (and perhaps all days and ages) many of us want to eat our cake and yet still have it.  We want all of the rights and privileges of heaven but all of the tastes, touches and smells of the world and the restrictions of neither, particularly the heavenly.

Beloved, following Christ is a choice.  God Himself gave us that choice and we exercise it every day.  We are easily lulled into thinking that we can have it both ways, primarily because God is long suffering with us and does not always (or often for that matter) cause us to pay the price for wrong choices immediately.  A toe in dark water becomes a shin, a thigh, a torso and ultimately the whole body.  That is an excellent way to drown which can be avoided all together by staying on dry land.

Walking by faith involves taking God at His word.  It means that we believe his heavenly and everlasting promises.  But it also means believing that they are inextricable from His warnings about making the wrong choices.  Walking with God and walking with the crowd are two entirely different things.  Let us remember that trouble and destruction are very easy to find and readily available.  Glory, however, is worth the search along the barely trodden path.



Monday, January 14, 2013

Commitment & Integrity 1/14/2013

"The men of David said to him, 'Behold, this is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.’” Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul’s robe secretly." 1 Sam 24:4

David was on the run from king Saul.  Despite being guilty of nothing, Saul desired to kill David and was even then attempting to hunt him down.  David and his men were in a cave hiding when the king came in to relieve himself.  David was encouraged by his men to take the king's life but instead, he took evidence that he could have but refrained from killing him.

Beloved there are at least three broad lessons that can be learned from these circumstances.  First, no one is immune to being a victim.  At any time, misfortune, pain, illness, financial challenge or slander may befall us.  This can be particularly painful if it is at the hand of others to whom we have been close as David once was to Saul.  Second, vengeance is not ours to take but Gods'.  Even though we may be driven by a sense of our own justice and encouraged by our friends, we should refrain in that God has claimed this for Himself.  Lastly, we must always do the right thing.  David knew Saul to be God's anointed despite how bad a king he had become.  Though he had no reason to maintain loyalty to Saul, he had every reason to maintain loyalty to the Father.  This is a matter of integrity and commitment.  David was so convicted by this thought that he mourned the fact that he had gone so far as to cut his cloak.

We certainly can take our example from David.  Even more we can take our example from Jesus who was victimized by man, could have called down a legion of angels to save himself but did not, and from the cross, prayed that God would forgive those who participated in his death.

The Lord, our protector and redeemer, has promised to take care of us.  Let us be careful to honor Him in all that we think, say and do.



Friday, January 11, 2013

The Claiming vs. The Calling 1/11/13

"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side." Luke 10:30-32

It would be a great speculative exercise to wonder where the priest and the Levite where going as they passed someone in such distress. One should have no trouble determining what a priest is. For those who do not know, however, a Levite was one whose tribe members were responsible for attending to things associated with the temple, the worship that took place there and the needs of the priests. Where could they both be going?

Before that is further pursued, the fact that they "passed by on the other side," away from someone who had been injured is of particular note. Certainly tradition holds that this took place on a road that was frequented by robbers. Perhaps they were both concerned about their own safety and decided to give the situation a wide berth.

Suppose they were just in a hurry. Suppose they were in a hurry because they were late. Suppose they were in a hurry because they were late for a temple worship or class. Suppose they were in a hurry because they were late for a temple worship or class where they were scheduled to discuss how to treat one's fellow man. Just suppose.

Beloved, Christianity is not a claim, it is a calling. It is not for show but for shouldering. It is not just for hearing but for helping. It is not just for believing but being. I wonder how often we pass up the opportunity to do good on the way to "church"...where we are told to do good.

Faith without works is dead.



Thursday, January 10, 2013

Letter to my Younger Self 1/10/13

"Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her."  Prov 8:10-11

Beloved, Ellyn Spragins, editor-at-large for Fortune Small Business weekly, posed the question to 40 successful women: "If you could send a letter back through time to your younger self, what would the letter say?"  The concept of "Letters To My Younger Self" was born.  I have been peripherally aware of this book for some time but was recently reminded of it.  It has inspired me to craft a spiritual version not so much to my younger self (which is pointless in and of itself) but written in this style for the benefit of anyone who may care to read it and avail themselves of the information it contains, particularly those who are young in Christ.

Dear Lee,

You were raised in a family that believed in the power and presence of God.  You were taught that Jesus, through overwhelming love for you and all mankind, voluntarily died for your sins so that you could one day go to heaven.  You didn't really understand what all of that meant or how it worked.  You just went to church when Dad said it was time to go.  You began to get a better understanding of all of this about the time you were 17 and for a time, became very devout.  You were baptized of your own accord.  You were in church every Sunday, participated in all of the activities, studied your bible and generally behaved yourself.  You even managed to tell others about Christ and they began coming to worship.  By the time you finished your first year of college, however, you had all but lost interest.  Yes, you still claimed to be a Christian, but you were not living the Christian life.  This is what I would like to talk to you about.

You have come to know God though not nearly as well as you eventually will.  Hopefully you will get to know Him even more than I do now as I sit here and type this.  You had a great start and  a wonderful foundation.  The path had been laid out for you.  But you allowed spiritual immaturity to win the day.  You allowed the offerings of the world to distract you from what you knew to be right.  Not so suddenly, chasing girls became a priority in your life.  Working long hours at a job that paid little to buy things you did not need stole your time.  You folded up and placed in a closeted trunk the knowledge, joy, spiritual fulfillment, righteousness, obedience and strong love for the Lord like so many winter sweaters come spring.

I want to remind you that you are wonderfully and individually made by the Creator of the universe.  He knows every hair on your head and every desire of your heart.  He provides for you, protects you and preserves you through some of the huge messes you make for yourself.  And He loves you with everything that He is.   All he asks is that you love Him in return.  That means being obedient to the things He has laid out for you.  Just like with Dad, these things are for your own good and not just "because I said so."  Like Dad, he wants you to have a happy, successful, safe and productive life.  His ways are designed to guide you to this.  Beyond Dad, he desires to behold you face to face, to wrap His loving arms around you and to welcome you into an eternity filled with His light, his love and His presence.  He has done everything to make this a possibility, including sacrificing His own son.

I won't kid you.  The girls can be appealing to a guy your age.  Let's face it, they are appealing to guys of all ages.  God made us that way.  But he made us to be honorable and holy in all of our interactions. Stuff can be appealing too.  But remember the rich young ruler who met Jesus had all kinds of stuff and that stuff kept him out of heaven.  Time?  Well you never know how much you have.  Take a look at the obituaries.  No one there thought that their time would be up at the moment that it was.  Every moment you have should be lived with the goal of pleasing the One who has made you His son and an heir.

Let me close by saying this:  You are going to make mistakes and bad decisions and believe it or not, that is ok.  Everyone but Jesus has.  My encouragement to you is to stay on the path that God has laid out for you.  It is a path that leads home.  It leads to the one true God who formed you in the womb.  There may be stumbles and distractions along the way, but when you trip, get up, dust yourself off and keep moving forward.  When you get distracted, look to the hills from whence cometh your help.  And lastly remember this which will become your favorite scripture in all of the bible: "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."  Never leave God, His will or His way.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Who knows, you might even make a fine preacher one day.



Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Commitment 1/8/2013

“'Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.'  The people said to Joshua, 'We will serve the Lord our God and we will obey His voice.'” Joshua 24:23-24

At the O'Fallon Church of Christ, we have decided on the theme "Commitment" as our goal and guide in 2013.  The inspiration and launching pad for our journey (in part) is the following:

Joshua, in the midst of his farewell speech to the people of Israel, took time to remind first the elders, then the people themselves of their history and all that God had done for them.  He reminded them that God had done miraculous things for them and among them despite their proclivity towards serving other Gods.  He famously offered, "If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Josh 24:15).  In response to this, the people committed themselves to the Lord.

Beloved commitment is an interesting thing.  Most simply put, it involves heartfelt belief, a decision to act or behave based on that belief and the action itself.  As it relates to our spiritual lives, we have a professed belief in God.  Most who know us know this about us.  It easy to believe but what is belief without the proper decision?  James famously said in 2:19, "You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that-and shudder."  Any decision to follow God based on our belief, must be backed up by action, otherwise it is just talk.  Herein lies commitment.

Joshua issued a challenge to the people of his time to make good their claims by putting away the idols that were even then in their midst and living their lives according to His commands.  The people did indeed keep their commitment and "served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who out lived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel" Josh 24:31.  Let us do as they did.  Let us commit ourselves to our heavenly Father and let it be seen in our words, thoughts and deeds.



Monday, January 7, 2013

About Worrying 1/7/2013 (rp)

"So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matt 6:34

There was a woman once whose son came home with the type of news no proud parent wants to hear. He had received a one day suspension from school for horseplay. It seems that he caused a young lady to fall and hit her head. Unfortunately this required stitches.

As you can imagine, the mother went into full frantic mode. "Is the girl alright?" "Is my son in trouble?" "Will the parents sue?" "Will my son be brought up on charges?" Things were made worse by the fact that there was an attempt to phone the mother of the young lady, but the call was neither answered or returned.

To be sure, it is good and right to be concerned about the welfare of another, particularly in an at fault situation. Concern, however, is the immediate neighbor of worry. Worry, in this context, is composed of anxiety. Anxiety my beloved, is like foam; it is derived from something real and tangible but is both useless, temporary and full of air. You see, unlike fear, which can prepare the mind and body for fight or flight, worry simply weighs one down with no benefit. It consumes energy and interrupts the thought process. It derails logic and threatens faith. It accomplishes absolutely nothing. No amount of worrying influences any outcome.

As it turned out, the mother of the young lady eventually called. She said that she was over being upset. She also said she did some checking to see what kind of young man the woman's son is and found the reports to be good. As a result, she felt sure that it was an accident and that everything was OK.

Just like that, the woman's worry, like foam, evaporated, having served no purpose and accomplishing no good. It had only caused discomfort and exasperation...and then was gone. Jesus asks, "And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life's span? "If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?" Luke 12:25-26. Perhaps a better use of our time in situations like these is prayer.



Thursday, January 3, 2013

Have A Great Day 1/3/2013

"This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it." Psa 118:24

Opportunity is a wonderful thing.  It is filled with hopes, dreams and possibilities.  Whether we realize it or not, we are all always on the look out for opportunity.  It gives the ability to accomplish, receive, build, grow, advance and complete.  We position ourselves for it, take advantage of it and try to recognize it should it come knocking.  Do we, however, recognize its source?

Beloved, each day the Lord wakes us we are given the opportunity to do mighty things.  Every day is a blank slate filled with potential.  For this reason we ought to be exceedingly glad.  God has given us one more chance to enjoy His creation, utilize the gifts He has given, pursue the path He has laid out for us and to please Him.  We have an opportunity to "work out our soul salvation."  And we have the opportunity to display to others the kindness He constantly shows us.

Let us resolve not to have a bad day but a great day!  It is not known how many more any of us have, but we have today.  Let us treasure it, exploit it and enjoy it to the glory of Him who made it!