Thursday, February 23, 2017

Can You Hear Him Now? 2/23/2017

"So the Lord called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, 'Here I am, for you called me.' Then Eli discerned that the Lord was calling the boy. And Eli said to Samuel,"'Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Then the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, 'Speak, for Your servant is listening.'" 1 Sam 3:8-10

God in His divine wisdom saw fit to call a young boy into his service. Samuel was a product of a devout father and a mother who struggled to bear children. For years his mother cried and prayed that God would bless her and that if He did, she would give the child to Him. God answered her prayer and she kept her promise. She left the boy with God's man, Eli, at a tender age and he began to be instructed in the way of the Lord. Then at a God determined point in his life, he was called into service by the very voice of the Almighty.

Beloved, there are many things that call to us today. We are inundated with messages from a variety of media that contend for our attention. Some of these messages are positive, some neutral and some negative. We must ask ourselves, however, if we are tuned in to God. It is His call that is quiet but firm, powerful and consistent. He placed within each of us the ability to recognize His voice. Paul writes, "...that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" Rom 1:19-20. Contextually, this is a chastisement for those who have ignored the call of God and have acted unrighteously. But it clearly reveals that He has placed within us the ability to hear and know Him.

Further, His voice can be heard in our morality; our sense of right and wrong. Whether one is a believer or not, we all have a sense of what  we should do over against what we should not. This is  the God channel. It is not here stated that we hear God's audible call today. In fact Heb 1:1-2 tells us a bit of the history of His communication with us. The point is He still speaks. Be it through observed nature that make His existence evident or the conscience He has placed within us to respond to Him, He still speaks. When He calls, we need to turn everything else off and respond, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

Pursuing discipleship,


Friday, February 10, 2017

Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable 2/10/2017

"And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches." Acts 15:39-41

The truth is that we will not always agree. The bible is our guide in so many ways, but there are many areas that are not specific and are up for interpretation.

In this case, there were two very good friends and brothers in the faith who separated over whether or not to include a young disciple. They both felt so strongly about their polar opposite opinions that they did not continue their work together.

On the face of it, this may seem a tragedy, in reality, however, it is not. You see beloved, the work continued, the number of young "interns" were doubled and separately, the two duos were able to cover more territory and do more work than might otherwise have been possible. Neither of these men who were so strong in the faith and so critical to the growth of the church were dissuaded from the faith because of their difficulties. They continued on.

Some may separate from us due to differences of opinion, but as long as the cause of Christ is served and the spreading of the gospel continues, we must trust that all things are working together for good as part of God's grand design. Let us also not give up hope on maintaining our fellowship one with another. Later, Paul reunited with Mark and described him as being valuable to his work. One way or the other, we will see each other again as long as we remain in Him.

Pursuing discipleship,


Friday, January 27, 2017

He Hears 1/27/2017

"Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, 'Thus says the Lord, the God of your father David, "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you."
2 Kings 20:4

King Hezekiah had just received the worse news of his life.  He was told by the prophet Isaiah to set his house in order because the illness from which he was suffering was about to take his life.  As you might imagine, Hezekiah was beside himself and immediately went into prayer, begging that he be allowed to live.

Many of us struggle in our prayer life. We sometimes wonder if our prayers make it beyond the ceiling. We sometimes wonder if God is home or if He cares at all. It may be that we feel this way because we don't always get what we want. Make no mistake, it is understood that some of the things we want are entirely and sometimes urgently needed. We pray out of pain, fear, concern for another, worry, imminent danger and other things we consider critical. We are subject to becoming despondent and shaken in our faith if we feel God does not look at things the way that we do.

Beloved, it is our faith that should carry us through the times when it seems that God is missing in action. It is our trust in Him that should remind us that all things work together for good to them that are the called according to his purpose, even and especially when things seem that they are at their worst. We need to remember the agony suffered by God's only begotten in the garden of Gethsemane. Remember that God did not allow that cup to pass. Remember that if He had, there would be no salvation for you and I today. Remember that despite Christ's great suffering at our hands and on our behalf, he is even now at the right hand of the Father advocating for us. We can only hope that the times that God may say "no" would accomplish an end so noble and beneficial. Lastly, remember that God is never absent. He is everywhere at all times knowing all things with every ability. That said, he also has the ability to be silent.

In Hezekiah's case, God not only heard but responded.  God not only responded but He responded so immediately that Isaiah had not even managed to get out of the house before he was directed to go back and give the king the good news.  Let us also not forget the times when we have prayed and received an immediate response. Many of us cite those times as proof of His existence in our own minds. Whatever it is that you think, understand that His ways are as high above ours as the heavens are above the earth.  You may or may not receive an immediate or affirmative answer to your prayers.  Regardless, have faith that God knows exactly what He is doing and He hears  and responds in one way or another to all of our prayers.

Pursuing discipleship,


Friday, January 20, 2017

The Temporary Nature of Trials 1/20/2017

"But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided." Gen 8:1

There is a saying often heard from the wise and experienced lips of older women in southern congregations, "Trouble don't last always." While we are in the midst of times, trials and tribulations, it seems as though they are never ending. We sometimes feel as though we will never survive our circumstances. Things can be so onerous that we wonder if God is angry with us or has just forgotten us. With the recent natural, political and economic events, these feelings are likely very topical to many.

Beloved, we assign many things to God. To be sure, there are definitely times when He expresses Himself through the conditions that afflict us, as was done with the great flood, the captivities of Israel, the loss of battles and even the collapse of the family unit in David's case. Before we look to Him, however, we must first examine ourselves. This is not to say that all sin results in calamity or all calamity is sourced in sin. Nevertheless, we as God's children must look in the mirror constantly to see whether we can be found in His will or not.

In any case, suffering is temporary. The psalmist has said, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" Psa 30:5. Time after time God has relented from His anger and swept us up in His arms, expressing His love in ways that exceed our imagination. Think about your own life. How many difficulties can you look back on today because you are no longer suffering from them?  Further, how much better off are you today? Job's whole world was ripped apart, but we know that he was in a greater position after calamity than he ever was before. If by narrow chance, you have suffered your whole life but have remained faithful, you still have Lazarus' reward to which to look forward.

Have faith in the Lord. Endure the storms that will inevitably come for a reason or a season. Then enjoy the restoration and bounty that lies beneath every rainbow that he casts.

Pursuing discipleship,


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Disputable Matters 1/14/2017

"I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love."
 Romans 14:14-15

The church at Rome was one that had a very interesting history and make-up. Initially it consisted almost solely of Jewish Christians, however, this changed when the Jews were kicked out of Rome leaving Gentile believers as the members of the church. Eventually, the Jewish Christians were allowed to return. This presented a number of problems in that there were disputes among the two groups regarding a number of things, not the least of which was what type of food could legally be eaten. The Gentiles who had never really had any prohibition on types of food they could eat thought that it was ok to eat anything, included meat sacrificed to idols. The Jews had problems with certain types of food because of the prohibition against eating anything unclean or that had been sacrificed to idols. For this reason, those chose the vegetarian lifestyle at that time and place.

It is not unusual for me to get emails from people who find me on our congregation's website that want to engage in debates about what should and should not be done in worship or a worship facility. Most of these things have nothing to do with the essentials of the Christian faith. Some want to debate about whether we should support ministries that are also supported by other denominations such as the local food pantry. Some say that weddings and funerals should not be performed in the sanctuary and that it should be reserved solely for worship service. Still others feel that we should not have a kitchen facility anywhere in the building.

Beloved, these are what are called disputable matters. There is nowhere in scripture that addresses these issues specifically. Scriptures can certainly be pointed out that tell us that we should be kind to all men as we have the opportunity (food pantry), that Jesus performed his first miracle at wedding (though it does not say that it was in a church building) and that the first services were held in homes (which undoubtedly had a kitchen equivalent). This is all magnified when we would dispute with one another within the congregation over personal differences like tattoos, piercings, suits and whether women should wear pants, hats or makeup.

The point of the love of Christ is to bring people together, not to divide over non-essentials. Tragically, there are thousands of denominations today because everyone wants to have it their own way and wants to be separate from those who do not agree with them. Let us endeavor not to let our liberty cause us to judge others who may have a different opinion, method or means of expression their love and worship. Paul said, "But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God" Romans 14:10-11.

Pursuing discipleship,


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Pursuing Discipleship 1/5/2017

"Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  And He said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.'  Immediately they left their nets and followed Him."  Matthew 4:18-20

Happy New Year!  It is my hope, trust and prayer that you and yours will have a blessed and prosperous 2017.  Considering the year ahead, my thoughts have recently turned to what my spiritual focus will be.  After much thought and prayer, the concept of discipleship rose to the surface.

There is no doubt we have all heard the word "disciple" though many may not be exactly sure of its meaning.  Technically, it is a pupil, student or learner.  An examination of the Scriptures reveals a more involved definition than that, however.  For our Christian purposes, a disciple of Jesus is a person who has heard and responded to his gospel by learning and living his teachings and encouraging others to do likewise.  The verbs have been emphasized because being a disciple of Christ is not a passive activity but involves doing.

Imagine being a fishermen (or any other type of worker for that matter) minding your own business when a man walks by and invites you to follow him with the promise of teaching you to be a better you while equipping you to save the lives of others.  Would you answer the call?  If so, why?  If not, why not?  Of course this is not just any man.  The fishermen had previously met him and were convinced that he was the much awaited Messiah, the literal Son of God.  Given the opportunity to follow him and learn from him, they dropped what they were doing and immediately accepted his invitation.

Beloved, the same invitation is extended to us today.  If you are reading this, like as not, you have met Jesus.  You know him.  The question we must all ask ourselves is, have we truly accepted his invitation and are we truly following him?  If we think the answer is yes, are we following him in a way that helps us fulfill the purpose of "learning and living his teachings and encouraging others to do likewise?"  In those days, true disciples lived with their Rabbi or Master Teacher, learned what he taught, followed him wherever he went and did as he did and directed them to do.  Is that a description of your Christian walk?

Throughout this year we will consider discipleship in general, and what it means as well as how to accomplish it, specifically.  It is my hope that by year's end, we will all have both a better understanding and an improved walked as we follow our Savior as true disciples.

Pursuing discipleship,