Friday, February 15, 2019

Tough Questions

In my readings this past week several times I have been posed with difficult questions. Philosophical questions that make you pause and ponder. Questions that often do not have easy answers. Questions that make me look at life and ministry from God's perspective.

Some I do not have answers. Others I do not like the answers I give based on life and ministry at this stage in my life. This is a season of stripping. God is filleting my heart in little strips as he strips away the things that do not please Him. He is also challenging my thinking on many things. It is a time of deep reflection and sometimes I don't like the truth of what I discover.

It's easy to coast through life drifting off course ever so slightly at first and then more so over time. It is easy to lose sight of what is really important. What are those things? Very simple.

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)
36  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
37  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
38  This is the great and first commandment.
39  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

What is the great commandment? Answer; love God and love people.

What should our priority be?

Matthew 6:33 (ESV)
33  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Seek first His Kingdom. The expansion of the rule and reign of God on this planet. What does that look like? How is that lived out in life and ministry? Tough questions may not have easy answers.

It's really not that contemplated. I am supposed to love God first and most. I am also supposed to love other people. Then I am to be about seeking to expand His Kingdom. This may or may not include leading religious gatherings. Assuredly sometimes it means rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty as you serve others and meet their needs. Sometimes it means following Jesus into some dark irreligious places to shine the light of the gospel.

I will not bore you with a list of questions I've been pondering. You might not like them and probably will not like the answers you come up with. I will leave you with just one more. What difference is your life and mine making in the Kingdom of God? I am not asking about your attendance at religious gatherings. I am not asking about your job, the money you make or the perks you enjoy.

What difference are we making? That is a question that we all must face and a question we will be held accountable for in eternity. Sadly we might find that in light of judgment we wasted much of our lives on things that held no eternal value. A abhor the thought of that and shudder to think how easily we can waste our lives, all the while convincing ourselves we have done good.

We only live this life once. We do not get a second chance. So let us devote ourselves to loving God most, loving others and seeking His kingdom first. Those things really matter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Neglected Ministry

Ministries abound in churches all over the world and among the people of God. There are preaching and teaching ministries. There are evangelism ministries. There are discipleship ministries. There are missions ministries. There are ministries to feed the homeless and to help the battered and abused. There are ministries for substance addiction. There are ministries to families, to men, to women, to students and to children. There are ministries to college students, singles, those regrouping from divorce and coping with grief. There are Senior Adult ministries. There are ministries of music. There are church planting and church revitalization ministries. I have been involved in or known many of these through reading.

There is a neglected ministry. It still exists but it is harder and harder to spot. This ministry will never be promoted on center stage. Most of the people involved in this almost forgotten service prefer to be left behind the scenes anyway. They do not want to draw attention to themselves. They prefer the attention to be given to others. Yet these faithful servants and their ministry is vital to the church. That is why it is so sad that it is increasingly becoming a neglected ministry.

What ministry am I talking about? THE MINISTRY OF ENCOURAGEMENT. When is the last time you received such ministry from someone? I hope it has been pretty recent. I am betting on the truth for many it has been awhile.

Now, let me flip the question. When is the last time you encouraged someone? I hope it has not been too long. We are surrounded by people who need to be encouraged. If we ask God to open our hearts and our spirit to be in tune with Him I believe He will show us people who need the ministry of encouragement. Let's do it today.

It is easy in the busyness of life not to take the time or make the effort to encourage people. Right now someone around your life is having a hard time. Just a little word from you could make a world of difference. The ministry of encouragement should no longer be a neglected ministry. May God resurrect it to flourish among His people once again.

Praise At Midnight

They sat bloodied and bruised at first sight,
Even in pain the praise lifted about midnight,
Incarcerated for a strong stand for King Jesus,
Who knows, is acquainted and always sees us,
In the inner prison feet fastened in cold chains,
Could not stop the prayer and praise refrains,
Their chorus echoed through the prison cells,
A foreign sound for wretched ears in their hell,
Suddenly a shaking, rumble and quaking ensued,
The prison opened and the chains were subdued,
A distraught jailer thought all prisoners escaped,
All remained when he surveyed the landscape,
A short Jesus sermon Paul fearlessly proclaimed,
The jailer's life saved and powerfully sustained,
His house soon met Jesus too - His new Savior ,
A new creation followed with brand new behavior,
All were baptized by the soft glow of the moonlight,
All because Paul and Silas praised about midnight.

The Man In The Mirror

I did not like what I saw in the light,
The man in the mirror I still fight,
The man inside prone to wander,
The man I cannot put asunder,
The man of flesh and carnal nature,
The man of small spiritual stature,
I do not like the man I see reflected,
Convicted when Holy Ghost inspected,
It is that man that I am still fighting,
That sinful man can be frightening,
To Christ I look in full expectation,
Who loves without condemnation,
Who deals mercy and lavish grace,
Who invites me to seek His face,
He my flesh can totally crucify,
He also able to fully sanctify,
Able to transform the likes of me,
Change the man in the mirror I see.

What Would It Take To Make You Happy

What would it take to make you happy? I was asked that question recently. I pondered for a moment and began making a mental list of things. I mulled it over for awhile and then realized all my answers fell short. None of those things really had the ability to make me happy.

Then I remembered this verse.

Psalm 16:11 (NKJV)
11  You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

In God's presence is fullness of joy. To put it another way, in God's presence is exceeding and abounding gladness. It does not say in riches. It does not say in adverse free circumstances. It does not say fullness of joy comes from any source but from God and being near Him. 

How easily we get fooled into thinking this long sought after happiness or joy will come from some other source. We try. We try in vain to find our lasting happiness in things like entertainment, accumulating more stuff, relationships, job promotions, education, having a family. None can produce true and lasting happiness. 

Remaining with God is key. Yet, how many reading this would say your relationship with God has not produced fullness of joy. How many would testify that you have sought Him and are no more happy today than you were before you came to know Him. Worse, how many fake happiness as followers of Jesus but have no real joy. 

Happiness should not be our pursuit. Happiness depends so much on circumstances. Joy comes from something deeper. True joy can overcome adversity. Jesus joyfully went to the cross. [Heb 12:2] 

I am going to turn that question around asked me. Not what would it take to me happy? Rather what it would take to make me joyful? Surrendering to the Holy Spirit. [Gal 5:22] Taking the time to enjoy God and not use Him as a genie in a magic lamp to grant me my wishes. To walk with Him until His joy bubbles up inside me. 

One last thing. In God's right hand are pleasures.  That word means desires and delights. Here is the truth. God Himself is the ultimate desire and delight. Many never discover this and spend their lives vainly chasing things they think will produce forever pleasures. Like Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that is like chasing after the wind. 

This world tantalizes. It draws us in. It dazzles with shiny things that promise lasting joy, fulfillment and pleasure. Those things never satisfy. God does. I've been deceived and subtly drawn in. Enticed with things that never live up to the promise. Seduced by the greed to always have more. I am no happier for the effort and experiences. 

Today my eyes are opened. Fullness of joy is found in God. Pleasure is found in God. So if I want to be happier, or more joyful, I need more of Him. To know Him. Not know about Him. To really know Him. Even in the fellowship of His sufferings and the power of His resurrection. [Phil 3:10] Not more of anything this world has to offer. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Resolve With Joy

I just finished my workout for the day. Even working out in my make shift gym in the garage I worked up a sweat on this cold drizzly day. I did bench press, butterflys, military press, hammer curls, biceps curls both standing and seated, shoulder shrugs, push ups, and yoga stretches plus a 300 repetition abdominal work out.

I got tired. The muscles ached. They burned with the fire of fatigue. Four sets of every exercise for anywhere from 45-30 seconds per set. At times I could actually feel the fibers in my muscles strain to get another rep up. When I knew I was entering my last round I determined to get one more rep than I did the last time. That is when I really felt the strain as those muscles tensed and strained to hoist the weight. I didn't feel like doing one more rep. I just wanted to be done. The competitor in me wanted to step up the challenge. I resolved to do so.

You see, the workouts are just as much mental as they are physical. You have to push beyond fatigue barriers. You have to go past pain. You have to resolve not to quit.

It is the same thing in life. When Monday mornings roll around after an all too short weekend you have to will yourself out of bed when the alarm goes off. You have to push through the mental fatigue of starting the work grind all over again. Punching the work clock can feel a lot like doing time. Many hate their work but endure it for the paycheck. They do not endure joyfully.

We also need the resolve not just to get through another work week but to do so joyfully. You may argue that I do not understand your adverse working conditions and your poor compensation. You know what I would reply. You don't understand the adversity of what Jesus endured on the cross. He did so joyfully.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NKJV)
1  Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
2  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3  For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

Going to the cross was not pleasant. Jesus resolved to embrace it and endure it. He also finished it. It is so easy in life to give up. People give up on all sorts of things. Jesus set the example for finishing.

Jesus also set the example of enduring suffering joyfully. Paul followed His example. Just read through the book of Philippians.

I know many are discouraged. Many feel like giving up. Some might even contemplate suicide because the pain and adversity are so deep. Resolve to think about Jesus. When you get weary of the same old routine think about His resolve to finish. When you get discouraged think about Jesus completely surrendering to the will of God joyfully. He is our example. May we all resolve to finish and to endure joyfully whatever is in front of us. Doing so will glorify Jesus. Let's ask Him for more resolve and joy.

The Plan

I am thankful that God has a plan. He always has. Not just for your life and mine. A plan for the whole world. A plan stretching back to before there was a planet Earth. A plan that has encompassed thousands of years and billions of people. A plan all the way up to the very end. He has accounted for everything. Faith, obedience, doubt, rebellion. All factors are equated into His plan.

In God's plan He has used righteous people as well as unrighteous people to carry out His purposes. Look at Moses and Pharaoh for example. He has also used ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things with His help.

Do you consider yourself to be ordinary? Do you think of yourself being pretty average? If you have committed your life to Jesus you are a prime candidate to be a vessel He works through to do extraordinary things.

When Jesus began His ministry and recruited those who would eventually found and lead the New Testament church He chose ordinary fishermen. He did not choose scholars. He did not choose rich and powerful men. He did not opt for the well connected social influencers of the day. He chose common laborers. Look what God did though them. Many of those men wrote books in the New Testament. Many became influential leaders in the church. Many died violent deaths for the sake of Jesus. All left a legacy of faith. They followed the plan.

I do not pretend to know the fullness of God's plan. You will note that I did not say I do not know the plan for your life. Your life isn't the most important factor nor mine. God is the most important factor. His plan is most important. How do we discover His plan.

We use four tings. Prayer for His will and plan to be revealed. We read and study Scripture trusting God to reveal His plan. We wait patiently until He does reveal His plan and we anticipate His peace to reassure us of the direction we are supposed to follow.

None of those four things comes naturally. It is more natural for us to use logic and reason to determine the best course of action or direction for life. Many do this and have made grave errors. God's ways are not our ways. [Is 55:8-9] We are supposed to pray and ask for God to reveal His plan. Then we go to His word. Sometimes God speaks very clearly from His word. Other times we read page after page without any clear direction. We read truth but on occasion His truth does not appear to apply to our desire to know His plan. Then we wait. We keep patiently reading the word of God day after day and week after week until we get some light. When that light of revelation comes we need to wait for His peace to guard our hearts and minds. [Phil 4:6-7] Once all of these things are in alignment we assuredly move into God's plan even if we are ordinary.

Some may think, "God can't use me because I am so ordinary." Do not try and shrink God down to your thinking. God can do anything He pleases through anyone He pleases. That includes us if we are yielded to Him. Read these words. May they both comfort and challenge us in the days ahead.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NKJV)
26  For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.
27  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;
28  and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,
29  that no flesh should glory in His presence.
30  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God--and righteousness and sanctification and redemption--
31  that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the LORD."

The world tells us to do anything significant we need more. More talent. More education. More experience. More connections. You do not need more of anything else for God to use you in His plan. All you need to do is be yielded to Him and wait on His revelation of how He wants to use you. Be yielded and obedient by faith. The pages of the Bible and history books are filled with the names of ordinary people God used to fulfill His extraordinary plans. He can just as easily use you to carry out His plan. Do you believe this? If so pray, study, wait and in peace discover that plan and get in on it.