Do you know you’re at war?

ImageThere is a battle raging around you right now…a battle for souls. There are two opposing forces fighting over your soul and the souls of all the people you love.  There is no neutral ground. We can’t decide not to be in the war because WE are what the war is over!

Then the dragon became angry at the woman, and he declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and confess that they belong to Jesus.
– Revelation 12:17

The devil has made it his purpose to destroy you.  Really Lon?  We’re going to talk about the devil?  Well, think of it this way.  There is a force that works daily against you wanting to follow God.  Some of my Christian friends will say “It’s the flesh.”  According to Galatians 5:16-17 that’s true.  We have a fallen nature that is at war with our spirits.  Our old sinful nature wants to do evil and our new nature from God want to do right.

Other less “churchy” friends might say, “Well, it’s really the influence of culture, society and peer pressure.”  It is true, the message of the Christianity has always been counter-culture and the moral relevantism of our culture today is completely against what scripture teaches.

So why choose to talk about the devil?  It seems so medieval.  The reason is because the devil doesn’t want people to think he’s real or at least active in the earth today.  The truth is satan is real, he’s active in the earth today, he hates you and has declared war on you.

His weapons are espionage, stealth warfare.  He engages in a propaganda warfare.  Satan tries to get us to believe he’s mythical, a fairy tale. Then we let our guards down and he begins to question all of scripture, because if satan isn’t real, then the Bible is just a book.

How do we win this war?  We win by

  1. Not believing the lies of the enemy – this is accomplished by learning the truth  (Eph 5:25-26) and not dwelling on thoughts we know aren’t true (2 Cor 10:5)
  2. Not seeing people as our enemies – Our battle is with the devil not the people he’s deceived (Eph 6:12).  We must forgive all sins against ourselves to keep the devil from having control of out lives.  (Matt 6:15)
  3. Take the fight to the devil – No war was ever one being defensive only.  At some point we must do damage to the enemies forces.  There is no greater damage then saving a soul from hell.  By bringing the truth to those deceived we rescue them from satan’s power but we also diminish the amount of people he controls.

 

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30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 25: Enduring Trials

As a person is told they have 30 Days to Live, they face a trial few living today can identify with.  It would be the ultimate testing of one’s faith, facing eternity.  How we endure a trial like this ultimately clears up any questions about whether our faith is real or not.

This Mother’s Day was a difficult one.  It was the first Mother’s Day without my mom (see Facing Forever) and we went to see my mother-in-law who is in the hospital losing her battle with cancer.  What happens to your faith when real trials come?  My mother-in-law, while always having been a religious person, has turned to reading the Bible daily and praying more.  Is she afraid? Sure, but her faith has increased through this trial and she is actually being brought closer to God through it.

My wife and I are asking God for a miracle for her mother, but if one doesn’t come, our faith will not be shaken.  Why? Because we trust in God’s word that when a love one faces 30 Days to Live, the Lord is there.

Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

Our faith is not real if it cracks in a trial.  Good time faith isn’t really faith at all.  Even death can’t separate real faith from the believer.  Death is just another trial to endure and conquer.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.  And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and He never tempts anyone else. – James 1:12-14

No one sells books on “patient endurance” and it wouldn’t be a most popular sermon download on YouTube but it’s a key to God’s plan.  When we close our eyes on this planet for a final time, the crown of eternal life is given to those who have endured through their trial and still have faith in Christ in the end.

The last words I ever spoke to my father as he laid dying in a hospital bed were “Keep the faith.” and those are my last words to you today.  Even if the trial you face is death itself, keep the faith.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to remember that no matter what the trial is, you haven’t left me.  Help to remember also that you didn’t send me this trail but you will bring good things out of it, even if the trial is death.  I will patiently endure all hardship because I know you will carry me through it.  I love you.  Amen.

Thoughts

  • Have I lost faith during past trials?
  • If I were to face the death of a loved one would I blame God?

Action

  • Pray this week for those whom you know are in trails that they may not lose faith.

___________________________________________________

Written May 2010: prayers for Fran and our family gratefully accepted.

30 Days to Live – Day 24: Reality

Today the reality of 30 Days to Live hit us in a very personal way.  My wife (Pastor Joanne) found out that her mom (Fran) has terminal cancer.  As Joanne sat in the hospital room with her mom and other family members, the doctor told Fran to “get her affairs in order.”  Her response was, “So this is a death sentence.”  It is one thing to be writing about facing your final days on this earth it’s another when death actually is right in front of you with someone you care about.

While we are praying and asking for God to do a miracle, first responsibility is to make sure your loved one is ready for life after death.  Fran has believed in God and has been attended church regularly so there was no need to convince her of her need for God’s forgiveness.  Instead Joanne focused on forgiving others.

The truth is we are all under a death sentence.  Maybe not as brutal and short as the one my mother-in-law just received, but this life is short and we are not promised tomorrow.  We must all “get our affairs in order” to make sure we are ready to meet our Savior.  One place people usually overlook is forgiving those who have hurt you.

As we prepare for the next life we want our sins to be forgiven and if we want to be forgiven for our sins we must forgive others. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray He gave us an example that has become called The Lord’s Prayer.  In it Jesus prays this:

Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. – Matthew 6:12

As Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray effectively He knew that our prayers are useless if we refuse to forgive others.

Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. – Luke 6:37

Why is this such a big deal to God?  Because HE is the Righteous Judge.  If we decide to judge others we are in effect saying we want to sit on God’s throne and do His job.  He has never tolerated that, just ask an angel named Lucifer.

Prayer

Pray this 3 Step Forgiveness Process:

  1. I take back any authority I gave the devil in my life through unforgiveness, especially towards ______ for what they did to me.
  2. I choose to forgive this person for what they did to me.
  3. I ask you God to help me to forgive this person, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thoughts

  • Who has hurt me?
  • Have I chosen to forgiven them?

Action

  • Forgive all the people who have hurt you, now.

___________________________________________________

Written May 2010: prayers for Fran and our family gratefully accepted.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 17: Dying Young

Hi everyone.  While I’m on the road, Randy Hartwig is filling in with these profound thoughts on dying young.

During Isaiah the prophet’s lifetime, God’s chosen people, Israel, were backsliding. In other words, they were not living for God and were far from Him. Their value system and the things they were concerned about were so messed up that they didn’t care or even ask, “Why?” when good people died before their time.  Here’s the direct quote from the prophet: (Isaiah 57:1)  Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why.

In our culture, when someone good dies “before their time” it can cause a lot of people to struggle and question God. As we consider death in this series we have to ask ourselves, what is my attitude concerning death in this type of  situation? The fact is good people DO die young. Even some godly people die seemingly before their time…..preachers, parents, young children, famous church leaders. What if you find out you will die young or if it happens to someone you love dearly? How will you respond to God

Read the rest of what Isaiah said in this verse! “No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.” That is really interesting. Does God take people BEFORE their time to protect them from evil? Well, if we believe the Word to be true, that’s exactly what it says. That can shed a whole new perspective on death. It doesn’t necessarily bring instant healing of the grief you feel when you lose someone young or godly, but it sure can give you something positive to focus on. My loved one will NOT suffer the evil that is to come.

In the next verse Isaiah gives this promise: (Isaiah 57:2)  For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.  The paths we should choose while we live should be those that cause us to act godly – like God. We need to ask ourselves, “If God was in the same situation I am in, what would He do?” Then we determine to do the right thing, the biblical thing, the thing HE would do. The result is godliness and that brings peace.

So as you face death everyday, choose those things that will keep you on the godly path that leads to peace. Death is not something to be feared. It is rest. It is an exit from a world full of evil to an eternity of joy in the physical presence of the Lord.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, I don’t always understand why somethings happen, especially why some people have to die when they’re young.  Help me to give my grief and questions to you.  I choose to trust you even when I don’t understand.

Thoughts for Today

  • Have I ever thought about how death can be a relief from suffering?
  • Do I have questions and grief over the death of a loved one I need to give to the Lord?

Action List

  • Begin to live like I have 30 Days to Live because we are not promised tomorrow.
  • Share Christ with those I care about before it’s too late, even if they are younger.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 14: A Godly Perspective

God’s View of Life is Different Than Ours

The Lord doesn’t view our lives the way we do.  His perspective is as different from ours as ours is from an ant we are watching.  As we look down on the ground from our chair we can see where the ant will walk if he keeps going forward, where a good food source may be and even potential predators. God understands our live as He looks on as the one who sees all time and space instantly.  He knows the best path to take through life.

Consider this conversation between Peter and Jesus.  First, let me give you the background.  Peter just told Jesus He is the Messiah, Jesus tells Peter that only God could have revealed that to you.  The rest of the boys are slapping Peter on the back.  He’s feeling pretty good about himself then something funny happens.

From then on Jesus began to tell His disciples plainly that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem, and that He would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day He would be raised from the dead.

But Peter took Him aside and began to reprimand Him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”  Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”  – Matthew 16:21-23

Jesus knew it was necessary for Him to die.  Peter didn’t.  Jesus had the eternal perspective that his death, however brutal and painful would lead to His resurrection and ultimately our salvation.  To Peter it was unthinkable!  He’s thinking, “We just found out for sure that you’re the Messiah.  There’s no way God would want you to suffer and certainly won’t let them kill you!”  We don’t see things from God’s perspective; therefore we don’t always understand the way life goes.

Through it all we must trust that God has a plan.  We must understand that He sees things differently from us.

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11

It reminds me of a story I read. There was a picture-perfect small town in Maine.  You know the kind you would see immortalized in a Norman Rockwell painting.  The government informed the townsfolk that it would be building a hydroelectric dam nearby.  The dam would cause the town to flood. The officials told the town’s people that they would be paid and relocated to new homes. The town was scheduled to be demolished in less than 3 years just before the dam was finished. During those 3 years the town stopped repairing the roads, no one painted their house, they even stopped cutting their lawns.  The quaint town became terribly rundown. When a reporter enquired as to why this had happened, it was explained this way, “When there’s no faith in the future, there’s no power in the present.”

We must live our lives with faith that God will give us a future and a hope for eternity in heaven. Without this eternal perspective on the future we become hopeless and we allow our ‘spiritual houses’ to fall apart.  You may not understand everything you go through in life but trust the one who does.  Keep up your spiritual disciplines to stay connected to Christ and HIS plan for you.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to remember that no matter how severe the trial I am in today, that it is temporary. Amen.

Thoughts for Today

  • Have I let my ‘spiritual house’ fall apart?
  • Do I trust God with my decisions or do I have to keep control of my life?

Action List

  • Do a ‘spiritual house cleaning’ by repenting of any sins.
  • Continue the cleaning by forgiving anyone who has hurt you.
  • Begin to repair the house by reading and praying daily as well as going to church weekly.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 9: What Good is Suffering?

God works in every circumstance for those that are His children. We see good or bad but God sees opportunity in either.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28

So, if God works good in everything for those who follow Him, then why do we suffer?  We are never closer to God then when we suffer.  Yes, we may get mad at Him during loss or unjust treatment but ultimately we end up with nowhere else to go.

Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.  – John 6:67-68

When things go bad we realize like at no other time that there is nowhere else to turn but Him.  When it’s really bad, people can’t help.  It has to be God.

If God works good for me in all things what’s the good in this horrible situation?  Well if nothing else we turn to God in a deeper way, and that is important indeed.  See God is more concerned with our character than He is our comfort.  He is more concerned about eternal treasure in heaven than temporary trials here on earth, more concerned about our relationship with Him than our success in this life. He’s not uncaring; He just has a different perspective on our lives than we do.

The words of King David give us hope if we’re in a trial of our own making.  David committed adultery and then murder to cover the affair, yet after that He was called a man after God’s own heart AFTER these sins.  Why because he repented and turned to God. (Read the story yourself in 2 Samuel 12.)

The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. – Psalm 6:9

God heard David’s prayer and accepted them.  If you’re hurting because of your own sin, it’s ok.  God has already forgiven you and is waiting to use even that situation for the good I your life.  Talk to Him about it right now.

Prayer:

Lord help me to not wait until there’s a problem to turn to you but to seek you each day.  When I do fall into trails, help me to remember you are there, and to seek you immediately.  I will not to blame you for my problems or suffering because I know you love me.  I trust you Lord.  I know there’s nothing I can face today that you and I can’t handle together.

Thoughts for Today:

  • Am I serious about my prayer life or do I just call out God when I need Him?
  • Have I been afraid to turn to God for help because I thought He wouldn’t answer?

Action List:

  • Spend time with God today telling Him how you’re hurting and asking Him to help.

God Exists

A man went to a barber shop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed.  As the barber began to work, they talked about so many things and various subjects.   When they eventually touched on the subject of God.

The barber said: “I don’t believe that God exists.”
“Why do you say that?” asked the customer.
“Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist.   Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people?  Would there be abandoned children?  If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can’t imagine loving a God who would allow all of these things.”
“The customer thought for a moment, but didn’t respond.

The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop.  Just after he left the barber shop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard.   He looked dirty and un-kept.  The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and he said to the barber:

“You know what? Barbers do not exist. ”
“How can you say that?” asked the surprised barber.”I am here, and I am a barber.   And I just worked on you!”
“No!” the customer exclaimed. “Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.”
“Ah, but barbers DO exist!   What happens is, people do not come to me.”
“Exactly!” affirmed the customer. “That’s the point!  God, too, DOES exist!  What happens, is, people don’t go to Him and do not look for Him.   That’s why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.”

I know this is just a cheesy joke but the principle is true.  People dismiss God’s existance simply because they see evil and suffering in the world.  The existence of evil doesn’t negate the existence of a loving God who wants to help.

Facing Forever

We brought my mother home from the hospital, home to face forever.  The doctors say that she will leave this earth soon, leave it forever.  Nothing more they can do they say.  I know my God is a healer but somehow I know that’s not part of His plan here.  As we mournfully, painfully, watch her breathing slow we begrudgingly acknowledge that she will soon be facing forever.  Was she ready?

I prayed a week ago, “Lord either heal her or wake her to give me a chance to talk with her about forever.”  I know my mom had asked Jesus to be her Lord and Savior, to forgive her sins.  she had attended church for almost two years with me while she was well enough and we would pray, talk scripture and take communion together at home when she could no longer go to church.  I had only one concern really, unforgiveness.  Had she forgiven all sins against her?

The Lord gave me my petition and she awoke, clear minded and able to talk for over a day.  She spoke that she had forgiven all who had hurt her.  Then I had the honor of leading her to pray asking God to forgive her sins again.

Mom told me she love me and that she was ready to face forever, knowing she would spend it with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Now I’m ready too.

What If…? Guarding Our Minds

We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. –  2 Corinthians 10:4-5

There’s a battlefield raging.  A place where planes called unknown drop bombs of fear and paratroopers of worry bombard day and night looking for a place to land and dig in.  That place is our mind.

To set up a defense against this aerial assault we must capture these rebellious thoughts and make them obey Christ.  What if I lose my job? What if I get cancer?  What if I can’t get into a good college? What if I never get married? What if… What if?

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? – Matthew 6:27

Worry is a meaningless waste of time at best!  At it’s worst; left unchecked it can kill you.  Worry actually creates biochemical reactions in our bodies. Doctors tell us worry can lead to a variety of illness ranging from indigestion to heart attack!

How can we control worry, capture those random fearful thoughts?

1. Look at what we are thinking about.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  – Philippians 4:8

Think about good things.  It’s simple but profound.  When you find yourself thinking “What if…” change the channel!  We have the ability to tell ourselves, “That’s not a thought from God.” And think about something else.

2. Look at who are you listening to?

Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. – Mark 4:24

Why would you take advice from someone whose life is a mess?  First listen to the word of God and what it has to say about you.  Then let the Spirit of God speak to you in prayer but then get around godly men and women who will speak truth!

Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for bad company corrupts good character. – 1 Corinthians 15:33

3. Look at where your focus is.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2

The Israelites were told to go into the Promised Land in Numbers 13.  They found what God had told them.  Grapes the size of basketballs!  A land flowing with milk and honey.  BUT they didn’t focus on the blessings, only the obstacles.  Yeah the fruit is awesome BUT there are giants.  Yeah it’s just like God said a good land BUT the cities are fortified and impossible to conquer!  BUT BUT BUT.  Don’t be a Butthead!  Don’t’ focus on the obstacles, focus on what God has promised you.

Capture the “What Ifs” before they paralyze in a quagmire of indecision, afraid to move.

Fearless: Why Are You Afraid?

In Matthew chapter 8 there is an unusual story.  A story where Jesus seems harsh when He should have been understanding.  The disciples are out on a boat when SUDDENLY a storm arose, not just any storm a fierce storm.  The kind of storm that makes seasoned fisherman weak in the knees.  The kind of storm that would make a non-sailor like Matthew cry out for help.  Here’s the peculiar part though…Jesus was sleeping in the boat during this storm.

He seemed to be completely indifferent to their situation.  They are working the rigging frantically.  Maybe someone was bailing water as the waves spilled into the boat.  Jesus slept.

There are times when suddenly we fighting for our lives:  Cancer, bankruptcy, divorce, heart attack, unemployment, betrayal, addiction returning, child leaving the faith, jail, depression…and we call out “Help I’m being overwhelmed!  I’m going under!”  and there is no answer from heaven.  This storm was like that.  The sea raged. The boat rocked out of control. The men yelled in frantic fear. Jesus slept.

Mark’s version of the story includes and interesting twist…

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” – Mark 4:38

Mark records what all of us think but most don’t dare speak. “Lord don’t you care that I’m suffering?”  There’s an accusation sometimes in our prayers because we wonder if He truly cares.

The rest of Matthew chapter 8 was filled with the miracles and compassion of Jesus.  A leper healed, a demon-possessed man set free, even Peter’s mother-in-law healed.  (A blessing Peter never asked for haha.)  Jesus taught them about faith with the Roman Centurian asked Jesus to “speak the word and my servant will be healed.”

In this context Jesus’ response makes perfect sense.  He asks them, “Why are you afraid? and “Why do you have too little faith?”  He must have thought: You’ve watch my miracles moments ago.  You’ve learned of my authority over the circumstances of life. AND you know I’m right here with you.  Why do you still doubt my love?

Max Lucado says that “Fear creates a form of spiritual amnesia.” (Fearless pg. 10)  We forget how much God loves us and how He will never leave us or forsake us.  Faith comes through hearing God’s word and remembering His love.

We start a series this week entitled: Fearless: Living a Life Free from Fear, Worry & Anxiety. Come learn how to overcome fear with faith so you can stand through life’s sudden storms.

Encouragement

We all need encouragement sometimes but what should we do when it seems there is no one to encourage us?  The answer comes from King David.

David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD His God. – 1 Samuel 30:6 (kjv)

David encouraged HIMSELF in God.  There comes a point where you have to encourage yourself.  The people you thought were with you turn on you. You have no one to help you.

In David’s life he survived his leader turning on him (Saul), his family attcking him (Absalom), his own sin (that whole Bathsheba thing) and his friends that have pledged loyalty to him talking about stoning him.  How did he do it?  He learned early this simple truth, sometimes there’s only God and you so you have to get your encouragement directly from Him yourself.

David rehearse the past protection of the Lord to encourage himself.

The LORD who saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine! – 1 Samuel 17:37

Stand on the promise that God won’t allow you to be tempted more than you can take.  He will rescue you before you are overwhelmed.

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.
God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.
– 1 Corinthians 10:13

In closing, there are times when we must encourage ourselves.  The best ways to do this is to remember the good things God has done and to rehearse His promises to us such as the one just mentioned in 1 Cor 10:13.  So no matter what you’re going through, choose to encourage yourself today.

Life, a Marathon not a Sprint

I can’t count the number of times in the last four years I’ve wanted to resign from ministry because of discouragement, conflict, feeling under appreciated or the disappointment that can only come from watching  people leaving the Lord’s will for their life.  When you feel this way remember the only way you lose is if you quit.

Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. – Philippians 2:16

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  Any marathon runner will tell you that there are multiple times you want to quit either in training or the race itself. Here’s some things to remember…

1. Remember God’s words (either in scripture or personally) God has promised for your life. Hold fast to the word of life, they bring hope when you see none in your circumstances.

2. Remember that nothing we do (if done for the Lord and not our own desires) is done in vain.

3. Remember not to compare. It’s never wise to compare yourself to someone else because you don’t know what they walked through to get to that place or how their race will finish (2 Corithians 10:12).

Woody Allen said half of life was just showing up. I don’t know about that but I know half of life is not quitting.  So brush off those skinned knees, sake a sip of living water and start jogging again.  You’ll finish the race and hear “well done” if you just don’t quit.

I’m Back

Well after a long absence due to holidays and a 3 week battle with pneumonia I’m finally back to blogging.  I apologize for the long absence.  Here’s a little catch up.

As we look at a new year we begin to take stock of our last year and our future. 2008 was a hard year, we battled sickness and buried a close friend whose loss still stings daily, but  I’m very thankful for the things God did in 2008 also.  We saw 38 people bow their knee to Jesus as their Savior for the first time and over 100 rededicate their lives to serving Christ afresh.  There were 65 new people added to our church and several people healed.  In the midst of trial and tragedy God built His Kingdom.  What more could we ask for?

As we begin 2009 I know God will do even greater and more exciting things in our midst.  Bring it on Lord.  Bring it on!

Financial Peace in the Midst of Storms

We live in stormy times. There’s a 700 billion dollar bail out because of all the mortgage failures, Lehman Brothers Investments goes under; gas prices up $4 a gallon then drop back to $2 just as quickly. Stormy times. God wants to bring peace to the storms in our lives.  God wants us to have peace in the midst of the storms.

In Mark 4:35-41 the disciples launch out at Jesus’ request.  While on the journey He told them to go on they encounter a fierce storm.  The boat looks like it’s in danger of breaking up or at least filling up with waves.  What’s Jesus doing?

 v38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

Sleeping?!  The disciples cried out, “Don’t you care?”  Sometimes when we go through trials it seems like Jesus is asleep.  We call out but seemingly get no response.  When Jesus finally woke and calmed the storm He has a stern rebuke for His followers. 

v40 Then He asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 

We must respond in faith knowing that God is still in the boat with us and not be swayed by the economic news we hear.  Fear is not from God (2 Tim 1:7) and God’s Kingdom is not subject to the world’s economy.  God is recession proof!

So in these troubled times do what the Bible says, put the kingdom first (Matt 6:33), especially don’t compromise on tithing, and be a good steward of the remaining 90%.

For example: This Black Friday was predicted to be low because of the poor economy yet spending was up 18.7% over last year! [AP News] Where’d that $ come from? Well, maybe the economy isn’t as bad as they say but most likely it was people buying on credit.

Stay out of debt this Christmas (Proverbs 22:7).  When the bills come due in January you’ll be glad you did.  Financial Peace lasts alot longer than any present.

A Cynical Look at Thanksgiving

We think of the Pilgrims as religious zealots bound on a divine missions trip.  Well, it might have been the divine providence of our heavenly Father that brought them here but it was the hand of King James who drive them out of England.  When King James took the throne of England he wanted to bring all the believers into agreement with the Church of England’s teachings.  He opposed any reformers who wanted to bring people more in line with what they felt the Bible taught.  He decided that everyone must worship the way he dictated or suffer the consequences.  One Christian sect called the Seperatists didn’t believe that a king should be the head of a church but God alone should be their head.  King James said, “I shall make them conform or I will harry them out of the land, or else do worse.”  It was fear of their earthly king that caused these Pilgrims to seek religious freedom in a new land.  Thank God for persecution.

Many times the Lord allows persecution to spread His gospel to new lands.  The first century church was driven from Jerusalem by the persecution from the Jews who were killing them, otherwise the gospel may have never spread into gentile lands.

King James was a devoted but misguided believer.  His efforts gave us one of the greatest English translations of the Holy Bible yet he persecuted anyone who practiced Christianity differently than he did.  The arrogant attitude of King James and religious spirit that guided him can be seen occasionally in those that teach unless you’re reading a King James Bible you’re reading a false Bible.  How ridiculous.  The KJV is wonderful, a breakthrough for the English speaking reader but it’s not divinely inspired.  The Bible in its original languages (Hebrew, Greek & Aramaic) IS.  In fact there are thousands of errors in the translations that were corrected in later English Bibles such as New King James, Revised Standard and New Living to name just a few.  So please don’t persecute other Christians for worshipping a little differently than you or having a different version of the scriptures…treat each other as children of the King of Kings.

This Thanksgiving remember to thank God for the freedom to worship the way you want in America.  Thank God for the founding of this nation on religious freedom.  Don’t ever let any president, congress or court limit our religious freedom.  And last, remember to thank God for persecution because many times He’s just extending His Kingdom farther.  When you’re persecuted because you won’t work or let your kids play sports on Sundays, because you have a Bible on your desk or because you dared to share your faith in a loving, respectful way with a coworker or another student…THANK God because He’s about to do something world changing through you!!

Take this quiz on Thanksgiving: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/quiz/?id=UHVLR although I disagree with one answer they give…Thanksgiving was a religious holiday.  Who says you can’t shoot guns on a religious day.  Come over my house at Christmas!

The Road Less Traveled

John 12:26 – All those who want to be my disciples must come and follow me.

We read this verse so casually.  “Come and follow Jesus.”  “I’m a follower of Jesus.”  We seldom think about what that really means.  Following Jesus is a call to leave everything we know and run hard after Him no matter what it costs us.  The disciples left their jobs, their homes their families, friends, EVERYTHING to wander around homeless for 3 years listening to a teacher who taught in parables.  Why?  Because they knew that He had the keys to eternal life.

if you think about what Peter once said, if this life is all there is…then we’re the most miserable men ever because we’ve traded some of the pleasures of this world for a fable.  Ahhhh but if Jesus was who He said He was.  IF He is the messiah.  Then who can count this temporary suffering worthy to even be talked about in the same breath with the eternal reward!?

Matthew 7:13-14 – You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

Oh, life might seem easier sometimes taking the broad and easy highway but it’s a highway to hell.  The hard, rocky, narrow, little sheep’s trail leads up the mountain to heaven’s throne.

You don’t have to be the sharpest crayon in the box.  You just have to leave everything behind, pick up you cross and follow the shepherd.

That Day

In the last week I’ve had two funerals.  When you have seasons like that where you walk through the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” it reminds you of the brevity of like.  James said, “You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”  (James 4:14)  Seasons like this remind me of why I left a promising career with a Fortune 100 company to become a pastor.  Only that which is done for the Lord will last.  All that matters is “That Day” when we will see our Savior face-to-face.

Martin Luther marked two critical days on his calendar—“Today” and “That Day.” That Day marked the day he would arrive in heaven. Luther understood that some day will be “that day” and therefore we must live today like it is our last day.

The funeral today was a 34 year old man who was engaged to be married but an unexpected infection struck him down.  I’ve done funerals for babies, children and people of all ages.  The one thing you understand as someone who has pastured for a while is that we will all close our eyes on this earth one last time sooner that we think.  Life is very short.

This is why we can’t let the busyness of life, fear, anxiety, or complacency keep us from preparing ourselves and others for eternity.

Live this day, like that day is today.

Availability

Do you know that God is more concerned with your availability than He is with your ability?  After all, He can give anyone any ability He chooses.  Don’t think you have nothing to offer, you have HIM.  How available are you?

If you can help your neighbor now, don’t say, “Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you.” (Proverbs 3:28)  We as Christians have to illustrate the love of God by allowing ourselves to be inconvenienced.  Are we really that busy or is it a matter of priorities?

Sometimes as parents we are constantly telling our children not to interrupt.  See kids think the whole world revolves around them.  But if a child is hurt then everything stops.  if a child has a genuine need “I spilled!” then attention is needed. 

Jesus allowed Himself to be interrupted by genuine human need.  I’m not talking about needy people who just want to pop in whenever they feel like it just because they want attention.  I mean like the blind man named Bartimaeus who cried out to Jesus while He was on His way to an important meeting.  Jesus’ friends tried to quiet Bart but he sensed that God had made His mercy and compassion available in Jesus.

God now makes His mercy and compassion available through us, His church.  You will be the only picture of God people will see this week.  Will they see God as too busy? Uncaring? Unavailable?  Or will show them the caring and compassionate nature of Christ my reaching out to someone this week.  That person isn’t an interruption, they’re a gift from God and you’re the answer to their prayer.

 

Keys to the Kingdom

I spoke at the Indian Christian Fellowship (ICF) at University of Albany tonight.  I thought I’d share my thoughts from the message there.

The Keys to accessing the Kingdom of Heaven are simple.

1. Put the Kingdom of Heaven First.
Matthew 6:31 – “So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and He will give you all you need from day to day IF you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.

God knows all our needs.  He understands our desire for love, a good family, a good job, financial security etc.  He makes us a promise that He would take care of all those things if we would just put His Kingdom first.  As we take care of His business, He takes care of ours!!

2. Stay Humble
Mark 10:14-15 – He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you, anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get into the Kingdom of God.

We have to have child-like faith to come to God in two ways.  First expecting God to do what He said He would do.

Romans 8:14-16 – For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family—calling him “Father, dear Father.” For His Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children.

Second acknowledging our dependence upon Him.

Proverbs 3:5-7 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

3. Repentance
Matthew 4:17 – From then on, Jesus began to preach, “Turn from your sins and turn to God, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

We don’t like this one, especially as followers of Jesus.  “Well I repented when I got saved.”  No, Jesus is saying you want to unlock the door to the Kingdom of Heaven right now?  Learn to repent.

1 John 1:8-10 – If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that His word has no place in our hearts.

Be quick to repent of all disobedience because we know sin puts a wall up between us and the Kingdom.  We want God’s plan for our lives.  We want access to God’s kingdom power because He has great things for us.

Jeremiah 29:11For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

God’s Bling Bling

What does God think is valuable?  What does God think is valuable and what He likes to show off?

This week I preached on some of the things God values: His Word, Obedience to Him, People and You specifically.  I’d like to draw your attention specifically to how much God values obedience to His will and His word.

In the book of Job God brags to satan about how great Job is.

The Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” (Job 1:8)

Notice the things that the Lord notes about Job all have to do with doing what is right.  Job is free of blame, innocent…completely morale, ethical and honest.  He gives reverent awe to God and refuses all evil.  In short, Job obeys the ways of the Lord.

Does this bring Job freedom from trial?  No.  We know the story…great tragedy comes upon this upright man.  His livestock stolen, all his money gone, his employees killed and his children die all in one day!  The reason?  Not job’s sin or lack of faith but the simple fact that His Lord knew he could take it.

Satan says if you let me mess with Job he’ll curse you.  The Lord response, go ahead and attack, your wrong.

God is always more concerned with our destiny than our happiness.  He’s more concerned with his eternal purposes than our temporary trials. 

Job is God’s bling bling. Check out how my boy shines!  God was showing off what was valuable to Him, an obedient son.

Have you ever heard someone say that you were in a trial because you lacked faith?  Ridiculous.  Job was blameless yet troubled.  God new that Job would come through the trials with double the blessing he had.  I’m sure Job would have not chosen the to suffer the losses he did but he trusted God through out.

When you go through the trials, (Sorry to tell you this but you will go through trials.) Remember one thing:

The process is more important than the destination.

In all the things you go through don’t lose your integrity.  Be like Job and proclaim, though He slay me I will trust Him. (Job 13:15)  God is creating in you an unwavering trust in Him.  We grow more through trials than we ever do in the good times.