Tuesday, February 17, 2015

To Bad to Forgive


It’s a feeling most of us have had.  We have done something so awful, hurtful, or unthinkable that forgiveness is not a consideration.  We beat ourselves up, replaying the events in our head thinking “if only” I had walked this way, or listened to this friend or been at a different place that night.  For some, it was a one time event.  For others, it was years of satisfying lust, greed, and sinful desires.  We wrestle with what we did or didn’t do playing it over and over in our minds.  Maybe it even stems from anger toward God for not doing what you expected him to do or allowing some tragedy to devastate your life.

Like most sin, it doesn’t happen over night, it gradually slips into our lifestyle and permeates our thoughts, ever so slightly changing us, weakening our defenses.  Like an affair, it has been building for weeks, months or years...it didn’t happen in a day.  Let’s face a harsh reality, those things we did can’t be undone.  There are consequences to our actions.  We wake up in the morning regretting the decisions we made only hours before.  We feel as though forgiveness is impossible.

If you allow me, I would like to give you hope.  I wish to give you freedom from the daily war that rages in your conscience.  Let me share an amazing story with you, one that I dare say most people haven’t heard of or don’t remember.  I can’t ever remember it being preached from a pulpit, but it hit me like a lightning bolt yesterday.  It starts with a man by the name of Omri, he was the commander of the army of Israel.  After a murderous coup by another general, Omri is made king of Israel.  (Now if you don’t know about the northern kingdom of Israel after King David and King Solomon, let’s just say the kings devoted themselves to doing great evil.  As much as King David sought after pleasing God, these kings sought equally as hard to lead people away from God.  In doing so, they led the nation of Israel to commit atrocities against Yahweh.)  King Omri reigns twelve years and when he dies his son Ahab reigns in his place.  Now Ahab’s father figure was this:

“Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him.”
(1 Kings 16:25)

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that when Ahab takes the throne, he “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” (16:33) In fact, it says “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited.” (21:25)

To bad to forgive?  Look what happens.  The great prophet Elijah proclaims a word from God condemning Ahab for murder and his great sins leading a nation to serve other gods.  He prophesies the destruction of Ahab’s lineage and the disgraceful death’s they will suffer.

When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly.” (21:27)

That simply means that Ahab humbled himself and was sorry for his sins.  As a result of Ahab’s penitent heart, God delays the judgement in Ahab’s lifetime.  Here’s a man who has sold himself to evil.  He has invented more ways to do evil and lead a country astray than any person before him.  Ahab is the epitome of an despicable leader and yet when God sees TRUE REPENTANCE and sincere humility he is quick to forgive.  HOW MUCH MORE can we expect from God when we humble ourselves and repent of our sins?  We are never to bad to forgive, for we have a God of such unending mercy and grace who loves us and desires a relationship with us.

Still hanging on to those sins?  Now is the time to drop to your knees and show God a true repentant heart.  Let go of that sinful lifestyle and let the healing process begin.

[Read the full story in 1 Kings 21.]

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Don't Lose Hope

Consider the story of being trapped in a dungeon cell. You have heard there is a tunnel to freedom on the other side of the wall. But the wall is stone, and you have no tools. For months you use fragments of stone to chip away at the wall, and you work and work to gain your freedom.

Then one night, when your hope is almost gone, you collapse in weariness against the wall, and your elbow hits a slight protrusion. Before your eyes the stones move and a small door opens by itself. You are free.

Life has many dungeon cells, and stone walls, to hinder our joy and fruitfulness. Some of them are meant to fall down in five years. Others in five seconds. Whether it is the patient endurance to press on with joy, or the breakthrough in the twinkling of an eye, God has appointed prayer as the key.

If the wall is meant to give way in five years, prayer is the key: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11).  If the wall is meant to open by the press of unknown button, prayer is the key: “Knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

So let it not be said of us: “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Persevering work in the cause of truth and righteousness is a beautiful thing. God gives it. And God approves it. Never stop. But know this. God also loves to give breakthroughs in the twinkling of an eye.

Excerpt from John Piper's January 12, 2015 blog "What God Can Do in Five Seconds" found at www.desiringGod.org.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Where Satan Will Attack You Today

You wonder why it’s so hard to find some peace of mind? Well, peace is hard to come by when you live in a warzone. And like it or not you are in a war — a very serious one. This war is cosmic in its proportions. It involves God, humans, angels, demons, principalities, powers, nations, and antichrists.
And do you know where the front of the battle is? It’s in your head.

We Destroy Arguments

Here is how Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 10:3–5 (emphasis added):
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
What are the satanic strongholds that spiritually imprison people, the strongholds that we seek to destroy? Arguments and opinions. Where is the battle raging? Where our thoughts are.
And arguments are not merely strongholds, they are weapons of mass destruction. Adam and Eve (and all of us with them) fell because of an argument. They believed the serpent’s argument and stopped believing God.
That is the deadly essence of sin: not believing God. To not believe God is to ally with Satan, whom Jesus said is “a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth… for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
You don’t want Satan as an ally. He’s treacherous. He’s out to murder you with lies.

Watch Your Emotions

Watch your emotions. They are signals of arguments. Your emotions, which can land on you like vague impressions or moods, are usually responses to an argument. Moods don’t come out of nowhere. When we are angry, discouraged, depressed, anxious, self-pitying, fearful, or irritable, it is likely because we are believing something very specific.
To battle sin is to battle unbelief — or destroy arguments. And in order to battle unbelief effectively, we must press doubts and temptations into specific arguments. What specifically is being asserted or promised to us? Only then can we destroy the enemy’s false arguments with true ones.

The Victory That Overcomes the World

The victory that overcomes the world is our faith (1 John 5:4). This is precisely why the devil does not want us to think clearly about sin. He wants to keep things vague so he can imprison or disarm us. But Jesus wants us to think clearly. He wants us to know the truth because the truth brings freedom:
If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31–32)
So as freedom fighters let’s fight against “unbelieving hearts” by exhorting one another every day (Hebrews 3:12–13) to live in the freedom — and peace (John 16:33) — of the truth.

Because our most important battles are won and lost with arguments.
by Jon Bloom
http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=94431c7fc1ffa54485d1c84fe&id=c2aa2b5269&e=2eda23e6e1
(www.DesiringGod.org), posted 9/29/14.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In the Face of Death

“When the centurion, who stood facing him [Jesus], saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” Mark 15:39

“This way”?  After six agonizing hours on the cross, Jesus cries out in a loud voice (not easy to do when you can barely gulp enough breath to stay alive), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Only a few moments later, it says Jesus “uttered a loud cry and breathed his last” (v.37).  We know from John 19:30 that loud cry was “It is finished”.  Papyri receipts have been found marked with this single Greek word [tetelestai] to indicate “paid in full”.  His work was complete, our sins were "paid in full".  The Lamb of God, who became flesh, then bows his head and gives up his spirit [no man took it from him].

“In this way”, a hardened Roman soldier, accustomed to watching people die, sees something so remarkable, different, godly that he recognizes Jesus as the Son of God.  Think about that for a moment.  The soldier is a Roman centurion, a leader over 100 other soldiers, trained in mortal combat.  He has probably seen hundreds of people die and what he sees in Jesus is so incredibly opposite of every other person, that he is instantly convinced that the man who died "in this way" was indeed the very Son of God.

In the face of death, a gentile soldier is brought to life.  In the face of death, Jesus satisfies the wrath of God for all who believe, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Do you see what the centurion saw?

All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

[Refrain]
I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my bless├Ęd Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

Refrain

All to Jesus, I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

Refrain

All to Jesus, I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

Refrain

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

"I Surrender All" by Judson W. Van DeVenter (1896)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Will to Be Faithful


by Oswald Chambers

“… choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve …” (Joshua
24:15).

A person’s will is embodied in the actions of the whole person. I cannot give
up my will—I must exercise it, putting it into action. I must will to obey, and I
must will to receive God’s Spirit. When God gives me a vision of truth, there is
never a question of what He will do, but only of what I will do. The Lord has
been placing in front of each of us some big proposals and plans. The best thing
to do is to remember what you did before when you were touched by God. Recall
the moment when you were saved, or first recognized Jesus, or realized some
truth. It was easy then to yield your allegiance to God. Immediately recall those
moments each time the Spirit of God brings some new proposal before you. 

“… choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… .” Your choice must
be a deliberate determination—it is not something into which you will
automatically drift. And everything else in your life will be held in temporary
suspension until you make a decision. The proposal is between you and God—do
not “confer with flesh and blood” about it (Galatians 1:16). With every new
proposal, the people around us seem to become more and more isolated, and that
is where the tension develops. God allows the opinion of His other saints to
matter to you, and yet you become less and less certain that others really
understand the step you are taking. You have no business trying to find out where
God is leading—the only thing God will explain to you is Himself.

Openly declare to Him, “I will be faithful.” But remember that as soon as you
choose to be faithful to Jesus Christ, “You are witnesses against yourselves …”
(Joshua 24:22). Don’t consult with other Christians, but simply and freely declare
before Him, “I will serve You.” Will to be faithful—and give other people credit
for being faithful too.

By Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Exhausted, Waver and Stumble

Focused Devotion 
Jesus did not say to make converts to your way of thinking, but He said to look after His sheep, to see that they get nourished in the knowledge of Him. We consider what we do in the way of Christian work as service, yet Jesus Christ calls service to be what we are to Him, not what we do for Him. Discipleship is based solely on devotion to Jesus Christ, not on following after a particular belief or doctrine. “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). In this verse, there is no argument and no pressure from Jesus to follow Him; He is simply saying, in effect, “If you want to be My disciple, you must be devoted solely to Me.” A person touched by the Spirit of God suddenly says, “Now I see who Jesus is!”—that is the source of devotion.

Misguided Belief
Today we have substituted doctrinal belief for personal belief, and that is why so many people are devoted to causes and so few are devoted to Jesus Christ. People do not really want to be devoted to Jesus, but only to the cause He started. Jesus Christ is deeply offensive to the educated minds of today, to those who only want Him to be their Friend, and who are unwilling to accept Him in any other way. Our Lord’s primary obedience was to the will of His Father, not to the needs of people—the saving of people was the natural outcome of His obedience to the Father.

Exhausted, Waver and Stumble
If I am devoted solely to the cause of humanity, I will soon be exhausted and come to the point where my love will waver and stumble. But if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity, even though people may treat me like a “doormat.”

The Secret
“Do you love Me?  Tend My sheep” (John 21:16)  The secret of a disciple’s life is devotion to Jesus Christ, and the characteristic of that life is its seeming insignificance and its meekness. Yet it is like a grain of wheat that “falls into the ground and dies”—it will spring up and change the entire landscape (John 12:24).  Follow the example of Jesus, let your primary obedience be to the will of God the Father.  Let your service be to Him, not what we do for Him.  The natural byproduct of our devotion to Christ will see the sheep being nourished in the knowledge of Him. 

Adapted from Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest. [Emphasis added]




Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Weight of Hardships

I know what it means to be out of work.  Even pastors can be laid off when the economy is tough.  Our church was 2 months behind in payroll and God had already laid it on my heart that it was time for a move.  So when the tough decisions had to be made, I was the obvious choice as the sacrificial lamb.  I was at peace with the decision for I knew that God was in control of “all things”.  Days, weeks and months passed by with virtually no nibbles, few prospects and no money coming in.  I thought I would have a new job in 1-2 months, how naive I was. 

It has been said that it is easy to trust God in the good times.  How true, the real test comes under the weight of hardships.  In those Joseph and Job moments, when our lives are ripped out from under us and we are plunged into great difficulties, will our faith stand strong?  We will trust in God?  Do we take everything to Him in prayer and set aside our anxieties and fears?

My quiet times have been in Exodus.  Moses had been shepherding for 40 years when he sees a burning bush that is not consumed.  Out of the bush God calls Moses to lead his people out of slavery to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This is overwhelming for Moses as he is a fugitive from Egypt.  He has shed the life of prince to be a shepherd and family man.  He repeatedly fights God on his choice of calling him.  Finally, Moses relents when God overcomes every objection.  As Moses packs up the family and begins his journey to Egypt I can’t help but wonder if Moses is having second thoughts.  Was Moses choosing death over going back to Egypt?  Along the way God “sought to put him to death” (Ex. 4:24) because he didn't obey the covenant of circumcision.  He was almost killed by God if it wasn’t for the actions of his wife.  Can you imagine the Exodus without Moses?

One of the traditions of my seminary was to have 3 graduating seniors preach, it was cleverly titled, “Student Preaching Week”.  To my surprise I was picked.  Evidently they look at grades and the number of preaching classes you have successfully completed.  Because I did some student teaching in our preaching workshops (because no one else wanted to and I needed the credit hours), I had accumulated a lot of class credit hours.  I was so excited when they asked me, but oh so terrified.  I had never spoken to a crowd anywhere close to this size.  In fact I suffered from a great fear of public speaking...probably not the wisest career choice as a pastor.  I have vivid recollections of the morning I was to preach.  I was sitting on the steps of our gym and I couldn’t be closer to physically throwing up.  My nerves were off the chart, my stomach was churning, my head pounding and I was seriously contemplating calling in sick. 

I have no doubt that Moses was feeling the same.  He was returning to the land where wanted posters were still hanging in the Nile Post Office.  After his near death encounter, he seems to suck it up, meet up with Aaron and they gather with the elders of Israel.  How did they respond?  “The people believed...they bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Ex. 4:31) Moses begins to relax, “hey this isn’t so bad, I’ll talk to Pharaoh tomorrow and no worries”.  Boom, hardship!  Pharaoh not only turns down Moses request to let the Israelites go (as God said he would) but he punishes them because Moses made this request.  “Let them get there own straw but still meet the same quota”, making their harship worse.     

Remember those elders that were worshiping?  Not so much now.  Exodus 6:9 says “they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.”  Everyone, except God, expected Pharoah to just bow down and let the people go.  Moses cries out to God, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people?” (Ex 5:22)  God had a plan to take the Israelites out of Egypt forever and to do it in a way that His name would be glorified and forever remembered.  Forty years later, the people of Jericho are still talking about the wonders that God performed when He brought Israel out of Egypt.  Forty years later and this is mostly a new generation that wasn’t alive when this happened and yet they are still in awe of the Israelite God.
                                               
God has a plan for you as well as for me.  His ways are always right, perfect and true.  Remember my preaching story?  Do you know what happened?  I sucked it up and preached to about 700 students, staff and faculty.  My method was a bit unconventional, I wasn’t as polished as the other student preachers but the simple message that God had laid on my heart was received.  The students lined up for 30 minutes to shake my hand and tell me what an impact the message had on their life.  I was amazed, humbled and blessed.  Looking back on that moment, I can’t imagine the extreme regret and embarrassment that I would have now if I had called in sick.

Trust in God.  Take everything to Him in prayer.  It is amazing how quickly the peace of God will come when leave those burdens at the foot of the cross.  Suddenly, those hardships don’t seem as hard.  Amazingly, you begin to see things to be thankful for.  Miraculously, a peace overwhelms you that can not be man-made.  His Word is true, His Ways are right and He has a perfect plan for your life.