Sunday, December 28, 2008

Facing the New Year

Phil. 3:12-14
"If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

There is an old story about a happy little boy who went out into the field wearing a baseball cap. In one hand he carried a baseball, In the other, a baseball bat. His face bore a look of tremendous confidence.

Cocking his bat, he tossed the ball into the air, saying, "I’m the greatest batter in the world!" Then he swung and missed. "Strike one," he said.
He picked up the ball, examined it, and threw it into the air again. As he swung, he repeated, "I’m the greatest batter in the world." Once again he missed. "Strike two," he said.

This time, he stopped to examine his bat to make sure there wasn’t a hole in it. Then he picked up the ball, adjusted his cap, and tossed the ball into the air for the third time. He repeated again, "I’m the greatest batter in the world," and swung with all his might. He missed for the third straight time. "Wow" he cried, "What a pitcher. I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!"

Today is the last Sunday of 2008, and as we look back over the last 12 months, I’m not sure whether most of us would be considered pitchers or batters. One thing for sure, at times we have all struck out. I guess it’s good to be able to start over afresh. Boys and girls will be back in school. Young people will head off to college. Most of us have recovered from the holiday season and are well into doing our jobs and the activities of the new year.

What do you anticipate for this year? Are you full of enthusiasm, looking forward eagerly to what each day will bring? Or are you filled with dread, worried that 2009 will be worse than 2008 for you?

Like the little boy with the bat, may I suggest that your attitude, your frame of mind, your reaction to its events will largely determine whether it is a year of victory or a year of defeat. The Apostle Paul was never one to let circumstances conquer him. Rather, with the help of God, he was determined to win the victor’s crown.

Listen as his attitude, dedication, determination shine through in these words found in Philippians 3:12-14."I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

With Paul’s words fresh in our minds, here are some suggestions to help us be all that we can be in 2009.

1. Think About The VALUE OF TIME

How do we value ONE YEAR? Ask a student who failed a grade.
How do we value ONE MONTH? Ask a Mother whose baby arrived prematurely.
How do we value ONE WEEK? Editor’s of weekly newspapers know.
How do we value ONE HOUR? Ask someone who lies terminally ill waiting for a loved one who is late.
How do we value ONE MINUTE? Ask someone who missed a plane, a train, a very important engagement that would never be rescheduled.
How do we value ONE SECOND? Ask an Olympic Medalist, someone who just missed having an accident, or saying good-by to someone you know you will never see again.

Of course we know that time is a human invention. I’m convinced that God doesn’t wear a wristwatch, or use a calendar. The Bible says, "With God a day is as a 1,000 years, and 1,000 years as a day."

God deals with eternity, and therefore time is not an important factor with Him. But time is important to us because we live in a limited time frame. We begin with infancy, then go on to adolescence, adulthood, middle-age, old age, and to everything that follows. We measure life in segments of time.

Now, what makes something valuable? Oftentimes it is scarcity. If there is a scarcity, then that product quickly escalates in value. If something is rare, it is usually valuable. But if we have a lot of it, it loses its value.

Now, the same is true with time. Young people feel that they have plenty of time, therefore time loses its value, and they aren’t too concerned about wasting or squandering it. On the other hand, as we get up in years a bit, we begin to realize that our time is becoming rare and therefore more valuable. Those of us over 50 tend to look at those under 20 and say, "Don’t squander time, because it’s very valuable."

They reply, "No, it’s not. We have lots of time. So we can waste it any way we want." The wider the age gap, the wider the generation gap - because of the different values that we place on time.
The Bible often speaks of the brevity of life. It compares life to the weaver’s shuttle rapidly going back and forth - to the shadows of summer that quickly disappear - to grass which grows up, dies, and then is burned. No wonder the Psalmist asks God, "What is man that you are mindful of him?"

Statisticians tells us that the average life span is now around 75 years. If you’re under 30 then you think that is a long time. If you’re around my age, you’re beginning to realize that’s not really very long at all. That means that if I live only 75 years then I only have 9 years to go. Now that is a sobering thought!

I came across some interesting statistics a few years ago. Someone went to the trouble to research what people do with their time, and came up with these results:

If we live to be 75, most of us will have spent 3 solid years, 24 hours a day, acquiring an education - grade school, high school and college. We’ll have spent 7 years eating, 24 hours a day, - some more, some less, obviously. We’ll have spent 14 years, day and night, working. We’ll have spent 5 years riding in automobiles or airplanes. We’ll have spent 5 years talking with each other - again some more and some less. We’ll have spent 1 year sick or recovering from sickness. And get this, we’ll have spent 24 years of our life sleeping! We’ll have spent 3 years reading books, magazines and newspapers. And 12 years amusing ourselves - watching TV, going to the movies, fishing, etc.

That totals up to 75 years. That is what the researchers say, on the average, most of us will have done with our lives.

As I looked at these statistics I began thinking, suppose you spent every Sunday of your life, for 75 years - through infancy, childhood, adulthood, old age - in God’s house worshiping during the morning worship service. How much time would you have spent worshiping God? Figure it out - the answer is less than 5 1/2 months. Let’s double that if you attend Sunday School. You’ve never missed Sunday School in all your life. That makes it 11 months.

Think about that - 5 years in an automobile and just 11 months in church and Sunday School! Twelve years amusing ourselves in front of a TV and just 11 months in Church and Sunday School. That is just if you always attended Sunday School and church and never missed!"

That tells us a little bit about the brevity of time. It also tells us something about our priorities in life.

The Bible also teaches us that life is uncertain.

Time is like a valuable commodity in a very precious and delicate vessel. It might break at any moment and we might lose it all. We have this moment. The past is gone, We don’t know anything about the future, but we have this moment. That is all we really have. Because of the uncertainty of life, the Bible says, "Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation." The writer of Hebrews says, "When you hear the name of the Lord, don’t harden your hearts."

Because life is uncertain we must take advantage of the time we have.

2. Don't dwell in THE PAST

We are special beings in that God has given us the ability to remember. Your memory may be your friend or your enemy. When you remember, hopefully you’ll remember some very pleasant things about this past year, but chances are that you’ll also remember some negative things. In fact, sometimes we dwell upon the negative and begin to feel sorry for ourselves.

Maybe this past year was a time of great transitions in your life - the kids grew up and married and left home and you’re now trying to deal with the empty nest syndrome.

Maybe your job came to an end and you’re having a tough time making ends meet.

Maybe a loved one died and you’re trying to deal with the lingering grief and loneliness you feel.

Maybe it was a time when sin got a real hold in your life, and you now feel the burden and guilt of that sin. You see, those things can cripple us and hold us in bondage to the past.

That is why Paul said, "I forget about what lies behind." Paul had a lot that was behind him. Paul had a very shaky past. He persecuted the church. He used his authority to kill Christians. By his own admission he said, "I am chief of sinners."

He could have walked around all his life with this tremendous burden of guilt crippling him and he would never have become the great apostle we know and love today. But Paul said, "…forgetting what is behind…" In other words, "God, I commit it to you. I seek your forgiveness for all the sins of the past, and I look forward to what lies ahead. Right now I’m going to live today the best I can."

I believe that is good advice for us as well. The only thing we can do about the past is to ask God's forgiveness for the sins that we committed. We can’t forget some things about our past, but it is better for our souls, if we remember when God’s grace was applied to our hearts. When Satan brings up our past, we just point him to the blood of Jesus.

3. We need to establish a PRIORITY IN OUR LIVES

Finally, I think that we need to establish a priority in our lives. Paul says it this way, "This one thing I do." Paul obviously did more than one thing. He made tents. He preached sermons and established churches. He healed the sick. He wrote books. He did a lot of different things. But he said, "The top priority in my life is to press on toward the goal for the prize for which God has called me."

Each day draw nearer to God, spending time with Him in prayer and seeking His guidance for your life through reading His Word. It was Jesus who said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be added unto you."

I am amazed how many Christians do not have their priority’s in order. We seem to find time for everything but what God wants. There are so many distractions these days that if we are not careful we place God low on our list of priority’s.

Some seem to say, "God understands that I have a busy life and it’s okay if I don’t have time for Him as much as I should. After all He loves me!"

What did Jesus say again? "Seek ye first"! What? "Seek ye FIRST my kingdom!" (emphasis mine). That does not mean that it’s okay if we put God low on our list of priority’s!

It means God MUST come FIRST! Even before family! Before money! Before pleasure!

I tried to think what God wants on my priority list for Him. Here is the list I came up with.

1. To love Him first and foremost! To love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind!
2. To love my family like He would.
2. To love others as much like Him as I can!
3. To keep my heart and soul ready for His soon return.

I want to tell you about a story I read the other day that showed me about priorities. Jim Cymbala preaches at a church in the slums of New York - The Brooklyn Tabernacle. He tells the following story:

“It was Easter Sunday and I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie and sat down and draped my feet over the edge. It was a wonderful service with many people coming forward. The counselors were talking with these people. As I was sitting there I looked up the middle aisle, and there in about the third row was a man who looked about fifty, disheveled, filthy. He looked up at me rather sheepishly, as if saying, "Could I talk to you?"

We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever. So as I sat there, I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it: "What a way to end a Sunday. I’ve had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and here’s a fellow probably wanting some money for more wine." He walked up. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible smell like I’d never smelled in my life. It was so awful that when he got close, I would inhale by looking away, and then I’d talk to him, and then look away to inhale, because I couldn’t inhale facing him. I asked him, "What’s your name?"


"How long have you been on the street?"

"Six years."

"How old are you?"

"Thirty-two." He looked fifty- hair matted; front teeth missing; wino; eyes slightly glazed. "Where did you sleep last night, David?"

"Abandoned truck."

I keep in my back pocket a money clip that also holds some credit cards. I fumbled to pick one out thinking; I’ll give him some money. I won’t even get a volunteer. They are all busy talking with others. Usually we don’t give money to people. We take them to get something to eat. I took the money out.

David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, "I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus, the One you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street."

I completely forgot about David, and I started to weep for myself. I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God had sent to me. See how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. There is no excuse. I was not seeing him the way God sees him. I was not feeling what God feels. But oh, did that change! David just stood there. He didn’t know what was happening.

I pleaded with God, "God, forgive me! Forgive me! Please forgive me. I am so sorry to represent You this way. I’m so sorry. Here I am with my message and my points, and You send somebody and I am not ready for it. Oh, God!" Something came over me. Suddenly I started to weep deeper, and David began to weep. He fell against my chest as I was sitting there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other. The smell of His person became a beautiful aroma. Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: If you don’t love this smell, I can’t use you, because this is why I called you where you are. This is what you are about. You are about this smell.

Christ changed David’s life. He started memorizing portions of Scripture that were incredible. We got him a place to live. We hired him in the church to do maintenance, and we got his teeth fixed. He was a handsome man when he came out of the hospital. They detoxed him in 6 days. He spent that Thanksgiving at my house. He also spent Christmas at my house. When we were exchanging presents, he pulled out a little thing and he said, "This is for you." It was a little white hanky. It was the only thing he could afford. A year later David got up and talked about his conversion to Christ. The minute he took the mic and began to speak, I said, "The man is a preacher." This past Easter we ordained David. He is an associate minister of a church over in New Jersey. And I was so close to saying, "Here, take this; I’m a busy preacher." We can get so full of ourselves.”


As we face the new year I have to ask myself this question. What kind of life will I live this year? I may not be here this time next year, but if I am, will the Lord be satisfied with me?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Finding Jesus in the Storm

John 6:15-21

In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren said, “… Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you’re just coming out of one, or you’re getting ready to go into another one.” The reason for this? God is more interested in your character than your comfort. God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy. We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that’s not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ-likeness. In our text today, Jesus has just finished a long day of ministry; of teaching amidst the press of immense crowds, and the Lord was now exhausted. So as the day drew to a close, Jesus, having obtained a boat to cross the lake, commanded His disciples to enter the boat and cross to the other side. In obedience to his command they hoisted the sail and began the five mile trip across the lake. Very unexpectedly and seemingly without warning, they were in the midst of a terrible storm. Matthew uses the word like literally an earthquake, to describe the storm.
This was no ordinary breeze blowing - this was a hurricane! Luke writes here that the storm was so bad that the ship was full of water. Mark wrote in his account of this story that the waves were beating the ship that it was full of water. Matthew in his account said that the waves covered the ship.

So, you see that this was one serious storm that was going on. They had a crisis on their hands. The ship was full of water, the waves were as high as the boat and they felt that they were headed for the bottom of the sea. As we sit in our comfortable homes, it is easy to think good thoughts about the world outside.

But you know how life is; there can be and probably will be darker, more difficult days than this.
This story in the life of Jesus and His disciples, in the boat upon the sea, conveys that other world, a world where storms rise up out of nowhere and life itself is put at peril.
If you have had something happen in your life that shook you to your very core, then you understand what I am talking about.
When those storms come the once-calm lake of life becomes a storm-tossed, angry, and raging sea. That is what this story is about.

When the physician comes back with a bad report or when you are startled in the night by a late telephone call and the voice on the other end says, “I am afraid I have some bad news!”
Then the waves begin to beat and the boat seems as if it is sinking and you wonder “Where Is Jesus When Storms Come?”
In answer to that question I want to share with you three truths about the storms of life from this biblical story! The whole point of the story and of the parable is that storms happen. The truth is that no one gets through life without experiencing storms, no one! In fact most lives contain more than one storm that threatens our sense of well-being. Storms come in many forms:

The storm of illness – sudden or prolonged.
The storm of death – death of someone you love.
The storm of rejection – separation or divorce.
The storm of unjust criticism.
The storm of family problems.
The storms on the job.

An analysis of the storms in our lives reveals that:
Sometimes they are brought on by our own stupidity or our sin.
Sometimes they are caused by our own poor decisions.
Sometimes they may be caused by the actions of someone else.
Sometimes times they just seem to happen and we have no idea why.

Not only do storms come as a part of every life but, secondly, storms come even in the center of God’s will.
Are you in a storm right now? You may be thinking to yourself, “Lord, what have I done to deserve this?” It may be that you have not done anything wrong!

Perhaps you thought or have even been taught that life would be smooth sailing with Jesus in your life. You thought with Jesus in your life, there would be no storm, no unmanageable waves and certainly no cause for fear.

But the problem is that is just not true. And if you have lived very long, you know that it is not true based on your own experience.

Perhaps you thought, “Then there must be something wrong with me!” The truth is that Jesus does not teach this or promise this. Even when believers follow Christ’s bidding, they may face hardships.

For example, Jesus’ disciples were doing God’s will when they took Him across the lake, for he had commanded them to do so. Yet they were buffeted by a dreadful tempest, and they seemed to be in danger of drowning.

You can be in a storm and be right in the center of God’s will. Notice that the disciples were in the midst of a storm not because they had disobeyed, but because they had obeyed.

In Matthew’s account of this story (Matt 14:22) he tell us that Jesus “made his disciples get into the boat.”
The word “made” (or “constrained” in the KJV) means “compelled.” In other words the disciples were where they were, in the middle of a storm, in direct obedience to a command of the Lord.
But how can that be?
Even though the disciples had no way of knowing it, during those terrible moments,
The storm was divinely appointed vehicle to teach them about God and his power in their lives.
Without difficulties, without trials, without stresses and even failures, we would never grow to be what the Lord wants us to become.

Without adversity, we would be insufferably self-centered, one-dimensional, proud and empty people. Faith must be tested before it can be trusted.
James tells us the purpose of trials is to test and deepen our faith. James 1:2-4, tells us .
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
The Message Bible says it this way;
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

Third, storms are not a sign of the absence of the Lord.

( John 6:16-21)
His disciples went down to the sea (17) got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them. (18) Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.

Perhaps to the disciples, the fact that the Lord was not with them seemed to indicate that he was either unconcerned or unaware of their plight. Does Jesus know? Does He care? We sometimes mistakenly conclude that we are alone, that no one, not even God, knows what is happening in our lives and how we are feeling. Isn’t it true that we feel like that at times?
When we are in the midst of a crisis of one form or another it sometimes seems that Jesus doesn’t care, He just does not seem to be interested or concerned with what we are going through. Dazed, the disciples looked around trying to understand what was happening.

Jesus Sees. Where was Jesus at this time? On the mountain! Storms do not escape the Savior’s notice. As Jesus sat on the mountainside over-looking the sea, He saw His disciples laboring frantically in the storm tossed waters. He saw not only their physical battle with the elements but He also saw their inner battle with fear. He had not forgotten them. He was not too busily engaged in prayer to think of them. Jesus was lovingly looking on. He knew what they were up against, and He was watching. But He did not make things easy for them and He does not make things easy for us. He let’s us row our own boat and fight our own battles but he is always aware of what we are going through.

Jesus Cares. Beyond the fact that Jesus saw what His disciples were going through He also cared deeply about what they were going through. His compassion caused Him to come to where they were and reassure them. As Jesus sat on the mountainside He could see His disciples toiling and rowing helplessly, yet He delayed coming to them. He knew their thoughts, he even knew they were wondering where He was and why He chose to let the storm batter them for a while. Finally, He did come to them. But why did He delay? We of course cannot say for sure but we see a similar occasion in John 11: This is the story of Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. Lazarus was sick and his sisters sent for Jesus but Jesus delayed and allowed him to die. When He finally came Lazarus’ sisters pleaded with Jesus, Lord if you had been here this would not have happened. (John 11:21)
When the Lord delays coming to us, it is always for a greater purpose to be worked out in our lives. God's delays are not God’s Denials! But as we have already seen, God has never promised our lives would be empty of pain, disappointment, or storms. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not teaching the truth of the Bible. What God does promise are resources to journey through the raging waters. Soaked and no doubt shivering, terrified to the core, the men had strained to keep the boat headed into the wind. They just knew that the next wave would take them to the bottom.

Faith was being paralyzed by fear. They were afraid that all of them, would die. They were of course, wrong, but so are we when we panic during difficult times. In reality their problem was not the storm around them but the unbelief within them.

Jesus Comes. (6:19-21)“So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid. (20) But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (21) Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going. Jesus came to His disciples during the darkest part of the night, when the disciples were exhausted, miserable and tired, and wondering if they were going to survive or not! Jesus did not come to them until they until they had done all they could. Until they were exhausted. Until They were willing to accept Him into the boat.

Only then did the Lord come. We should also reflect that Jesus comes to us in ways we do not expect. When the disciples were tossed about on that boat there is little doubt that some of them thought, ‘If only Jesus were with us!’ That would be just what was needed. He would find some way of seeing them through. But when he came in a way that they did not expect, and instead of welcoming his appearance they were frightened. And is that not sometimes our experience as well. One thing is certain: The Christian way is full of surprises, and Christ constantly comes to us in ways that we do not anticipate.

Leon Morris said.”Unless we welcome him, however he comes, our spiritual experience will always be the poorer.”
You may know the Lord but you will never know him deeply until He has come to you in middle of one of the storms of life. In the lives of the disciple’s the absence or presence of faith was revealed in the traumas of life. So it is with us as well. It is the storms of life that our faith is revealed. It is the crises of life which reveals our faith. It is at such times that we face a three-fold challenge, to worry, to work or to trust. When difficulties come we can choose to worry, but we all know deep down that changes nothing. When faced with adversity we can try harder and harder until we see that there is nothing more we can do and we are forced to conclude that it is absolutely out of our control; or we can call to the Lord and ask for His help. Peter invites us in (1 Peter 5:7) “Let Him have all your worries and cares, for He is always thinking of you and watching everything that concerns you.” (The Living Bible).
Jesus longs for us to put our trust in Him – the only One who can take us through the storm - not around, not over, but through.
People say, “God doesn’t care about me, he doesn’t care that I am going through such a hard time, he doesn’t care.” But that is just not true.

Are you going through a storm in you life right now? If so, then understand this, He sees what you are going through. You can believe that.

I want to close with the words of a song by Annie Flint:
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father's full giving is only begun.

( This verse I had never heard)
Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow'r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

II Corinthians 12:9 And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Preparing for What is Ahead

Romans 8:31-39

Some weeks ago a major storm hit the Gulf Coast. Do you remember seeing on the news how people were preparing for the storm? Boarding up windows and doing everything possible to be able to weather the storm.

I have seen couples go through lots of things in life when they have needed something to hold on to . They never dreamed they would ever face such a crisis, but when it happened, they found they had already developed the strength to weather it.

My wonderful mother-in-law lay in the hospital for a least seven weeks fighting for her life. I saw her and my father-in-law stand the storm because they had prepared before the storm hit.

My wife’s brother and his wife went through a storm that took her life and he now has suffered for a few years with an unexplained sickness. I have watched and prayed for him but he never given up on God because his faith in God was anchored deep.

Now what about us, here today?
Most of us will probably never experience the enormity of the crisis that these couples faced.
But still, there will be storms, heartaches, decisions, and gut-wrenching moments that have the potential for bringing us into a life-changing crisis. The storm that is facing our nation is going to be a big one. If things go sour and our nation drifts further away from Godliness then what?
What will we do then? Will we be prepared to face it? Will we have the inner resources that we need? And if not, then how can we prepare ourselves for that day?I’m convinced that if we want to have the resources we’ll need for a time of crisis, then each of us must make our preparations for that day.

Here are a few things that will help:

I. Be sure of your relationship with God. Do you know what it means to have a real relationship with Jesus Christ the Lord of Lords? Have you received Him as Lord and Saviour of your life?

The Bible gives us some vivid examples:
Abraham walked with God and was called “a friend of God.”
Noah walked with God and when the flood came, he and his family were saved.
Moses walked with God in the desert, and God prepared him to lead his people to freedom.

David walked with God as a shepherd boy, and when called upon to rule his people, he was prepared for the task.
Daniel was saved from the lion’s den, and his friends were spared from the fiery furnace.

But God does not always pull His children out of the fire. Stephen was a young man "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" [Acts 6:5] when he was stoned to death. But his entry into Heaven was triumphal. Look at the fate of some of the apostles:

Peter was crucified upside down.
Andrew was tied to a cross with thick ropes for 3 days before he died.
John was a prisoner on a desolate island.
Bartholomew was beaten & then beheaded.
Thomas was murdered while he was preaching.

These men literally walked with God, and they suffered. But with their lives they echoed the words of Paul:
2 Tim 4:7-8 "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing"
Although we were not present with them nearly 2,000 years ago, we have access to the same strength they had. And as we walk with our Lord, and come to know Him better day by day, we too, can say with them: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" [Philippians 1:21].

II. Open your Bible and use it as a guide for your life.

Secondly, we need to open our Bible and use it as a guide for our daily life. But today there are more people who know the words to TV commercials than any words in the Bible!

Russell Morse, one of the great missionaries along the China/Burma border, was taken captive by Chinese communists in 1951, and imprisoned for 21 months. They told him that his wife and youngest son had been killed. For 15 of those months he was in an isolation cell, cut off from any outside contact. They broke his glasses and shoved him into that cramped cell without his Bible or any other book. Twice a day a bowl of food was pushed through a slot in his cell door, but he never saw a face or heard a human voice. Cut off from all human contact, unsure whether anyone in the outside world even knew that he was still alive or where he was, he later said that he would have surely gone insane if he had not been able to recall Bible verses and hymns that he had memorized over the years. That was all that kept his mind active.People have said that when they were suffering, sometimes they could only remember small parts of Scripture. One woman repeated over and over again, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" [Philippians 4:13]. I wonder, what verses have you stored up for the future? The Bible is one our greatest tools and yet all some use it for is a dust collector!

III. Make prayer a vital part of your life. Thirdly, even before the storms begin we need to make prayer a vital part of our life. We have talked about the importance of prayer before, but it seems as if we often pray during a crisis and neglect it the rest of the time.

We find our nation embroiled in a war – a war against terrorism, a war against elusive enemies who deliberately target civilians to underscore their hatred of our nation and the principles of freedom that we enjoy. If ever we needed to call upon the power of prayer, I believe that it is now!

There is a story in the Bible about prayer being used against a wicked ruler. This was an Assyrian king, (much like Ben Laden), who boasted that he would defeat God’s people and take over their land. He sent messages to Israel, taunting the people about their weakness and boasting of his strength. When this king spoke, the world trembled! Israel’s king, Hezekiah, was a man of faith. He knew that on a purely human level, the Assyrians could destroy them. But Hezekiah had a secret weapon. He called the prophet Isaiah in, and they fell to their knees in prayer. And look what happened! Lets look at 2 Chron 32:7-9 and read what King Hezekiah said to the people.

“Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.”

Then look at what God did: II Chronicles 32:21-22 says, "And the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king. So he, the king of the Assyria, withdrew to his own land in disgrace. . . So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem. . . He took care of them on every side."
B. But it is not just in times of war that we need to pray.

We have so many other battles going on in America today. We, the people of our nation, have allowed God and anything to do with God to be taken away from us by our government.

Our government needs prayer. (Never has our nation been so divided!)
Our leaders need our prayers. (Without God leaders will fail.)
Our schools need our prayers. (Our teachers have an uphill battle.)
Our youth need our prayers. (They are the future of our nation.)
Our families need our prayers. (A family that prays together will stay together.)
And our churches need our prayers. (That we will lift up Jesus.)

Today our nation, and the church, are facing the undisguised hatred of militant Muslims who proclaim a gospel of death, a religion that through the centuries has been spread by the sword, and even today maintains its power by the sword.By the way, did you know that 30 years ago there was only one Muslim mosque in the United States, and today there are over 3,000 mosques? And that new mosques are being built here at the average of one a week? The apostle Paul warns us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Are we spiritually prepared as individuals, as a nation, as a church? If we are to survive in a Godless and materialistic world, in a world increasingly witnessing the hatred of militant Muslims, we must repent of our prayerlessness, and make prayer a priority. Even churches today have gotten away from prayer. Food and fellowship gatherings seem to have taken precedence. Miracles have happened when God’s people turned to Him in prayer. We should not pray for God to be on our side, but pray that we are on God’s side. Remember, God does not promise always to deliver us, but He will be with us.

IV. Finally, we must practice the presence of Christ. How do we experience the nearness of our Lord? Do we need a picture drawn by some artist to be able to imagine Him with us?

Charles Spurgeon once said that there had never been 15 minutes in his life when he did not sense the presence of Christ. I wish I could make that statement, but I cannot. What strength we would have if we trained for life as if Christ were walking alongside of us.

The best selling book, “In His Steps,” tells of a challenge given by a preacher to his congregation to pledge for one year not to do anything without first asking the question, "What would Jesus do?" This challenge was provoked when a tramp, mourning his wife who had died in poverty, stumbled into this wealthy church and addressed the congregation. He said, "I heard some people singing at a church prayer meeting the other night,

‘All for Jesus, all for Jesus;
All my being’s ransomed powers;
All my thoughts and all my doings,
All my days and all my hours.’

"I began wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by that. It seems to me there’s a lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out."

If that tramp had spoken to us, how would we have responded? Do we live our lives with the thought, "What would Jesus do?" Do we practice the presence of Christ every day?
In the story, the tramp died, but he struck the conscience of the congregation so profoundly that the lives of many were changed, just as our lives would change if we truly followed "in His steps" and asked, "What does Jesus want me to do?"

Rather than asking the question "What Would Jesus Do?," a better question for most people to ask themselves would be: "What Would Jesus Have ME Do?"

"Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." John 6:28-29

Christ promised His disciples: Matt 28:20, "And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age"

What a wonderful promise! We need to cultivate the sense of His presence as we go about the daily routine of our lives. And we need to remember the words of our scripture.

Romans 8:31-39.
“If God be for us, who can be against us?” Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So what about it? Are you preparing for the storms of life, or will you be caught without the resources you need?

The best way to prepare is :
To make sure that you know God, and that Jesus Christ is your Savior;
To treasure His word in your heart;
To make prayer a vital part of your life; and
To practice His presence daily in your life.

The words to an old but great song comes to mind! Written by Priscilla Owens:
Will your anchor hold in the storms of life.
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain.

Will your anchor drift or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul,

Steadfast and sure while the billows roll!
Fastened to the rock which cannot move.

Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Facing the Future Without Fear

October 19, 2008

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses. Deuteronomy 34:9
A new leader and a new day are ahead of God’s children. For Joshua and the children of Isreal, there was fear about the future.

Now lets look at Joshua 1: 1-9:
Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
The children of Israel were at a crossroads and their leader had died. They did not know what the future held for them. God gave the new leader, Joshua, encouraging words:

So I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. (v.5)
Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (v. 9)

Lets look at these statements.
A. “I will be with thee.”
B. “I will not fail thee.”
C. “Nor forsake thee.”
D. ”For the Lord is with thee.”
That is what the Lord promises Joshua and the children of Israel.

Now let’s look at what He commanded them to do.
A. “Be strong.”
B. “Be of good courage.”
C. “Be not afraid.”
D. “Be not dismayed .”

Wrapped up in our scripture are four very powerful words which are:
Purpose, Promise, Power, and Presence.

In this lesson this morning I want us to think about two things:

1. The Fear of the Future for the Children of Israel.

Be strong and very courageous! This is a statement that God gave Joshua for what lay ahead.
I asked the question to myself: “why did God tell Joshua to be strong and courageous?” The answer? Because God knew what was ahead. Let’s look at at verse 2:

Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast. There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
Now this was wonderful! Just get up and go across the river and I will give you the land that you cross! I will even go with you! Boy, that is wonderful! Nothing to worry about, right? Wrong!
The reason God told Joshua to be strong and unafraid was that God knew the future and what it held.

If they had known what the future held, we might have a different ending to this story.
There were to come many places and things that God would lead His children through. Whenever they followed His leading they would win. When they didn’t follow His leading, they lost. I won't take time to tell about all of what they went through but know this:
Every step of the way there was a battle to win and enemy to overcome and God kept His promises to them! He gave them His presence!

2. Our future.
Go with me now to the gospel of John chapter 14:1-3, 15-18.
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
vs. 15-18
If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

It seems that lately I keep coming back to these verses to find help for these last days. So please forgive me if you are tired of reading this. However, I think we need to have a clear understanding that we are going to need the presence of the Holy Spirit for what lays ahead.
We don’t know what tomorrow holds but I can see that this world is changing before our very eyes and it does not look like the changes for the best for God people.

Let’s look at Matt. 24:3-13.
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?’ And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilence, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

Then look at 2 Thess. 2:1-12 from the N.I.V.
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work: but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

The future does not look very bright for this world that we are living in, right? Lets read on.
Look at 2 Thess 2:13-17. We find out that God does keep His promises!
But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace. Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.

I want us to look again at the eight statements that you read at the beginning of the message:
Let’s look at these statements.
A. “I will be with thee.”
B. “I will not fail thee.”
C. “Nor forsake thee.”
D. ”For the Lord is with thee.”
That is what the Lord promises Joshua and the children of Israel.

Now let’s look at what He commanded them to do.
A. “Be strong.”
B. “Be of good courage.”
C. “Be nor afraid.”
D. “Be not dismayed .”

Conclusion: This story is a little long but I want to share it because it has the message wrapped up in it.

The passengers on the bus watched sympathetically as the attractive young woman with the white cane made her way carefully up the steps. She paid the driver and, using her hands to feel the location of the seats, walked down the aisle and found the seat he’d told her was empty. Then she settled in, placed her briefcase on her lap and rested her cane against her leg.It had been a year since Susan, thirty-four, became blind. Due to a medical misdiagnosis she had been rendered sightless, and she was suddenly thrown into a world of darkness, anger, frustration and self-pity. Once a fiercely independent woman, Susan now felt condemned by this terrible twist of fate to become a powerless, helpless burden on everyone around her."How could this have happened to me?" she would plead, her heart knotted with anger. But no matter how much she cried or ranted or prayed, she knew the painful truth her sight was never going to return. And all she had to cling to was her husband Mark. Mark was an Air Force officer and he loved Susan with all of his heart. Finally, Susan felt ready to return to her job, but how would she get there? She used to take the bus, but was now too frightened to get around the city by herself. Mark volunteered to drive her to work each day, even though they worked at opposite ends of the city. At first, this comforted Susan and fulfilled Mark’s need to protect his sightless wife who was so insecure about performing the slightest task. Soon, however, Mark realized that this arrangement wasn’t working - it was hectic, and costly. Susan is going to have to start taking the bus again, he admitted to himself. Susan was horrified at the idea of taking the bus again. "I’m blind!" she responded bitterly. "How am I supposed to know where I’m going? I feel like you’re abandoning me." Mark’s heart broke to hear these words, but he knew what had to be done. He promised Susan that each morning and evening he would ride the bus with her, for as long as it took, until she got the hang of it. And that is exactly what happened.For two solid weeks, Mark, military uniform and all, accompanied Susan to and from work each day. He taught her how to rely on her other senses, specifically her hearing, to determine where she was and how to adapt to her new environment. He helped her befriend the bus drivers who could watch out for her, and save her a seat. He made her laugh, even on those not-so-good days when she would trip exiting the bus, or drop her briefcase.Finally, Susan decided that she was ready to try the trip on her own. Monday morning arrived, and before she left, she threw her arms around Mark, her temporary bus riding companion, her husband, and her best friend. She said good-bye, and for the first time, they went their separate ways. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday... Each day on her own went perfectly, and Susan had never felt better. She was doing it! She was going to work all by herself! On Friday morning, Susan took the bus to work as usual. As she was paying for her fare to exit the bus, the driver said, "Boy, I sure envy you." Susan wasn’t sure if the driver was speaking to her or not. After all, who on earth would ever envy a blind woman who had struggled just to find the courage to live for the past year? Curious, she asked the driver, "Why do you say that you envy me?"The driver responded, "It must feel so good to be taken care of and protected like you are." Susan had no idea what the driver was talking about, and asked again, "What do you mean?" The driver answered, "You know, every morning for the past week, a fine looking gentleman in a military uniform has been standing across the corner watching you when you get off the bus. He makes sure you cross the street safely and he watches you until you enter your office building. Then he blows you a kiss, gives you a little salute and walks away. You are one lucky lady."

God watches over us in just the same way. We may not know He is present. We may not be able to see His face, but He is there nonetheless! Be blessed in this thought:

"God Loves You - even when you are not looking."
People of faith can face the uncertain future with certainty. We can face each day as Joshua did, with God’s purpose, promise, power, and presence.

“How Firm a Foundation”
Fear not: I am with thee. Oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, I will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

God's Comfort

October 5 , 2008

God’s comfort
II Corinthians 1:1-11
Some days ago God lay this scripture on my heart. The statement in verse 3 jumped out at me:

The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations.

The original meaning of this word which we translate as comfort, literally means: “to come alongside and help.” The word Comforter is applied to the Holy Spirit in John 14 and 16 and means: “Strengthener” . The English word has the same root as the verb to fortify. Beacon Bible Expositions says:
“The comfort of God establishes, restores, and quietens one’s fears, speaks peace, reassures and refreshes the soul.”

“He comforts (consoles and encourages) us in every trouble (calamity and affliction), so that we may be able to comfort (console and encourage) those who are in any kind of trouble or distress, with the comfort (consolation and encouragement) with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (II Cor. 1:4)

When Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth, his purpose was to encourage them in a time of great trial that no matter what they faced in life, God would be by their side
Today, this truth has not changed. God is here with us and has come alongside you to help you through every difficult time in your life. If there was ever a day when we need the very presence of God in our lives to comfort it’s now!

Many of us feel like Joseph Bayly who wrote in his Psalms of My Life:
I cry tears to you Lord tears because I cannot speak.
Words are lost among my fears, pain, sorrows, losses, hurts, but tears.
You understand my wordless prayer, You hear.
Lord wipe away my tears, all tears not in a distant day but now here.”

Life is unpredictable. We do not know what tomorrow holds because no one can know the future. However, we can know the one who holds tomorrow and who is in control of life.
Life is precious. Each and everyday that we are given is a gift from God almighty and He will give us new strength with each passing day. We must choose how we face each day. Whether we face each day with dread or we face it with hope is up to us!

The words to the song Great is Thy Faithfulness speaks to me here:
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is they faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, lord unto me!

Today, I want us to think about the fact that God will allow His presence to rest with us to comfort us in this very moment.

1. The comfort of God’s presence that brings peace to the troubled.

When Jesus left the earth he left behind a most wonderful gift. Look with me in John 14: 15- 18:

“If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”
Verse 23 says:

“Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”

Now you talk about a hard time in life, the disciples were facing some hard times ahead! Jesus would be gone; no longer could they call upon Him when trouble came. No longer would he be there to turn water into wine. No longer would he be there to calm the sea during a storm.

They would face some very hard times…But! But! But! Jesus said
“I will not leave you to face life alone but I will send unto you the Comforter to be with you and in you at all times.”

Read with me John 14:25- 29
“These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.” (emphasis mine)

2. The comfort of God’s presence in times of trouble.
II Corinthians 1 : 8-11
“ For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf. (emphasis mine)

While Paul does not reveal what the trouble was in Asia, he does share that it was severe enough that he “despaired for his life”. It was while Paul was going through this time of trouble that Paul found this comfort and the Comforter to help Him. Paul found, and so will we, that we can have total reliance upon God to comfort us through times of trouble. Paul came to a point where he had no other recource but to fall back upon the resources of God’s grace. What a resource!
We all need to learn that when we come to the end of our strength or the end of our knowledge, the end of ourselves, or the end of our resources then we can depend upon Him. Isa 40:28-31 reads:

“Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Now I can find comfort in that! Can’t you?

Annie Johnson Flint wrote:
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater;
He sendeth more strength when
the labors increase.
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials , His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow’r has no boundary known unto men.
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth and giveth and giveth again!”

The Psalmist found comfort in God. Psalm 116:1-9:
I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. The Lord preserveth the simple: (Boy does that include me) I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. (emphasis mine)

When we give our troubles to the Lord we will find comfort!

3. The ability to share comfort with others.
Remember what comfort means: to come along the side of and help!
Verse 4-6:
…that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. (emphasis mine)

Oswald Chambers wrote:
If you are going to be used by God, he will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all; they are meant to make you useful in his hands.

Look at verse 4 again: “Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may comfort those who are in trouble.”

This tells me that God was using Paul’s tribulation to help or comfort others. Could it be that what we go through in life could comfort others? We must be a tool in the hands of God! Paul saw himself as a tool, an implement in God’s hand. He used Paul to comfort others. In all of it, his purpose was to use Paul as his tool to comfort others. God wants to comfort the people around you because he is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. (v. 3)
How did God comfort the people around Paul? Through Paul! Paul was a conduit, a pipeline of comfort. The comfort of God came to him and he let that comfort flow into the lives of others. How do you suppose Paul received God’s comfort? We have to guess a little, but I would suppose he was comforted by others who had been comforted by people who had been comforted. But mostly He was comforted by God Himself. That is how God usually does it. I am not saying it is the only way, but that is how Paul tells us here it happens. So, how do you do that? How do you share the comfort? What do you do? What do you say when you don’t know what to say?

Here is something you might want to make note of: P.T. Forsyth said: “You must live with people to know their problems, and live with God in order to solve them.” Now there are lots of those kind of people in the world. Have you ever noticed that it easy to help some people (that is to comfort them) but others it not so easy. I have found that there are some that only want comforting when they are in financial trouble. They just want something from me. They think that the only way I can comfort them is to give them money. Otherwise they don’t want anything to do with me or my God.

I have come up with a list of ways to comfort others.
1. Use wisdom.
2. Sometimes it might call for money.
3. Showing them you love them.
4. Just being there and listening to them.
5. Above all other things we must pray for them.

Now in order for us to be used of God as a comforter, (which we cannot be by ourselves) we must let the Holy Spirit which is the great Comforter, flow through us. Philippians 2:1-5:
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.

The song by Audrey Mieir expresses the Christian desire:
I've a yearning in my heart that cannot be denied,
It's a longing that has never yet been satisfied.
I want the world to know the One who loves them so,
Like a flame it's burning deep inside.
To be used of God, to sing, to speak, to pray;
To be used of God to show someone the way.
I long so much to feel the touch of His consuming fire;
To be used of God is my desire."

That was the desire of a group of young people in California. They spent three months preparing and planning to go to Mexico during Easter break to help the poor. They had prayed that God would use them in some mighty way, so in anticipation of His answer they set off to help a small church in a small village. They had a desire to be used of God; they had a desire to benefit someone. On Sunday morning when the young people arrived in the village, they saw the church building. It had been badly burned, the roof was caved in and only four walls remained standing. They cautiously made their way in to find a discouraged preacher leading nine worshipers in a song service. This was nothing like they had envisioned. They had not been prepared for the dilapidated and run-down building or the weary, discouraged people they would encounter. But shaking off their first culture shock and bracing themselves to do what they had come to do, they determined to be of some benefit whether it was easy and comfortable or not. The young people had left the comfort of their own homes to come to a place strange and foreign to them. They found a situation beyond that for which they had been prepared. The congregation eyed the young people suspiciously and at the end of the hymn the preacher approached them and asked, "What are you doing here, and what do you want?" It became quickly evident that there had been a communication break-down and that their letters explaining their plans to come and serve had not reached the preacher. He was as bewildered as they were. Finally, one of the group spoke, "We are Christians, and we are here to serve." The preacher explained that some of the villagers had burned the building and that the congregation had been praying that God would send help but they had given up hope that help would come. But the answer came in the form of young people who believed that God had called them to help someone and who were willing to obey that call. They were not motivated by simple humanitarianism; they were there to do the Lord's bidding. The students wanted to serve Christ and encountered a situation unlike any they expected. But they had come to serve, and serve they would. When the students heard that the congregation had been praying for someone to come help, one of them said, "I can't believe it. We're an answer to prayer!" They were an answer to prayer because they sincerely wanted to be used of God.

We can all be the answer to someone's prayer if we live by the last verse of Audrey Mieir's song:
When I think about the shortness of my earthly years,
I remember all the wasted days, the wasted tears.
I long to preach the Word to those who've never heard
Of the One who can dispel all fears.
To be used of God, to sing, to speak, to pray;
To be used of God to show someone the way.
I long so much to feel the touch of His consuming fire;
To be used of God is my desire."
To be used of God,
To sing, to speak, to pray
To be used of God to show someone the way.
I long so much to feel the touch of His consuming fire;
To be used of God is my desire

Is that your desire today? Do you want to be used of God? Would you like your life to count for what lasts?

My prayer today is from another familiar song:
Lord , Lay some soul upon my heart and love that soul through me.
And may I always do my part to win that soul for thee.

I want to finish with our text from the Message Bible:

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Drawing Near to God

Then Moses said to the LORD, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people.’ But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.”
And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.”
So the LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.”
And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.”
Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” And the LORD said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”

Exodus 33:12-23
I feel that the greatest needs that the Church has today is for people to find in a greater measure God’s closeness in their lives. So many of us get so busy with life that we forget about who we are and who God is. Somehow we have come to think that we don’t need God until we are in trouble. We want God when we need Him but we don’t want to live in His presence.

In our scripture today we find Moses in conversation with God about where He wanted Moses and the people of Israel to be. While their leader, Moses, was in conversation with God, the people were in conversation with Aaron about a false God.
"And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the Lord. And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play." Exodus 32:1-4
Moses was in conversation with God about the ten commandments. The people had come to the place where they felt they not longer needed God. They wanted to worship, but not God! They made a golden calf to worship. They even went as far as to have the preacher make it for them. Then they offered a feast to the "Lord." They went through the motions of worship but without God!

I wonder sometimes if in our world we just go through the motions of serving God. We go to church, we give God an offering, we sing the songs . We do good deeds. But all the time we are serving the gods of this world. In other words we do our part religiously but don’t want God as a part of our daily lives until we need Him.
And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. Exodus 32:9-10
At this point Moses begins interceding for the people.
And Moses besought [pleaded with] the Lord his God. Exodus 32:11
And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. Exodus 32: 14
Then the Lord said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it: And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite: Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiff-necked people: lest I consume thee in the way. Exodus 33:1-3
  • God wanted the people out of His sight (because of their sins).
  • God gave them a man to lead them.
  • God keeps His promises.
  • He will send His angel with them.
He would not go Himself. This was bad news from God.
And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned and no one put on his ornaments. Exodus 33:4

Of all the consequences of sin , the fact that God departed from them caused great sorrow to the people. Even though God had told them that they could still go to the land of Canaan they knew that without God the land would just be like any other land.

If God is not pleased by our actions, He will not be present in our lives.

The words in verse 3, "For I will not go with you" brought the people to their knees. The people began repenting of their sins. They would not put on their "ornaments" [finery or jewelry]. They put on sack cloth and ashes.

Now God had said that He would send His Angel with them but He Himself would not be there. God said in so many words "I will give you a representative of my presence but I will not be there in person.

Let me ask some important questions here:
  • I wonder if that is where the church is today. Have we become a stiff-necked people?
  • Are we being satisfied with man-made religion with man-made rules rather than the presence of God?
  • Have we come to the place where we don’t need God because we have knowledge about God ?
  • Have we substituted programs for His presence?
And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. Exodus 32:31-32
And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door. And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle. And Moses said unto the Lord, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. Exodus 33:9-14
God has always had an intercessor!
  • Noah was an intercessor for his world.
  • Abraham was an intercessor for Lot and his family.
  • In our lesson we find Moses interceding for the people.
Moses is a type of Jesus Christ.
For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:19-25
Moses was willing to give his life for the people. Jesus gave his life for all the world!

As I was preparing this message God showed me something I had not thought of.

Moses was the only one who made intercession for the people but God has given us two:

  1. Jesus Christ the Son of God. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Romans 8:34
  2. The Holy Spirit. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26 -27
And Moses said unto the Lord, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people... And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. Exodus 33:12-13, 18
You and I can’t live in the presence of God by ourselves but we must have the help of God every day. God sends His Son and His spirit to help us.

Moses was a type of Christ the great intercessor, whom the Father heareth always . He would not be satisfied with anything short of having God’s presence with Him and the Children of God. So he did the only thing he knew to do. He prayed. The people repented and God answered them.

God will always answer people who pray and repent.
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
Let's not be satisfied without God’s presence in our lives.

I need thee every hour, Most gracious Lord.
No tender voice like thine can peace afford.
I need thee, oh, I need thee; every hour I need thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Saviour; I come to thee.

I need the every hour, Stay thou near by.
Temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.
I need thee, oh, I need thee; every hour I need thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Saviour; I come to thee.

I need thee every hour, In joy or pain.
Come quickly and abide, or life is vain
I need thee, oh, I need thee; every hour I need thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Saviour; I come to thee."
--Annie Hawks

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Thirst of the Godly Soul

O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.

When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.
Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.
My soul follows close behind You;
Your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:1-8

The Psalmist draws a picture of himself as a thirsty man in a waterless land. Even though we have the omnipresence of God in the world, the Psalmist wanted something more from God. He wanted Gods divine presence within Himself.

As I was preparing this message I came to grips with the thought that I was thirsty for another outpouring of the presence of God in my own heart. No matter where we are in life there should always be a thirst after God.

The power and the glory mentioned in verse 2 are not the external splendor of public worship, but the communications of Divine grace, as manifested in the experience of the devoted soul. The Psalmist longed for such communion with God as he had formerly enjoyed in the sanctuary.

The thirst is not merely for the ordinances of a man-made religion, or for teaching concerning God. The thirst of the soul of man needs for its satisfaction to be brought into a vital and sympathetic relations with the Divine.

The Psalmist was seeking...
  • ...a Person. Creeds and ordinances cannot satisfy the soul.
  • ...a living Person. Not one whose work and life and love are things of the past; but One "who is able to save, because He ever liveth." I am so glad that Jesus is alive today and that we can have him with us every moment that we live!
  • ...a divine Person: One who is able satisfactorily to respond to the soul's deepest yearnings, to help it to realize its loftiest aspirations. Only in God can the thirst of man's soul find satisfaction.
Each of the verbs indicates intense desire. It is a thirst of the entire man. "My soul thirsts." Soul and flesh are used to denote the whole man by two principal parts. His whole being went out after God in fervent desire. Wanting God became the Psalmist's number one pursuit in life.

"In a dry and thirsty land where no water is." These words are literally true. The wilderness of Judah where David was at this time, even in the neighborhood of the Jordan, was a desert country.

These words are also true figuratively. The desert was a picture of his condition, an exile from his throne and home, and from the sanctuary of the Lord. His own son and his most trusted counselor, with a great host of his subjects, were in armed rebellion against him. The circumstances in which he was placed led him to seek the Lord more earnestly.

Sorrow and trials often drive us closer to God if we let them. We must never let trials in life separate us from God but rather use them for stepping stones to get closer to Him.

We live in a world today that is becoming more and more like the place that David found himself, that is in a dry and thirsty land where there is very little spiritual water to be found.

There are churches today who have replaced programs for the presence of God. The old hymns are being replaced with contemporary music in some churches today. Maybe I am old-fashioned but I still like the words from the songs that feed my soul. There is even one T.V. minister who never uses the name of Jesus. (May the Lord help me to fulfill my God-given call to proclaim His Word in truth.)

I think that Christianity has come to the place the scripture talks about when it says in 2 Timothy 3:5:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
I think that Jeremiah 2:13 says it best:

For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
But I am so glad that God gives us a promise in Isaiah 35:6-10:

For in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.

The Message Bible says it like this:

Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness, streams flow in the desert. Hot sands will become a cool oasis, thirsty ground a splashing fountain.

May the Lord help us, as a church, to become an oasis in the desert for people who are thirsty for God.

The way this church can become a spring in the desert is for each one of us seek the face of God until the springs flow out of us.

Do you thirst for the living God? Have we learned that the church without God is a desert? But a greater question is, have we learned that, if we are thirty, He is an oasis of satisfying water?

Why did David thus yearn for God? Two reasons are suggested.
  1. Because of his personal relation to God. Jehovah was the God of the psalmist, not only by creation, but by covenant; not only by virtue of His claims, but also by the psalmist's choice and consecration. There was a recognized and sacred relation between them. Because of it, it was right and appropriate that the Psalmist should seek God. Blessed are we if, when the woes of life over takes us, we can address ourselves to Him, saying, "O God, thou art my God..." A personal relationship with Jesus is so vital to us in these last days. Without that we have no hope of eternal life. Without it we can’t help others to know Him.
  2. Because of his exalted estimation of God. David says that he longs for God, "Because thy lovingkindness is better than life." We regard "life" here as signifying more than mere existence; for the statement of the Psalmist implies that life is good but life was not as good as God's lovingkindness. The Psalmist regarded the lovingkindness of God as better than a life of prosperity and pleasure. Having God's lovingkindness in his troubled life in the wilderness of Judah, David would esteem himself; more blessed than in a life of pleasure in his palace at Jerusalem without it.
"My lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless Thee while I live; I will lift up my hands in Thy name."
The lifting up of the hands was the attitude of worship, and symbolized the lifting up of the heart.

In his sorrowful exile while thirsting for God, the Psalmist praises Him because...
  • ...of what God is to Himself.
  • ...of what God is to the Psalmist.
  • ...of what He has done for him
  • ...of what He has promised to do for him.
In the bitterest experiences of life the devout heart will find matter and motive for praising God. Oh, the delightful realization of His presence!

Jesus cried, saying "If any man thirst, let Him come unto me and drink."
We live in a dry and thirsty land spiritually today, but there is an oasis were we can find water.

For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. Isaiah 44:3-4

Ho! every one that is thirsty in spirit,
Ho! every one that is weary and sad;
Come to the fountain, there’s fullness in Jesus,
All that you’re longing for: come and be glad!

"I will pour water on him that is thirsty,
I will pour floods upon the dry ground;
Open your hearts for the gifts I am bringing;
While ye are seeking Me, I will be found."

Child of the world, are you tired of your bondage?
Weary of earth joys, so false, so untrue?
Thirsting for God and His fullness of blessing?
List to the promise, a message for you!

Child of the kingdom, be filled with the Spirit!
Nothing but "fullness" thy longing can meet;
’Tis the enduement for life and for service;
Thine is the promise, so certain, so sweet.
--Lucy J. Myer