Thursday, May 30, 2019

Answering God’s Call

Abram lived in one of the oldest cities on earth, the city of Ur. It was in this idolatrous place that God called Abram. The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Gen 12:1). The call of God was commanding: Leave your country -leave your people - and leave your father’s household. That could not have been an easy decision, but Abram was obedient. Even more astounding is Abram’s obedience when we think of the lack of clarity that God gave Abram. He told him to go to a land that he would show him.

Abram began the 800-mile journey traveling through what is today Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, most likely following the Euphrates River. He stopped in Haran and lived there several years, and after his father died, he continued his journey to Canaan. Even in Haran, Abram was actively sharing his faith because many people joined Abram in his mission: “He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there” (Gen 12:5). God did not spell out everything for Abram. He only gave him what he needed to know at that moment. Abram acted in complete trust and obedience.

When Jesus calls us, he does not guarantee the future to be all perfect and lovely. To the contrary, he tells us we will have trouble like everyone else. Jesus does not promise that if we are his followers, all our problems will be solved. He tells us to count the cost before throwing in with him. Christ does promise to be with us. He does promise to be with us in thick and thin, or tick and tin as they say in the Caribbean.

It is noteworthy that God promised, “I will make your name great” (Gen 12:2). Ironically, this is what the builders of the tower of Babel wanted and sought for but had failed to obtain. When we try to serve God and honor him, God gives us honor. When we seek our recognition and fame, we fail to acquire it.

Abram was a man who put his faith in God and not in things, though God gave him riches. The writer of Hebrews includes Abraham in the Hall of Faith Chapter, “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:9-10).

Abram was detached from the world, just as genuine faith will always detach God’s people from grounding their lives too deeply in the present. We all feel the desire for permanence and security in this life, but like Abraham, we must learn to know that desire will only be fulfilled in heaven.

The Apostle Paul says the same thing to the Colossians:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:1-4).

Friday, May 24, 2019

Overcoming Discouragement

Our attitude today determines how we feel about tomorrow. Tomorrow’s outcome is determined by today’s choices. We are writing tomorrow’s script today. Tomorrow’s harvest is sown today in our words and deeds.

When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem with the task of rebuilding the wall, his greatest challenge was helping the people overcome their discouragement. They would eventually build the wall in the face of opposition, but Nehemiah would have to inspire them to change their attitudes. At first, all they could see was the rubble. Their vision was so blurred they could not even imagine a finished wall for all the rubble.

When we are discouraged, we have a tendency to blow things out of proportion in a negative sense.  When we get negative, it really gets depressing, Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall” (Neh 4:10).

The rubble had become insurmountable. It had become an impossibility. What changed? It was the same rubble that had been there when they began the project, and now they were halfway finished. The difference is what discouragement does to a person. It was an exaggeration.

What happens with a person that is discouraged?  They carry with them an attitude that since everything is terrible with me, everything must be wrong with life.  Everything they look at is through the lenses of negativity.  They literally carry their feelings on their sleeves, and everything is terrible and getting worse.

The next thing that happened is that the people became fearful. Rumors were flying that an attack from the enemy was imminent. They saw enemies everywhere (Neh 4:11). Negative thoughts and negative talk motivated by fear and has the potential to grow fear exponentially.

Nehemiah’s response is remarkable because he encouraged the people by turning their attention away from their problems and their fear toward God. Listen to his words: After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives, and your homes” Neh 4:14.

This is the hard part. It is called getting people to take their eyes off the problem and off themselves and help them look to God. You and I will always be afraid as long as we keep the problem front and center.

Nehemiah gives us some famous words when he said, “Remember the Lord, He is great and awesome” then fight for your families. When we remember who God is and how great he is, our fears melt away. When we remember to fight for our families because they are the most valuable thing in our lives on this earth, our attitudes change for the better. Your marriage is worth fighting for, no matter how hard it seems. Relationships with your sons and daughters are worth fighting for, no matter what has happened. The secret to overcoming discouragement is remembering God and being willing to fight for what is valuable in your life.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Love Springs From Forgiveness

The story of Luke 7 of the sinful woman is a beautiful picture of grace. The story contrasts an admitted sinner and a man who thinks he is an example of goodness. The woman seizes the opportunity to express gratitude for the grace she has received. Simon does the opposite when he refuses to extend common courtesies to Jesus. Jesus responded in grace to the woman’s extravagant gift of love, while Simon inwardly condemned both the woman and Jesus.

Because of her overwhelming gratitude, the woman had come as an uninvited guest to a dinner that Simon was giving in Jesus’ honor. The dinner, held in a courtyard, afforded an opportunity for people to see what was happening in important people’s lives. I do not know where or when it happened, but somewhere she had encountered Jesus, and his words had gone straight to her heart. What a life changing experience that must have been—when she heard Jesus speak. His words penetrated deep inside her soul. She felt hope for the first time in her hopeless life. As a result, she repented of her sinful life and found forgiveness. Her joy knew no limits.

She came and knelt at Jesus’ feet and wept over them. What a mess she made of Jesus’ feet as her tears mixed with the dirt on his feet, and yet he loved it. With his feet so wet, she unloosed her hair and dried them. The resentment from Simon for the intrusion only increased the longer she stayed. For Simon, what she was doing was utterly inappropriate! It was offensive for any woman to loosen her hair in public. The resentment now shifted from the woman to Jesus because he did not reprove her.

Then very carefully, she broke open a jar of perfume and poured it on his feet. The fragrance represented a valuable asset since this was one way of accumulating wealth a few drops at a time. The aroma filled the courtyard, and so did the suspicion of Jesus. No one spoke aloud or even mumbled under their breath, but everyone had their ideas of what happened. Simon was shocked by the fact that she was a known sinner and Jesus did not stop her.

This woman no doubt knew guilt having lived a sinful life. She was guilty, and she had experienced the disgrace of her mistakes. However, since she had met Jesus, her guilt was gone, and the unbearable burden of shame had been lifted. Now, she freely wept without humiliation or inhibition. For the first time, she felt pure, washed by Jesus’ grace. The controlling emotion of her life was rejection, and now she felt accepted. These were tears of joy and gratitude for her redemption.

A most challenging concept for people to accept about the gospel is that it is free. We love comparing ourselves with someone worse, as Simon did. Comparisons make us feel more worthy. If, however, your debt is more than you can pay, it does not matter that it is less than someone else’s debt. God receives no currency from us. We cannot buy our way into his presence. We only get there the way the woman got there, by repenting of our sins and receiving God’s incredible forgiveness.

There is such a big difference between people who have experienced the grace of God and those who have not. Those have not are harsh on others and often unforgiving. Their flawed perception of themselves causes them to believe they are good. They, like all, have sinned, but they do not believe it, because they have not experienced the grace of God. Graceless people are rigid and unforgiving, and people of grace are flexible and forgiving. People of grace, like this woman, look for opportunities to express their gratitude to Jesus.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Don’t Drink the Water!

“I am the patient, and God is the surgeon.” How difficult that is for us to remember. Once at the Bible School in Argentina where I was the director, I was called because a student had injured himself with a hammer. He was breaking up concrete and hit himself in the forehead. He was bleeding, so a bandage had been wrapped around his head, and he was putting pressure on it. I rushed him to the hospital. Standing in front of the admittance clerk, I will never forget the question she asked, “Which one of you is the patient?” It seemed apparent to us as the student held up his hand. The blood all over his face was a big clue, but not to this person. In the same way, we who have so many imperfections would naturally think I am the patient, and God is the surgeon, but how often do we forget.

When we look at the lives of Saul and David in the Old Testament, we see a study of contrast. Saul hardened his heart toward God while David opened his heart toward God. The surgery that God performed on David lasted many years, as he was being prepared to be king. God took things away from him the way a surgeon cuts away cancer so that the patient will live. Charles Swindoll, in the book David, lists five things that David lost in this process of being attacked by Saul. David lost his position, he lost his family, he lost his mentor, he lost his dear friend, and David lost his self-respect (1 Sam 19-21).

It was July 30, 1945, the war was a month from being over, and the battle cruiser USS Indianapolis was returning from a mission of delivering enriched uranium to allied forces in the Pacific. A Japanese sub sent a deadly torpedo into the cruiser sinking her in just 12 minutes, killing 300 of 1,200 men on board. The remaining 900 would have to survive in a shark-infested ocean under the brutal Pacific sun for four days and five nights without food and without water. Of the 900 that went into the water, only 316 survived the lack of water and the shark attacks and worst of all the hallucinations. The men saw incredible hallucinations, and it caught on like a plague. They dove into water to get on their ship that they saw sailing back into their lives. The chief medical officer, Haynes, recorded his own experience.

There was nothing I could do, nothing I do but give advice, bury the dead at sea and try to keep the men from drinking the water. When the hot sun came out, and we were in this crystal clear ocean, we were so thirsty. You couldn’t believe it wasn’t good enough to drink. I had a hard time convincing the men they shouldn’t drink it. The real young ones…you take away their hope, you take away their water and food, they would drink the salt water and they would go fast. I can remember striking them who were drinking the salt water to try to stop them. They would get dehydrated, then become maniacal. There were mass hallucinations. I was amazed how everyone would see the same thing. One man would see something, and then everyone else would see it. Even I fought the hallucinations off and on. Something always brought me back.[i]

We too have to fight delusions of this world that tell us to drink of this world’s water. David said, “How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (Ps 4:2). God is the only one who can truly satisfy our longing soul. It took David many years of long trials to learn that on God’s operating table, but he finally did get it. Listen to his heart for God: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps 42:1-2).

[i] Stanton, Doug. In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors. Henry Holt and Co. Location 2275, Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Building Blocks for Success

Imagine how it feels to send your college student off to a faraway place; then you know how Paul felt when he sent Timothy to Ephesus. Timothy was contemplating giving up when Paul told him to stay (1 Tim 1:3). Ephesus had been no picnic; Timothy avoided confrontation because it was in his nature. Some of the older men were looking down their noses at young Timothy. Paul sent him five building blocks for a fruitful ministry in his first letter. The way would be through personal godliness, through the Word, through giftedness, through diligence, and through balance.

Paul urged Timothy to pursue godliness in his life, and the apostle detailed five aspects of how that picture would look: speech, life, love, faith, and purity. Our speech no doubt is the most challenging aspect of our self-discipline. Solomon said, “The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse” (Prov 10:32). That kind of control is what Timothy needed in his work in his own life. Secondly, Timothy needed to work on his day-to-day life. There was to be no secular versus sacred. All of life was to be sacred. His life was to bear witness to his faith. Thirdly, his love was to be the kind of love Paul described in his letter to the Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor 13:4-5). Fourthly, his faith was to be real—the kind that Jesus described in his parable of the faithful servants: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty'" (Luke 17:10). Faith was to be responsive without expecting some reward. It was to be real and from the heart. Lastly, purity has to be the kind that comes from God. If it is self-generated, it will be like this: “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin” (Ps 32:2).  When it comes from God, it will be like this: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep” (Ps 36:5-6).

The second building block was the importance of God’s Word in Timothy’s ministry and work. It was to be center of what he did. God’s Word has to be front and center, or we will get lost in the maze of voices in this world.

The third building block is giftedness. We all have been given gifts, and we are to use them for the benefit of God’s glory and others. Our gifts were given to be used and not to be kept hidden.

The fourth building block is diligence. Diligence is staying at it and doing the best we know how. There is no place for laziness in God’s work. We are to persevere without giving up.

The fifth building block is balance. Life has to have a balance to work right—a balance between our biblical doctrine and beliefs and the application of those beliefs. That balance works when we live in the grace that allows us to forgive and be forgiven.