The Living Hope Of Christ
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3, HCSB
Seems as if there has been disaster after disaster that hits the news these days. In those news accounts, you often hear interviews of individuals who simply refuse to give up the hope of finding their loved ones alive. Praise the Lord there have often been times when days, weeks, and even a month or so after what seemed a hopeless situation, there have been victims discovered alive.
After the Haitian earthquakes, there were interviews of people refusing to give up hope of finding loved ones alive. The reporters run off to the next disaster/crisis and often times fail to follow up on those type stories. I have sometimes wondered if those interviewed were ever united with family members that were lost during the disaster. When I see the plight of the people in the midst of crisis, my heart often aches for them. Due to my health, I was unable to respond to the Haitian crisis, but we sent several teams. My heart continues to ache for the tremendous need of the people there. Truthfully, many were in a hopeless situation prior to the earthquake, but God has used this disaster to bring into the lives of many people the hope of Jesus Christ! In the midst of every crisis, I encourage you to pray that God will use their circumstance and the teams of people that respond to their needs to find the living hope of that only Christ can provide.
The 21st Century affords nothing new for the plight of humankind. Peter’s world would best be described as hopeless. He was writing to believers that were facing dangerous situations—even death. Peter encouraged persecuted Christians to be faithful and to focus on hope in God. Peter reminded believers their real hope, their living hope, was possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That truth is the truth that needs to be proclaimed loud and clear today as well.
In recent years, I have experienced some difficult health issues. The doctor has said in a couple of instances that in a matter of a few hours I would have been dead if I had not made it to the hospital. I was amazed at the peace I experienced the first time the doctor made that statement to me as I laid in the hospital bed. What assurance we have in life – and in death, as we trust in the One who gave us all for this life and all eternity.
Even today, as I picked up my prescriptions from Wal Mart, I was afforded the opportunity to share the hope of Christ with 3 people. Two were familiar with my health issues. One, through the years, has talked more and more openly with me about her relationship with the Lord. The second does not have a relationship with Christ, and I remind him each time I leave him I am praying for him and stand ready to share more when he is ready. Our conversation turned to readiness to face death if it were to come today or on a mission trip in the third world country.
In Christ, we can face EVERYTHING differently! The hope available to all of us is based on Jesus Christ who has power over death itself. Choose the living hope of Christ. Live in the strength that brings in the circumstances of your life and share His hope with the people God brings into your life daily.
“But Naomi replied, "Return home, my daughters. Why do you want to go with me? Am I able to have any more sons in my womb who could become your husbands?” Ruth 1:11 HCSB
The account of Ruth and Naomi used to be quoted often in Christian wedding ceremonies. The scripture used in the actual ceremony is Ruth’s declaration to go wherever her mother-in-law went and experience the life that God had set before them together. Truth is, what both Naomi and her daughter-in-laws faced was a hopeless situation in the times they lived. Orpah chose to heed her mother-in-law’s counsel, wept, kissed her goodbye, and returned to her people. Ruth determined to stay with her mother-in-law. What Ruth and Naomi faced together offered very little hope, returning to Naomi’s people – in their circumstances – promised them the potential for very little provision.
In 21st Century North America, we do not understand the circumstances of this account because it is foreign to our way of life. Naomi and Ruth both faced a hopeless situation, but at least Naomi was returning to her people. Ruth was placing herself in foreign territory and the consequences could have been far different from the story we know. What did she face?
With that, Naomi said no more and she returned to Bethlehem with her daughter-in-law from Moab. Perhaps there was some degree of “protection” for Ruth in the presence of her mother-in-law as long as she was alive. But we do not understand the consequences of a foreigner with no provision in the culture of that day.
Henry Blackaby would describe what was before Ruth as a “crisis of belief.” Have you described your crisis of belief to God? Do you have faith to go even when the prospects look dim and darker? Today, each of us needs to listen to that inner voice and be obedient to God, no matter the circumstances of our lives.
I love the “rest of the story.” We know the immediate provision as Ruth gleaned the fields and encountered, and found that kinsmen redeemer in Boaz. But through that provision in her life, we have the provision of our own kinsmen redeemer in the person of Jesus. If you are not familiar with the full account, simply understand this – Ruth (this woman of another race and culture) and significantly placed her in His redemptive story. She was the wife of Boaz, mother to Obed, grandmother to Jesse who was the father of King David. From the house and lineage of David, we have our redeemer, Jesus the Christ.
What seemed like a bleak and hopeless future was in God’s plan from the beginning. Her love, faithfulness, and obedience “paid off.” We need to learn from the lessons of her life and take our circumstances, our “crisis of belief” to God, and TRUST Him to provide ALL that we need.
The Ministry of Encouragement
“He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people and finally arrived in Greece” Acts 20: 2
Acts 19 reflects a near riot situation in Ephesus. There was much confusion. Acts 20: 1 records that after “the uproar had ceased” (NASB), Paul called for the believers in Ephesus and “exhorted them.” It is recorded that he went throughout the area, for a period of 3 months at least, and encouraged those in the faith. Truth is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another is the “gift” of encouragement. Whether our role is a friend, coach, mentor, parent, or some other position with another, we can give others encouragement.
That is exactly what Paul did as he traveled throughout the area on his way to Macedonia. The impression I have from reading this account is that Paul was completely unhurried, taking as much time as was needed -- never rushing. Luke, the author of Acts, expresses it this way: "and finally [Paul] arrived in Greece.” He writes this almost as if he was wondering if Paul would ever arrive at his destination. There is the picture for me that Paul, the servant of the Lord, took TIME to meet the needs of others in the ministry of encouragement.
Look around you today! You will encounter persons in your life and their greatest need for today may simply be a word of encouragement. That simple act of taking the time to exhort them could make a world of difference!
In recent days, my path has been “interrupted” with people experiencing life. The illness of loved ones (sometimes more serious than others); the death of a mother; perplexities about “next steps” in ministry decisions; anxiety about problems, pressures, and situations in their lives; whether they should speak out or remain silent on issues within their church, etc. etc. I could have taken the lead and given my counsel – and there were situations when/where I did, or I could LISTEN, encourage them to remain faithful/trust the Lord, and pray with them. Taking the time—being there for them—LISTENING to them—and praying with them seemed to be what they needed most. The ministry of encouragement goes a long way in helping people go forward in obedience to God.
In addition, I have discovered (been reminded) of a couple of other things while doing this “ministry of encouragement.” First, there is a real blessing to the encourager by being faithful in this ministry. When we STOP and listen, it not only encourages the one seeking our counsel, it helps us to realize how God can use us in His ministry. In other words, it serves as an encouragement to ourselves as we experience the faithfulness of God in our sharing.
A second discovery – a real significant reminder - in order to REALLY encourage someone (not superficially); it's critically important to focus and clear out all distractions. My life is FILLED with distractions – smart phone reminders of upcoming appointments; telephone calls and emails that need to be answered/addressed; pressing decisions that need to be made and programs/trainings/sermons that need to be prepared, BUT what is needed most is that I “drop everything” and minister to the need of this one person that is in need of the Lord’s touch at this moment through me. In this passage, I see Paul taking the time to encourage---there were pressing needs in Macedonia, but there was the pressing need of encouragement to burdened souls as he went. As we go, there are people who need us to give them words of encouragement – the precious gift of our time!
How do you handle your opportunities to encourage others? Are there people you know right now who could use some time and attention? Will you pick up the phone? Will you clear from your life the distractions that keep you from being a blessing to others? Will you allow God to use you today in the ministry of encouragement?
God's From The Very Beginning
“For you formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb….And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as of yet there was not one.” Psalm 139: 13, 16b, NASB
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you…” Jeremiah 1: 5a, NASB
“I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.” 1 Samuel 1:11, HCSB
In 1 Samuel we see that Samuel grew up knowing he was born for a unique purpose. Before we move on from that statement, let us UNDERSTAND that each of us was born for a unique purpose! The birth of Samuel itself had been an answer to his mother's impassioned prayers.
We know the story, Hannah prayed that God would give her a child. She further prayed that if God gave her a son, she would dedicate him to God. Samuel did have a choice in how he lived, but he wisely chose to follow the path that God set out for him. Samuel lived his entire life secure in the knowledge that God had created him for a purpose. As I stated previously, each of us have been created by God for a unique purpose. Like Samuel, we can be sure that our life has great meaning. God created you intentionally--not accidentally! God has a purpose for you.
In a recent devotional regarding Hannah’s prayer, I read this statement: “You're probably unaware of just how many prayers God has heard with your name attached to them. Long before you were born, godly ancestors may have been praying that their children and grandchildren would trust and follow God. Even if your parents aren't Christians, you may have no idea how many times others have prayed specifically for you.” Meditate on that thought for a moment and that in itself provides comfort and strength to follow Him.
When I read that statement, I thought of John 17 where Jesus Himself prayed for us. If you have not read John 17 as our Lord’s prayer for you, then I encourage you to read through it slowly. As you read, think on the specific things Jesus asks the Father on YOUR behalf.
The scriptures I listed above give clarity to a truth about each of us. We are not insignificant to God! God has had His hand on you from the very beginning. In fact, BEFORE you were formed in the womb He had a plan and a purpose for YOU. You matter a great deal to Him, and He still has much that He wants to do in your life and through your life if you will allow Him.
Take time today to celebrate your uniqueness that God has created in you. Thank God, for the people who have faithfully prayed for you over the years. Praise God answering those prayers and for making you His from the very beginning. Isn’t that comforting, from the very beginning we belonged to God. When we choose to live for Him and follow His path as Samuel did, we are much more secure in our walk with Him and fulfilled with our lives.
Safe and Secure: Abide In Him
Do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13, HCSB
In recent weeks, God has shown me His presence through various scripture passages. Among them was the book of Nehemiah. Rebuilding the walls and securing the gates has taken new life in my mind as I seek God’s Will. Each year I choose a theme for the life and work of Tar River Baptist Association. A time will come--or may have come already--when you find yourself facing intense temptation. As I shared my struggle with several this year, I often joked that it should be “Whatever It Takes To Be Acts 1: 8.” What did NAMB choose for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering but “Whatever It Takes.”
In reading Nehemiah, I began to sense what Nehemiah had determined to do when God called him to the task. Whatever it would take to accomplish the task, he would not be distracted by his enemies and neglect his responsibility. In Nehemiah 6: 3 he sent the message that he should not leave the important work he’d been called to do to respond to their distraction- their overall purpose was to destroy him.
In the end, I determined the 2012 theme would be based on Nehemiah 6: 3. The theme is “This ONE Thing: Whatever It Takes To BE Acts 1: 8.” TRBA must do all that we can to assist the local church, to strengthen it and help it impact the lostness of THIS generation. The “all caps” is not by accident. “ONE thing implies the singular priority of Christ. The necessity of being obedient to the commands of God to do the work that He has called us to do.
Then the emphasis becomes the word “BE.” Whatever it takes, we must be faithful to the call/obedient to the command to BE the church. What does it mean to BE the church? It means we are to ABIDE in Him and from our abiding in Him, the NATURAL result will be the production of fruit that remains.
The scripture I listed at the beginning should be our prayer as we seek to be obedient to the commands of Christ. Deliverance from the evil one may not always be a “dramatic escape.” Instead, it could be a subtle nudge of the Holy Spirit to remain faithful instead of yielding to temptation or compromising biblical principles to do “good thing” as opposed to the “God things” He has commanded.
Even when we do not deliberately go out looking for it, the powerful voice of temptation can still call you and lure you to be disobedient to God’s call upon your life. We are OFTEN asked to compromise in the area of sex, lying, or stealing. People may pressure us to get into alcohol, drugs, or gambling. It could be anything and if we are not careful, the enemy will simply lure us “off track.” We can quickly come to the edge of giving in, so we must ABIDE in Him.
Sin is a serious thing. We must never forget that. It is the goal of the enemy to destroy us, our witness. It is Satan’s desire to completely destroy us, but if that is not possible he is content for us to simply drift away a little and “miss the mark.” I was taught the definition of sin is “missing the mark.” Sin, whether it is “big” or “small” is SIN. And SIN keeps us from being all that God would have us to BE in Him.
Too often, we “play with sin.” Too often, we like to get as close to temptation as we can. We justify our actions because “after all, it isn’t________________ like real sinners do.” Sin is sin—we don’t need to “flirt” with it. Often times, our “innocent flirtations” bring disastrous results as we do not pull back at the last minute and fall into deeper sin. We are NOT strong enough to pull back at the last minute. Then to our dismay, we discover that temptation is not as easily resisted as we thought. Sin is a much more powerful foe than we realize. WE have to ABIDE in Him!
Don't walk blindly through life, spiritually weak and unprepared for the temptations you'll meet. Every day when you pray, look to the Model prayer of Jesus:
For background, I encourage you to read and meditate on Matthew 6: 9 – 15, Nehemiah 6: 1 – 14 (maybe at least the first 6 chapters of Nehemiah for full context), Psalm 27: 1 – 3, John 15, and Ephesians 6: 10 – end of chapter.
A Sure Escape Clause
"For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear]. But God is faithful [to His Word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently." 1 Corinthians 10: 13 - Amplified Bible
Believers need to UNDERSTAND that we , in effect, have the assurance of an "escape clause." I chose the Amplified Bible rendition because it so vividly declares the truths of this scripture. The lessons we need to learn include:
1. Temptation has and always will be a struggle for Christians. We sometimes act as if no other person has endured the trials, tribulations, temptations, etc. that we have. There is some peace in simply knowing that we are NOT alone.
2. God won’t allow you to face more than you can bear. To understand that God's "hedge of protection" around His children filters trials/temptations is reassurance to us as believers. NOTHING overcomes us that, with His help, can not be overcome!
3. He will ALWAYS provide a way out - a "means of escape to a landing place." As we look back to those times we have yielded (and we do every day), we can often times see where God had vividly displayed the escape hatch to our failures. We need to learn from those past failures to see through spiritual eyes more quickly and NOT yield to the temptation that lures us. As we grow in Him, that can take place!
We need to recognize Satan wants us to fail, but God wants us to live victoriously over sin. God has provided the way for that to take place every day! That "sure escape clause" is not JUST a "way out" of a mess when we recognize it. Understanding it fully/trusting God as a result, is a means to not yield to the lure/the temptation that is before us. As we abide in Him, we will see with spiritual eyes and trust God more, going His way.
In a recent devotion using this verse the author wrote, "I complain when the fire drill sounds. Whether it’s cold outside or I’m just busy, I don’t want to exit a building that’s not on fire. However, the first time I experienced a real fire emergency, I was thankful for the drills that prompted me to find the safest escape route." That's a good analogy for a lot of things we encounter day-to-day. Spend time with God. Learn from Him. Trust His Word. Learn from past experience. You'll know better how to react in times of real crisis/temptation.
Unfortunately, like the people of Corinth, many people are not looking for an escape route from temptation. The city was synonymous with rampant immorality. The culture of today is much the same! Paul tried to teach believers in Corinth how to live for Christ in corrupt, ungodly surroundings. His lessons can still be taught today, and we need to learn how to live for Him, despite the rampant temptations to forsake His ways and follow the ways of the world.
Take some time today to "look around you" and see how God has prepared the way for EVERYTHING you will encounter. The scripture teaches that He goes before us; He goes with us; we can trust Him in every circumstance. Take the time and you will grow as a result of the knowledge that He has not left you alone or forsaken you. He is with you right now!
Proclaim with me the LORD's greatness; let us exalt His name together. Psalm 34:3, HCSB
As we prepare for this Lord's Day. this scripture reminds us of the purpose of our gathering. It is not "to be fed" as we often hear. Rather, it is to worship the awesome and glorious God we serve. It is not about the style of worship in the church we attend, it is our obedience to God and exalting Him. We should worship/honor all that God is, His qualities, character, and attributes - all the things embodied in His Name.
When the psalmist said: "The nations will fear the name of the Lord" (Ps 102:15), did this mean they feared the letters in the word "Yahweh"? No, they feared the Lord God Himself.
The Model Prayer of Jesus to His disciples (What we refer to as the Lord's Prayer, though I consider THE Lord's Prayer as John 17 when He prayed for US) teaches us to approach God with a sense of awe/fear/reverence. "Our Father....." Who cares for us with true tenderness. Our Father, who meets our every need. "Hallowed be Thy Name...." We are to be praying, may Your attributes, Your nature, Your character, Your reputation, Your person, Your whole being be honored.
Truth is, BEFORE we start asking what we want from God, we need to have the right perspective of God. We are commanded to "be holy..." because the Lord our God IS HOLY! As we approach Him, let us recognize who He IS and admit who we are and pray that God will help us to become blameless, just, and HOLY. Ask God to help us abstain from every evil, speak the truth in love, and do justly towards ALL people. Ask Him to help me walk in the straight paths, sing the new song He has placed in my heart with incorruption. Ask Him to forgive my sin and enter into His presence in a way that allows me to truly and genuinely experience Him!
Several years back I heard a pastor relay how most people "come to church." His crude analogy - in my opinion - helps us to understand why we often fail to experience worship when we gather. It is NOT the music (congregation or special) that interferes with our worship experience. It is not the preacher's "dry sermon," age. or attire. It is not the attitude of others or the comfort of the pews that affects our ability to worship Him. Rather, it is our unconfessed SIN and selfish desire that keeps us from experiencing the fullness of God as we gather to worship.
Read through and meditate on my paraphrase of what this preacher said: "We come to church, not opening the Bible since we left last week. We have not uttered His name unless we used it in profanity. We have not gone to Him in prayer unless there has been a tremendous need during the week. We have not shared the Gospel with one lost soul, not giving any expression of thanksgiving for His blessings in our lives. We've lied, gossiped, cursed, spread falsehoods about others, spent hours reading or viewing pornography, gotten drunk with our friends on Saturday night before we came to church. And now here we sit, demanding that "the preacher bless us with the Word of God and enrich our lives" and to do it before 12 o-clock, because we have places to go and things to do. But then he said the clincher that rings loud and clear almost 20 years after I heard him say it:
"What we offer to God almost every Sunday morning is an open cesspool. I can stand up here and pour expensive perfume in that open cesspool from now to when Jesus comes AND IT WILL STILL SMELL LIKE AN OPEN CESSPOOL."
As we worship Him today (for EVERY day belongs to the Lord and He is to be worshiped), let's examine our hearts and lives. What are we offering Him? He deserves our best--our all---may we submit to Him and allow Him to work in our lives so that we can serve and honor Him better every day!
"The Ground is Level" at the foot of the Cross of Jesus. Jesus is the "great equalizer" for all eternity. The "worst" of all sinners---to the most privileged of all people, MUST access the Father through Jesus Christ His Son as personal savior! Even those closest to Him - even family - had to acknowledge Him for who He was, not claim special privilege from being kin. "I am the Lord's slave," said Mary. "May it be done to me according to your word." Luke 1:38, HCSB
The Holy Spirit coming made all persons equal before God. Holy Spirit canceled out all distinctions based on blood or special privilege. Acts 1:14 says that among those who devoted themselves to prayer were "Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers." How easy it would have been to have established a privileged line through those who were closely related to the Lord.
Mary, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, blessed though she was, waited together with the others for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And when she received Him, she received Him on the same basis as the others - by faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. All were equal.
The story is told of two men joining a church on the same Sunday. One was a respected judge in the community. The second, a Chinese immigrant, laundryman. The pastor said, "At the foot of the cross, the ground is level." The blood of God's Son has made it possible for us all to become sons of God. Praise be to God!
The thought occurs to me--without Him, we are nobody (no matter who we are). In Him, we are made "more than conquerors," "sons of God," and we can accomplish ALL things in Him!
I Surrender All
As Paul Harvey used to say--"and that's the rest of the story. Good day!" This morning as I read through Judges 6, 7, and 8 I kept thinking of the times I have taught/preached "the story of Gideon." I would always emphasize (and still think it true) the necessity of every man standing in his place and faithfully following God, with the result being God gives the victory. However, the rest of the story reveals MUCH more!
"Then the Israelites said to Gideon, "Rule over us, you as well as your sons and your grandsons, for you delivered us from the power of Midian." Judges 8:22, HCSB
How quickly they forgot---how quickly we forget! It was not Gideon, it was God that delivered the victory! They advocated making Gideon king, when they should have bowed down to the King of Kings. In fact, this was just another time they rejected God to be more like the unfaithful men around them who did have kings. Why are we so willing to reject God and His ways for the ways of man?
Gideon must have really struggled with his crises. First, he had to send 31,700 soldiers home and keep only 300. Then after victory he had to send the people home without the king they wanted. Gideon's love relationship with God was so firm that he followed God's ways even when human ways were far more attractive. What human glory do you surrender to do it God's way?
There was 40 years of peace, BUT in Judges 8: 32 - 35, we see that "as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god." (8:33). They "forgot" the deliverance God had given them--they did not show kindness to the household of Gideon. Before I am too critical of them, I must examine my own life. How quickly I forget. How quickly I "play the harlot." I (we) are guilty of spiritual adultery when we fail to surrender all and FOLLOW Christ daily.
That hymn at the end of the service, "I surrender ALL," (have you noticed) is generally sung quietly and mumbled through. Our hearts are literally singing--"I surrender SOME----." May we surrender ALL to Him this day and experience the JOY and fulfillment that only comes through faithful and COMPLETE obedience/following of the LIVING Lord Jesus Christ!
Cast Your Cares Upon The Lord
"Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken." Psalm 55:22, HCSB
What a verse of encouragement!! David finds himself experiencing the betrayal of a close companion. David couldn’t bear his burdens alone. He couldn’t fight the enemy in his own power. After pouring out his heart to God, David boldly proclaimed God’s power to sustain us.
You and I can’t stand in our own power either. We should learn to cast all our burdens on the Lord? We should choose to give them to God and leave them there. As you cope with difficult circumstances, may His Spirit remind us that it is useless to try to carry everything alone. May we learn to stand strong in His power and might.
Associational Missions Strategist at Tar River Baptist Association since November, 2000. Called of God to work with member churches to strengthen the local church in its efforts to impact lostness in THIS generation! I will ATTEMPT to add to this blog almost daily. People are free to use the ideas shared in any way they wish. The purpose of the posts are merely to help us in our search to BE the people God is calling us to BE in Him!