Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Courage of Our Heroes

"Greater love has no one than this that one lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 NASB

"War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." —John Stuart Mill

Today is Memorial Day. I just heard the testimony of Col. Leo Thorsness. He was an Air force pilot shot down over North Vietnam. He was held captive in the Hanoi Hilton for 6 years. For 18 days he was tortured non-stop before being held in solitary confinement and intermittent torture for 3 years. Then he was put in a group cell with 42 other American POWs. They tried to hold a church service by gathering together and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. They had just started when the guards came in and violently broke it up. The next week their highest ranking officer asked the men if they were committed to having a church service. He asked them all individually if they were committed. (Each one knew what it was to be tortured so they were aware of what was possibly in store for them.) Each one made the commitment. Their commanding officer said that when they hauled him away then the next ranking officer was to take his place leading the prayer until none of them were left if necessary.

The next Sunday they gathered with the commanding officer leading them in prayer. They barely got our “Our Father,” when the guards broke in and violently snatched him away. Immediately the next ranking officer took up the prayer with “who art in heaven,” and he was beaten and dragged away. In all the confusion the 3rd officer took his place “hallowed be Thy name.” By this time the prisoners were shouting the prayer over the violence and commands of the guards. When they laid hands on the 5th ranking officer suddenly out of the chaos came a deep stillness and the guards stopped beating and dragging them away. They decided what they were doing wasn’t working. From that Sunday forward those men held their church service without interference. That privilege came with a cost they were willing to pay. I have to ask myself am I made of such stuff. The Apostle Peter thought he was but his flesh failed him. Through the love, example and power of His Lord he did become the man he thought he already was.

I get a glimpse of why the Apostle Paul asks us to, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:3 I believe the church of Jesus Christ is in desperate need of good soldiers. I was made free spiritually by the exertions of the Lord Jesus Christ who laid down His life for me. I have been kept physically free by the exertions of the American servicemen and women who have laid down their lives. I am profoundly grateful for both. Their examples inspire and humble me to stand and if necessary die for what I believe in.

MY PRAYER: Father, thank you for sending your Son to set us free. Thank you for the men and women who have laid down their lives for our liberty. Help us to follow their example and help us to thank them at every opportunity.

MY CONFESSION: For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.
2 Timothy 2:10

Friday, May 28, 2010

Loving God Loving Each Other - Gaither Vocal Band


"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

Pastor Joe Guglielmo said something about this passage that impacted me deeply. Remarking on verse 40 he said, “I love this verse, and here is why. If our vertical axis with God is right, if we love God supremely, then our horizontal axis with man will be in line also. Do you see the picture that emerges from this? It is a cross - all that God has said through the prophets and the law hangs on the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary!”

Because of the finished work of Christ, I am at peace with God and I am free to love and believe Him. God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us. Romans 5:1-5 I don’t have to force myself to love Him or others. The presence of the Holy Spirit produces fruit and the first fruit listed in Galatians 5:22 is love. He gives us what we need for a life that is pleasing to Him. He doesn’t make demands and then dispassionately stands back and watches our struggle to obey. Peter tells us in his 2nd letter that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. Then he encourages us in light of all God has done to apply diligence in our walk of faith. This is where the rubber meets the road, where we work out what He has worked in. How do we do that?

Matt Chandler, the pastor of the Village Church in Texas gives some good advice. “Ask yourself what inspires you? What stirs your affections for Christ? Make a list:
(this is a shortened version of Matt’s)

1. Early mornings and hot coffee
2. The writings of John Owen
3. Listening to my wife sing
4. The book of Hebrews
5. Sermons by John Piper
6. Angst-filled music
"I also wrestled with and paid attention to what robbed me of affection for Christ. What, when I was doing it or spending time around it created in me an unhealthy love for this world? The first list was a strange one because the majority of things that robbed me of zeal for Christ and His mission were morally neutral things. " It looked something like this:

1. Watching too much TV and spending too much time online
2. Staying up late for no reason
3. Following sports too closely
4. Being physically lazy
5. Empty conversations (talking for hours about nothing)
6. Idleness

Matt’s insights have been a tremendous practical help to me. I hope they will be to you as well. Let’s pay attention to those things that cause our hearts to burn with a holy fire and those things that threaten to extinguish that flame. His Holy Spirit will enable and equip us.
MY PRAYER: Lord, help us to give you what you fully deserve…our mind’s attention and our hearts affection. Help us to focus on those things that move us closer to you. Help us to put aside those things that promise much but leave us empty. In Jesus’ name.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Darlene Zschech & Hillsong - Call on Jesus

A Man Like Us

Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. James 5:17-18 NIV

Do we really believe that Elijah was a man just like us? Have you noticed that the Bible doesn’t gloss over even the greatest heroes weaknesses? They are laid out for all to see. We have a tendency to put those who appear on the pages of Scripture in a specialized category in our hearts and minds. We shouldn’t do that. They were people, in their human nature, just like us. Ultimately God wrote them into His story and that is what gives them and us our significance. At some point in time God called them into a relationship with Himself. The depth and quality of any relationship depends on communication. He talks to us through his Word and prayer. We respond to Him through conversation…we talk to God… that is what prayer is. It is simple and profoundly important. We really don’t need to complicate it. We don’t need formulas or big theological words.

I love this quote by Rick Warren: Imagine I walked in the door one evening and my kids said: "O, almighty procreator of our family. How wonderful thou art, who sovereignly deposits our allowance to us. Oh, the majesty of thy wonderful self! We beseech thee to come eat dinner with us." I'd check their temperatures to see if they were sick! I don't want to hear that. I want them to say, "Hey! Dad's home. Good to see you, Pop!" I'm not saying to be flippant in prayer, but that's how you make contact with God. You just talk with him in a genuine and heartfelt way."

Elijah was very specific in his request and we should be also. When I was a young a mother I heard a sermon that really challenged me to teach my children to pray for specifics and not just in generalities. The pastor was very pointed in his analysis of why parents are hesitant. We don’t want our children to be disappointed if God doesn’t answer, so we foster low expectations with non-specific requests. He stepped on my toes, but more importantly he convicted my heart. I asked the Lord for opportunities to encourage my children to pray for specifics. Of course He came through.

My daughter overheard my concerns that the lack of rain was hurting our large garden. Big brown eyes looked earnestly into mine and said, “Mommy, let’s ask God to bring rain today.” I swallowed hard because I knew that there was no rain in the forecast all week. We joined hands and prayed that God would bring the needed rain to our garden. She happily and confidently went outside to play in the bright cloudless day with her brother. I had my own prayer session asking God to deal tenderly with her young faith. Imagine my delight when a couple of hours later the kids were dashing to the front porch to get out of rain shower that was falling as the sun shone almost as brightly as her little face. There was no doubt in her mind or mine that the Lord of the universe had stooped to hear and to answer her request. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Of course my daughter had to grow in her relationship to God in prayer. She had to learn patience and perseverance and how to stand on His promises. But I would say she learned one of the most important aspects up front…when you pray say….be specific. The Lord hasn’t changed He still asks, “What do you want Me to do for you? Matthew 20:32 Remember to say, “Thank you.”

MY PRAYER: Lord, thank you for the privilege of bringing all our concerns to you in prayer. Help me to be clear, help me persevere and help me to have high expectations because of who You are.

MY CONFESSION: I will be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving I will let my requests be made known to God. Your peace will guard my heart and mind. I stand on Your word! Phil. 4:6-7

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Having Done All...Stand

To me this so clearly illustrates what Peter says about the devil being a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. This is a cougar but the methods are the same. The cat caught the cub separated from its mama, rolling around taking life easy and the predator seized the opportunity to pounce. This little cub panicked and tried valiantly to escape but clearly was no match. When it finally came down to it...the cub had to take a stand and fight for its life.

We are told in Ephesians 6 to be on the alert and clothed with our God-given protection. Eph 6:11 Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. Eph 6:13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. We are also told in James 4:7-8 to resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Just like this little cub we are no match. But when we do what our Father commands by taking our stand and resisting we can know that rising up behind us is the full authority and protection of our Shepherd, the Almighty. The enemy will flee and we can run to the One who will comfort and heal us. He's saved my scrawny neck countless times. How about you? Do you need to stop running in a panic and take a stand?

MY PRAYER: Convict me when I'm running scared to stop, submit myself to you, and take my stand. Father, you have promised that as we submit to you and resist our enemy that he will flee from us. I am dressed in your righteousness alone and that scares my enemy. He doesn't see me...he sees you. You are awesome and you are mighty to save. In the Name above all names.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Saving Strength of His Right Hand

A Psalm of David.) May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob set you securely on high! May He send you help from the sanctuary, and support you from Zion! May He remember all your meal offerings, and find your burnt offering acceptable! Selah. May He grant you your heart's desire, and fulfill all your counsel! We will sing for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners. May the LORD fulfill all your petitions. Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven, with the saving strength of His right hand. Some boast in chariots, and some in horses; but we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God. They have bowed down and fallen; but we have risen and stood upright. Save, O LORD; May the King answer us in the day we call. Psalm 20:1-9 NASB
Ever have one of those nights where you wake up and the sadness and lack of hope over a situation just settles over you like a dark suffocating quilt of despair? I had one of those moments last night. I thought of Rich Mullin’s words from Hold Me Jesus:

Well, sometimes my life
Just don't make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small
And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It's so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart
So hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace

I was confronted with two choices:

• Give in and let it bury me under the hopeless weight of seemingly insurmountable odds….
• Look up and trust in the saving strength of God’s right hand.

Hebrews 1:3 lets us know that it is Jesus who sat down at the right hand of the Father. He is the Redeemer. He is the One who by His mighty and awesome power can and will, “work all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.” Romans 8:28 I am looking up to the One who sets me securely on high. I am looking to the One who will help and support me. I will place my confidence in His mighty and awesome name. Oh to know and believe that He is bending His ear to hear the cries and petitions of our hearts.

Psalm 20 fell over me this morning returning a quietness and confidence that defies what my eyes can see. Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He will answer him
from His holy heaven, with the saving strength of His right hand. Some boast in chariots, and some in horses; but we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God. They have bowed down and fallen; but we have risen and stood upright. To quote Keith Green speaking for Noah, “It’s just a matter of time until we see who’s going to float.” My circumstances will bow and fall to His great plan that He is unfolding. When our issues drive us to our knees we will rise secure and upright as we put our trust in the Name. We will be refined and repaired by putting our faith in who He is.
My prayer for you today is that the LORD will answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob set you securely on high…high above your circumstances. I will sing for joy over your victory.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Beware of Motives

"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1

These verses may seem to be contradictory at first glance, but there is a world of difference between the two. Jesus warns us that there are pitfalls in serving our Father. He wants us to keep our motives pure and our ultimate reward safe. Do we want our reward now by “doing good works to be seen” and having men honor us? Jesus wants us to go about it simply and as privately as is feasible. How much better to be seen doing good works than to do good works to be seen?

I think a good visual is a burning candle that is simply fulfilling its purpose and casting a glow around everything it touches. It gives light and warmth and the wick is facing upward. An unseen hand has provided the fire. Love and gratitude is the fuel that keeps it going. It is a light and a comfort in a dark and sometimes hard world.

The second visual would be a spotlight. If you’ve ever stood in a spotlight the first thing you will notice is that it is blinding. You can’t see those who are right in front of you. Whoever steps into the middle of the light can be assured that all eyes will be on them. In directing jargon it is called, “Front and center.” I have seen people so bent on serving the Lord in a public fashion unable to see the needs in their family who are right in front of them.

We are told in Ephesians 2:10 that “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We each have a path and a reward. Jesus so wants us to walk the path and receive our reward. He knows the pitfalls and He warns us to “Beware.” If Jesus gives us a warning let’s take it to heart and let it search us.

I recently was tempted to be offended by a lack of gratitude for something I had done faithfully and quietly for a long period of time. This has been a needed reminder that the One who never misses anything, even a motive, is the only one worthy to be “front and center.” "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” Revelation 22:12

MY PRAYER: Lord, thank you for your reminder. We trust your Spirit and your Word working in us and through us to keep us on the right path with the right motives. You are awesome. Take your rightful place front and center. Help us to take shelter under the shadow of Your wings.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Believing God/Spreading Influence

Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death."Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe."The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live." The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, "The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour." Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed. This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee. John 4:46-54 NASB

If a group of Christians came together to share their conversion stories the circumstances would be extremely varied. God in his mercy and grace knows what it will take to bring us to saving faith in his Son. For this nobleman it meant allowing circumstances to arise that neither his position nor privilege could solve. His son was desperately ill and he had reached the end of his resources. Rumors of a holy man, a miracle worker, had faintly held his interest… now thoughts of Jesus take center stage as his last hope.

Jesus’ answer seems harsh, but many were flocking to him not in a quest for right standing with God, but for spiritual thrills and entertainment. It always astounds me when I hear testimonies of God’s miraculous intervention in a life and then hear the person confess that they still went on in sin and unbelief a while longer. The nobleman begs Jesus to come, but Jesus bids him to go and believe his word. He does exactly that…he takes Jesus at his word and heads back home. The next day his servants meet him with the news that his son is alive, the fever is broken. It occurred at the exact time Jesus spoke. His faith is deepened and his belief spreads through his household until they all come to faith.

I hope that one of the joys of heaven will be testimony time. I know that God is front and center there, but to me nothing shows his grace and glory more than the tales of His transforming redemptive power. I can’t wait to hear what was going on in the noble man’s heart and mind in that long journey home to his son. Or to hear what happened after the healing of his son in his home and life.

That was his testimony, but I would venture to say that if you know Jesus, if you have walked with him any length of time I would want to hear yours too. I have a great desire to tell what Jesus has done for me. I started asking God in earnest in January of 2009 about making new opportunities for me to tell others what He has done for me. Since that time, I have had the privilege to speak to over 200 women and give my testimony. The next day, at a private home, I met a woman who told me she was sorry she had missed my testimony so I shared it with her one on one. I also got to sit at a dinner table with 3 of my family members and give them my testimony and all of the opportunities were deeply satisfying. That’s all happened in less than four months. Jesus has a deep desire that we tell others what he has done and allow him to use it in their lives.

I needed to be reminded by this wonderful story to keep praying for spreading influence and to be ready to go and tell what he has done. It doesn’t matter the number of people or the depth of the need, it is really all about him and what he has done to bring salvation to us and to our household. I challenge you to start praying for opportunities to share. I would love to hear your stories.

MY PRAYER: Lord, thank you for what you done in our lives. Grant to us great boldness and love in sharing our stories and making you known. Give us many chances to share your good news. Help us to tell it freely, fully, and plainly. Give us your words and help us to be gracious and wise. In Jesus’ name, amen.

MY CONFESSION: This is your promise, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Acts 1:8 I stand on your word.