Thursday, February 26, 2015

Scaling Mountains

Imagine yourself the side of a mountain.  You’ve come with a group of guys (and gals) to do some hiking and camping in the mountains.  You get dropped off overlooking a valley.  Above is the snowy, rocky summit.  But then your party disperses.  One guy heads off down the valley by himself.  Another heads in a different direction down into the valley.  Your friend stays with you and you have a choice to make.  Do you ascend the summit?  Or do you descend into the green valley?

The summit would be an extreme challenge but the valley would be a much easier.  Much more smooth and peaceful.  But, the summit.  Going up would be hard, but the reward would be great.      

In the Bible, a mountain can symbolize a challenge or obstacle that needs to be overcome by faith (Matt. 17:20, 21:21).  It is a symbol of the eternal kingdom of God, Mt. Zion (Heb. 12:22).  Mountains are also places of great significance.  In Psalm 24, it says, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?... The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (vs. 3, 4).

Sometimes, I think, we want an easy Christianity.  But walking with God is not easy.  God never said it would.  It is challenging, sometimes difficult.  Sometimes, to walk with God is to be stretched, baffled, bewildered, and strained beyond what we may have felt we could ever possibly handle.  But the reward is great!  I Peter 1:4 says we have an inheritance kept for us in heaven, which “never perish, spoil or fade.”  Hebrews 10:35 says we should not throw away our confidence, “it will be richly rewarded.”  We know that Jesus has promised that he is preparing a place for us in heaven (John 14:2-3).

In 2008, Alex and Bret Harris wrote a book called, “Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.”  I’ve never read the book, and don’t know much about it.  Nevertheless, I like the idea.  God hasn’t called us to do easy things.  Walking with God, like scaling a summit, can be an extreme challenge.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  But God does promise us strength for the journey.  He promises to walk with us. 

Is there a problem in your life you need to overcome?  Be strong in the Lord (Eph. 6:10).  You can do it!  Is there something you believe God has called you to?  Walk by faith and embrace the challenge!  With God’s help, you can scale that mountain!  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Learning to Love Like God

When I was a kid my mom and I visited a rummage sale.  My memory is sketchy, but most likely mom was looking for used clothing for us.  Several years ago I felt the Lord reminded me of the rummage sale to instruct me regarding love in marriage.  I felt the Lord say to me, “Love her like you loved that rummage sale.” 
Mom rummaged through the clothes searching for something of value, something worth her children wearing.  Likewise, in marriage, sometimes we have to look past the “junk” in our spouse and see the eternal value of the person God created.   
We all bring a certain amount of problems into marriage.  We bring sin issues, weaknesses, and fears.  We may have brought deep pain from childhood wounds into the relationship.  We may bring in problems like anger, deep insecurity, unresolved bitterness, or sinful attitudes.  Things we may have thought had been resolved rear their ugly heads. 
Marriage is a great opportunity to learn unconditional love.  I am certainly very far from perfect.  Leslie has imperfections too.  But we love each other and we are committed to each other no matter what.  I am thankful that Leslie sees past my “junk” and sees my potential in Christ. 
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  When we were lost in sin, God loved us.  Even now, when we are hurting, broken, or in sin, He sees that within us that is of eternal value.  And He redeems our pain, He heals the brokenhearted.  He sees our potential.  He draws the best out of us.  He does not look at us based on what we are; He looks at us based on the spirit inside of us that Jesus died to redeem. 
Likewise, in marriage, it is my responsibility as a husband to draw out the best in my wife.  It’s my job to look at her and see her potential.  I’m called to love her as Christ loved the church, to love her unconditionally.  When I look at her, I must see her eternal value, God’s eternal purpose for her life.  God is expanding the capacity of my heart to love as He loves.  I’m not there yet, but I am learning.
Will you take the challenge, to look past any “junk” in your spouse (or any other person) and, with God’s help to learn to love as He does? 

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her…”
Ephesians 5:25-26

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

God is Your Judge

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “He’s his own worst critic.”  There are those of us who tend to judge ourselves too harshly.  We’re hard on ourselves!  We know it.  But it’s so hard to change it.  Some people don’t feel good unless they feel bad, know what I mean?  On the flip side, there are those who, perhaps, don’t judge themselves enough.  It’s not that I think they should inflict harsh condemnation upon themselves; it’s just they ought to give a little more thought to how they treat others or the words they speak.  At the end, ultimately, God is our judge.  He is the one we have to stand before some day and give account.  

There have been times in my life where I have beaten up on myself for nothing.  I’m thankful for good friends, and my pastor, who help lift that weight off of my shoulders. 

The Apostle Paul writes, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (I Cor. 4:2)  As Christians, we want to do right.  We want to be faithful.  We want to honor and please God.  Yet, we’re also all too aware of our sin, our failures, and our struggles.  But we want to prove faithful.  We want to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

Paul goes on to writes, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (vs. 3-4)

I am aware that my conscience can be clear, yet, I may have done something wrong.  Perhaps I really hurt someone, but I don’t even know it.  Even when I think I’m walking right, I know I may not be completely innocent.  On the other hand, it’s an incredible burden to bear if you walk around in life constantly thinking you’ve done something wrong. 

There are things in my life I have to leave in God’s hands.  God is my judge.  There is freedom in this, when I free myself from the opinions of others, and live my life to please the Master.  His opinion is the opinion which matters the most.  And, often, when He speaks to me, I hear that He thinks much better of me than I often think of myself.      

Paul says, “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” (vs. 5)

God sees past our mistakes and sees our hearts.  Certainly, He cares about our behavior, our attitudes, our thoughts, and our character, and is in the process of working on these things.  At the same time, He sees our potential.  We may see the person of the flesh, but God sees the person of the Spirit (Remember Gideon?).  He sees beyond the season of life we are in right now, even if this season is hard.  He sees not just what we are, but what we can be in Him.  So, don’t be too hard on yourself!  Keep pressing on.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Simple, Pure Devotion

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
-II Cor. 11:3

After graduating from high school, I moved out on my own.  I rented a room in a house with some college guys, but I had my own, private room.  During the fall of that year, I worked at Burger King, the night shift.  I’d come home around 5 o’clock in the morning.  There were mornings I’d spend with the Lord, praying, worshiping, being quiet.  I earnestly wanted to hear His voice and know His direction for my life.  The world was dark and quiet, and it was just God and me.  I look back at that time in my life and remember such sweet fellowship with the Lord. 

Since those days I have had some awesome moments with God.  The Lord has touched my life in profound ways.  God has promoted me spiritually, I believe, elevating me to greater levels in Him.  At times I’ve stepped out in faith and seen Him use my life for His kingdom.  And He’s taken me through some severe testing (or at least it feels that way to me!).  Dark valleys have tried my faith, and hopefully refined my character too.  My prayer life has rarely been as consistent as I’d like it to be.  Yet, at the end of the day, I want to walk closely with the Lord. 

In a dream I had several years ago, a pastor of mine was standing on the platform at the church I attended in Michigan.  All of a sudden, he completely disappeared.  I was standing in the back of the church.  While everyone sat in the pews, I walked to the front.  I picked up the microphone and declared to the congregation, “Enoch walked with God, and he was no more.”  That pastor was a man I had really admired, someone who, in my view, walked closely with the Lord.  When I think of that dream, I feel challenged to walk closely with God. 

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “to know Him and make Him known.”  That about sums it up at the pearl of simplicity, doesn’t it?  Or, as Jesus put it, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37, 39, quoting the Old Testament).  When we walk with Him, we’re able to love others better.  When we love Him first, in purity and simplicity of devotion, His love, grace and peace beings to flow.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Only Two Talents

“And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.”
Matthew 25:15

The teacher in one of my classes today shared a devotional about the Parable of the Talents, drawing our attention to the guy who got 2 talents.  His devotional prompted some thoughts in my mind.  Sometimes it seems that our culture wants to place everyone on the same level.  But the fact is, though we are all equally valued in Christ, we do not all have equal talents.  No one person is better than any other person, but some people have been given more talents than others.  Some have been given a larger sphere of influence.  Some have been given greater responsibilities.  The question is not, how much do you have?  The question is:  What are you doing with what God has given you?

We do not all have equal talents, but likewise, we are talented in different ways.  My wife can teach elementary school.  That’s a job I would never want to have.  It’s not my talent.  I have a friend who is an auto mechanic.  That’s not my talent either.  But perhaps my friend would not make a good law student? 

Allow me to draw an analogy from football.  Not every quarterback in the National Football League is a Hall-of-Fame quarterback.  Someone has to be the back-up.  It’s not a glamorous job.  The guy rarely gets to play, unless the starter is hurt.  Nevertheless, his job is important (and he still gets paid pretty good!).  Many guys that are back-ups are good, but just not good enough to be a starter.  The back-up may work just as hard as the starter.  Yet, as a back-up, he may be maximizing his talents.

How many talents has God given you?  Maybe you feel like you only have two.  Cherish those talents.  Work at them.  Maximize them to their absolute fullest potential.

It’s easy to compare what we have to what someone else has.  But God has called each of us, as individuals, to run our own unique individual race.  When we live grateful for what God has given us, and live to our potential, one day we will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matt. 25:23).

Prayer Equals Peace

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow...