Friday, July 27, 2018

God with Us

“But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death” (Psalm 141:8).

In the musical “God With Us” is the song “God will make a way where there seems to be no way.” Did you know that? This is true.
James 1:4-6 says after saying, “Consider it pure joy when you come into trials of every kind, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance which must finish its work so that you can be mature and complete lacking nothing. But if anyone lacks wisdom, ask of God and He will give generously without finding fault.”

Are you there? Are you stuck or in a place of fear, anxiety or even despair? It is common, even the Apostle Paul was there and said in 2 Corinthians 4:8-12, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

Seek God while He is near and may be found (Isaiah 55:6). He brings us “treasures” in our weak bodies (jars of clay). The gospel is the power unto salvation and strength for the journey.

“The eternal God is our refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
If you are feeling pressed and overwhelmed, God is the answer and ever present help in trouble to lift you up and out of the pit (Ps 46:1, Ps 103:2). Go to Him, seek His wisdom and help. He is Immanuel, God with us, and will never leave or forsake you. His love endures forever. AMEN


Friday, July 20, 2018

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a key to life and health. In my ministry as a hospital chaplain I find people ill from many diseases and accidents. Often I also find folks emotionally ill from the lack of forgiveness. It seems that people often have a stubborn streak about forgiving. Their thoughts are about how awful a sin against them someone did. They do not deserve forgiveness. Some say they will withhold forgiveness and then their protagonist will see. See what? They probably don’t even know the other person is in such a snit over the perceived slight or real sin. But thanks be to God that He is forgiving. Eternal praises to Him who suffered and died that we might be forgiven. However, many still say He can’t forgive me for such and such a sin. Before I address that let’s see just how great God’s forgiveness is.

Last week I talked through the wonderful Isaiah 55 passage about God’s thoughts and ways being above ours’ and how He waters the earth causing us to break forth in songs of joy. Moreover in verses 7-8 Isaiah tells us, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord and He will have mercy on him, and to our God for He will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” His thoughts and ways are much higher, who can even know them? Yes God will and does pardon our sins as we turn to Him in confession for forgiveness.

The prophet Micah talks of God’s forgiveness saying, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgressions of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins under foot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).  I love that they are in the depths of the oceans.

My favorite Psalm 103 David says, “Praise the Lord O my soul and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all our sins… as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us…and remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:2,3,14,16). We have a God who forgives all and sends them as far away as possible, choosing to remember them no more.

However, since we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, He needed a solution for our sins. He needed to send His Son; Jesus Christ to suffer and die for us, taking all our sins on Himself that we might be freed. That is the message of salvation for those who would believe and receive it. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 7:14-15). This means that if you do not forgive, you have not received God’s gift or do not believe it applies to you. Perhaps you believe that your sins are too great. In a strange way that is arrogantly humble, an oxymoron. There is not sin too great for God that He would not forgive it. The only sin unforgivable is blaspheming the Holy Spirit, which means not receiving God’s gift of forgiveness. Jesus died for all that we might be saved from our sins; but we must open this gift to receive it. Thank God for this indescribable gift as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:15. Humans tend to be unforgiving and hold grudges, but God does not. “Forgive and you will be forgiven, give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:37b-38).


Friday, July 13, 2018

Come...come!

Isaiah 55 is a preacher’s passage, full of encouragement and promise for all who would listen.  This prophet tells all to “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1).  He is talking about the life giving word and presence of the living God, where we will find thirst quenching relief and refreshment for the journey of life. He goes on to tell us to come because it is free and it is good.

“Listen, listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:2).  He says, “give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul may live” (v.3). He is speaking about a covenant relationship with God to the faithful since David. He wants this for each of us. So he says with increasing vigor, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near” (v.6).  The Lord wants to give mercy to all who would turn to Him-why?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways” (v.9). We don’t fully understand the Lord, nor will we. This is good, because we do not want to try to put His immensity in a box that is not possible, except for small minds.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (v.9). We need to get that God is infinite and omnipotent, yet omnipresent and immanent. This is not something we can get our arms around and that is why we worship Him.

As the rains and the snow come down form heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater” (v.10). God is talking about a life giving word that is for everyone. He is not exclusive except to say that it is for those who would believe it.

“So my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (v.11).  I am overwhelmed by this promise of God’s power and faithfulness, because He wants to bless us with His word.

“You will go out with joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst forth with song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead the briers the myrtle will grow”  (vvs. 12-13).  This poetic metaphor of God’s power and nourishing word should fill us with joy and song as David the sweet psalmist of Israel did. So why would we do it?

“This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed” (v.13). Yes, this is to be known throughout the earth that the Lord is God and He will do what He wants and what is good for all of us who He made. Knowing this, we should be worshiping the Lord with all of our hearts and souls and spirit.

For many this is difficult because the world might have dealt you a bad hand, or is it. God knows about it and will use it for your good and His glory if you trust and worship Him. This morning I saw a little boy in a wheelchair and several people on oxygen. I met with a dozen people in the Chemotherapy Cancer Clinic. I talked with a man who had just had both legs amputated because of complications of diabetes. Then I talked with a grieving family as they said goodbye to their wife of 60 years, mother and grandmother. It is all part of life.  Yet Jesus said to His disciples after telling Him all things, ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Isaiah’s passage reminds us of God’s control and ways for us.  They are above us and beyond us and given to give us peace and joy even in the middle of our trials. That is why we worship Him, to receive glory and honor and power and praise.  So come to Him who is able to heal you and raise you from the pit, fill you with love and compassion so that you may flourish. AMEN





Monday, July 9, 2018

Continually


Continually
Can you do anything continually? Can you sleep or play continually? Can you eat or meet continuously? I don’t think so. I don’t think a human being can do anything continually. I know, how about being selfish? Well that getting closer. But the Apostle Paul in one of the harder verses in Scripture said, “Be always joyful, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). In the NKJV it says “pray without ceasing.”  How about the New Living Translation’s “Never stop praying.” How about “in everything give thanks”? This is God’s will for each believer. This is a superlative call to action in our rejoicing, gratefulness and prayer. Why and how do we do this? 

Why the present pluperfect case of continually? I think that God desires of us this state of mind and heart because anything else allows the carnality of our earthly body to seep in and muddy the water. We may not go from rejoicing to complaining and grumbling immediately, but we open the door for it. If we are not seeking God in prayer, whom are we seeking? If we are not giving thanks in all things, for which ones are we not thankful? In the Jewish tradition, the whole house was swept of yeast. “Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:7). This passage goes on to say that old yeast is wickedness and malice and that without it the bread or our lives are sincerity and truth. This cleansing if you will becomes part of the Passover celebration annually. For Christians, the previous Jewish Rabbi Paul was saying that this habit must be continuous. What is yeast but a puffer-upper? As the son of a former yeast company executive, I know how it works. I love fresh bread from the oven. But that is not the biblical point here. Unleavened bread is a holy sacrifice unto God. A life without pride and sin is gained only through the continuous sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God in all things.

Do we give thanks for all things or just in all things? This one is a little harder. Do we give thanks to God for the Cancer in our body? Well, I believe that God did not cause the cancer in our body, but He did allow it and He will use it for our good and His glory. God created the earth as Paradise without sin and disease. Humans let it in through sin. Now we live in an imperfect world, but God is still sovereign. He knows all about it and wants us to praise and thank Him anyway. Why, because as we praise we submit to His authority and goodness. We look to His eternality and omnipotence. He will make our illness work out for good. If we trust Him as 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “He is faithful” and will provide a way out or through the trial so that you can stand up or firm in it.  God is allowing it to mature and complete us. That is the faith-life He wants from us because He will continuously prove faithful to us. As a cancer care chaplain I find most patients almost miraculously being thankful or at least accepting in their circumstances because God has used it and them for a higher purpose that has been a blessing. 

A continuous action of prayer or praise is an attitude of the transformed heart. It is a Holy Spirit filled life given fully over to God. This completely filled; confident and courageous state comes through being made new by the perfect power of the Holy Spirit. It is not of man but supernaturally from God in His complete love for us. So, pray continuously as you continually rejoice and give thanks in everything with God’s help.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Continue

I am accumulating chapters for my next book called Keep Walking. This will be a continuation of my two-volume book, This is The Way, Walk in it. It is a series of essays on how to walk with God through life no matter the circumstances. Life is hard, so we need to stay on God’s path that His Holy Spirit reveals for us to follow. “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do all that is written in the Book of the Law” (Galatians 3:10). But God redeemed or saved us from the Law through His atoning work on the cross by forgiveness of our sins.  He has given us the promised Holy Spirit that we might be able to continue to keep walking in Him.

He has chosen us as believers, so God is saying “And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28). John goes on to say, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them” (1 John 3:9). Yes, God has given us His promise that as we continue to stay in His love and obey His commands we will not sin. This is a superhuman life, so Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12-13, Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” In this sense we are continuing to  obey His commands and work out our calling with His molding and guiding. We are to continue on in humility this responsibility because of the precious gift of salvation that we have received through Him who loved us; “If you continue in our faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:23). 

There it is; keep on, keeping on continuing in the faith through the purifying power God has given us through Christ Jesus in the Holy Spirit. His faithfulness continues the psalmist tells us repeatedly.  As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:15-16, “Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.” That’s the reason we continue to obey and stay in faith, so that others will come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and His continual, eternal and everlasting message of salvation and love, until He returns to rule and reign with us.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy Independence Day

For Freedom
Today is Independence Day for the United States of America from the oppression of Great Britain. The colonies needed to fight a Revolutionary War to be free from the tyranny of The British Crown and King George III. The war lasted from 1775-1783 as the Patriots penned the Declaration of Independence declaring: 
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  
It is God who made us free if we would only grasp and inherit it from Him. John 8:32-36 proclaims, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will be made free? ” 34 Jesus answered them, ‘“Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”’ 
It seems we have trouble being free. We fall back into bondage as Galatians 5:1 says, Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”  The freedom given as a free gift from Christ is costly. It cost His life and our whole life given over to Him in faith. Having nothing to do with our works, it is through the Holy Spirit that we are empowered to live free. But like a dog returns to its vomit, we seem to return to our sins or mistakes. We do not forget easily and Satan will remind us of our former lives. Man’s hearts are impure. In fact Jeremiah called them dark and deceitful above all else. This is condemning, but Paul said of a new person in Christ, “That there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1). 

We once lived in Virginia, the place where the Revolutionary war was settled, yet it was also the first state to secede from the United States to start the Civil War. It was over slavery or the bondage of men that it was fought. Somehow these men of the time forgot that they had fought for freedom of oppression from cruel masters. We are selfish and prideful, dark and deceitful until our hearts are set free through Christ’s cleansing Spirit. But we must keep on being transformed or we will fall back into our darkness. “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). We must keep walking in His healing and purifying light. This is not easy as we witnessed many Virginians with rebel flags who clearly believed that the Civil War was not over. It was quite sad to see this very presence of evil still going strong in the South. When I think of people saying that discrimination is over I shudder at what I know about mankind. We sadly live in the most segregated city in the nation. 

So where does freedom or liberty come? Psalm 119:44 says, “ I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” And James makes clear the way saying, “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25). 
I pray for the continued washing in the blood and the full transformation through Christ; both for me and the rest of the world. “Come quickly Jesus- Maranatha.” Happy Independence Day!