Thursday, March 26, 2020

Love the LORD

   “Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

   If you are like me, you tend to forget that the book of Deuteronomy is an awesome book in the bible that is full of great advice for the people of Israel and for us today. The verse above appears right after chapter five where the Ten Commandments are given, and that magnificent chapter begins with Moses telling the people: “Hear, O Israel, the statues and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them.” (Deut. 5:1) He tells the people that they need to learn all the statues and judgments, and then after they have learned them, to be careful to obey them! 

   Then after Moses has given the people the Ten Commandments, he again admonishes them: “Therefore you shall be careful to do as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or the left, You shall walk in all the ways in which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land you shall possess.” (Deut. 5:32-33)

    If you have read farther in the Bible you know that the people of Israel did not do so well in following these instructions. They were pretty good at turning to the right or the left from time to time and sometimes even completely getting off the straight path and starting their own path that obeyed some things and disobeyed many others. Sadly we have some of the same problems today. We each think that we can make the decisions about which of God’s laws we want to obey and which we chose to disregard.

   But in spite of their unfaithfulness, God was always faithful! He disciplined them from time to time, but always took them back when they repented of their sins and returned to Him. He showed His supreme attribute of faithfulness when He sent His Son to earth to be the ultimate sacrifice for their sins, and our sins for all time. 

    So what is the key to living for God that has not changed ever since God gave Moses the words to write in Deuteronomy 6:4? We need only go to the New Testament and see what Jesus tells us, when He was questioned by a lawyer of the Pharisees saying: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36)

  “Jesus said to him, “’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
 In the gospels of Mark and Luke the story is told also, but Luke follows up with the story of the Good Samaritan when the Pharisee asks, ‘who is my neighbor?’ So there it is in its’ simplest form, for people like you and I. We are to love the LORD our God with everything we have! Our hearts, souls, and minds! With everything that we have? How do we do that? I am sure there are many people much wiser than I that can give you a better explanation, but simply put, I am to put God first in everything I do and say. He is my heavenly Father, and I will do all I can to obey what He has taught me through His Son and the writings of the His prophets and apostles in the Bible. 

    I am going to show how much I love Him by loving all the people He has put in my life because everyone I come in contact with in this life is my neighbor. Yes, even those that are not very likable, or those who are downright mean, or hateful to me. Jesus even tells me that I am to love my enemies! 

   “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

   Wait a minute! Jesus has given me an impossible mission! You are correct, if you are trying to do it on your own strength and power. You and I can do it only if we are filled with the Holy Spirit and we have a genuine desire to love our God with all our heart, soul, and strength. So how are you doing in this loving our God thing? I’ll confess, its hard, no, it is impossible unless I totally surrender my life to Him and ask Him each morning to fill me with His Spirit and work through me to advance His kingdom.

   As we remember what He did on the cross for our sins, and how He has been the faithful One, even when we have not always been so faithful, let us strive to let Him take control of our lives today, that we can love him more passionately and the people He has put in our lives today.

PRAY

1.    Dear precious Lord, fill me with Your Spirit right now that I may be used by You to love my spouse, my children, my next door neighbor the way You love me.
2.    Bring to my mind anyone that has been cruel or unjust to me and help me to forgive them and love them just as you did, just before You died on the cross,  and said: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
3.    Help me to be obedient to all that You have instructed me to do in your word, so that I can demonstrate to You and, to those around me, my love for You.


Monday, March 16, 2020

Trust in the Lord


    “I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the LORD: The humble shall hear of it and be glad.” (Psalms 34:1-2)


    Psalms 34 was written when David was running and hiding from King Saul who wanted to kill him, and he had taken refuge in the city of one of the enemies of Israel, King Achish, king of Gath. While there, David had to pretend he was insane to keep from being killed by the Philistines. (Read more in 1 Samuel 21:10-14) He was in a very difficult situation but the Lord strengthened him and gave him this wonderful Psalm to encourage him, and us today.

   “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together. I sought the LORD, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears. The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them.” (verses 3,4,&7)

   What are you afraid of today: The Corona virus, the lack of a job, problems with your marriage or children? Are you a soldier about to be deployed to a combat zone or a firefighter that may have to enter a burning building tomorrow? Whatever your situation, our God is faithful and He can deliver you and help you meet the challenges of your life. David was in fear of his life, but he tells us that He sought the Lord, and the Lord heard him and delivered him from his fears. Cry out to God! He is listening, and He is the one who will deliver you and walk with you through your trials.

   “Oh taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing. (verses 8-10)

    What an awesome word picture David gives us: “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Have you tasted of His goodness? Can you look back to the place in your life where you surrendered you life to Christ and He “rescued you from the mirey pit?” If you can, then you are a saint! Not a perfect person, that never does anything wrong, as that term is defined by some people, but a follower of Christ! The apostle Paul on numerous occasions refers to the saints as his fellow Christians and here David calls those who fear (hold in awe) the Lord as saints.

     “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart. And saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers them out of the all. He guards all his bones; Not one of them is broken.” (verses 17-20)

    Who are the righteous? All who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior and are declared righteous because of what Christ did for mankind on the cross. No, we do not stop sinning, but He has forgiven us of all our sins, past, present, and future. God is there for you if you are broken and have a contrite heart about your sins. He will deliver all who call upon the name of Jesus. (Acts 2:21) Verse 20 is one of the prophetic verses about Jesus, since the Romans broke the legs of the other two men crucified with Him but His bones were not broken. (John 19:33,36)

  Finally, David concludes the Psalm: “The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.” (verse 22)


   Hallelujah, Hallelujah and Amen! “The Lord redeems the souls of His servants!” 
If you are putting your trust in Jesus, you will never be condemned! He is your Advocate, your Kinsman Redeemer, your Savior, and your loving Father! Are you a faithful servant and follower of Christ? You have much to be thankful for today and everyday of this life and in the life to come! Are you not a follower of Christ? Let today be the day that you surrender your life to Him!  Then, go and tell your pastor, or a godly person you know and ask them to disciple you. You will never regret it! 


PRAY


1.   Lord, thank you for always being ready to listen to me and to fellowship with me. Help me today to hide Your Word in my heart and to remember that You are the one I can trust completely.
2.   Fill me with Your Spirit today, and help me to look for people that I can come alongside and help them to put their trust in You.
3.   I praise You, because You made me in Your image and “I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Help me be in fear (awe) of you so that I can be the humble servant You want me to be.
   



Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Palm Sunday 2020


   “Now when they drew near the Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them,  ‘Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.’” (Mark 11:1-3)

   The disciples did as they were told and they found the colt tied up just as Jesus said it would be. And someone asked them the exact question that Jesus said they would ask: “What are you doing, loosing the colt?” (Mark 11:5) They answered just as Jesus told them to do and the person who asked the question let them take the colt. 

   There are several wonderful points from this short Scripture. First, the disciples did exactly as Jesus had commanded. Am I as quick to obey the things that Jesus says I am to do as they were? Do I have as much faith to be obedient to the things I know are right because Jesus said so? These disciples have given us the perfect example of how we are to respond to our Savior daily! Second, did you notice that Jesus knew exactly what was going to transpire with the colt and the people who owned it? Do I really take into account when I read the Scriptures that Jesus is the Son of God who created the universe with the Father and the Holy Spirit? He knows all things, past, present, and future. I can trust Him! I can confidently obey His leading and directions because He loves me and has my best interests at heart!

   “Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut leafy branches from the tree and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David That comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mark 11:7-10)

  Thus it was that our Savior started the last week of His life. There was great joy in Jerusalem and Judea as many looked upon Jesus as their Messiah but no one, including the disciples, understood what was in store for Him in the coming week. He would cleanse the temple on Monday, would teach in the temple the last time, predict the destruction of the temple, (fulfilled in 70 A.D. when Titus and the Romans destroyed the temple.), celebrate the last supper with His disciples, be betrayed by Judas, tried by the Sanhedrin, and Governor Pilate, crucified on Golgotha, buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, and then rise from the dead that glorious Easter morning!

    The Jews had no excuse for not receiving Him as their Savior on that first Palm Sunday. They had the words of the prophet Zechariah who told them hundreds of years earlier: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey. A colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

   We know from these same Scriptures that He is coming back.  Jesus said this: “You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’” (John 14:28) and “They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26) The question we might ask ourselves as we reflect upon this day and this upcoming week that preceeds Easter is: What am I doing to live for Jesus this week considering all He has done for me? Am I being faithful to allow His Spirit to live through me as I tell others about Him and pray for those that don’t know Him to be here on Easter Sunday? Am I living a life of obedience to the commands of Jesus just as the original disciples (minus Judas) did? 

   Let us make our church a true “house of prayer” as Jesus said it should be and pray for many to come to know our Savior this coming week and let us be some of the ones who will invite the lost to come and to tell our friends, neighbors, and, relatives about our Risen Lord!

PRAY

1.    Lord put on my heart the people You want me to pray for and those You want me to invite or tell about You.
2.    Fill me with Your Spirit today that I might live this day for You and prepare myself spiritually so that I may be used by You this coming week.
3.    Lord forgive me of my selfishness and laziness in not spending more time with You in prayer and the reading of Your Word that I might be a better vessel for Your use daily.


Sacrifice of prayer


    “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a righteous man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” (James 5:16-18)

    In the year 2008, I was approaching my 59thbirthday and was well aware that I could retire from my job as a high school teacher when I reached my 60th. I had a desire to go overseas and serve as a missionary or associate missionary in some capacity or another. My wife was not real crazy about the idea but had agreed that if that was what I felt the Lord calling us to do, then we would do it. Our initial plan was to serve for two years at least and then see how the Lord would lead after that.
   
   I started praying on a daily basis and asked the Lord to wake me in the morning  prior to my normal 6AM wake up time so that I could spend time in the Scriptures and in prayer for His guidance. Every day for over a year, He would awaken me at 4 or 5 and I would spend time, reading the Bible, seeking His face and asking Him to show me what we should do.  Never once did He fail to wake me up! Finally, one day, I was asking Him what He wanted for my life and He answered with these words: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) 
   
   It was not an audible voice, but I heard it as clear as if there were someone in the room and I wrote it down in the notebook I had in my hand waiting for a response to my passionate request. I had not been reading in the book of Genesis that morning or any time in the previous months but those words came to me clearly and succinctly. Thus started a lengthy, and oft times, difficult adventure to obey these words that had been given to me. 

   We first applied to the masters program with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB) and began the lengthy process of paperwork and medical screening to get the mission boards approval to serve with them overseas.  When we were in the middle of answering the medical history questionnaires for both of us, I had been scheduled for an annual prostate cancer screening, which I had done every year since age 50. This time the doctor called with unexpected results. I had come up positive for cancer!

   I had to call the representative at the IMB and tell them that I had to withdraw my application until I could deal with this new roadblock. The very day we learned I had been diagnosed with cancer, Miriam talked with a doctor friend of ours and told him the news. He immediately told her for me to get in contact with a member of his church who had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer also. His wife had done an exhaustive search and had found a doctor in Atlanta who was a pioneer in robotic surgery for prostate cancer. Long story short, we chose to go the same route. 

    I had been diagnosed in late March and did the surgery in June.  I had to tell my principal that instead of retiring that year I would probably be around for one more year. Six months went by and in December 2009 I was declared cancer free. I again started the search for an organization to go overseas with since the IMB had discontinued the masters program I had signed up for nine months earlier. While recovering from surgery I had read a book entitled “Growing up Yanomamo,” the story of a missionary kid who had grown up in the jungles of Venezuela with his parents who were New Tribes missionaries. 

   After more time in prayer I called New Tribes Missions, informed them of my work history, and my desire to be used overseas and asked what needs did they have for associate missionaries. They told me they had a need for teachers and their number one shortage was for a school in southern Brazil. Miriam and I prayed and then we agreed to accept a position there. We went through associate missionary training in Florida and began corresponding with the principle of the school in Brazil. 

   Miriam, who always has a sixth sense about these things, did not feel comfortable about going to this school. I told her that she need not worry, because God always started us in one direction and then sent us in another. Sure enough, three months before we were to go to Brazil we received notice that New Tribes would close the school in Brazil and we had to look for another school. Our options were schools in Africa, Thailand, or the Philippines. 

   We sent emails to each of the schools asking if they had a need for a history or PE teacher. The only school that responded was Faith Academy in Manila. They needed me to teach Bible and Boys PE. Miriam was needed as an assistant Spanish teacher. We felt that our Lord was leading us to Manila, so that is where we made plans to go. Needless to say this was far away from where we had thought our Lord would lead us, but He had only said that we would go to “a land that I will show you.” He had clearly showed us the Philippines!

  One of Miriam’s greatest concerns was, how would we be able to support ourselves financially. We had raised part of the one-time funds we needed and were short $1000 for monthly support about two months before we were to leave. In one weeks time, our pastor told us the church would increase our support by $1000 a month and some close friends gave us $10,000 for one-time funds, the exact amount we were short! Thus began a fruitful and difficult adventure as we served at Faith Academy in Manila for two and one half years.

  “Ultimately, every saint stands alone before God. And when He calls us to step out in faith, we begin the walk of faith alone, seeking no other comrade than the One who has called us for His purpose.” (Oswald Chambers, Not Knowing)

PRAY

1.    Lord, help me to be more faithful in prayer everyday. Help me to spend time with You so that I can know You better and I will hear You when You guide my steps here, where You have placed me, and anywhere else You will lead me.
2.    Lord I put all my faith and trust in You. You alone are the One I can depend upon to keep me from “turning from the right or to the left” and to keep on the path You have chosen for me.

3.    Thank you for loving me so much that You died on a cross for my sins and that You have a perfect plan for my life if I am only obedient to Your word and Your voice.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

When we are weak, He is strong.



  “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor. 10: 12-13)

  I am embarrassed to say that the article I am sharing with you is from an author whose name I don’t know! It is not because he wishes to remain anonymous but because I made a copy of what he wrote in his book many years ago to share with my pastor and didn’t write down his name or the name of his book! But it is so good I hope you will read it and be encouraged by it as I have. (If anyone recognizes the author please let me know so I can give him the credit he deserves!)

   “I’ve been thinking about weakness a lot lately. I’ve been thinking how often I am not strong, not successful, not together, not “victorious,” but instead how I am weak, just barely surviving, how easily and fast I could fall. And lately I’ve been appreciating the virtue of simply surviving. 

   This hit me strongly when I spent the day at the hospital with my son. Nothing too serious; he had fractured his thumb playing lacrosse and needed some pins inserted so the bones would align and heal correctly. It was an outpatient procedure, minor surgery—in and out in six hours. 

   But it was an intense day for me. Twelve years earlier I had been in the hospital with Trevor, that time because he had been diagnosed with leukemia. Then he was just six years old, maybe 40 pounds. Now he was a strapping six-foot-one, 190 pounds, driving, shaving, answering his own questions for the doctor. He was a leukemia survivor. 

   After the hand surgery, groggy from the anesthesia, his hand in a monster cast—Trevor couldn’t button or zip his pants or get his shoes on. As I helped him dress himself, it was just like a dozen years earlier, helping my little guy dress after a surgery that had installed a pair of mainline catheter ports in him. I wheeled him out to the car just like the last time, my son the leukemia survivor. 

   So you can imagine how precious the word survivor is to me. The word describes me, too—all of us, in fact: Christian leaders, pastors. We are not that strong. We’re not that successful. At best we’re all just survivors. Like Trevor, we’ve got some amazing stories to tell, some scars to show for our survival.

   Most pastors know all about surviving. Only a pastor truly understands what it feels like to have yet another person call to tell you they are leaving the church—a person you love, a person you helped and served, a person who needed you, a person you feel you now need, and yet the person is going, leaving, abandoning, rejecting. You know the talk: ‘You are not feeding us pastor…I’m going where I can get more meat, not just milk.’ People go, and they take a chunk of your heart with them. And of your morale. And with them goes some of your naivete. Somehow your survive. Sometimes just by a fingernail, sometimes weak, usually scarred. But you survive.

   Only a pastor truly understands what it feels like to fire someone you have discipled, someone you have trained and encouraged and then brought onto your staff, but who didn’t last, no matter how much you tried to help them. Then the ex-staffer feels you turned on them, betrayed them, and soon members of your congregation assume the same. And you play it over and over in your mind, and you can’t imagine how you could have done any better. But that knowledge doesn’t keep  you from feeling miserable and weak, not just for a week or two, but for months.

But you survive. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 Paul writes:

   “For we do not want you to be ignorant brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivers us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us,”

   In other words, Paul says,  ‘I was weak, but I survived.”

    I remember Trevor’s days 12 years ago—constant hospital visits, sleepless nights, anguished prayers, painful spinal taps, bone marrow aspirations, nightmarish side effects from drugs, weakness upon weakness.  Yet Trevor survived. And so did we.

   I remember the two or there years I spent not long ago; preaching every week, but wondering whether my own faith would survive. It did. And now I identify with other of Paul’s words in the same letter:
    
   ‘But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed---always carrying about in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh…….. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the thing which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ (2 Corinthians 4:7-11,16-18)

   Pressed, perplexed, persecuted, abandoned---its amazing what we survive, as weak as we are. And it is also amazing to look back and think, I have been renewed day by day. I’m back. I survived.

   Whatever siege or nightmare or failure you’re going through now, try to imagine this: someday you’ll be looking back, 12 years will have passed, and you will have survived. You are a survivor.

   And when you see others struggling and stumbling and falling, don’t distance yourself from them or their weakness. Don’t miss the point by condemning them. Empathize instead. Draw close. Like Augustine, identify with your weak brother or sister, because you are no different. And believe that just as you have by grace survived ‘many dangers toils, and snares,’ they can survive too. For we serve a God who says: ‘My power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:8)”

PRAY

1.    Lord thank You for walking with me through every trial and temptation. Thank You for never leaving me nor forsaking me.
2.    Help me to look back and remember how many times you have put me on Your shoulders and helped me to survive.

3.    Help me to look for others who are struggling and to come along side them and remind them that they are not alone. I will be with them and You will be with us both!