Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Fear of the Lord

O fear the LORD, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no want. The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing. Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.  Psalms 34:9-11
The righteous cry, and the LORD hears And delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.  Psalms 34:17-22

It may come as a surprise for you to find that the Hebrew language has no word for "religion" in its vocabulary. Its closest term is an expression – "the fear of the Lord."  And the fear of the Lord is hardly reducible to the trappings of religion. It is personal desperation before a Holy God.  It is not the cringing, groveling fear that God will swat you like a gnat. It is the "fear" of unworthiness and unacceptability.
It is the "fear" that we have tried too much of our own goodness and are too enmeshed in our religious rituals to really trust him – and him alone – to rescue us from death and bring us to heaven.  God camps hosts of his ministering angels around such a person. He will meet every need in their lives. He provides a safe place!

What’s the matter with our world?  Echoing Psalm 36:1, Paul said the problem with our fallen, idolatrous, self-centered world can be summed up this way: "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Romans 3:18 

Did he say there was no – or not enough – religion?  Did he say there weren’t enough churches?  No, if you had asked him, he likely would have said there was too much of both!  Religion and churches tend to try to do too much and, in turn, expect and need too little from God.

Against the arrogance of what we can do and offer to God, those who fear the Lord know there is nothing we can do or offer to him that would count for anything in setting right what we have spoiled.  As the remainder of the psalm affirms, the one who fears God and "the righteous" are one and the same person. The world has been stood on its head!

The righteous person is not the good, upright, and admired man or woman but the one who will "cry out" (vs.16b,17) for his blessings.  Indeed, the "righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all." v.19  He isn’t above failures, troubles, and sin.  It is simply that he knows what to do with them.  Brokenhearted over his sin and crushed in spirit from his troubles (v.18), he cries out and is responded to by the merciful goodness of God. He has found the one and only safe place in the cosmos. He has found the God of all Grace!

If you are calling out for help today, he is listening. Run to the Safe Place!

Scripture to Claim:
I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the LORD; the humble will hear it and rejoice. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.  Psalm 34:1-3

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Safe Place

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Psalm 34 4-7)

David wrote Psalm 34 on the heels of an episode of escape from a Philistine king who was trying to kill him. It is actually an acrostic poem in which the first ten verses constitute a personal testimony. Then verses 11-22 deliver an exhortation to others in Israel based on the king’s experience. The key to everything in the psalm is found in the verses for today from Psalm 34:4-7.

There is a remarkable principle enunciated here that is easy to miss because of preconceptions we bring to the Bible. Let me illustrate by asking you a question: Whom does God hear, save, and bless?  Chances are your immediate answer would be something like this:  Good people. People who do right.  People who obey the Lord, stay out of trouble, and do good deeds.

Now please don’t miss the point here. We all should be "good people." We should all "do right." And, of course, we should "obey the Lord, stay out of trouble, and do good deeds." In fact, we should be doing lots of things most of us aren’t!  After all, why are we in trouble in the first place?

Most of David’s troubles were all rooted in David’s sins.  So are most of mine.  So are most of yours.  So let’s go back to the text and try the question again: Whom does God hear, save, and bless? The answer in this poem celebrates the wonderful truth that He comes to the aid of people who are in trouble because they’ve messed up and are in jeopardy because of their own foolishness.  God’s solidarity is not with "good" people but with people who know they are helpless, have nowhere else to go, and run to him.

·      He shows mercy to the brokenhearted.
·      He gives strength to the exhausted.
·      He gives salvation to the sinner.
·      He reflects his personal glory off the tear-stained, dirty, even angry faces that turn to him for help.

Contrary to our experience and expectation, God does not side with the folks who already have everything but with those who are so bankrupt that they know they have nothing!  Here is the New Testament version of this psalm and its message:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.  Romans 5:6-11

Is this not “Good News?”  That which we cannot earn, purchase or secure is provided to us from a gracious God so we can live in peace and security.  To rest in the knowledge of His gift is to experience the Safe Place.

Scripture to Claim:
For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock. (Psalms 27:5)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Safe Place - Psalm 34 - We Seek Security

The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing. Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry, and the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. (Psalms 34:10-17)

Before going to the counsel of David at Psalm 34, consider a strange phenomenon researchers have discovered.  

Airline travel is statistically far safer than any alternative method of transportation, yet about 20 percent of people say they have "great fear" of flying – or simply do not fly at all. It is far safer, for example, than traveling by automobile.  So, many Americans get behind the wheel rather than trust themselves to machinery they don’t understand and people they don’t know.

We know by the numbers that being carried to your destination by tons of metal thrust through the air by huge jet engines is measurably safer than being pulled along in a 4-, 6-, or 8-cylinder machine whose wheels never leave the ground.  But it’s a psychological rather than factual thing!  People without experience in flying resist it because it "just seems to make more sense" that staying on the ground is safer than being propelled through the air. Spiritual experience has some parallels to what I have just described.

Believing in a God we haven’t seen who promises to take us to a place we’ve never been by a method that requires trusting something other than ourselves is just too much to ask of some people.  Many more people would probably accept Christ when somebody devises a system wherein faith is faith in their own ability to remain in control of the machinery. (Come to think of it, there are lots of these legalistic religious systems on the market already!)

Paul produced these words from jail – an imprisonment that would end with his martyrdom. "That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day." 2 Timothy 1:12 He embraced a religion that meant suffering and possibly even death and he was perfectly confident and secure in his decision.  Maybe we’ve been missing something.  What we’ve been missing has been available at least since David wrote Psalm 34 – a thousand years before Jesus was born.

All of us want security in our lives but it seems we go looking for it in all the wrong places. Money can make the people who have it feel secure, powerful, and practically immortal. But they are deceived. Jesus told of the foolish man who tried to store up riches on earth only to find there’s no security in "things."  They’re too unstable.  Everything is great – then a heart attack or stroke pulls down the curtain. There’d better be something more permanent that "stuff" to make you feel safe.

People! That’s it. We’ll find good people and build good relationships. We’ll find the right person and marry her/him. We’ll live in a good neighborhood and make friends. And then we’ll be secure. We’ll feel safe. Everything will be wonderful. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way either. Here are more lines from Paul in II Timothy 4 while he was in jail at Rome: Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me... v.9-17a  At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; ... But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, 16-17a  People aren’t always dependable either. Friends get busy and move on with their lives; sometimes they just stop being friends.  Yet he was secure. He felt safe even facing death.  But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.  That’s the key! The presence and strength of the Lord create safety!

Scripture to Claim:
Uphold me that I may be safe, that I may have regard for Your statutes continually. (Psalms 119:117)

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Safe Place - Psalm 34

I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the LORD; the humble will hear it and rejoice. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together. I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them. O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! O fear the LORD, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no want. (Psalms 34:1-9)
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned. (Psalms 34:18-22)

It was the biggest-ever ship to sail under its own power. It was trumpeted as the greatest achievement of modern engineering technology to date.  At noon on April 10, 1912, the Titanic left Southampton dock for New York City.  At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, the ship slid below the surface of the Atlantic.  Out of its total 2,207 passengers, more than 1,500 died in the greatest maritime disaster in history.

When the first frightening reports of the ship’s sinking reached New York around six hours later, Philip A.S. Franklin, Vice-President of the White Star Line, said, "We place absolute confidence in the Titanic. We believe that the boat is unsinkable."  At a United States Senate investigation, Franklin later said, "During the entire day we considered the ship unsinkable, and it never entered our minds that there had been anything like a serious loss of life."

There seems to be an enduring fascination with the sinking of the "unsinkable" Titanic.  It is seen as such a fascinating, unusual, unique event.  Hardly!  From a biblically literate point of view, human arrogance is the norm rather than the exception.  We boast of our achievements and pride ourselves on the evolution of our knowledge, technology, and moral sensibilities.  Then we watch a space shuttle explode in the sky over Florida, wars that won’t end continue around the globe and our economy collapse.  We human beings long for security, but we don’t know where to find it. We admit our need to feel safe, but we can’t. 

Fear and trembling may well be the best description of much of the general human condition.  A minister at a baccalaureate once said, “There is no security. We are always on a quest for security.  That is why they call it a “’sense of security.’”  How true if you consistently seek it in the wrong places.

Security is never found in the palms of our own hands.  We know our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and recognize how easy we could be overcome.  Our personal resources cannot provide enough for the tragedies and circumstances that can befall us.  Our trust in others is not sufficient recognizing how fickle people are in commitment.  So where is security?  Where can we feel safe?

Psalm 34 affirms that there is one safe place in all the cosmos where you can feel truly safe.  It has been identified for human beings for centuries now. That so many of us continue to live in fear testifies to the fact that so few of us have gone to it.  Maybe this week we can point the way.

Scripture to Claim:
In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety. (Psalms 4:8)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Cave Dweller

Psalm 13
David is in trouble again.  It seems much of his life he was on the run.  This psalm was written at a very low point in David’s life.  He is a cave dweller seeking the attention of God to his problem. What do we do when it seems heaven is silent to our cries for help?  This is a common question and a difficult place for any believer. Can we learn to wait on the Lord when our world is falling apart?

. The Cave of Despair - vs.1-2
. He Feels Forsaken by His God v.1
When we are leaning on God’s promises we can bear His silences.

. He Feels Forsaken by His Friends v.2a
We are not the best counselors for ourselves when we are despondent.

. He Feels Defeated by His Enemies v.2b
. A Prayer for Help - vs.3-4
. He prays that God would hear his prayer.

David seeks God’s ATTENTION
. He prays that God would answer his prayer 

God’s answer may well be, “I’m working on it!”
. He prays that God would help him understand.
. He prays that he might not be destroyed.
. He prays that his enemy might not gloat.

Weakness will humble you!
David’s Prayer was both Precise and Concise.

. A Declaration of Faith - vs.5
The word “lovingkindness” refers to a love based on a covenant.
When I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.  

. A Song of Praise - vs.6
God’s deliverance in the past is our hope for His provision for today.
This Psalm begins with David as the Victim but ends with David as the Victor!

To hear God’s voice:
• Believe in God’s Promise - Hebrews 13:5
• Believe in God’s Person - Job 13:15
• Believe in God’s Provision - Psalms 27:13-14

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Mount of Ascension, Commission and Promise

Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. "You are witnesses of these things. "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.  Luke 24:44-53

We remember this as the time that Christ ascended back to the Father having completed His earthly task.  It was a glorious departure and stirred the souls of all who witnessed it.  

Also, this was the Mountain of Commission when Christ gave the marching orders to His army.  The Great Commission was delivered prior to Christ’s ascension: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20  The Task of Discipleship became the message of this final meeting on a mountain.

But, not only was this the mountain of ascension and commission, it was also the Mountain of Promise where He guaranteed the coming of the Holy Spirit.  He told them where to go and wait for the power to come and said, “You shall be witnesses!”  Acts 1:1-8

We are saved to save others.  We have been redeemed to redeem.  We have been cleansed to cleanse.  We have been served to serve.  We are called to call.  He did not say, “You CAN be witnesses” or “You MIGHT be witnesses but, “You shall be witnesses!”  The life of the Christian is the witness he calls us to share.

The Mt. of the Beatitudes showed the what of the Christian life, the Mt. of Transfiguration showed the Who of the Christian life, The Mt. of Olives showed the difficulty of the Christian life, Mt. Calvary showed the cost of the Christian life, and the Mt. of the Ascension, Commission, and Promise told the purpose of the Christian life.

I have long been an observer of the mountains rather than a climber.  What climbing I have done has caused me to realize something.  You can never truly know or experience a mountain until you have scaled it.  There is something about digging your feet into the side of a mountain and pulling yourself up to its highest point.  Such discovery brings a totally different interpretation of the mountain. 

There is no way that a Christian can experience the truths of these lessons without submitting to climbing of the mountain.  It is not enough to hear of its message, it must be experienced.  Will you pull on your boots and begin to climb the next mountain that the Lord has for you?

Scripture to Claim:  
"And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him." (Acts 5:32)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Mount of Calvary

When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, "He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One." The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!" Now there was also an inscription above Him, "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? "And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, "Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT." Having said this, He breathed His last.  Luke 23:33-46

The fourth mountain we follow Christ up shows the sacrifice required in true discipleship. The true cost of discipleship was seen by those disciples who stood at Calvary.  There they witnessed the high price that was demanded for the freedom of the souls of men.  

Walking up this mount the disciples realized that commitment to Christ had had a price...and the price was their lives.  They saw the rejection and humiliation with which the world would denounce them.  They saw how quickly those who had shouted “Hosanna” took up the cry “Crucify Him!”  Standing with Christ they feared for their very lives and even publicly denounced Him.

To the Christian who trudges up the Mt. of Olives there is the recognition that to submit to the will of God is the beginning and not the end of battle.  Listening to the Sermon on the Mount brings hope; standing in awe before the transfiguration of Christ brings excitement; praying in the Garden of Gethsemane makes us feel good about our commitment; but Mt. Calvary’s cross is humbling beyond words.

Calvary was neither easy nor pleasant for Christ even though He knew that God had ordained it; and what God ordains, He accomplishes.  It is only through His power and grace that His full will can be accomplished.  It is in the performance of God's will that His power becomes precious.

If all you know of Christianity is blessing without burden and reward without responsibility, then you may have missed Mount Calvary.  These disciples later took up their own crosses as God led them and then sacrificed as God demanded.  They conquered the world with love and proclaimed the message of hope to a lost and dying world.  

For every believer there is a mountain where we learn of Christ, a mountain where we experience His glory and a mountain where we make our commitment to lay down our lives.  Yet all are futile actions except there be a Mt. Calvary.  

“Must Jesus bear the Cross alone
And all the world go free?
No there’s a cross for everyone
And there’s a cross for me.”

Scripture to Claim:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Mount of Olives (Gethsemane)

And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." And He withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation." Luke 22:39-46

The third mountain we follow Christ up shows the selflessness required in true discipleship.  There was a great agony in the garden on this mountain beside Jerusalem.  The disciples learned the teachings of Christ on the Mt. of the Beatitudes and felt the power of Christ on the Mt. of Transfiguration.  Now they came to the place where the water hit the wheel.  Understanding and experience both need the "garden" to determine their ultimate value.

Jesus had to choose whether or not to go on and accept the penalty of death on the cross for our sins.  This was the hardest decision of his ministry.  He would have to bear our guilt and the penalty for the sins of the whole world. Jesus requested of the Father to show Him any other way so He would not have to go through with it.  In the end He put His will aside to obey his Father's plan.  Yet not My will, but Yours be done states clearly the denial of personal rights and acceptance of Christian responsibility.

Christianity lived in its fullest will, by its very nature, call for death to self in service to God.  Jesus had the courage to finish the course.  He was willing to do whatever God needed Him to do; even to die on the cross for our sins.  Jesus could have called on thousands of angels to protect Him from being arrested, but He allowed Himself to be arrested for a crime He didn't commit.  He could have disappeared from those who came to take Him, but He gave Himself willingly to a wrongful arrest.

This is a hard mountain to climb.  Yet, it really separates followers from disciples, onlookers from servants.  It is on this mountain the call is made for commitment.

God gives responsibility through Gethsemanes - personal encounters with God.  Every individual faces times in their lives when they must determine what it is that God wills them to do and whether they will accept the responsibility.  It is our "Responsibilities" that reveal our "Purpose".  Accepting responsibility often requires denying ourselves and submitting to God’s will for our lives.  Feeling the purpose God gives creates a passion making submission easier.  We become passionate for Christ, hungry for His presence in our life and yielding to His direction.  The real test comes when God leads us outside our comfort zone and into the task that only He can do through us!  

Only after you have pursued God’s will for your life, can you experience the personalization of Christianity.  You find your purpose, your priorities, and your ministry.  God gives us "Gethsemanes' which set our individual responsibilities that we can take up and follow Him.

This mount brought Christ His greatest test, but led to His greatest hour.  To turn back from this mountain means to accept a lesser goal for your life.  Here is where you decide if you will quietly observe from the sidelines or snatch the ball and run for the goal.  Don’t pass off your responsibilities.  Gethsemane is the place of decision and commitment.  Make the decision and take action.  Take up your cross and follow Him today.  

Scripture to Claim:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”  Matthew 16:24

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Mount of Transfiguration

Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not realizing what he was saying. While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.  (Luke 9:28-36)

As we follow the disciples and their Master we are led to another mountain.  This is truly what we would call a “mountain-top” experience; a deeply spiritual time at a very special place.  Is it possible to disassociate experience and faith?  Not if our faith is living and active in affecting our lives.  It is commonly supposed that this was Mount Tabor, a high mountain in Galilee. The name of the mountain is not, however, mentioned in the New Testament.  Let’s climb with Jesus up this special mountain.

Jesus leads them up into a high mountain, and there is transfigured before them: the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. Moses and Elias appeared also, talking with Him.  

The word "transfigured" is a very interesting word. The Greek word is "metamorpho" and it means to transform, literally or figuratively to metamorphose, or to change. The word is a verb that means to change into another form. It also means to change the outside to match the inside.  In the case of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ it means to match the outside with the reality of the inside. To change the outward so that it matches the inward reality.  

The greatest evidence of a valid Christian experience is not the fact that we can have them, but the change that they bring. To live the Christian life without experience is to miss a vital part of God's gift.  There is nothing unemotional about living with the Lord in powerful faith.  Every mountain they climbed was an emotional event for all of them.  It is hard to believe that a person can encounter the Lord and not "experience" Him. 

That is what the experience of Jesus does to us.  If we are willing, it will change us, transform us.  The Experiences of Discipleship are validated by this powerful and inspirational event in the lives of the disciples who gathered. The impact was so great that they wanted to remain in the place forever.  The experience was unexplainable to those who were not present, but it changed all of them.

There are experiences of great joy as we realize who He is as the disciples did.  There are experiences of brokenness that culminate in the freedom of forgiveness as He changes us.  There are the experiences of awe as we stand in the evidence of His holiness.  Experience is not the end of faith, but it is not opposed to faith either.  All these experiences come together to make you the person Christ wants you to be and the person He can use.  Embrace the experiences and allow the transformation.  Become the new creature He is creating in you and release your passion for His glory.

Scripture to Claim:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Romans 12:2)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Spiritual Mountain Climbing

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:1-12
Do you like the mountains?  Isn’t there just something very special about driving between two rocky cliffs or seeing the beauty of a sunset from a mountain top?  There is the sense of awe and grandeur that makes them much appreciated and inspiring.  No matter how strong or big you think you are, a large granite mountain overwhelms everything within you.
There is also the quietness and closeness to God that seems to encompass anyone ascending one of God’s great mountains.  The heavens seem to descend to meet you and what seemed so large at the bottom now looks so small and insignificant.  The rustle of the trees in the wind accompanied by the trickle of a small brook are sounds that are drowned out in other places apart from the solitude of the mountain.  You just feel so close to God.

Mountains have played a large part in God’s working with His people.  There was Mt. Sinai (also called Mt. Horeb) where God revealed Himself to Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments.  Or, Mt. Carmel, where Elijah challenged the false prophets of Baal and proved Baal as a false god.  There also is an important pair of twin mountains between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan in Samaria — Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. It was at these two mountains that Joshua assembled the tribes of Israel to instruct them in the Law of Moses.

It is not surprising that Jesus led His disciples up five very important mountains as He taught them.  A very specific lesson was learned as they ascended each mount.  Many times it seems that the Lord took his followers apart to a high place to capture their attention for a purpose.  While there was nothing special about these mountains themselves, there is a need to learn the lessons that the disciples learned as they climbed these mountains.

The Mount of the Beatitudes - Matthew 5-7
The definition of discipleship was given from this mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  The beginning place of Christian commitment is a proper understanding of the nature of the Christian life as it is lived out.  This understanding is basic to proper commitment and direction.

Too many have built their Christian lives on an interpretation of Christianity not given by Christ, but created in the minds of men.  Many continue under the law because they have not been to the Mount of the Beatitudes and understood what Jesus taught.  The demands and insights regarding proper Christianity that Jesus related seem far removed from the experience of many Christians today.  Understanding the “but I say unto you” statements of Christ can liberate us from the bondage of trying to find salvation through our own efforts.  Not to climb this most important of mounts is to fail to discern the meaning and powerful freedom of vital Christianity.

Like the disciples, the first mountain we need to climb is the mountain of discipleship to learn of Him and His ways.  Find Christ there and listen as He teaches.

Scripture to Claim:
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  (John 8:31-32)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sermon notes for Father's Day

Job Description for a Spiritual Leader:
1. The leader should be committed to and led by God to do His work with those in their charge.
2. The leader should share faith on a regular basis with the family.
3. The leader should be religious in participation with the church.
4. The leader should apply spiritual principles to the administration of the home.
5. The leader should require respect for others as God’s creation and model that respect in actions.
6. The leader should protect the home from the invasion of ungodly or dangerous media.
7. The leader should introduce children to other godly individuals who will assist in supporting the beliefs of the home.
8. The leader should show personal discipline in moral, ethical and spiritual matters.
9. The leader should intimately know the strengths and weaknesses of those in the home to encourage and strengthen them against failure.
10. The leader should be responsible to establish high value on each person in the home celebrating their uniqueness as God’s creation.
Fatherly things in a fatherly way:
·        Loves without condition
·        Protects as a warrior
·        Guides with wisdom
·        Encourages with enthusiasm
·        Forgives with a whole heart
·        Brings joy and gladness to life
·        Provides without complaint
·        Leads through relationship
·        Nurtures without antagonizing
·        Disciplines without destroying
·        Empowers his children without arrogance
·        Serves with humility
·        Counsels without condemnation
·        Comforts with strength and compassion

Friday, June 17, 2011

Grace Not Works!

Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?  But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are. 
Acts 15:10-11

The “yoke of the Pharisees” was the burdensome yoke of self-righteousness and legalistic law-keeping.  They believed that only keeping the law would bridge the gap between their sinfulness and God’s holiness.  Jesus’ yoke is light.  He knows that no amount of law-keeping will bridge this chasm.  Romans 3:20 tells us through the prophet Isaiah that no person will be justified (made righteous, acquitted, and judged acceptable) in His sight by observing the works prescribed by the Law.  The good news is that Jesus promises to all who come to Him that He will give them rest from the heavy burden of trying to earn our way into heaven and rest from the oppressive yoke of self-righteousness and trying to earn our way through works. 

Finding Rest – Part 5
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart ... For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  Matthew 11:29-30

yoke (yk)
1. a. A crossbar with two U-shaped pieces that encircle the necks of a pair of oxen or other draft animals working together.
b. pl. yoke or yokes - A pair of draft animals, such as oxen, joined by a yoke.
2. A frame designed to be carried across a person's shoulders with equal loads suspended from each end.

The illustration of a yoke here is symbolic of Jesus helping to carry our load.  Most often a yoke was used between two oxen.  The two yoked together would lighten the burden and usually, a young inexperienced ox was paired with an older more experienced ox that knew what to do.  This is similar to Jesus helping us.  He knows just what to do and He will help carry our load.  

There's a great story I would like to share with you from Mrs. Lettie Cowman's wonderful book, Springs in the Valley. In the deep jungles of Africa, a traveler was making a long trek. Coolies had been engaged from a tribe to carry the loads. The first day they marched rapidly and went far. The traveler had high hopes of a speedy journey. But the second morning these jungle tribesmen refused to move. For some strange reason they just sat and rested. On inquiry as to the reason for this strange behavior, the traveler was informed that they had gone too fast the first day, and that they were now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.  Then Mrs. Cowman concludes with this penetrating exhortation: "This whirling rushing life which so many of us live does for us what that first march did for those poor jungle tribesmen. The difference: they knew what they needed to restore life's balance; too often we do not."  

The soul to catch up with the body...think about it.  Living without meaning (soul) brings weariness.  Only when we stop and reflect on what has happened do we truly experience life.  When we are rushing through life, all the things we are doing we fail to experience.

Jesus encourages those who are “heavy laden” to take His yoke upon them and in so doing they will find rest for their souls. The yoke of Jesus is light and easy to carry.  You can rest in His spirit.  Let Him help you with your load.  He is waiting to ease the burden and bring you rest.

Scripture to Claim
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Finding Rest – Part 4

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:17&20

and you will find rest for your souls
As we continue our look at the invitation of Christ to rest it is important to look at His audience. Jesus was speaking to Jews when He shared this invitation.  He knew these groaned under the weight of their ceremonial laws and the traditions of the elders.  He tells them that by coming to Him they would be freed from these burdensome rites and ceremonies.  Christ tells them to come to him, to believe in him, and to trust him, and him only, for salvation. Doing this, he will give them rest - rest from their sins, from the alarms of conscience, from the terrors of the law, and from the fears of eternal death.  These Jews had sought to find favor with God through the Law.  They had discovered what Paul proclaimed in Romans 7.  While it is a lengthy passage, it bears reading to understand the burden of the Law. 

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.  Romans 7:14-25

Grace brings rest!  We are bound by the pressures of the demands of the Law.  We exist under the pressure of not meeting a standard or an expectation.  We are pressed by laws and demands we do not have the power in the flesh to fulfill.  With grace we can rest in the arms of acceptance and sufficiency through the blood of Jesus Christ.  When we know the grace of our God we can rest.  Grace brings comfort.  When we have God’s grace, we are accepted, forgiven, loved, and redeemed.  The penalty of the Law is cancelled by the payment of our Lord.

The grace of God brings us all things good in life.  We receive healing, prosperity and eternal relationships through the grace of God.  The first time grace is mentioned is in Genesis.  Here is an interesting scriptural insight from the Genesis statement Noah found grace (favor) in the eyes of the Lord.  The name Noah in the Hebrew means Rest.  Rest found grace.  The key to finding the grace of God is to rest in the work of Christ.

Many Christians struggle with the demands of the Law instead of resting in the provision of Christ.  The Law is proud and demanding yet Jesus says, I am gentle and humble in heart.  The Law condemns; Jesus saves.  The Law burdens us with guilt; Jesus frees us with grace.  The Law is bondage; salvation in Christ is liberty.  “Come... and you will find rest for your souls.

Scripture to Claim:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. Romans 5:8-9

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Finding Rest – Part 3

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.  1 Peter 5:6-7

"Come to Me ... and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28a
This is one of the sweetest passages in the New Testament.  It shows the willingness of the Lord to meet us at the point of our need.  Kings and leaders are usually difficult to access.  Jesus is not only willing, but invites us, to come to Him.  Note how gracious the invitation is!  

The weariness we have and the burdens we bear are not just the responsibilities of life.

We have the privilege of connecting with God through the ultimate fulfillment of God’s Law, Jesus Christ.  In Christ, we have the embodiment of the Sabbath, the fulfillment of the Sabbath because in Christ we have found our rest!  Consider these three aspects of rest we have in Christ:

First we receive the Sinner’s Rest when we receive salvation through faith in Christ.  "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken." – Psalm 62:1-2  What a magnificent blessing we receive when we Christ becomes our Savior!  All of those heavy, discouraging burdens are lifted from our shoulders by Jesus when we fall at His feet and receive His love.

Second we have the Shepherd’s Rest secured in Christ.  Zephaniah 3:17 For the Lord your God has arrived to live among you. He is a mighty savior. He will rejoice over you with great gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will exult over you by singing a happy song."  What a wonderful promise of peace or calmness which was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ!

Finally we have the Servant’s Rest in service with Christ.  Mark 6:30-31 The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and what they had taught. Then Jesus said, "Let’s get away from the crowds for a while and rest."  There were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.  Where some would feel there was no time to rest, Jesus saw it as a necessity.

Christ will meet us at the point of our need and do what is best.
  • Sometimes He Will Remove Your Burden - There are times when the Lord changes your situation in an instant, removing your burden. He did this for the widow of Zarepath -
    1 Kings 18
  • Sometimes He Will Relieve Your Burden - There are times when the Lord will leave the burden on your shoulders, but He will lighten the burden a little bit. He did this for Ruth when He allowed her path to cross that of Boaz. - Ruth 2-3.
  • Sometimes He Will Rest You In Your Burden - This is the most common aid we receive from Him. He gives us grace to carry the load we have been assigned. He changes us in our situation instead of just changing our situation. - 2 Corinthians 12:9
As we serve God, our communion with Christ provides us the necessary rest required to continue our service.  Even today Jesus is saying to you and me, “Come on, get away from demands of ministry for a while and rest.” 
Scripture to Claim:
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.  (Hebrews 4:9-10)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Finding Rest – Part 2

For what does a man get with all his work and all his efforts that he labors with under the sun? For all his days are filled with grief, and his occupation is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest. This too is futile. (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23)

 "Come ... all who are weary and heavy-laden,”   Matthew 11:28a
Jesus’ call is to a specific group of people who are aware of their weariness.  What signals does your body send to you, telling you it’s time to slow down and rest?  How well do you listen?  Do you know the signs of fatigue and do you heed them?  We need rest just as we need air, water and food to survive. The fact is when we fail to rest fully and deeply, we not only hurt ourselves, we run the risk of hurting others.  

In The Twenty Four Hour Society, Martin Moore-Ede says:  Our most notorious industrial accidents in recent years—Exxon Valdez, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, the fatal navigational error of Korean Air Lines 007—all occurred in the middle of the night. When the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian A300 airbus killing all 290 people aboard, fatigue-stressed operators in the high-tech Combat Information Center on the carrier misinterpreted radar data and repeatedly told their captain the jet was descending as if to attack when in fact the airliner remained on a normal flight path. In the Challenger space shuttle disaster, key NASA officials made the ill-fated decision to go ahead with the launch after working twenty hours straight and getting only two to three hours of sleep the night before. Their error in judgment cost the lives of seven astronauts and nearly killed the U.S. space program. We ignore our need for rest and renewal at the peril of others and ourselves.

Life makes us tired.  The demands from family, friends, work, church, and even ourselves keep us constantly in “catch-up” mode.  We are often just like the basset hound named Tattoo in the following story.

Some time ago, a newspaper in Tacoma, Washington, carried the story of Tattoo, the basset hound.  Tattoo didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut his leash in the car door and took off with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice.  A motorcycle officer named Terry Filbert noticed a passing vehicle with something that appeared to be dragging behind it.  As he passed the vehicle, he saw the object was a basset hound on a leash.  "He was picking them up and putting them down as fast as he could," said Filbert.  He chased the car to a stop, and Tattoo was rescued, but not before the dog reached a speed of twenty-five miles per hour, and rolled over several times. What a sight that must have been!  Poor dog!!  (The dog was fine but asked not to go out for an evening walk for a long time.) 

There are too many of us whose days are marked by "picking them up and putting them down as fast as we can."  At some point we must do more than just moan and groan about being tired, we must confess it to Christ.  You see, we can become so tired “in” life that we become tired “of” life.  It is no longer our body that is tired; it is our soul and our spirit as well.  

You will find that while others may listen, they will seldom help us find rest.  Mark writes, In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and *said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You." Mark 1:35-37  No, you see, if you are going to find rest you cannot wait on someone to recognize your need and stop their demands.  They may encourage you to stop what you are doing for others but not them.  This call from Christ is yours to answer.  Jesus says, “Hey!  If you are worn out from your burden, come over here to Me.”

Scripture to Claim:
There is nothing better for man than to eat, drink, and to enjoy his work. I have seen that even this is from God's hand.  For who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from Him?  Ecclesiastes 2:24-25

Monday, June 13, 2011

Finding Rest

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

This familiar passage of scripture is the basis of our devotional time for the coming week.  Many are aware of this offer of Christ yet few have taken Him up on it.  By and large, Americans don’t value rest and relaxation. On the contrary, we’ve made a virtue of unceasing labor; we brag about how busy we are, as if the hectic pace of our lives is proof that we’re important and significant. We feel guilty when we’re not working, and we’re suspicious of anyone else who removes their nose from the grindstone for too long.

Rest...It’s a word we hear often enough, but do we really understand its importance in our lives?  When we read through the Gospels we notice the relaxed, calm pace Jesus kept from day to day.  You never once see Jesus in a hurry.  Even when one of Jesus’ closest friends, Lazarus, was on his deathbed, Jesus took His time getting to Bethany to be with Lazarus.  How is it that Jesus moved through life so slowly and yet accomplished so much?  Is there something we contemporary Christians have missed? 

Maybe it is that Jesus took time off from ministry to rest.  There are several recorded occurrences in scripture where Jesus took time for Himself.  But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. (Luke 5:15-16  Not only that, He called His disciples to follow His example.  "Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest a while." For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.  (Mark 6:31) (HCSB)  Jesus prescribed time off for His wearied disciples after they had returned from a prolonged period of ministry or heavy demands from the people.. 

In the Old Testament, God set a pattern for us.  So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. [2] On the seventh day, having finished his task, God rested from all his work. [3] And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from his work of creation. Genesis 2:1-3

Shouldn’t we take His example seriously?  Rest is a part of life that cannot be ignored without loss.  Christ understood this principle and made it a point to get away both with His disciples and by Himself from time to time in order to rest and rejuvenate.  It was Jesus way of “recharging” His spiritual, physical and emotional batteries.  In doing so, He set an example for you and me to follow.  We are a people too busy for our own good, too busy to stop and realize that in our frantic business we are actually accomplishing less and aging more.

All of us are aware of the need to rest. We need food, we need water, and we need rest.  So often our bodies themselves give us the signal that it is time to rest, and so often the signals are loud and clear.  Much of the time, if we would listen to what our bodies tell us, we would get enough rest.  Unfortunately, we so often are caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, of earning money, of running here and there, that we don’t listen to our own flesh.  How many folk—struck down by sickness—have finally been forced to rest, and for a long time, too, who otherwise would have been fine had they listened to what their own bodies were telling them?

Sooner or later, we will rest—one way or another. The question is, Why not do it the best way possible?  Why not listen to Jesus and see what He was offering.  It may be one of the best things we ever did.

Scripture to Claim:
Return to your rest, O my soul, For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. Psalm 116:7 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Desperate Faith

Mark 10:43-52

One of the credentials of the Messiah would be the healing of the blind and thus restoring sight. (Isaiah 42:1-7)  Jesus, being the Messiah, was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah as He brought healing to the blind man Bartimaeus.  We can learn much about how to deal with our own “blindness” from this man.
I.  Life Can Impair Us - Mark 10:46 
Bartimaeus’ Problem - The place he lived was cursed... his family was bad... he was blind ... he was poor (Other than that everything was fine.)
The condition Jesus found him in was without hope that anything could or would change without a miracle in his life.  
II. People Seldom Care Enough to Help Us - Mark 10:47-48a
Three Wrong Assessments by the Crowd:
1. That Bartimaeus didn’t matter.
2. That Jesus didn’t care.
3. That they were more better.
The response of a desperate man is to minimize the
 negative voices that clatter around him.
III. Never Underestimate an Opportunity - Mark 10:48b
Bartimaeus was pitifully aware of his condition. 
       As a result of the Fall, sin is in each of us - not just the
 susceptibility to sin, but sin itself.
2.  Bartimaeus displayed penetrating insight into the person of Christ.
      Bartimaeus may have had no physical sight but his
 spiritual perception was 20/20.
3. Bartimaeus had passionate persistence.
    Opportunities only become opportunities when we
   embrace them as opportunities.
IV. Listen for the Voice of Jesus -- Mark 10:49
1. Jesus Heard!
One who seeks to minister hears the world differently than others.
2. Jesus Stopped!
He pays the ultimate tribute to one in need – He gave
him attention.
Jesus never healed anyone on the run.
3. Jesus Called!
4. Jesus Listened!
“You have not because you ask not.” James 4:2
V. Exercise Faith with Abandon - Mark 10:50-52
Complete faith is obedient faith.

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