Monday, March 31, 2014

Fear versus Faith

Fear versus Faith
Scripture Reading: Exodus 14-1-31
“As Pharaoh and his army approached, the people of Israel could see them in the distance, marching toward them. The people began to panic, and they cried out to the Lord for help.” (Exodus 14:10 NLT)
When my boys were young we loved to go camping at Big Spring State Park in Missouri. In the evening we sat around our campfire watching the flickering flames and listened to the chirping of crickets, the hooting of owls, and the yapping of coyotes. Sounds at night always seem closer than they really are, and noises in the forest are especially scary. Ghostlike shadows make the hair on the back of one’s neck rise and feelings of fear emerge. Darkness has a way of doing this to a person.
     That’s what happened to Israel when they left Egypt for the Promised Land. God led the people by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea. Pharaoh allowed them to go, but then God changed Pharaoh’s mind (Ex. 14:4 NASB). The people stood facing the Red Sea and looked back and saw the Egyptian army pursuing them. They were literally trapped. Great fear gripped their hearts. What were they to do? Why did God allow this to happen? The answer is given in Ex. 14:4. “I have planned this so I will receive glory at the expense of Pharaoh and his armies. After this, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” (NLT)
     The purpose of God’s glory is to show that God is God. Our tirals and tribulations are intended to bring God glory. Each difficulty we face gives us an opportunity to show the watching world that God is greater than any adversity we encounter.
     On several occasions Peter allowed emotional fear to overwhelm his faith; once when he saw Jesus walking on the water (Mt 14:30), and again while standing by the courtyard fire at the trial of Jesus (Mt. 26:74-75). It is important to note that Jesus never gave up on Peter. When Jesus arose from the grave following his death and burial, he immediately sought out Peter and restored him back into fellowship.  
     Fear is one of the tactics that Satan uses to keep us in bondage. Living in constant fear stymies our spiritual growth, and leaves us vulnerable to other destructive attacks.
How do we live free of fear?  First, we need to recognize that God is sovereign and in control of every situation.  Second, He reveals himself to us in ways we least expect. Third, he gives us a great promise, “…fear not for I am with you. I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. (Heb. 13:5).  

Prayer: Dear Lord, Help me to remember that you are greater than any fear. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Amazing Prayers

Amazing Prayers
Read: Nehemiah 9:7-21
But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious, and merciful, slow to become angry, and full of unfailing love and mercy.  (Neh. 9:17 NLT)
            There are many amazing prayers recorded in the Holy Scriptures.  None of which are more important than the three prayers involving the captivity and return of the Jewish people.  All three – Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, and Daniel 9 – begin with confession of sin and end with praise for the LORD.  Ezra was heartbroken because of the sin of mixed marriages, while Nehemiah and the people confessed the sins of their forefathers and praised the greatness, goodness, and grace of God.  The leaders cried out, “Stand up and prove the LORD your God; for he lives from everlasting to everlasting” (9:5).  Daniel bowed the knee three times a day to pray for his brethren in Jerusalem. 
            Israel expressed the kind of worship that we all need to practice.  We see them reading the Word of God, confessing their sins in prayer, exhorting their brethren to follow the law, and separating themselves wholly unto the Lord.  It is in the Holy Scriptures that God reveals himself to his people.  Nehemiah’s prayer teaches us that self-examination is an essential part of worship and honest confession brings cleansing and forgiveness. 
            I have listened to many prayers of God’s people in the past fifty plus years and I find that the main request always seems to be for physical needs.  Very seldom have I heard requests being made for spiritual needs.  This was quite the opposite for the Apostle Paul. 
            To the Ephesians he asks God to give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation, enlightenment, hope, riches and greatness (1:16-19).  To the Philippians he prayed that their love would abound more and more (1:9-11).  To the Colossians he asked that they might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (1:9=12).  Go back and read these passages and tell me what you find?  Right!  No requests made for physical healing – only spiritual needs.  This is not to say that God doesn’t delight in hearing requests for physical healing, but I do believe he would love to hear us pray for spiritual needs first. 

            Are you more concerned about physical needs than spiritual needs?  Perhaps it would be good to revisit our priorities.  Should we not be praying for the spiritual as well as the physical needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ?  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Be Still and Know

Be Still and Know
Read: Psalm 46:1-11
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen; I will be exalted in the earth.  (Psalm 46:10 KJV)
            The psalmist gave us two exhortations that I find most difficult to follow.  One is recorded in Psalm 27:14 where it says, “Wait patiently for the Lord.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”  The other exhortation is found in Psalm 46:10a, “Be still and know that I am God:” 
            Which of these two commands do you find harder to obey?  I know you’re probably thinking, aren’t they the same?  Not for me.  Here’s why!  I am not normally a patient person, but waiting is easier for me than being still.  To be perfectly still means to “cease striving, be silent, calm down, stop fighting, and let go of your concerns.”  Even in the quietness of the first awakening in the morning my mind is racing a mile a minute.  All kinds of thoughts, plans, ideas, and problems surface.  Somehow our society or culture has instilled within us the idea that it is honorable and right to be constantly busy. 
            I am much better at waiting on the Lord because I can do a lot of things while waiting.  I can plan, think through problems, set up schedules and meetings, talk to clients, and even mow the lawn.  But to be still – that seems next to impossible.  It’s like trying to get a small child to sit perfectly still during a concert, play, or worship service. 
            I remember hearing a story about a little boy who wanted desperately to learn to whistle.  During a worship service, right in the middle of the preaching, a loud shrill whistle was heard in the pews.  The boy’s mother was shocked and took the boy out into the foyer and said, “Tommy what in the world possessed you to do such a thing,”  the boy replied, “I asked the Lord to teach me how to whistle, and he just did.”
            Why is it so hard to “be still?”  Is it because we forget to emphasize the second half of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God. The Lord is not asking us to sit quietly with a blank mind.  We are to “be still” and fill our minds with thoughts of his majesty and greatness, his love and kindness, his grace and mercy, his forgiveness and longsuffering, and most of all his redeeming character.

            How are you at “being still?”  Do you find it harder than “waiting?”  Fill you mind with all the great things you know about God, and watch the world fade away.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Always means Always

Always Means Always
Read: Hebrews 13:1-19
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
(Hebrews 13:8 NASB)
            Years ago, the word always meant “without end.”  When applied to a person’s oaths and promises you could count on him being loyal, true, dependent, faithful, patient, reliable, and instant in season and out of season.
            Prudential, one of the largest insurance companies in the world, uses the “rock of Gibraltar” as its logo meaning the company will always be there for its customers, and is solid as a rock.
            Over the years the idea that certain statements and convictions were always true has been deluded to mean “sometimes.”  Our cultural dictionary in today’s world has redefined the meaning of always.  Unfortunately, the nature of values, morals, and standards in our society has changed.  If you were to ask the average person of the street what the word “always” means to them, a myriad of responses as diverse as the individuals you interview would come forth.  What has happened to change people’s perspective on “always means always?”  Have we allowed the world to squeeze us into its mold?  How does our view of “always” affect our spiritual life?
            The minor prophet Malachi says, “I am the Lord, and I do not change…”  (Mal. 3:6a NLT)  Wow!  Are you kidding?  Unchanging?  You and I change.  Businesses change.  Governments change.  Society is in a constant state of change.  Laws change.  Is it possible that we worship an unchanging God – a God who always was and always is and always will be?
            Would you want it any other way?  Would you want to put your trust in a God who is unfaithful, fickle, capricious, unreliable, devious, or impulsive? NEVER!
            Living in an unstable world where mankind claims there are no absolutes, I want a God that always keeps his promises.  Always is reliable.  Always is dependable.  Always can be counted upon.  I want someone who isn’t swayed by every whim of doctrine, or lulled to sleep by the promises of false prophets.  I want a God like the one described in 1 Samuel 15:29, “Also the Glory of Israel will not change his mind; for He is not a man that he should change his mind.”  (NASB)

            That, my friends, is a God worthy of our worship and our praise.  Everything, including our faith is resting upon God’s “always-ness.”  One thing we can take to the bank --- ALWAYS MEANS ALWAYS!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Role of Advocate

The Role of Advocate
Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 24:1-22
“May the Lord judge which of us is right and punish the guilty one. He is my advocate, and he will rescue me from your power! (1 Sam. 24:15 NLT)_
The Greek word parakletos is used five times in the New Testament and translated as “advocate, helper, counselor, intercessor, or defense attorney. It signifies one who takes up the cause of another, a helper in court, or someone who comes alongside as comforter.
     I have had the privilege of acting as advocate on a couple of occasions. Once when a missionary couple was seeking to raise support, I spoke on their behalf before the board of elders at our church. The decision was made to add them to the mission support list. On a recent occasion I chose to be an advocate for a missionary friend who is seeking to raise support to help a couple return to the mission field with their one and a half year old quintuplets. 
     Four of the five uses of parakletos is found in John’s gospel. In John 14:16 and 26;15:26;16:7, the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father in the name of Jesus Christ to be a helper, comforter, and counselor to the believer. His task will be to guide, teach, comfort, protect, and testify about the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1 John 2:1, we see the Lord Jesus Christ acting as a parakletos or defense attorney before the Tribunal of God when Satan comes to accuse the brethren.
     I see David acting as an advocate to show mercy to Saul when the king was indisposed in the very cave where David and his men were hiding. The men wanted David to kill the king while he had him under his power, but David refused to harm the Lord’s anointed one. The Scripture says, “So David sharply rebuked his men and did not let them kill Saul.” (1 Sam. 24:7 NLT)
     As their advocate, Jesus intercedes for believers in prayer to the Father that their “faith should not fail (Luke 22:31-33). Because of their faith in believing that Jesus died for them, believers are eternally secure in Christ, but when it comes to service they need to continue to hold fast to their faith. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, so he prayed to his Father that as a result of Peter’s denial his faith would not collapse and damage his future usefulness in the Kingdom of God.
     Are you willing to be an advocate, helper, counselor, or comforter to someone who is in need?

Prayer: Dear Lord, there are many opportunities for us as believers to take up the just cause of another person or other groups. Give us the courage, strength, and willingness to come alongside another believer or unbeliever and fulfill the role of an advocate. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Best of Friends

Best of Friends
Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 18:1-16
“After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond of love between them, and they became best of friends.” (1 Sam. 18:1 NLT)
What does it take to become best of friends with someone?
     My son, Gary, was always coming home and saying, “Dad, I have a new friend.” To Gary everyone he met was a friend. When he was a teenager I never had to worry about his whereabouts, because I knew he was in his room writing letters to the friends he met at summer Bible camps. I believe at one time he was corresponding with sixteen people—most of them girls. It is not difficult to make friends, but it sometimes takes years of sharing experiences before you can say, “_____and I are best of friends.
     Other times, as in the case of David and Jonathan, the best of friends bond is formed immediately. The Scripture says, “And Jonathan made a special vow to be David’s friend, and he sealed the pact by giving him his robe, tunic, sword, bow, and belt.” (1 Sam. 18:4 NLT) Jonathan gave his most important possessions as a token of his love and friendship.
     A best friend is one with whom we can laugh and cry. We feel free to share our deepest secrets knowing they will be kept sacred. Our best friends encourage us and stay close during difficult circumstances. They don’t flee when the enemy attacks. They are willing to come alongside sand say, “I’m here for you!”
     I met and fell in love with my best friend on November 18, 1953 on a YR71 ship at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California, and we have been inseparable since that time. His name is Jesus Christ, and he has been loyal and faithful to me just as David was with the king’s son, Jonathan. He has given me so many precious promises that I can’t begin to name them all. One promise that I have relished is found in Hebrews 13:5 where Jesus says, “I will never fail you. I will never forsake you.” Because of this promise I can say along with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my helper, so I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Ps. 118:6 NLT)
     Do you have a best friend? One who will stick with you no matter what may come. Is it a spouse? A brother or sister? A classmate? A close neighbor? My wife and I have been best of friends for sixty-one years, but we both agree that our very best friend is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for my two “best friends,” my wife Elaine and the Lord Jesus. I am so glad that I don’t walk through life alone, but that you have placed both best friends in my life so we can travel on our journey together. Thank you for being my best of friends.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Know Your Enemy

Know Your Enemy
Scripture Reading: Numbers 13:21-33
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.” (Nu. 13:1-2 NKJ)
The book “Art of War” has been traditionally ascribed to Sun Tzu who was a Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher. Sun Tzu is credited with the saying, “Know Your Enemy.”  This military stratagem was practiced in Old Testament settings long before being popularized by Sun Tzu.
     Both Abraham and Gideon exercised the military strategy of “knowing your enemy” in their surprise nighttime raids that confused the enemy, and with God’s help, defeated their enemies. They knew their enemies’ strengths and weaknesses; thus were not imperiled by the enemy forces.
     Both Moses and Joshua sent in spies to get to “know the enemy.” Moses’ instructions to his spies were: “Go up this way into the South, and go up to the mountains, and see what the land is like: whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, few or many; whether the land they dwell in is good or bad; whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or strongholds; whether the land is rich or poor; and whether there are forests there or not. Be of good courage. And bring some of the fruit of the land.” (Nu. 13:17-20 NKJ)
     Strangely enough, Jesus recommended the same strategy when he said, “Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:31 NKJ)  Jesus is saying, KNOW YOUR ENEMY!
     If knowing your enemy makes sense when facing physical battles, it makes even more sense when facing spiritual battles, especially when our enemy is stronger and the stakes are higher. As believers we face a powerful, devious, wily foe who doesn’t play by the rules. He is a sly, deceitful liar who will stoop to any means to win the battle of our minds.
     The biblical writers spared no effort in giving us the tools necessary to win. The Apostle Paul gave us the armor of God as described in Ephesians 6:10-18, and Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit of God as our teacher, guide, and protector. Our task is to embrace what the Bible teaches, and be properly prepared by “knowing the enemy.”

Prayer: Dear Lord, as we go into battle help us to put on the whole armor of God so that we can take a stand against our enemy Satan and his hosts. We claim the victory through Jesus Christ.