Friday, May 27, 2011

My Chains Are Gone!--with video

Freedom...something we all love and long for, but something that many of us don't experience.

I'm not talking about 'legal' or 'political' freedom--most of us do have that, and we Americans do enjoy that.

I'm talking about SPIRITUAL freedom.

Most of us--even in churches every Sunday--don't experience this kind of freedom.

I believe God wants us to.

To be sure, we are saved by God's Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone.

Many of us have come to understand that and embrace that--and to that level, we understand 'freedom'. But I believe that many of us Christians don't really ever get to 'freedom' in this life. Rather, we hang on and wait 'till this life is over--and then we experience it.

But I think God wants to release us from the 'chains' which hold us back in the here and now.

The fear of others' opinions...
The power of temptation...
The emotional baggage from our past...
Our relational struggles...
Our self-centered focus...

All of these things keep us 'in'. They keep us trapped in our own little cocoon--our 'safe place'. We figure that, if we don't allow ourselves to venture out into freedom, at least we don't risk rejection..or failure...or change!

I think that, for many Christians, one of our biggest fears--with the heaviest chains of all--is our fear of really trusting God...

We can't seem to bring ourselves to believe that He IS sufficient, He IS trustworhty, He CAN and WILL 'free' us, support us...and "lead us home".

"It is by God's GRACE that you have been saved, through faith. And this is not of yourselves, it is a gift of God--not a result of your good works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)

How would YOUR life be different if you were really "free" in Christ?

I know that, for me, I'd be less concerned about people's opinions of me, less fearful about 'stepping out' into new directions that God is wanting to lead me into, and I'd be more 'real' and 'present' in my relationships. I'd stop holding back, and really be me!

...and, like a friend of mine had the courage to do, I'd live it out 'till the very end!

THEN I'd really experience Freedom in Christ!

God has made us free...let's learn to experience it in reality!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rise Today--Change YOUR World! (With ROCKIN video!)

I just finished a Celebration of the Life of a friend, Joe Dillon.

As I reflect on the kind of person he was, it makes me want to refocus myself.

He was a man who focused on Faith, Family and Friendships, and I want to do the same--in that order!

The truth is, though, that we can't just make that decision one day and forget about it after that. If we are going to be 'about' those things, we have to re-affirm that every day!

Joe did, I want to...what about you?

Here's the secret: I believe that God wants to change this world; I believe it IS possible...but it is only going to happen if we renew our faith (and submit ourselves to God, through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit). Once that faith is in operation, I believe that the Lord will compel and motivate us to focus on our families, and to reach out and show love in our quality friendships.

With Joe, I heard dozens of people say things like "he never met a stranger--only new friends". He was that kind of guy...and that's why he had the impact he did.

I believe that God wants all followers of Jesus Christ to live that way. Jesus said "A new command I am giving you: Love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples--your love for one another". (John 13:34-35).

What would happen if all of those who are followers of Jesus really decided to commit themselves to living this way--'living beyond themselves', investing themselves in the lives of others, showing love, grace, and forgiveness to all?

I'll tell you one thing...many more people would pay attention to the Lord! Many more people would believe what His Word says! Many more would actually believe that "Christianity" is real!

It's easy to get distracted, to get stressed, and to get focused on ourselves and our own 'issues'.

But I don't want to live that way.

I want to be about "Changing My World" through love--Love of God, Love of family, love of others.

My friend Joe lived this out, and--by the grace of God--so will I.

Want to join us on our quest to 'change this world'?

Let's do it!

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Does Joy REALLY come in the morning? (There Will Come a Day...)

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5)

There's a lot of pain in this world...a lot of conflict, a lot of difficulty.

There are a lot of things that happen in our lives that don't seem to make sense. Tragedies like earthquakes, tornadoes, accidents...all of which can result in pain which reaches right down to our core.

We find ourselves asking "God, where are you?" "What are you doing?"

We don't understand.

Especially when these tragedies crash down upon a child of God...a person who was full of faith, who lived it right, who followed God's, family, friendships.

We wonder..."Why?"

We're faced with a crisis of faith--do we trust and believe, even though these things don't make sense, or do we reject our faith, because it 'doesn't work'?

It's natural to struggle with that on some level, and God certainly understands our struggle.

...but don't give up your faith!

Tomorrow will come, and then the next day. You will survive your trial, and our Heavenly Father will walk with you through it.

Hold on to Him, and He will pull you through.

Ultimately, there is an answer, but you and I may never know it. There is a Hand that is guiding events, and that 'hand' belongs to our loving heavenly Father. He is in control, and He does love you in the midst of your pain.

...and THAT is how we get to the 'joy' which comes in the morning!

It's by faith!

Faith that there is a bigger picture.
Faith that there is an unseen, loving, wise hand at work.
Faith that the Lord has not forgotten you, and you did not slip through His fingers.

and, Faith that there will come a day when all of this pain is over.
When all of these tears are dried up. When all this hurt is gone.

There WILL come a day when Jesus will come and welcome us all home. We will be reunited for ETERNITY!. On that day, our faith...our willingness to trust in our Father, and have faith...will triumph over all of lives pain.

For now, in the midst of our trials, we hurt. We grieve--but not as those who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

We have hope, because we trust in our God.
He is "the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort". (2 Corinthians 1:4).

He will comfort you and bring you through...and that will lead to the "Joy that comes in the morning."

You may not feel it today...but by faith, you will walk in it tomorrow!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The End of the World?

Today's blog is different. It's longer, and a bit more serious than others...but it's important! I encourage you to push yourselves away from the comical headlines, and read!

There's a lot of confusion going on about 'the end of the world', etc. I wanted to take a moment to blog about it, and hopefully clear up confusion. I AM NOT AN EXPERT IN THESE THINGS! I've done some reading and some research, but do not consider myself an 'authority'.

My big concern in all this is that, because of this prediction, the entire promise of Jesus' 2nd coming, and the New Heavens and New Earth, etc. are all being disrespected, etc. (A lot like Peter predicted when he wrote, (2 Peter 3:3-10), " 3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare."

Today, Harold Camping, Founder of FamilyLife Radio, has predicted that the Rapture of the church will happen.

This is NOT to be confused with 'the end of the world'.

The Rapture is the event at which (according to some readings of eschatological teaching) the Church--true followers of Christ--will be instantaneously removed from this world.

It comes mainly from 1 Thessalonians 5:15-17: " 15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.[a] 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died[b] will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever."

In some understanding of 'the end events', this Rapture preceeds what is called the "Tribulation"--a time of great turmoil and tragedy on the Earth, just before Jesus returns.

Jesus Himself DID say that we could have a pretty good idea about the 'time' or 'season' of these events...but this is a general term, based on circumstances in this world. He did NOT indicate that we could know a date/time, etc.--May 21, 2011 @ 6pm eastern, or any other time.

Jesus' teaching about this is important. Below is the entire chapter of Matthew 24.

1 As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. 2 But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”
3 Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?[a]”

4 Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 5 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 7 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. 8 But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.

9 “Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.[b] 10 And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. 11 And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. 12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations[c] will hear it; and then the end will come.

15 “The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration[d] standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!) 16 “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 17 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 18 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 19 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 20 And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. 22 In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.

23 “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 25 See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.

26 “So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don’t bother to go and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don’t believe it! 27 For as the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man[e] comes. 28 Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.[f]

29 “Immediately after the anguish of those days,

the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.[g]

30 And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.[h] 31 And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world[i]—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

32 “Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. 34 I tell you the truth, this generation[j] will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.[k] Only the Father knows.

37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.

42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

45 “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 46 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. 47 I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. 48 But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ 49 and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? 50 The master will return unannounced and unexpected, 51 and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

You will note that Jesus said: "In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. 34 I tell you the truth, this generation[j] will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.[k] Only the Father knows."

In other words, this teaching from Jesus, combined with some from Daniel, Revelation, and others may lead us to believe that we are in "that generation" which is seeing all "these things" taking place.

If that is true, we should be paying attention! We should be ready! We should be making sure our lives line up with the Word of God; and our relationship with Jesus, the Messiah, is strong; we should be spreading the news about Jesus as the Hope of mankind...because these events COULD take place at any time.

But no one--Not Harold Camping, not me, not even Jesus, the Son of God--knows the exact date and the hour.

This is not something to be trivialized, but taken seriously.

May God guide us and keep us, as we trust in Him!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Oil will NOT run out!

Elijah proclaimed it, and God backed him up...there was no rain, or even dew, for 3 years.

He went, as instructed, to 'hide' by Kirith Brook, and there he drank from the brook and the Ravens came to feed him.

Hardly the successful beginning to his 'career' as God's prophet that we'd expect, but that's what happened (read more about it in a previous post).

...but, after some time (1 Kings 17:7), the brook dried up! After all...there was no rain in the land!

Now what would happen?

"Then the Lord said to Elijah, 9 “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.” (1 Kings 17:8-9)...again, hardly the headline-grabbing career that we associate with Elijah.

Yet, even in this act--traveling this great distance, obeying the Lord's call, God was preparing Elijah for the great ministry which he would have.

Here's what happened...

"10 So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, “Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.”

12 But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”

God had sent Elijah to a widow of little means...a destitute woman who was about ready to have her last meal with her little boy, then go off and die!

Yet, God would use her in Elijah's life...and He would use Elijah in her life...

"13 But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”

Elijah was calling her to trust and have faith in "the God of Israel" (she wasn't even Israelite!)

NOTE: He said to her "FIRST make a little bread for me...".

He's not being selfish, he's trying to teach her to live by faith in the God of Israel!

15 So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her son continued to eat for many days. 16 There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah."

For the next couple of years, this would be the arrangement. This foreign woman would feed the prophet of the LORD first, then herself and her child...and God miraculously provided a never-ending supply of flour and oil!

Often, God calls US to live by faith...and faith cannot be exercised after the fact! Faith must come first...we give (or serve, or step out, or speak up--or whatever else the Lord is calling on us to do), and God comes through, increasing and encouraging our faith!

God was teaching both Elijah and the widow to depend on Him, and to live by faith! To step out and believe in the God of Israel, putting obedience to Him first, and depending on Him to come through...

The widow would learn it, her son would learn it, Elijah would learn it...May we all learn that lesson today also!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The same God as always? (Greater Things to Be Done)

Do you ever wonder if God has changed?

I mean...look at the Bible. Look at the ways He worked.

Parting the Red Sea...Manna from Heaven...Quail...

Delivering David from Enemies...

Rescuing Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-nego from the fiery furnace and Daniel from the Lions' Den...

Sending fire from heaven at the request of Elijah (the series that I'm currently blogging about)...

What about the New Testament?

Peter and John heal a cripple "In the name of Jesus"...

Paul raises a young man who's fallen from a 3rd story window...

Paul and Silas are beaten and jailed, but sing their lungs out in praise of God...and he shakes the earth and releases them...

There are MANY more examples, but the point is that God SHOWED UP!

He Showed Himself--His presence and His power--on many occasions.

Think of the Life of Jesus--All the miracles of Jesus (granted, this is a special circumstance, because He was the Son of God), but He did say “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. 13 You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.(John 14:12-13)

So it leaves me with a couple of questions:

1st, why are we not seeing these manifestations now?

2nd, has God changed?

We can answer the 2nd one first. The Scripture says "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17), and
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

So I think it's obvious. God hasn't changed.

Now, it could be that His strategy has changed, or that He's doing something different now.

In fact, when I was in seminary, the teaching was that He had done these great works mostly to establish Himself and His church, and now that the Scriptures are complete and the Church is in place, He's not doing those things anymore.

Frankly, that always seemed like a cop-out.

So, back to question #1: "WHY are we not seeing those manifestations now?"

There may be many reasons...sin...lack of faith...but I think the main reason is "We're not looking for it"; and a corollary, "We're not OPEN to it!"

For many in the Evangelical church, and certainly the 'Mainline denominations', we don't even consider it.

It doesn't even cross our minds that the God of the Bible--who did all those amazing things to bring credence to His Word, to His messengers and to back-up the words of His Son--is still wanting to do these things in our lives, today.

Is it more complex than that? Maybe.

But one thing I know: I do NOT want the reason that He doesn't show Himself in powerful ways to be because I'm not open to Him, or not welcoming to the Holy Spirit. I want to be the conduit of His work in this world--whether miraculous in the technical sense, or simply amazing in the theological sense.

Here's a crazy thought: I believe that God is looking for people who will have FAITH again...who will step out and take this world by storm as His agents of change and messengers again. I believe He wants to 'show Himself' in power.

I'm ready...are you?

Lord God, purify us. Burn off the excess--the garbage in our lives, the distractions--so that we can see and hear you clearly. I want to be one of your vessels in this world, your ambassadors. I want to be one of your conduits of blessing and power. For YOUR glory, Lord, make it so. In the name of JESUS!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Will YOU follow? Make the Declaration!

When you and I do things to serve God, He should take care of us--right?

I mean, that's only fair. We follow and serve Him, and He meets our needs--preferably in the way(s) we desire.

Well, when we look at Elijah, we see that God does, indeed, meet the needs of those who follow Him, but that He doesn't promise to do so in the ways we'd prefer.

Elijah has just gone before Ahab, the evil king and husband to Jezebel, the WAY-evil queen, and pronounced that there would not be rain, or even dew, over the next few years "except at my word" (see previous post).

Now the Word of the LORD comes to Elijah and tells him to 'get outta dodge' (so to speak). Now he is told to go hide.


"Leave here, turn eatward, and HIDE in Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there." (1 Kings 17:4 emphasis mine)

Well, that stinks!

After all, he is apparently doing Gods' will and being God's'd think there'd be some 'perks' that come with that, right?

Well, yes and no--God does help him avoid being killed (which is a definate perk), and does feed him...but def. not in the way Elijah expected and wanted.

What did Elijah do?

He obeyed...and God met his needs. "The Ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook." (v. 6)

Why did God do it this way?

We're not told, but there could be lots of reasons:

He could have been wanting to teach Elijah to depend on Himself (ie, the LORD) only.

He could have been teaching Elijah to be ready for the persecution which would come later.

He could have been teaching Elijah to clarify 'needs' vs. 'wants'.

He could have been teaching Elijah to really consider whether God--the LORD--was worth serving, even if he didn't immediately 'reap the benefits' (answer: Yes!).

There are lots of times that God brings us into a situation that does not meet our expectations.

A situation which may be more challenging than we expected, or which may require more 'faith' than we thought we had.

It may be that the Lord allows us to come into a situation in which our dedication to Him--to following Him, "no matter what" is tested.

So be it.

Remain faithful. Remain obedient. Remain strong...and God will meet your needs, and will care for you.(See Matthew 6:25-34)

He does not promise us comfort, riches, or success (according to this world's standards), but He does promise to meet our needs, as we put Him and His Kingdom first.

I believe He's still looking for faithful people--like Elijah--who will serve Him...despite persecution, despite discomfort, despite tough circumstances.

Will YOU be one of them?

By the grace and strength of God, I declare here and now that I WILL!

Will you join me?