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Archive for January, 2013

Overcoming Doubt

January 30th, 2013

God’s Word and character persuade trust and dissuade doubts.

“I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” Mark 9: 24 NIV.

A child does not begin life with doubts. They believe; belief is natural to them. Unfortunately, life soon teaches you to doubt, because there seems little about which you can be steadfastly sure. Doubt is a choice you make. You learn to doubt by experiencing people and things that are not trustworthy. You learn to doubt what you hear. Promises are made and broken. You learn to question authority; authorities are not always right and slow to admit when they aren’t. Doubt begins early and grows until stopped.

Both doubt and belief are choices you make. You can find supporting evidence for either, but you cannot do both. Doubt comes naturally; belief only comes spiritually. Doubt feels safe; belief seems risky. Doubt looks at circumstances, and questions God; belief looks at God, and questions circumstances. Doubt protects you from disappointment; Belief promises you God’s faithfulness. Doubt rehearses excuses to expect little; belief rests on God’s promises to expect much. The choice is not easy, but it is yours to make.

Mark’s Gospel tells of a father who brought his son to Jesus for healing. Read Mark 9:20-27 NIV. His desperation made him want to believe that Jesus could heal his troubled son. The worried dad conditioned his request on Jesus’ ability, ”If you can do anything . . help us.” Jesus refocused the dad with his choice to believe, “Everything is possible for him who believes!” The issue is never about what God can or cannot do; His power and authority are unchangeable. The issue is what you will or will not do. Will you choose to believe or doubt? Your response should be as honest as his, “Lord, I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” He will help you; He will not do it for you, nor can anyone else. The choice is yours.

Anyone, even the best of people, can be infected with a similar attitude that troubled Thomas, a disciple of Jesus. After the crushing disillusionment of Jesus’ crucifixion, Thomas doubted his friends when they reported Jesus was miraculously alive. That was contrary to everything he had ever known and believed possible. When told, he responded with a mistaken certainty, “Unless I see  . . and put my finger into the print of the nails in His hands and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” John 20:25 NKJV. Thomas was as my friend, Kenny, described all of us, “prone to believe our doubts and doubt our beliefs.” Foolishly, we feed our doubts and starve our beliefs. He could believe but only if he would choose to believe; belief is a choice you make, as is doubt. Don’t battle your doubts; choose to believe.

Jesus’ response was so much different than mine or yours would likely have been. With kindness and understanding, Jesus invited Thomas to do exactly what would persuade his trust and dissuade his doubts. Read John 20:26-29 NKJV. It’s just my assumption, but I don’t believe Thomas ever reached his hand to touch Jesus’ hands or side, in spite of Jesus’ invitation. The living Christ standing before him with all the authority of Heaven was overwhelmingly convincing. Listen to Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That’s where you and I will walk most of the time – between seeing or believing. The more the Word of God abides in you, belief strengthens and doubts weaken. See John 15:5-7 NKJV. Seek the company of people who encourage your faith. See Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT. Belief is the strongest posture to combat doubt.

My prayer for you today is that your heart will rest sure in God’s Word and character.

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Invigorating People

January 28th, 2013

Joy is an emotional energy that elevates positive emotions in others.

“In Your presence is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11 NKJV.

People enjoy being around others whose joy is contagious, people who are invigorating. An invigorating person is optimistic, expecting good things. They enjoy the company of others and reciprocate with kindness and appreciation. They are adventurous, exploring and discovering, and joyfully sharing what they find. They are happily inclusive. My wife is one of those; a plaque given her by a friend describes her and others like her, “Be careful or she will include you in her plans.”

Invigorating people do not live in the past. They have learned that yesterdays are unchangeable and the future is unknowable, so they enjoy the moment. Invigorating people carry only the best out of yesterdays, not forecasting trouble for tomorrow, but appreciating every enjoyment today allows them. Invigorating people anticipate God’s goodness; like David their expectation is, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6 NKJV.

Joy is an emotional energy that elevates positive emotions in everyone around you. Joy is not a mystical feeling of good will. Enduring joy is only found in right relationship with God. “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures for ever more.” Psalm 16:11 NKJV. Some people are just not fun to be around. They don’t know how to have fun, but they sure know how to stop it. I remember my Dad saying, “Everyone has the ability to make others happy, some when they come and others when they go.” You can choose which one you wish to be. I want to be a person others are glad to see come.

A person’s attitudes and assumptions can deplete you, draining optimism and discouraging aspirations. Worse than not invigorating you, they drain energy from you. They leave you a little less, not more, after their company. Choose people whose company and conversation replenish you. Speaking with them or being around them, or just recalling fond memories with them, can boost your spirits and rekindle your joy.

The best way to find such friends is to be the kind of friend that you want to have. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,”is Godly advice. Some days, life can take so much out of a person; be someone who replenishes life in others. Lift the spirits of people around you. People who lift yours will be drawn to you. Never expect others to give more than you give; it just doesn’t happen. Expend yourself for others and you will find how much others extend themselves to you.

Jesus accompanied two disciples to Emmaus. Afterward, they realized, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32 NIV. That describes Jesus well, and the invigorating people who know Him. Be more like Jesus. Let the Word of God – its truth and your joy – invigorate you and encourage others. See 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 NIV. Leave others with burning hearts, rather than heartburn.

My prayer for you today is: be invigorated by Jesus, refreshing others around you.

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Stillness

January 25th, 2013

There is a quality of spiritual life that is found only in solitude and stillness.

“Stand still first . . to hear the Word of God.” 1 Samuel 9:27 Amplified Bible.

While young Saul unsuccessfully searched for his father’s lost donkeys, God spoke to Samuel of Saul’s coming and of God’s purpose for him. Read 1 Samuel 9. Little did Saul know that Samuel’s intention was to anoint a king for Israel, and Saul was to be the one. As Saul prepared to continue on his quest, Samuel interrupted him, “Stand still first, that I may cause you to hear the Word of God.” 1 Samuel 9:27 Amplified Bible. God’s Word to Saul would direct his success, provide sustenance on his journey, offer assuring confirmation, and divine empowering for his calling. “Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you . . and you will be turned into another man . . God gave [Saul] another heart.” 1 Samuel 10:6/9 NKJV. A different man with a new heart because he took time to listen to the word of God! Like Saul, you cannot afford moments when busyness would otherwise engage you. Maybe today you need to hear someone remind you to “stand still . . to hear the Word of God.”

In a busy and noisy world, lives are hurried and listening is impaired. The problems are these: temporal busyness can distract from things and times of eternal importance, and without respite, noise drowns out God’s hushed voice to the heart. The psalmist writes of natural calamities, nations in conflict, and civil unrest but concludes with God’s assuring instruction, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 NKJV. There is truth you cannot know in your desperate situations unless you silence questions and complaints, and settle your heart quiet and still before Him. There and then, in your storm and struggle Jesus will say with indisputable authority, “’Peace, be still!’ and there was a great calm.” Mark 4:39 NKJV.

The prophet Elijah panicked, running from angry, wicked Jezebel until exhausted, where in fear and fatigue he met God. Read 1 Kings 19:11-21. The prophet faced a howling wind, then a ground-rattling earthquake, and afterward a consuming fire, but the Lord was not present in any of those. “And after the fire a still small voice . . and the Lord said unto him . .” There was a new assignment, and a divine commission to accomplish it. Drama and activity are not where you find God. In your rush for God to “fix it,” you can refuse to see how God is already working. While you once again tell God every detail about your need, you are not listening to His gentle wisdom and direction for the path ahead. A content heart and quiet spirit hear God’s voice and understand His will best. Consider God’s explanation of how life works best, “In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15 NIV.

There is both physical and spiritual stillness. I think the latter necessitates the first, and the latter is the more important. There is a quality of spiritual life that is only found in solitude and stillness. David understood the importance of such moments; “I have stilled and quieted myself, just as a small child is quiet with its mother . . [so] is my soul within me.” Psalm 131:1-2 NLT. But sometimes the occasion and situation do not seem to allow that. What do you do then? Again, David discovered God in the context of dark times, fearful evil, and surrounding enemies, “He leads me beside the still[ed] waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:2-3 NKJV.

My prayer for you today is that you will take time to listen for God with your heart.

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First Love

January 23rd, 2013

When and where love diminishes, relationships suffer.

“You have left your first love.” Revelation 2:4 NKJV.

Love is not lost easily. Real love is resilient, willing to overlook disappointment, and love is fairly tenacious, holding fast as long as hope lives. But even when love is not easily lost, love can be left – little by little and often unnoticed – until finally love is lost. Love must be monitored and guarded, necessitating initiative and guarding its growth. When first in love, no expectation is too much, no time together enough, no wait too long, or no sacrifice too great. Yet love can diminish unnoticeably, most often by inattentiveness and always through neglect. When love diminishes, relationship suffers. Love’s depreciation is more often by drift than determination.

Allow me to explore the verse from Revelation a bit more with you. “Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first.” Revelation 2:5 NIV. The “height” they left is the love they once held for God and the love God had for them. John, the beloved Apostle, wrote of the Lord’s corrective warning to the Church at Ephesus with these words. “You have left your first love.” Revelation 2:4 NKJV. Such a simple thing, but of prime importance to God. They became inattentive, even casual, about the spiritual intimacy they once enjoyed with God. They remained busy about good works and were commended. They were not as careful about God’s presence in their hearts. Some measure of distance had been allowed. “Remember the height . .” was God’s remedy. “Repent and do the things you did at first,” was their pathway of return. A friend observed, “The sinful negligence that caused such a fall from great heights is no equal to the heights of God’s love and grace that are reclaimed through repentance.”

Paul prayed, “That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19 NKJV. God’s heart is that you personally know the highest reach of the immeasurable dimensions of the love of Christ and God’s own fullness. Allow me to recall for you the words I previously wrote on this subject: “Remember the prominence and priority of your fervent devotion and spiritual practices – when your heart was tender toward God, worship was pure and exuberant, the Word of God warmed your heart, love for one another was real, and Jesus was truly Lord of your life.” That’s what “first love” looks like. Love, as of the unrestrained nature of His own, opens your heart to Heaven’s best. Nothing less is a worthy  or fitting response to God. See Romans 5:8/1 Corinthians 2:9 NKJV.

With the Christians at Corinth, Paul was also concerned with our potential for spiritual drift from their “first love.” “For I am jealous for you with Godly jealousy . . I fear, lest somehow . . your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 NKJV. Your relationship with God was never meant to become complicated. We tend to complicate love with God, and one another. With loving heart, the Lord, “Who is rich in mercy,” was calling them to return to, “His great love with which He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4 NKJV), and restore the devotion of their own love who, “love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 5:19 NIV.

My prayer for you today is that you hold fast and dear your first love of God.

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Remembering

January 21st, 2013

Every attempt to turn away from sin is marginal and temporary without a Savior.

“Remember the height from which you have fallen.” Revelation 2:5 NIV.

Memory is a good thing. Memories hold special times and people in your heart when they are otherwise gone from you. But some people seem to forget things they should remember while others remember things they should forget. The memory of a poor performance can challenge you to strive harder and do better.  Memories of noteworthy accomplishments – your own and others’ – can inspire the personal discipline and further sacrifice necessary for yet greater achievement. Memory is a powerful motivator.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries with a simple, transcending message, “Turn from your sins and turn to God, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” See Matthew 3:2/4:17 NLT. You cannot do the latter without sincerely doing the first. The Kingdom is near, and your only way into its fullness is heart-felt repentance – doing an about face. Any attempt to turn away from sin is of marginal and temporary effect unless you turn to the Savior with a whole heart. The Spirit’s clarion call to yours and my soul is the same, “Repent!” Repentance is the path to spiritual reality. In the Old Testament, God’s stern and frequent denunciation of “high places” where Israel bowed their knees to perverse gods was because Israel’s worship – and yours and mine – was to be given to Almighty God alone. Small things begin a subtle drift that lures you from that singular place where God alone is first and foremost in one’s heart.

In political exile on Patmos, John wrote of such times when spiritual vitality wanes, unnoticeably at first. Commending the church in Ephesus for their, “hard work and patient perseverance, intolerance of wicked men,” and carefulness for spiritual integrity, John then issues a challenge. “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” Revelation 2:1-7 NIV. John calls you to remember the prominence and priority of your pure devotion and fervent spiritual practices – when your heart was tender toward God, worship was pure and exuberant, the Word of God warmed your heart, love for one another was real, and Jesus was truly Lord. The memory of those times births a heart for repentance to reclaim the passion of your “first love” from which you may have drifted.

David knew the joy of spiritual passion, “[God] makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He enables me to stand on the heights.” 2 Samuel 22:34/Psalm 18:33 NIV. God affirmed David as “a man after My own heart.” See Acts 13:22-23 NKJV. But there came a day when David stumbled badly in his walk with God. When he remembered, “the height from which [he] had fallen,” with bitter tears he repented. Read Psalm 32. Any distance from God was unthinkable for him.

God’s call remains the same: “Remember the height from which you have fallen!” Sin, of lesser or greater degree, causes your fall. Redeemed remembrance clarifies where you were in God and where your heart still longs to be. Is there a time when you walked with God in greater intimacy and fullness than you know now? “Remember [that] height,” of grace. Remembering makes you want to return there; repentance will bring you there.

The powerful act of repentance encompasses more than chagrin or regret for wrongs done. It is God’s path to reclaim where you can and should be in Christ. Paul explained the process, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.” Read 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 NIV. Godly sorrow leads you upward to the Savior, not downward to your sin. See Romans 8:1-6 NIV. I leave you to further explore this liberating, Biblical truth, as I intend to do.

My prayer for you today is that you will treasure the joy of the sacred place in God’s grace.

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