Archive for April, 2011

Past Dependencies

April 29th, 2011

“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” John 5:8 NIV

“Dependencies keep you what you’ve been, preventing what you could become.”

My thoughts today are about “past dependencies.”

Everybody is leaning on something – maybe past experience, charm and personality, excuses and explanations, wealth, education, social circles, reputation, others’ charity, government assistance, even religion. None of those, nor all of them together, can give you the life you really want to have. There are seasons when anyone may have to lean upon something to get through a crisis; the problem is when dependencies become a lifestyle. Dependencies keep you what you’ve been, preventing what you could become.

Paul addresses this strange dichotomy this way, “Carry each other’s burdens . . each one should carry his own load.” Galatians 6:2/5 NIV. Both are true, but not at the same time. The reality is there are times you depend upon another’s consideration and kindness, and other times that someone is depending on yours. It is only a problem when either of those becomes exclusive of the other.

John told the story of a man who had every reason to lean on others; his weakness made him dependent on others in one way or another. John 5:5-15 NKJV. John describes him as having ”been in that condition a long time.” Whether he got to the Pool of Bethesda with help or by his own painful, struggling efforts, he got there hoping for a miracle of healing and recovery. The effect of his own efforts had been unsuccessful; the help of others had not been as helpful as he hoped. But he was still there, and he was still trying. That is important!

Without knowing that Jesus, the greatest worker of miracles, would be there that day, his hope and efforts put him in exactly the place for his life-changing moment. The mat upon which he laid could represent any number of past dependencies upon which people learn to rely, all ultimately ineffective and unhelpful. Your entire history changes when you recognize Jesus invites and empowers you to step free of every past dependency. The past gives way to your future.

The question is always the same, “Jesus . . asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” No one can answer that but you, and it is not your words but your actions that provide the honest answer. The first step for lasting change is a passion demonstrated by real effort to be different than you’ve been. What do you really want, improvement or life-change?

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’” You cannot make lasting change without God; God does not effect eternal change without your willing, whole-hearted involvement. When your want engages your will, God’s power is released. “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” An almighty God makes possible what you could not do on your own. What weaknesses of excuse, habit, or history keep you from your full potential?

Does God still do those kinds of things today – healing physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually? Jesus would be the One to best answer that: “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” John 5:17 NIV. Sounds to me like being rid of past dependencies is still possible with a God Who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8/James 1:17 NKJV.

My prayer for you today is: refuse yesterday’s limits, comfortable as they may have been.

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A Job Well Done

April 28th, 2011

“I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” John 17:4 NKJV

“God’s estimation and approval of your obedience is all that ultimately matters.”

My thoughts today are about “a job well done!”

There is something infinitely satisfying about finishing a task, and resting satisfied that it was done well; the opposite is also true – unfinished, unsatisfied! Just a few years ago, I felt like I “was finished,” but there was not the satisfying sense of resting from a job well done. I was tired, struggling with feeling less effective than in previous seasons of ministry, and beginning to doubt if I were the one to finish the task, or even able to do so. I was ready to move out of the way for someone better able to seize the opportunity of what God wanted for the ministries here. I am neither the first, nor likely to be the last who have felt that.

In my heart, I knew that “the work God had given me to do” (John 17:4 NKJV) was not finished; still I saw no way that it could be. I was trying to do what I had been taught to do, “Occupy till (He comes)” (Luke 19:13 KJV) – faithfully doing the best you can, when you can, and where you can. I have been told the word from which “occupy” is translated could describe a merchant ordering goods, or a farmer preparing his fields, for the upcoming season. In the Biblical context, occupy means to be gainfully engaged in the present task while busily preparing for opportunities ahead, certainly not just taking up space nor merely marking time.

I stayed busy and hopefully faithful, but had lost the clarity and confidence of what my assignment really was. Doing the right things, I had forgotten to do the best thing. The best thing you will ever do is to fulfill the unique call and work that God has just for you. But God never forgets; His work stays uppermost in His thoughts and purpose. And God never fails ts to be gracious. Unexpectedly, God gave me an opportunity to see Him accomplish what He had put in my heart years earlier.

The last years have become the most exciting, satisfying, and fruitful years of all our time serving this Church Family. Gayle and I could not have been happier. I have learned that success and satisfaction in life is found only in “finishing the work God has given you to do.” Life is not about doing what you want to do, or even what you think you are best at doing; it is doing exactly what God created, called, and anointed you to do. See Galatians 6:9 NIV.

In an upper room before Jesus was betrayed, He prayed, “I have finished the work which You gave Me to do.” John 17:4 NKJV. Jesus knew what He was born to do. Individually, we have different jobs; we all have the same task – doing God’s will. On a cross amid chaos, Jesus triumphantly affirmed, “It is finished!” John 19:30. Jesus did what He alone could do. Accomplishing the will of God fully, He died for your sins and became your Savior. See Hebrews 12:2 NKJV.

At creation, God surveyed all He had made, pronounced it as good, and rested. See Genesis 1. That can and should be true for your life as well. I have learned in these recent years of ministry that God will not let you be done, until you are finished. When finally you and I stand in His presence, our faith and highest hope is to hear His words, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . enter the joy of your Lord.” Matthew 25:23 NKJV. God’s estimation and approval of your obedient service, and mine, is all that ultimately matters.

My prayer for you today is that you finish God’s work, undistracted and undiscouraged.

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A God of Surprises

April 27th, 2011

“I am doing a new thing . . making a way in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19 NIV

“God is absolutely capable of anything, equally great at everything.”

My thoughts today are about “a God of surprises.”

Some people love a good surprise; some don’t like that at all! I am not all that sure where I stand in that spectrum of preferences. It’s strange how hard people work to make life routine and predictable then wonder why they are bored with it all. God, it seems, is always a surprise in one way or another. If you are looking for predictability, God is probably not where you should look. Every time you think God will do something the same way He did last time, you will be surprised.

Your God has the abilities for incredible diversity and unlimited possibilities. If I were a creator, I would probably have made one or two species, with a limited number of variations. You can’t count all the distinct species God created, from mini to mammoth! Wouldn’t the seven colors of the rainbow have been sufficiently beautiful without nature’s countless hues of color as combinations of those? God is absolutely capable of anything He wishes to accomplish, equally good at everything He does. We are not; maybe that’s why we are surprised when He is.

“Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already – you can see it now! I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there.” Isaiah 43:19 TEV. Did you notice the object of all this? It is all about you, and for you. Maybe God is just showing off for grand effect? No, He has no need to impress. God surprises you with what you could not expect apart from Him. The very description of a wilderness is an impassable, undesirable, uninhabitable place – until God makes a road and streams of refreshment there – just for you.

When you are in a place you never wanted to be, facing a task you never wanted to have, with resources too limited for what you need to do. Surprise! God will be there! Daniel found God in a lions’ den, and his friends found Him in a fiery furnace. The disciples found Him in the middle of a threatening sea, smack dab in a terrible storm. Hopeless lepers found God in their impossibility and despair. A widow burying her son found God interrupting the funeral, and herself taking her son home. Two sisters found God commanding their dead brother to live, and He did!

Need I recite more instances? Bewildered and frightened disciples buried a Savior and three days later found Him standing in the locked room with them. God surprises you when and where you least expect Him to be. “Now glory be to God! By His mighty power at work within us, He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare ask or hope.” Ephesians 3:20 NLT. You would think after a while you and I would not be so surprised! It seems like eventually you would be surprised only if God did not do the things He is capable of doing. Read 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 NKJV.

Maybe you and I would live more surprising lives ourselves, if we were more convinced of the greatness and power of such an amazing God of surprises! “And many signs and wonders were done through the apostles . . and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Acts 4:43/47 NKJV. That’s what God can do through people just like you.

My prayer for you today is that you will stand in awe and wonder of a God who never ceases to surprise.

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Reaching Higher

April 26th, 2011

“Raised us up together . . in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6 NKJV

“Wise people learn from mistakes, theirs and others’.”

My thoughts today urge you to “reach higher.”

It is a fact of life; if you are going in the wrong direction you are going to arrive at the wrong destination, unless you realize your mistake in time and change your direction. Some people just don’t seem to learn from mistakes. The Bible describes a time when, “Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” Judges 21:25 NLT. That is not a good way to live. It becomes easy to believe that  wrong is right, down is up, and mediocre is good enough.

Some people follow the crowd, but is it the right crowd? Some insist on charting their own course, stubbornly and independently choosing their way, but is it the right way? “Every way of a man is right in His own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.“ Proverbs 21:2 NKJV. Look around; is this where you meant to be and who you meant to have alongside?

It is sad that a recurring phrase in Samson’s story had to be, “Samson went down . . to Timnah . . to Ashkelon” Judges 14:1/19. In the context, this expression may very well be a geographical reference, but it can also suggest a direction and action that lessens and diminishes the person doing so. The expression is often used to describe a person whose behavior “lowers them in others’ eyes.” You have seen it happen on the evening news in the broken trust and personal scandals of prominent leaders in government, business, entertainment, churches, and ordinary people – esteem lost, opportunity missed, and years wasted. Don’t let it happen to you; reach higher!

Samson had many warnings and chances, but he ignored them and continued his way until, “He did not know the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him.” Judges 16:20 NKJV. That was tragic and such a waste. Yes, Samson’s story mercifully ends in grace and restoration (Judges 16:23-30), but there were years and tears that could not be undone. When God’s blessing is not upon what you are doing and God’s presence is not with you, it’s time to do differently, and do so immediately. Wise people learn from mistakes, theirs and others’.

Let your attitude be that of Nehemiah who had returned from the Persian royal court to the ruins of Jerusalem to rebuild and restore. When the enemies of his task – “Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, and the rest of our enemies” – tried to bring this leader down to their level, he responded, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” Nehemiah 6:3 NKJV.

Know your identity in Christ; stay true to what He has called you to be and do; do not move away from your Godly calling and commitments. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Proverbs 16:7 NKJV. Who you live to please determines how you live. Here’s where you belong: “God has raised us up together . . in Heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6 NKJV. Reach higher!

My prayer for you today is: hold yourself to high standards – God’s standards.

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Easter Fashions

April 25th, 2011

“The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty.” Psalm 93:1 NKJV.

“Easter is God’s assurance of righteousness, life, and immortality.”

My thoughts today are about “Easter fashions.”

Yesterday was Easter, and the new hope and life Easter brings seems to be associated with new clothes. When I was a child, we weren’t as well off then and didn’t have new clothes any and every time we wanted, but there were two times you could count on, Easter and back to school.

The Bible is filled with more references to Jesus’ clothes than you might think. Simple strips of cloth robed Jesus when first He came into our world, “. . a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:7. Or remember when a suffering, but faith-filled woman came to Jesus with her simple confession of faith? “If I can just touch the hem of His clothes, I will be made well.” Mark 5:28-30. John describes the Savior’s heart of humility on His last Passover, “Jesus, laid aside His garments, and took a towel and girded Himself.” John 13:4.

During Jesus’ trial of mockery, “Soldiers twisted a crown of thorns . . and they put on Him a purple robe . . then they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews.’” John 19:2-3. At the cross, soldiers gambled for His robe, “. . seamless, woven in one piece from the top. They said, ‘Let’s not tear it but throw dice to see who gets it.’” John 19:23 NLT. At His birth, so also in His death and burial, Jesus was robed with strips of cloth, “They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices.” John 19:40.

At the empty tomb, “Peter went into the tomb of Jesus, and saw the linen cloths lying there,” empty and undisturbed. John 20:6. When John, exiled on the isle of Patmos, saw the glorified Christ in Heaven, he fell at the feet of, “The Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded . . with a golden band.” Revelation 1:13/17. In eternity, the resurrected Christ is robed more gloriously than has yet been seen, “The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed; He has girded Himself with strength.” Psalm 93:1.

Maybe Easter is about new clothes, but not the ones that generally come to mind. Let me suggest some Easter fashions? “Put off . . the old man . . put on the new man created . . in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-32. Like the Prodigal, at Easter Jesus covers your past, and says, “. . bring forth the best robe.” Luke 15:22. At Easter, Jesus takes your history and dresses you appropriate to your new destiny! “For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation. He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10.

Because of Easter, you are to be clothed with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and most importantly, love. Colossians 3:12/14. Because of His triumph in Resurrection, you can be clothed with the armor of God – the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace, faith as your shield, and salvation as your helmet. Ephesians 6:13-17.

And here’s the greatest and most beautiful of all Easter fashions; upon your faith and profession of Jesus as Savior, you are wondrously clothed with righteousness, life, and immortality. 2 Corinthians 5:2-4. Now that’s Easter clothes I can get excited about!

My prayer for you today is: live everyday in the newness of His resurrection.

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