Archive for January, 2012

Refining and Purifying

January 31st, 2012

“God is like a refiner’s fire and launderer’s soap . . as a refiner and purifier.” Malachi 3:2 NKJV

“Sin devalues the soul and diminishes your God-given design and potential.”

My thoughts and comments today are about “refining and purifying.”

The simple reality is that none of us is all we should and could be, apart from the grace and mercies of God. You know the drill – words you wish you had left unsaid, behavior you regret, grudges too long unforgiven, relationships strained and unrestored, and obedience to God delayed. God loves you the way you are, but also loves you too much to leave you the way as you were. The good news is that God loves you too much to leave you less than you could be.

The prophet, Malachi, encourages Israel with this understanding of their God, and ours, “For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier . . that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness.” Malachi 3:2-3 NKJV. What a faithful, loving God. And His purpose is not merely to expose your sin, but to separate it from you that you may be “to the Lord an offering of righteousness.”

The process of refining removes impurities that diminish value and reduce usefulness. We are all a sad mixture of motives and behaviors. What a wondrous picture of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in hearts and lives. Listen to Jesus’ words about the Spirit’s work, “When the Comforter comes, He will reprove/convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” John 16:8 NIV. Sin devalues the soul and diminishes your God-given design and potential. “And I will . . refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on My name and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are My people.’ And they will say ‘The Lord is our God.’” Zechariah 13:9 NIV.

The process of laundering cleanses what has defiled and restores original condition. “Therefore, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:1 NKJV. Maybe you could accomplish that to some extent as regards external things, such as outward practices of conversation or conduct; but can you successfully cleanse internal things, tendencies and vulnerabilities resident within your spirit? Read Psalm 51:1-12 NIV.

“Christ loved the Church. He gave up His life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s Word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious Church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, the Church will be holy and without fault.” Ephesians 5:25-27 NLT. Nothing and no one else promises new life like Jesus does. How does God accomplish this cleansing of body, soul, and spirit? “The blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.” Read 1 John 1:7-9 NKJV.

People too easily confuse condemnation and conviction. Neither condemnation nor conviction feels good when happening, but they are not at all alike. Condemnation comes from your Adversary and yourself, pushing you away from the only One who can help you and leaving you feeling all the more guilty and unworthy. Conviction comes from the Holy Spirit within you as He draws you back toward God, with assurance of salvation and provides your only means for cleansing the soul and restoring unhindered fellowship. Read Romans 8:1-4 NKJV.

My prayer for you today is that you trust God’s purpose and process to refine and purify your heart.

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January 30th, 2012

“Your words are what sustain me . . they are my heart’s delight.” Jeremiah 15:16 NLT

“The Bible wisely advises you to value the economy of words.”

My thoughts today are about “words.”

Words shape understandings; words communicate thoughts, ideas, and actions to one another, facilitating relationships and coordinating efforts. Words have inherent power. Words are the expression of both mind and heart. With words you communicate with God Almighty and converse with children and men. Use words well and speak them wisely. Words possess enduring power to linger in people’s lives long after they are spoken. My friends comment on how often I repeat the words of my Dad or friends whose practical wisdom still influence my life. Words you speak and hear shape the person you are becoming, for better or worse.

Words make cowards of the bravest or can inspire ordinary people to lofty achievements. Who will forget Abraham Lincoln’s words at the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, battlefield, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here,” or Sir Winston Churchill’s words to a battered, British nation, “Never in the field of conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” or General Douglas MacArthur’s WWII unbroken promise to the Philippines, “I shall return, or the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Words mean something and deeply resonate in the psyche and souls of men.

With words, a person communicates with others, confesses errors, comforts the sorrowing, counsels the puzzled, chastens the wayward, and commits themselves to greater purpose. “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11 NIV. Noting the inherent power of words, the Bible wisely advises you to value the economy of words, “Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God . . therefore let your words be few.” Ecclesiastes 5:2 NKJV. Foolish and less than accurate words discount every other word that you speak. If people cannot believe all that you say, how will they know to believe anything that you say? Speak the truth in love to all others at all times. See Ephesians 4:15-16/29 NKJV.

But now, let’s consider the importance and power of God’s word. Read Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV. It is interesting that God created all that we see and enjoy with just His spoken word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command.” John 1:1 NKJV/Hebrews 11:3 NIV.

In the worst of his trouble, Job said, “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” Job 23:12 KJV. In such life-shaping times you do not need your own or others’ opinions, you need a word from the Lord – wisdom that restores your faith and directs you forward. Would your life and faith be better and stronger if you spent more time honoring God’s Word and living according to its truth? Then why do people find so little time and give secondary priority to reading, studying, and knowing the Word of God everyday? The prophet Jeremiah placed the highest value on God’s words. “Your words are what sustain me. They bring me great joy and are my heart’s delight.” Jeremiah 15:16 NLT. The Word of God is not all it should be in your life until it is your “great joy and heart’s delight!”

My prayer for you today is that you build your life on every word God speaks.

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Lifestyle Issues

January 27th, 2012

“Don’t get tired of doing what is good.” Galatians 6:9 NLT

“Valuable blessings enrich the hearts and lives of those who serve others unselfishly.”

My thoughts today are about “lifestyle issues.”

Basically, I think everyone wants to do what is good, to be considerate of others and helpful. However, I can understand times that discourage a person from consistently doing what is right and good as a lifestyle. Good is not always recognized by those who take others’ goodness for granted and that becomes a bit discouraging. Or good is not always realized or appreciated by those benefiting most, and one’s efforts feel devalued. Also, a good deed is not always reciprocated in kind. There are times you may feel alone trying to do what’s right and good, and wonder if the effect is worth the effort. That is discouraging and makes you question whether living for the good of others warrants the sacrifice. You learn to do the right and good things because they are right and good, not because you feel like doing so.

Here’s the Bible’s encouragement to you, “Don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time. Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone . .” Galatians 6:9-10 NLT. There is a natural weariness in doing what is right and good, however noble your intentions at the first. Fallen nature, within us and others, seems bent to resist good at times.

There is a very practical instruction in preceding verses that reminds you why you are not to become slack, “Be sure to do what you should, for then you will enjoy the personal satisfaction of having done your work well . . you will always reap what  you sow . . those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” Galatians 6:2-8 NLT. Valuable blessings enrich the hearts and lives of those who serve others unselfishly. See Matthew 10:42 NLT.

Read those verses again thoughtfully; notice the rewards promised – “personal satisfaction, pleasing the Spirit, and everlasting life.” What could ever be more fulfilling? People search the world to find cheap substitutes for such personal reward and pay a high price in their soul while doing so, when those were readily available in one’s sincere kindness to others. Those benefits have their own intrinsic value, whatever the notice and appreciation of others, or lack thereof. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,’ when you have it with you.” Proverbs 3:27-30 NKJV. Do what you can when you can in the best way that you can.

Doing what is right and good is internally satisfying unless the cost and time overshadows why and for Whom you are doing so. What you do for others, do as unto the Lord. “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does.” Ephesians 6:7-8/Colossians 3:23-24 NIV. I think this single verse sums it up well, “Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matt 5:14 TEV. Shine where Jesus can be seen more clearly.

My prayer for you today is this: let all you do be always to God’s glory and praise!

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January 26th, 2012

“Praise the Lord, I tell myself, and never forget the good things He does for me.” Psalm 103:2 NLT

“People more likely forget what they should remember and remember what they could forget.”

My thoughts today are about “forgetfulness.”

I have learned this about forgetfulness. Without diligence, any one of us can forget even the best of things done for us. The less time or intention to think about things now past, the easier it is to forget even what you thought you never could. Forgetfulness is more a matter of omission than commission, isn’t it? A person is more likely to forget what they should remember and remember what they could forget. I want to remember kindnesses not the disappointments, the regard not the disregard, the helpfulness not the hurt. Sometimes I need help to do that.

Everyone benefits from Godly reminders along the way. My wife, Gayle, is thoughtful and kind enough to remind me of family birthdays and anniversaries. She knows I would not mean to forget those occasions for people dear to me, but I may need reminders.  Charlotte, my secretary of many years, keeps me aware of friends and church families who have special needs or special days for an occasional call or contact. She knows I would not knowingly overlook them, and do not want to do so unintentionally. Forgetfulness occurs even when you do not intend to forget.

Have you heard of self-talk? Everyone talks with themselves on occasion, preferably not aloud. Self-talk is what you tell yourself when no one else is listening. Inwardly, you talk your way through decisions and plans before they’re made, except sadly enough, for the ones you don’t. Self-talk is the normal and useful process of contemplation, thinking, reflection, and musings – not all of which are positive. Your mind is creative; use it well and wisely. Consider Psalm 1:1-3 NIV.

It is easy to rehearse your complaints, or practice your criticism, or convince yourself of slights and oversights. Any benefit to that? Not really. I think the Psalms are largely the outworking of David inwardly processing his struggles, fears, regrets, heartache, hopes, aspirations, and intentions. And now, centuries later, we share his ruminations and learn from his intrapersonal reflections. See Psalm 19:14 NKJV.

King David, older and wiser, wrote, “Praise the Lord, I tell myself, and never forget the good things He does for me.” Psalm 103:2 NLT. Never forget the good things God and others contribute to your life.  Read on in Psalm 103 as David recalls “all the benefits” not to be forgotten – forgiven iniquities, healed diseases, life preserved, crowned with lovingkindness, satisfied with good things, and youth and strength renewed. Read Psalm 103:1-5 NKJV. That is how you remember what you must not forget.

My prayer for you today is to rehearse the mercies, favor, and provision of God to you.

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Ample Evidence

January 25th, 2012

“Abraham . . was strengthened in faith.” Romans 4:20 NKJV

“The obvious evidence for doubt can distract from the ample evidence for faith.”

My thoughts today are about “ample evidence.”

Faith is dynamic not static, ever changing and extending. Faith is either strengthening or weakening. And the difference between those is up to you. Faith is a very personal matter. Someone can have faith with you, but I’m not sure how anyone can have faith for you. Others can set an example for your faith, or even encourage your faith by their words and assurances, but faith is a personal experience and expression. Here’s what I have discovered. It gets harder and harder to believe a promise when delay and circumstances conspire to make you doubt the God who made the promise.

Abraham had a grand promise from God – specific, not vague. Initially, the promise seemed life fulfilling but still naturally possible, “a father of many nations . . seed as numerous as the stars of the heavens.” Genesis 22:17-18 NKJV. I think they probably started planning the nursery and choosing names for a boy or girl. Then years passed, too many years, about twenty-five years really. Now the promise seemed completely and irrevocably impossible, no natural way to accomplish their long-held dream. That’s a lot of time and circumstance to deal with when the first promise came when he was already seventy-five years old! It was a struggle believing the promise until he determined he could fully believe God. God is timeless and eternal; the passing years mean little. He minds neither man’s clock nor calendar. What are you struggling to still believe? Does something that once still appeared possible now seem unlikely?

His and Sarah’s journey had ups and downs, good days and bad, but eventually here is how God described Abraham’s faith and faithfulness, (those two, faith and faithfulness, are inseparably related, you know). Abraham “who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken . . and not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what God has promised He was also able to perform.” Romans 4:18-22 NKJV.

A promise should not be your focus; the Promise Keeper alone is where true faith seeks to rest. See Hebrews 6:17-19 NKJV. Notice carefully the conclusion of faith: “being fully convinced that what God had promised He was able to perform.” Faith does not rest upon His promise to you; faith rests solidly upon God’s faithfulness and character. “For all the promises of God in Him are ‘Yes,’ and in Him ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 1:20 NKJV.

Abraham was strengthened in faith for two reasons. (1) He did not consider the obvious evidence for doubt“his own body and Sarah’s womb,” which presented a strong case for disbelief. See Hebrews 11:11-12 NKJV. (2) He looked at the ample evidence for faith and found that in God alone. Hebrews 11:1 NKJV. Where you are looking determines what you are seeing – things unseen and eternal or things seen but temporary. Read 2 Corinthians 4:18 NKJV.

My prayer for you today is that God’s promises are sure and steadfast in your heart.

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