Posted in John, Matthew, Psalms

The Benefits of the Good Shepherd

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” Psalm 23:1

In John 10 Jesus revealed that He was the good shepherd Psalm 23 was written about. There are three tremendous benefits in making the Lord our Shepherd:

  1. Security – Sheep are timid creatures and don’t eat or rest well when they’re afraid. When Jesus is truly our Shepherd we have somewhere to take our fears and can learn how to live our daily lives free from anxiety. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” Through the forgiveness offered in the cross, Jesus takes away the fear of death by giving us eternal life now. Death becomes a promotion instead of an end and getting older no longer means we’re past our prime; we’re only getting closer to coming into it. In Christ, our best days are before us because we were created for eternity and not just time.
  2. Success – When the shepherd is not close by, sheep immediately form a butting order by which each sheep learns its place. Sheep won’t even lie down without the shepherd nearby because they’re afraid they’ll lose their place. The world’s definition of success is often about power, money, and fame, and it requires a lot of energy to protect one’s place. But Jesus redefines success for His people – “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” We only have to do the right thing in each situation we are in and live to honor His Name.  When we live to please God and make that our priority, “goodness and mercy will follow.” We always get in trouble when we seek God’s blessings instead of letting them follow us. Jesus said it this way: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
  3. Satisfaction – “My cup overflows.” Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) God’s idea was that witnessing would be a very natural outflow of our satisfaction in Him. Is it a burden to tell someone about a movie or book you loved? The witness is spontaneous because you want those who you love to experience the blessing that you enjoyed in watching or reading. George Mueller said, “I consider the first duty of every day is to get my soul happy in God.”  Let’s do the same!
Posted in Acts, Hebrews

Continual Devotion

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42

God is wholehearted toward you. He gave everything on the cross before we gave anything to Him, just because He loves us. The goal of the Christian is to have the same wholehearted love for God that He has for us. When we do we will have energy and joy to do whatever God wants us to do without even noticing the sacrifices we make. As Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2), even so, our burning love for Him will make any difficulty just one more chance to embrace the cross for His sake. 

Continual devotion is a great definition of being wholehearted. Continual means a 24/7 relationship instead of a religion that puts God in a box that you only bring out once or twice a week.

When you are devoted to something it is of the highest value to you and you will pay any price to protect it. God wants this fire for Him in our hearts. Our text then gives four things they were continually devoted to that produce an atmosphere of being wholehearted lovers.

  1. The apostle’s teaching – they weren’t devoted to the apostles but to their teaching which we have today in the New Testament. We must not be devoted to our favorite preacher but to the Word of God. Men are like the grass of the field but the Word of God abides forever. Do you read His word daily? I encourage you to start if you don’t. 
  2.  Fellowship – we must make some Christian friends that are seeking to be wholehearted as well. Go to church, get in a small group, and look for opportunities to grow.
  3. The breaking of bread – this is a reference to communion and the centrality of the cross. Christianity is not about how good we are but about how good Jesus was on our behalf. It is not about our great love, but that He loved us first. 
  4.  Prayer – spending time listening and talking to God. Allow His presence to be your breath and make prayer a moment by moment conversation as well as a special time set aside each day. 

Through these four disciplines God will ignite a fire in us and grow it until our hearts are completely healed and completely His.

Posted in 1Corinthians, 2Corinthians

The Gospel Guarantee

“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2Corinthians 5:4-5

The gospel guarantee for our bodies is resurrection when Jesus comes back, not physical healing in this present age. While healing is available now and should be prayed and believed for, the bigger plan for our bodies is that they be raised at Christ’s coming.

Our current bodies are referred to as tents – they are temporary. God has a redeemed, perfect body for us who believe that is permanent. “Now we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven.” (2Corinthians 5:1)  All physical healing now is evidence of the resurrection power that will one day raise our earthly bodies (whether we’ve died or are still alive) and give us the redeemed body that can’t be worn down or worn out. (See 1Corinthians 15:52)

In Jesus first coming, He secured forgiveness for our sins and peace for our souls. At His second coming, He will reverse the curse that causes our bodies to “waste away” in this present age. (2Corinthians 4:16) We need to live in our tents until we die, so I thank God for His power for us to be healed now, but it’s really important that we don’t guarantee the wrong thing to people.

A dear friend at a former church was dying and on his deathbed started to doubt his salvation. He was such a brilliant, giving Christian, so I couldn’t understand why he was struggling at the time he most needed his faith. He explained: “If Jesus died for my sicknesses the same way He died for my sins, then how can I believe I’m forgiven if I’m not healed?”

Those of us who believe in healing need to be careful to not overreach in what we promise or we create confusion in those God loves. I told him that God loved him and Jesus died so that he could be forgiven and go to heaven whether he got physically healed or not. Physical healing now is available to be asked for but when it doesn’t happen, we thank God that a more complete healing is coming – our resurrection.

Posted in Romans

The Sovereignty of God and Salvation

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Romans 8:29-30

A mighty ship named Salvation is crossing the ocean; its Captain is Jesus and its destination is heaven. Two men tell Jesus they are going overboard because they resent the confinement of the ship. Each swims away from the ship in a different direction, and at some point, both will surely drown if not rescued. What will the Captain do?

There are two main Christian views of how and of who God saves as well as two different definitions of what predestination means. Both believe in God’s sovereignty but differ in how He chooses to exercise it.

In one view, the Captain sends out a professional swimmer (the Holy Spirit) with a life preserver (the gospel) to one of the two men. The professional swimmer wakes up (the call of God) the man who has passed out and informs him of the Captain’s great love and rescue. He then places him on the top of the life preserver while holding him on it. Jesus pulls the rope connected to the life preserver until this man is safely on the ship. This man had no part in his own salvation – Jesus did it all. 

In the other view, the Captain sends out a professional swimmer (the Holy Spirit) to both men and brings a life preserver (the gospel) to both. The professional swimmer has been instructed by the Captain to wake up (the call of God) both men and to inform them of the great danger they’re in as well as of the rescue the Captain has arranged for them both because of His great love. Each man is told by the swimmer that he must participate in his own salvation by grabbing the life preserver. The swimmer will assist them in holding onto the life preserver while the Captain pulls them to the ship, but if they don’t want to return to the ship, He will eventually have to leave them alone, and let them drown. In this scenario, the Captain once again knew before the ship sailed that both men would go overboard, but instead of predestining one to be saved, He predestined that salvation would be offered to both. 

I believe the latter is the true definition of predestination and the way God exercises His sovereignty in salvation. Only you can decide what you believe.

Posted in 1Samuel, 2Timothy, Acts

Breaking Intimidation

“Then the Philistine (Goliath) said, ‘This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.’ On hearing this, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” 1Samuel 17:10-11

I believe there was a spirit of intimidation behind Goliath’s threats that still seeks to paralyze the people of God today. If we listen to our fears we will do little to advance the kingdom of God in our lives. The Bible tells us that David, “served the purpose of God in his own generation.” (Acts 13:36) He didn’t live a sinless life, but God was able to accomplish what He wanted through him. If we fulfill our purpose, it will be because we broke intimidation the same way David did. Consider with me three common sources of intimidation:

  1. The opinions of family. “When Eliab, David’s brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, ‘Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.’” (1Samuel 17:28) We love our families but we dare not allow their expectations to determine our destinies. It’s hard for them to see us beyond the role we played in the family growing up.
  2. The way others have done it. “‘I cannot go in these,’ David said to Saul, ‘because I am not used to them.’ So he took them off.” (1Samuel 17:39) Saul put his own armor on David because that’s what Saul would have worn if he was fighting. Others have an opinion about us but it’s often based more on who they are then on who we are. We will never fulfill God’s purpose trying to be someone we’re not.
  3. The taunts of the enemy. How did David boldly confront the same enemy who had paralyzed the entire Israelite army for forty days? I believe the key is found in the previous chapter: “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.” (1Samuel 16:13) The key to breaking intimidation is being filled with the Holy Spirit. We have nothing to fear, God has given us the Spirit of power, love, and a sound mind. (2Timothy 1:7)  Be yourself, filled with the Holy Spirit, and know with confidence that you and God can accomplish anything together.
Posted in 2Samuel, Acts, Psalms

What’s Your Dream?

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” Psalm 27:4

David’s dream was that he would know the intimacy of God’s presence which is why he was called the man after God’s own heart.  His dream was to know God Himself. What’s yours?

David also had an assignment, in fact, it was a big one. He was appointed by God to be king in Israel which meant that he was responsible to lead and shepherd them, which he did with integrity and diligence (Psalm 78:72), but his assignment was never his dream.

This became evident when he sinned against God and was in danger of losing everything. In his prayer recorded in Psalm 51, he pleaded with God about his dream but never even mentioned his assignment: “Do not cast me from Your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me…” (Psalm 51:11) When Absalom was seeking to overthrow the kingdom, David fled, but made Zadok keep the ark in Jerusalem: “If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, He will bring me back…”, but if not, “I am ready; let Him do whatever seems good to Him.” (2Samuel 15:26) David’s identity wasn’t in being king but in being God’s child. He didn’t have to fight to be or do something, He just wanted to be where God wanted him.

Acts tells us that David completed his assignment while on earth (Acts 13:36) and you should aim to fulfill yours as well, but I hope you don’t make it your dream. Making your assignment your dream will burn you out and all those who are around you because burn out is always the end result of putting the second commandment (Love your neighbor) before the first (Love God). But if we seek God Himself as our dream, like David did, we will find an abundance of grace to complete His assignment and all the glory will belong to Him.

Posted in Mark, Matthew

God or Money?

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24

Perhaps the greatest distraction to pure devotion to Jesus Christ in this day and age is money. Who is ruling all things in our lives? Is it Jesus, before whom “every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess,” or is it money? The one who actually rules our lives is not necessarily what our religion states; it’s the one we make our decisions by and find our comfort in.

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) Unfortunately, we in America are often guilty of seeking first “all these things” and adding a little religion on the side. Our money says, “In God we trust,” but do we really?

Jesus came across a very moral and religious young man who was bound by the power of money. The Scripture tells us that, “Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, `One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me.’ But at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property.” (Mark 10:21-22)

God wanted to free this man from money’s subtle power over him. His property wasn’t the real problem, it was his heart. In the very same chapter Jesus promises that those who have left, “houses…and farms,” for Him will receive back a hundred times, “houses…and farms,” in this life. (Mark 10:29-30) Ultimately Jesus didn’t want his money; He wanted his heart.

Matthew 6:21 says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Does God have your money, or are you holding on tightly to it trying to add a little religion on the side? In these difficult days of shaking it is vital for us to be trusting God in every area of our lives.

Posted in Daniel, James, Psalms

The Humility of our Humanity

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” James 4:13-16

God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a dream and then gave Daniel the interpretation to warn him about the brevity of his life. In the dream he was pictured as a head of gold, but Daniel explained that the reason why the metal changed at the shoulders was: “after you will arise another kingdom…” (Daniel 2:39) The king didn’t like this reminder of his humanity so he ordered that a ninety foot statue be made of himself out of pure gold, and then ordered those in his kingdom to bow down and worship it. He had those who would address him use this phrase before stating their business; “O king, live forever!” (Daniel 2:9)

God was very patient with this proud king revealing Himself in many ways until he finally came to a place of worship. Daniel records his words: “I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” (Daniel 4:37) I wonder if he had his servants remind him by changing the greeting to something like: “O king, you won’t live forever.”

When we remember how short our time on earth is, it is easier to live for the important things of eternity instead of the temporal things of this world. No wonder David prayed, “Lord, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am;” (Psalm 39:4) and Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

When we’re right with God we have no anxiety about the brevity of our lives because the best is yet to come!

Posted in 1Thessalonians, Colossians, Romans

The Power of Your Calling

“Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” 1Thessalonians 5:24

The power to fulfill your calling lies in the One who called you. We can either live before God out of our calling, or live before men out of guilt, man-pleasing, or fear of rejection. Because we all naturally tend toward the latter, we need to remind ourselves to come back continually to the One who calls us.

Even though I have been given responsibility to provide accountability for our pastoral staff, I don’t want them working for me. If they do their work for a man then they will probably only do the minimum he requires, and the quality of their work will probably fluctuate proportionate to whether “the boss” is watching or not. It is too low a calling to work for any person.

Colossians 3:23 reads: “Whatever you do, do your work wholeheartedly for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward.” Everything you and I do can be holy if we do it for the right Person. It doesn’t matter whether we’re at church, school, work, or even at play – if we’re living for God we will find His energy, pleasure and reward. Paul tells us that it even applies to eating meals! “He who eats does so for the Lord for he gives thanks to God…” (Romans 14:6)

What has God called you to do? Not, “what do you want to do,” or “what do your parents want you to do,” but what has God called you to do? If you’re not sure, I think you should review your history and see if He hasn’t given some hints. Come back to that calling and to the One who gave it, and watch Him bring it to pass. There is power in our calling!

Posted in John, Revelation

Discernment and Accusation

“…the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.” (Revelation 12:10)

If there has ever been a time that we need discernment, it is today. There are many with tickling ears and many who will tell those ears whatever they want to hear for a price. There are many abuses that need to be called out and stood against, but there is another abuse that has slipped into the body of Christ under the guise of discernment, and that is accusation.

This spirit has caused fear and division in the church and has kept many people from experiencing the genuine power of God. People under this “wisdom” content themselves with the fact that they go by Scripture, but Scripture is not an end in itself; it’s supposed to lead us to a living relationship with Jesus. Jesus said to the Pharisees: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39) 

I had fried chicken this week. Because it had been in the refrigerator for a while I looked it over closely before I ate it. If I had seen any trace of mold on it I would have immediately thrown it away – that is discernment. However, I fully expected that there would be bones in with the chicken that I would have to throw away. Even though there were bones, it was worth it for the meat. Any ministry you receive from will have bones with it. Either you won’t agree with everything, or you won’t agree with the way it was presented, or some quirk in the person delivering it. It takes humility to receive from any ministry, but if we will humble ourselves God can teach us through anyone.

In my mind we all “know in part” now and have to give each other some room to disagree on non-essentials.  One of my favorite sayings from church history goes like this: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”