Posted in 2Peter, Luke, Matthew, Philippians

Living Ready for His Return

“Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealer and buy some for yourselves.’” Matthew 25:5-9

The great work of this life is to live ready for Christ’s return. He has delayed His return because He doesn’t want anyone to perish (2Peter 3:9) and is even now calling sinners to repent and turn to God. But what about the danger to those who have begun their journey but are now distracted by other things? How do we ensure we don’t end up like the foolish virgins Jesus describes in Matthew 25? There are three things we can do daily, so that we’re living ready for His return.

  1. We must stay awake. Jesus said that before Noah’s flood and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, people were “eating, they were drinking, they were marrying…they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building.” (Luke 17:27-28) The problem was that these legitimate things were all they were doing – they had lost track of a living faith in God. The busyness of this world easily lulls us to sleep and pretty soon we are relying on past experience instead of present relationship.
  2. We must trim our wicks. Yesterday’s sins, regrets, and successes have to be trimmed away to walk with God today. Listen to Paul’s encouragement: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) 
  3. We must have fresh oil. The foolish virgins think they can get oil from other people – it’s not possible. You can’t get your relationship with God from your grandma, parents, or pastor, however godly they may be. Go to the dealer Himself. He has fresh oil for every single day. The cost is only the time and effort it takes to seek Him for it. Jesus has already paid the price, so we can always be filled with the Holy Spirit. Your Father loves you, Jesus died for you, so all you need to do is ask each day.
Posted in Colossians, Isaiah, John, Philippians

Are You Willing?  

“If you are willing and obedient you will eat the best from the land.” Isaiah 1:19

A minister in the 1950’s was complaining to God saying, “God, you said if I was willing and obedient, I would eat the best of the land and I’ve been obedient.”

He had been a pastor when God told him to start traveling because he wasn’t really a pastor, he was a prophet and a teacher. Even though it was difficult to leave the security of a pastorate, he obeyed God. The problem was that he wasn’t making it. His shoes were worn out, his wife and kids were barely surviving, and there was constant financial pressure on his home. All this when he had only obeyed God and stepped out in faith.

The Lord answered this man with a whisper: “You’ve been obedient, but you haven’t been willing.” When he told this story, he said that he instantly became willing in response to God’s prompting, and it started to change everything in his life.

Did you know you can be obedient and not be willing? You can do the will of God and carry out your responsibilities as “have tos,” but that’s not good enough for God. He only releases His full blessing over us when we “want to.” It’s not enough for Him that we serve Him; He wants us to be happy about it.

The sweet Spirit of God was given so we would have both power to God’s will as well as the “want to.” Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God who works in you to will (the want to) and to act (the power to do) according to His good purpose.”

The way we change all of the “have tos,” in our lives into “want tos,” is by embracing the cross and doing them for God instead of for man. Jesus said that no one took His life from Him; “I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18). You and I have the choice of resenting our “have tos,” or of making them “want tos,” by doing them for God.

How we do what we do changes everything and puts us in the place of God’s full blessing. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Posted in Philippians, Psalms

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23

Sometimes it’s a sacrifice to give thanks. Maybe it’s because things aren’t going well right now, or because God hasn’t done the big thing you’re asking Him to do. Yet the word of God encourages us to give thanks even when we’re not in the mood, and it still honors Him. My number one defense against discouragement is thanksgiving. When I find myself down I will recount God’s blessings starting with salvation, then family, health, job, and every blessing I can think of. It’s difficult to be both depressed and thankful at the same time.

Thanksgiving brings us quickly into God’s Presence. “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart…” (Psalm 100:4) No wonder our sacrifice of thanksgiving prepares the way for God’s salvation. Think about human relationships. Isn’t it easy to give to a thankful person and hard to give to someone who takes you and your gifts for granted? I think it’s the same way for God. He encourages us to pray when we are anxious about anything and “with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) Before we have even received what we are praying for, we are to give thanks. For what? How about for the last time God answered your prayer, or for who God is and that He even cares about our needs, or for the promises He has given that we can believe and pray back to Him as we ask.

The word says that after we turn our anxiety into prayer with thanksgiving, “the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) I wonder if thanksgiving is the key to breaking through to peace. Prayer without thanksgiving can actually just be worrying in front of God. Thanksgiving brings in an element of faith and victory even if we haven’t seen the answer yet.

Posted in Acts, Ecclesiastes, Philippians

Emotionally Content

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11 NIV

I want to learn how to enjoy the season that I am currently experiencing instead of fighting it. Why is it so easy to pine over what once was, or to long for a future that is different than my life right now? God has made right now beautiful if I’m willing to see it. He has you and me where we are right now.  Can we agree with Him in our emotions and even learn to enjoy this season? Or do we fight with God, advise God, disagree with God, and basically go against the grain of the season we’re in with the slivers to prove it? Jesus said to Saul, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14)

We can’t fathom the whole of what God is doing in our lives and because of that we aren’t capable of judging how the present season fits. Why not trust God and get into the flow of what He is doing? Maybe you’re like me, frustrated by your seeming lack of control over what happens in your circumstances. If we surrender our need for control we are free to trust the One who really is in control. Easier said than done, but it’s only when we truly let go that we experience His peace. Here’s His promise to us in Philippians 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Whether you are old or young, married or single, employed or unemployed, in school or out of school, happy or sad, on the top or on the bottom… whatever your life is like right now, I challenge you to find God’s beauty in it and to be at peace.

Posted in Malachi, Matthew, Philippians

The Mystery of Giving

“You (Philippians) sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more, I am amply supplied…Your gifts are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:16-19

We use giving boxes at our church instead of receiving offerings and rarely even talk about the importance of giving as part of our worship. It’s our response to a culture where many believe the church just wants their money. God loves people and He doesn’t want a system where anyone thinks you have to “pay” to stay in His grace.

Yet the self-sufficient God is mysteriously interested in our giving. He has placed, in giving, a number of incentives so His people will want to give freely to that which He values. Paul gives us three in the passage above:

  1. We increase our heavenly account. “I am looking for what may be credited to your account.” In Matthew 6:20 Jesus invites us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” in the context of giving, not to be seen by men, but by the Father in heaven. You can’t take money with you, but mysteriously, it seems we can send it ahead by investing in God’s interests.
  2. We please God by our sacrifice. “Your gifts are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Money is real to us, and God knows it. For most of us, giving more to God’s work means choosing for the present to have less stuff, or go on fewer vacations, or at least, having less in our retirement account. It is meaningful to God, a fragrant offering, when we choose to worship Him in this very tangible way.
  3. We secure future provision. “God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ.” Although we make a present sacrifice, God is committed to being the only true Benefactor in His kingdom. Those who give do not need to fear, He Himself has resources to draw on and will see to it that all our needs are provided for. He encourages all of us to test Him in the area of tithing, for instance, and promises to “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:10)
Posted in John, Philippians

Equipped with Peace

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

The peace, or shalom (Hebrew) of Jesus, is vital equipment for the Christian life. It is to act as a guard for us, and as a thermostat for others.

  1. A guard for us. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) The world only gives you peace when all your troubles are solved. The peace Jesus gives is in the midst of troubles. His peace guards us from leading anxious lives that end up burning us out. This is not merely a positive attitude that things will get better, but a tangible presence that acts as a guard against fear and anxiety. We must grow in His peace; we must break the habit of living anxious, fearful lives and learn to practice His presence in the midst of the storm. We put clothes on every morning; let’s not forget to put on the peace He has given us for a guard.
  2. A thermostat for others. When Jesus said, “My peace…”, I think the disciples remembered the power of His peace. When the storm was threatening their lives, Jesus stood and said, “Peace be still.” Then the peace that allowed Jesus to sleep in the storm acted like a thermostat until the entire environment was as at peace as He was. The disciples were living as thermometers (a thermometer only reflects what is in the environment), like the world does, a storm outside had led to a storm of anxiety and fear inside their hearts to the point that they thought they would perish. When they reached the other side they met a demoniac who was so restless, not even chains could hold him. Once again, the peace of Jesus acted like a thermostat until the man came into his right mind and came to share the very peace of God. Think of it: “My peace I give to you.”

To give peace, we must have peace.  I don’t know your circumstances today, but I do know that God wants to give you peace in the midst of them. He then wants us to be a portal of His peace to those around us so that the very atmosphere is filled with the presence of redemption.

Posted in 1John, John, Philippians, Psalms, Romans

The Will of God

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and accomplish His work.” John 4:34

Consider with me three things about the will of God: the delight, the cost, and the result.

The delight. David said that when Messiah came He would proclaim, “I delight to do Your will O My God, Your law is within My heart.” (Psalm 40:8) In the text above we have Jesus saying that the will of God is His hidden food, sustenance, and supply. Jesus’ yoke was easy and His burden was light because He never measured Himself by anything or anyone else – it was enough to do the will of God. Life can be very complicated, but when your passion is the will of God the questions change. It is no longer “what will I choose to do,” but only, “what is the will of God so I can obey.” Deciding to do God’s will, whatever it is, answers a thousand other questions for you. For instance, you don’t have to decide whether to forgive someone or not. You always forgive because He’s forgiven you.

The cost. Jesus prayed, “not My will, but Yours be done.” He didn’t finish the work God gave Him to do until He said, “It is finished,” on the cross. He did work for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves which is why the beginning of us doing the will of God must be putting our faith in Christ. But there’s a cross for us as well if we really want to accomplish God’s plan. Romans 12:1-2 says, “In view of God’s mercy, present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” We must offer ourselves before God as a sacrifice willing to do anything, before we will be able to walk out the specific plan He has for us.

The result. Because Jesus obeyed He was given the highest Name and the greatest place in all the universe. (Philippians 2:11) When we do the will of God we end up sharing in His glory forever and ever. “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” (1John 2:17)

Posted in Colossians, John, Philippians, Romans

Living from Victory

“Very soon the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet.” Romans 16:20

From God’s perspective, darkness has already been defeated through Christ’s triumph on the cross. (Colossians 2:15)  Jesus is not at war with Satan; He’s already won the war and now, through the gospel, is inviting us to live from His victory.

The key is walking in peace. We must first acquire the peace of God, and then we must learn to walk in the peace of God. When we do this, we become like a thermostat in our environment. “Very soon . . .” the darkness around us is crushed as the kingdom of God and Christ’s victory permeate the atmosphere we bring Christ’s peace to. Notice from the text, Satan will be crushed – his work, his plans, his voice – under our feet. Jesus wants us to share His victory.

So how does one get the peace of God? It starts with salvation where God offers us peace with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins on the cross. (Romans 5:1)  Once we are saved, we have continual access to God through Christ and have peace available to us if we give our anxieties to God in prayer. “Be anxious for nothing but in everything make your requests known to God with thanksgiving, and the peace of God which transcends understanding will guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Getting peace is easier than walking in peace. How does one stay in peace in a world that creates so much uncertainty, fear, and anxiety? I believe the key is in the verse before our text in Romans 16 and in the verse following the reference in Philippians. Notice how similar they are: “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (Romans 16:19) “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things… And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

To stay in peace, we have to keep ourselves from focusing on evil and on what evil is doing.  When we focus on darkness we end up empowering it. Jesus focused on what the Father was doing and saying (John 5:19); to walk in peace we need to do the same.

If we lose our peace, all we have to do is bring our anxieties back to God and He will restore it again. Let’s practice living from victory until it becomes our lifestyle!

Posted in 1Samuel, Hebrews, Philippians

Confidence through Victory

“When David was told, ‘Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,’ he inquired of the Lord, saying, ‘Shall I go and attack these Philistines?’ The Lord answered him, ‘Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.’ But David’s men said to him, “here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces! Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him, ‘Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.’ So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah.” 1Samuel 23:1-5

David’s men are afraid and having a hard time believing that God really wants them to reach beyond their fears. When David brings the Word of the Lord, they say in essence: “We’re already afraid here in Judah which we know; now you think God wants us to go into enemy territory and fight there? You’d better ask God again because we don’t think He would ask us to go that far out of our comfort zone.”

David asks again and sure enough, it is God’s plan. Why? Is God mean? Does He like seeing His children miserable? No, it’s just that the only way to remove fear is to face it and discover that the prison it was making around your life was artificial. They obeyed God in spite of their fears and God gave them victory. Eventually these very men became David’s mighty men and became known for their fearlessness.

Did you know God is on a mission to make us fearless? He wants us to face every trial and challenge with a confidence that says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) Do not let fear set the limits of your life but only the will of God.

If fear has been your automatic default mode I want to encourage you to regularly take up the confession of Hebrews 13:5-6: “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”

Posted in Philippians, Psalms

The Key to Great Peace

“The meek inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” Psalm 37:11

The proud seek to be in control and are continually trying to get what they want. If they can’t get it now, they live in grasping anxiety that blames and complains about everyone in their way.

The meek of heart yield to the One who really is in control. They trust they will inherit everything God has promised in God’s timing, and find great peace in the assurance that God will have His way eventually, even if it seems darkness is winning right now.

A few verses before our text, David writes: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” (Psalm 37:7) This may sound like the meek are called to do “nothing” while evil is growing around them, but this is not the case. Here is our part when we those around us are making destructive choices:

  1. Patiently wait on God. We don’t pretend evil isn’t happening; we take that evil to God in prayer.
  2. Don’t fret because of the evil. We don’t just pray, we actually believe God hears us and that He will reverse the evil that seems to be succeeding in the short run.
  3. Walk in peace now. We don’t have to wait for everything to work out because our peace isn’t in our circumstances, it’s in our God.

The New Testament scripture that puts all this together for us is Philippians 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”