Singing with Libby

Last night, my daughter and I had our bibles open and were discussing a host of topics.  What I love about Libby is when we are having these discussions she will ask “does it say that in the bible?” or “where can we find that?”.   So we were  jumping around to different verses from spying out the promised land to what it will be like being in heaven with God for eternity.

At some point she asked me “what’s a psalm” and my simple answer was a bible song.  She wanted to take a look so we landed in Psalm 19.  I began reading and got to verse 7 and the words became familiar to Libby and by verse 8 we were singing.  It was so awesome to see her smile, the recognition of the words, the clear joy on her face and that I got to share in it.  Libby makes me a better man in so many ways and I am always at my best when I am present and participating in her life.  She leads to me to Jesus and invites Him into our relationship…and she’s only 10…thank God for her and for all of our children.  In my children, I find great understanding of my Abba Father’s desire for me and having me as a child.  I thank Him for that too.

Draw your children near.  Be present.  Participate in their lives.  Sing a song…why not this one?

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

Working Together

12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.  14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. (1 Thessalonians 5: 14-15; NKJV)

Paul, along with Silvanus and Timothy, offer a series of exhortations, admonishments and blessings at the close of their first epistle to the church of the Thessalonians.  The bold words are underlined in my Bible and wanted to offer what comes to my mind when I read them.

Recognize:  I need to take time and consider the work of those who are working and leading in my church and pray for them.

Admonish:  I don’t need to feel like everyone is coming down on me when I am admonished.  It is a powerful word but it’s not all about correction.   It is also about warning, advice, urging from God’s word delivered by a fellow laborer.  If I am being admonished in love from someone with a comforting and patient heart, then I need to recognize it is coming from God and His word and I need to be thankful and hold my brother or sister in high esteem (respect, admire).

Warn, Uphold, Patient, Good:  I need to see the fellowship or joint participation of the work of the church.  I need to pay attention, build relationships, and be ready and willing to warn another or maybe point out things to someone they cannot see themselves.  I need to be there to uphold another brother or sister in a situation where they  may not be able to stand but I can…and visa versa…I have to be willing to receive help too. I need to be patiently working with a confidence that God is working too.  I need to pursue what is good spiritually for me but also for my family in Christ…which means I don’t have permission to do what I think is “right” or “best” if it does not benefit the whole…it is not all about me no matter what…it is about Jesus!

There are so many more lessons in this text and more things that could be said but take some time today and consider the text and examine yourself in terms of your work with the church and your brethren and pray that God might open your eyes and heart for continued growth individually and with the Body.

Disciples, Baptism, Teaching

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The passage above is called by many the Great Commission. Jesus sent out His followers to the whole world to preach the good news to all people. For this morning, I wanted to make a few observations about this passage.

A disciple is a student. We are told to make disciples, but I believe that phrase “make disciples” means on our part we are to teach. We cannot “make” anyone learn. But if we are constantly teaching others, there will be those who listen and want to become students of Jesus. Our mission is just like that of Philip with the Ethiopian…preach the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:35).

We don’t teach all things Jesus commanded BEFORE someone is baptized and becomes a Christian. What does a person have to know in order to become a Christian? It’s pretty basic, isn’t it? They have to know Jesus and Him crucified. We don’t have to go into a long series of studies on learning everything about how a Christian is to behave or how the church is to worship. That all comes later. Are we trying to make sure a person has all the religious answers so they can pass the test and be approved to become a Christian? If so, we’ve got it all wrong.

We keep teaching. The work is not over when someone becomes a Christian. Too many times Christians have dropped the ball on this matter. We work so hard to help someone become a Christian, and once they obey the gospel, we move on to the next person who needs to become a Christian. It’s like the assumption is made that all the other stuff they need to know is going to be learned by osmosis. Would we take a newborn baby, set it in a crib and walk away for months? That would be negligent homicide. Jesus told us that the bulk of teaching happens AFTER the person becomes a Christian. We can’t stop teaching, instructing, encouraging, etc.

Along with that is to understand that a person who comes up from the waters of baptism is not going to understand a lot of things you and I have know for decades and maybe even take for granted. What are God’s guidelines for marriage? How do you live a godly life? What does it mean to love others in relationships? How do you worship God? Why do we need to be part of a local congregation?

Let’s remember to keep teaching. Keep in mind that we don’t have to shove all the word of God into people’s heads before they become Christians. But also, remember that we all need to be taught continuously after we become Christians. There will never be a time when we no longer need to be taught all that Jesus said.

Daniel: Still in Need of Encouragement

Here are a few observations from a sermon by Max Dawson on Daniel 10.

Daniel needed encouragement!

Age, Maturity – Daniel had served God for 70 years, but he still needed encouragement and comfort from God.

Position and Status – Daniel served in a very important position in Babylon, but he still had to receive strength from God.

Experience – Daniel had faced all kinds of trials and adversity in those 70 years, but he still was not above needing help from God.

Knowledge – Daniel was well-acquainted with the word of God, probably knew it backward and forward, but that knowledge was not enough. He still needed encouragement and comfort from God.

So, there you go for today. If you are 15 or 85, you will always need your Father in heaven. Being in need of encouragement and comfort from God is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength.

Where Does Suffering Come From?

It can come from God in the general, physical suffering and death unleashed in the world after man sinned (Genesis 3:16-19).  “And so God placed the curse on man and on his whole environment, thus forcing him to recognize the seriousness of his sin, as well as his helplessness to save himself and his dominion from eventual destruction.”  (Leon Morris, The Genesis Record, p. 126.)

The curse on man himself was fourfold: sorrow, pain and suffering, sweat or tears, physical death.  “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope…” (Rom 8:20).  Romans 8:20 seems to be an allusion to Genesis 3:16-19 and this reference to the past must surely be to the judgment of God, which fell on the natural order following Adam’s disobedience.  The creation was the recipient of the action indicated but only as a result of man’s sin.  God is the One who did the subjecting.  The curse of sorrow, pain and suffering, sweat, tears and physical death was brought about by God…but He did it with purpose…God subjected the creation in hope.

 It can come from God in specific cases to humble and/or strengthen…consider Israel (Deuteronomy 8:2-3), Miriam (Numbers 12:1-10),  and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:10-20).

It can come from Satan through God’s allowance…consider Job (Job 1-2) and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).  We must note, however, though Satan caused suffering for one purpose…God used each of these for very different purposes than the Tempter intended and in such a manner as to humble and/or strengthen one of His children.  God sees suffering differently than we do and His heavenly “forest” gets lost on us for our earthly “trees”.

Finally, it can come as the inevitable fruit of our own sins…“…the way of the transgressor is hard.”  (Prov 13:15)……be sure your sin will find you out.”  (Nu 32:23).  Sin has temporal consequences – physical, emotional and social.  “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?  For the end of those things is death.”  (Rom 6:21).  Yet, at last, unless there is some direct link to our sin it is very difficult to know the exact origins of our adversity…and that is just as well.  For far more important than knowing why we are suffering, is our response to it.

Adversity and discouragement, regardless to its source, is one of God’s most effective tools to deepen our faith in Him and transform our lives.  “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.”  (Psa 119:67)…“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”  (Psa 119:71).  It is difficult for us to truly understand through our earthly lenses…it is only as we come to understand God’s perspective that we are able to respond appropriately.  What better example than in the anguish of Christ on the cross in regards to:  the influence of God…“…the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isa 53:6)…the sufferings of Christ both humbled and strengthened Him (Hebrews 5:7-8).  The influence of Satan “…the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him…Satan entered him…”  (John 13:2, 27).  The influence of our own sins…“…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree…” (1 Pet 2:24)…yet it was our Savior’s trusting response to this awful suffering that enabled God to work by it something transcendently wonderful.

So it will be with us if we choose our response to suffering wisely – especially when we don’t understand why…“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  (2 Cor 4:17-18)…“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  (Rom 5:3-5)

At last, like that ancient blind man, what we suffer here is in order that “the works of God may be revealed in us.”  (John 9:2)  Our God is Holy…He is eternal…He is love…He is merciful…He is gracious.  Take comfort in that He will not give you more than you can bear…and in all your suffering or adversity or disappointment, whatever the cause, glorify your God and Father, trusting Him to work all things together for your good (Genesis 50:20; 1 Pet 1:6-8).

God has left you here for only a little while (1 Pet1: 6-9) not only for your sake…but for the sake of your brethren (2 Tim 2:10).  In your adversity…go to your Heavenly Father and your Elder Brother and your brethren to be sure…but take the time to see past your suffering or disappointment…see that God has begun a good work in you (Phil 1:6)…and be encouraged… so that you might be an encouragement to me and those of the household of faith!

Daniel – For You Have Strengthened Me

And behold, one in the likeness of the children of man touched my lips. Then I opened my mouth and spoke. I said to him who stood before me, “O my lord, by reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength. How can my lord’s servant talk with my lord? For now no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.” Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”
(Daniel 10:16-19)

We’ve already looked at the fact that the visions that Daniel and others saw had an exhausting effect upon them. “By reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength.” God’s express purpose is to put these men into a position where they will need both strength and wisdom from him. Daniel will need strength to recover from what he just experienced. He will also need wisdom even to begin to wrap his mind around it and understand it.

Who put Daniel into that condition? God. Who will bring strength back to him? God. This is a consistent pattern throughout Scripture. Who led the Israelites out of Egypt? God. Who brought them right up to the Red Sea so that they would be trapped on one side by the water and on the other side by the pursuing Egyptians? God. Who allowed the Israelites to hunger in the wilderness? God. Who then fed them? God.

What is Daniel experiencing of which we all need reminding? That strength comes from God. The words of this heavenly being and his warm touch upon Daniel brought him strength. Daniel then asked for more of it!

And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”

Let’s ask for more of it today, too.

Safety and Encouragement in God’s Word and Blessings

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33; NKJV)

1God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.  2 Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the  sea; 3 Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah…7 The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.  (Psalm 46: 1-3, 7; NKJV)

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’  (Isaiah 41:10; NKJV)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7; NKJV)

I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.  (Psalm 16: 8; NKJV)

Cast your burden on the Lord, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22; NKJV)

He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. (Psalm 62:6; NKJV)

…casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.  (1 Peter 5:7; NKJV)

The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him. (Nahum 1:7; NKJV)

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3; NKJV)

I hope you find these verses encouraging today and invite you to work them into your prayers and for the prayers of your brethren.

There have been times when I have sent a text, an email or left a voicemail just trying to encourage a brother or sister and they have either texted me back or called me a few days later apologizing that they didn’t acknowledge it or thank me or some other closure to the gesture.   The last time this happened I told my brother that it was not necessary at all…that I look at encouragement as a “heat seeking missile”…something that you target on what you want to hit and then “fire and forget” knowing that it will hit its mark and have the effect you were hoping for.

That is how I see encouragement…as the encourager we can take heart our effort will have a positive effect and if we are the one being encouraged we might just let it…and leave it at that.  Either way, I am “firing” these verses your way and am confident they will bring you comfort and encouragement…that is God’s blessing and work in your life.

Live blessed today and be a blessing to others!

Energized

“…that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.”  (Philemon 6)

Paul prays that the fellowship (partnership, communion, sharing) of Philemon’s faith may become “effective.”  The Greek word for effective is “energes”.  Literally it means “energized” or “full-of-energy”.  The idea is that Paul is praying that their partnership of faith will be energized in order to produce results.  As we consider our fellowship in our local churches, isn’t that what we want…results?

How, according to Paul, is this going to be accomplished?  He says, “through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you”.  It seems that Paul wants Philemon to recognize every good thing that is in him, to be aware of who he is and what he has in Christ.  The knowledge of what is in us will produce an effective fellowship, it will get results.

I don’t know exactly what Paul was thinking when he wrote this but it immediately made me think of Ephesians chapter one, where Paul discusses all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ.

1:4 – “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless”

1:5 – “He predestined us to adoption as sons”

1:7 – “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses”

1:9 – “He made known to us the mystery of His will”

1:11 – “also we have obtained an inheritance”

1:13 – “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise”

How do I look at myself?  Maybe I feel unworthy and full of shame, thinking I can’t possibly be useful in His kingdom.  Maybe I’m focused on all of my failures and I feel weak and beyond help.  Maybe I look at all my accomplishments and feel a sense of pride, putting myself above those around me.  Maybe I look down on those brothers that seem to struggle with the same sin over and over and over.

Paul says I’m chosen.  He says I’ve been adopted as a son of God.  I have been redeemed, I have been forgiven, and I have an inheritance.  And as I look around at my brothers, I should see men just like me.  Men who have been chosen and adopted and redeemed and forgiven.  These are the good things that are in us.  Meditate on these things, dwell on these things, and internalize these things.  As we begin to view ourselves and our brothers in this light, this knowledge will cause our fellowship to be energized, to produce results, for Christ’s sake.

Encourage and Strengthen

Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, 2 and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, 3 that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.  (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3; NKJV)

In this text, Paul is writing to the Brethren because he is not able to be with them and wants to encourage them. A not so subtle point from the verses prior to these that I think is important is that Paul and the Thessalonians WANTED to be together and work together. That starting point allows them to then care for each other, desire to encourage one another, and puts them in a position to be able to build up the other.

The first thing I see in this text is Paul’s self-sacrifice for them. Timothy meant a great deal to Paul and was a tremendous helper and teammate…so for Paul to be left alone in Athens was not going to be easy…but to encourage and strengthen others it was worth it to him.

Secondly, there were no private or hidden agendas. Paul and Timothy wanted to help Christians and their work. The gospel is what mattered and what set the agenda and they wanted to ensure those who had heard and obeyed stayed faithful while sharing the good news with others so that they might also be saved.

Thirdly, this is about strengthening (to make firm, solid, stable) and encouraging (urge someone to take ethical action). Timothy was being sent and coming alongside the Thessalonians to help them no matter what they were facing individually or as a collective. Just like we do for one another when we are strengthening and encouraging, Timothy was urging them not to panic when things got tough. Providing stability knowing that instability and discouragement often results from a weak faith or a faith out of focus. Timothy could be their strength and he could help get them/keep them focused.

God wants and intends for all of us who believe in Him and His Son to have a strong faith. He knows we will be tried and challenged and knows we will be “disturbed” at times…or shaken/unsettled in our beliefs. Jesus prayed for us (John 17) because he knew we would face afflictions just as the Apostles and first disciples did.

Paul wanted to deepen the faith of the Thessalonians, not disturb it. We should want the same, it should be our motivation, and we should be willing to sacrifice to accomplish it. We should also recognize the troubles have a purpose. Those troubles of another might hurt us but if we are strong in our own faith than that pain, trouble, or difficulty might be just what God intended to use to cause growth. So we stand strong, we encourage, and we strengthen…knowing that another will do the same for us when the time comes.

There won’t always be good times. I heard it said “All sunshine makes a desert.” It has to rain sometimes…the sun goes away and the storm clouds come. But just like the grass of the field in August…it might just be what we needed…especially when we are in it together.

Beautiful Feet

Romans 10:14-15; NKJV:  14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”         (Cross-Reference:  Isaiah 52:7)

 This scripture came to my mind as I was thinking about what I might write about for today.  These couple of verses are from a portion of scripture in which Paul is teaching about the fact the Gentiles on the whole had been reconciled to God and had a covenant membership in God’s family by faith.  Along with this, Israel on a whole had not received the same righteousness.  There is a lot here in Romans 9-1 and I don’t want to take away from the bigger message or teaching but am going to pull out the above passage and offer a couple thoughts.

I like this passage because if we take verse 14 in reverse we understand how important it is we who believe Jesus is the only way to salvation and are in a right relationship with God not keep that blessing to ourselves.  This isn’t something we should keep to ourselves but something we should share with others…and we are here in this world to do just that as we shine our light into a corrupt world (Matthew 5:16).  We are sent to share our salvation story.  And because we are sent and we share, then others will hear and having heard with a good and honest heart will believe and they will call on God through their obedience in the Gospel…repenting, confessing Jesus as their Lord, being baptized, and through their faith are saved.  How awesome is that!  And how awesome that we have a part in it!

But we have to stay in shape, put on the right equipment, and get to work.  I chose the above picture because these are athletic type shoes.  Think about when you lounge around the house…maybe in slippers, slides or some other kind of comfy shoes.  Do you wear the same shoes to exercise?  I don’t.  If I am going to work out, I put on tennis shoes.  Same thing with the Gospel and why Paul wrote Ephesians 6:15…because we need to “shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace”…a very important part of the Whole Armor of God so that we can run forward and preach, so others would hear, and hearing believe, and believing respond and in responding find what they need the most of all…forgiveness of sins.  We draw closer to our Father through His word and in doing so put our working shoes on and run about sharing the greatest story of all…the Gospel of Jesus.

With that in mind, the second thing I want you to consider is in vs.15.  “…how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace…”  I bring this to mind because I want you to think about those you know who dedicate their time (and some their professional life) to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus.  We all have those in our lives who are committed to saving souls and fully understand the importance of the work that God has given us to do in Jesus.  Take some time, make a list, and make some calls.  Encourage them.  Pray with them.  Share in their work.  Let your life shine…run swift…and fan the flames of another’s light and work for the Glory of God!