CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS WISELY!

I CORINTHIANS 15:32-34: “…And if there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all.” NLT

OBSERVATION: Are friendships in life important? Does it really make a difference who I hang around with? Are my current circle of friends pulling me upward in my faith or are they causing me to backslide in both my thoughts and actions?

Here is a thought that we rarely consider when choosing our friends. How do they view the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Is this the foundation of faith that directs their life or is it something that is relegated to a place of unimportance, or worse yet, viewed as mere mythology?

Paul contends that how we view the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important foundation in both life and the friendships we embrace and foster. Why is this? If the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a fact then it doesn’t matter how we live. Paul is bold enough to say,

  • “…And if there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

In other words, if Christ has not risen from the dead, then this life is all there is. If we only have one time at bat, why would anyone resist temptation and discipline their life and choices? The motto would be, in the words of Bill and Ted – “Party on dudes!” The goal in life becomes living for ourselves and our pleasures. There is no reason to think about living for God. If the dead do not rise then the very existence of God is suspect.

However, what if the empty tomb is real? What if Christ has physically and historically risen from the dead. What if everything he did and everything he claimed to be is true? The empty tomb either validates or nullifies the claims of Jesus Christ. As Christians, it impacts everything we do and say. And, it should also impact who we choose as our friends.

Why is this so crucial? It is because we become who we join in partnership with. There is a difference between associating with someone and entering into a friendship or partnership with them. We cannot escape this world and will find ourselves associating with all types of people. However, it is who we spend quality time with, share our secrets with, and our quality time with that we must exercise wisdom and caution.

Many Christians believe they can have close, intimate friendships with non-believers. They think that their relationship will change the unbeliever. Yet, the opposite turns out to be the case. Paul wisely states,

  • “Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.”

As a young believer, I learned this very early on. I was in college and was very attracted to a young lady who I met in one of my classes. I was on fire for the Lord and she was not a Christian. We went out on a date and I shared my faith with her and she shared her desire to party and get high. I invited her to church and she invited me to a party. Neither one of us was willing to give any ground because we knew that we were both at risk of losing what we embraced.

I learned that missionary dating never works!

I have seen over the years young people with vibrant faith fall away from the Lord as they became attracted to and attached to the wrong friends. Sometimes it is in a dating relationship and sometimes it is just the wrong crowd. However, every time one of two things always takes place. Either the believer finds that they cannot have close fellowship with this person or group, or the believer’s faith begins to wane until they find themselves doing and believing what those around them are doing and believe.

What advice does Paul give us?

  • “Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all.”

Paul calls us all to stop and take inventory of our lives. We need to think carefully about how we are living and what is right. If there is an empty tomb, if Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, if there is life after death, including rewards for how we have lived this life in faith (I Corinthians 3:9-15), then what we are doing now matters. Have we allowed ourselves to be deceived by our friendships? Are we living like someone who does not know God at all?

This is one of the toughest decisions each one of us will have to make in our walk of faith. We can always be friendly to all people but we must be careful who we embrace as our close and intimate friends. We need to surround ourselves with people of faith who are living in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need to be surrounded by a community of faith in a Bible teaching and believing church. We need to realign our relationships around the call to take up our cross and follow Jesus!

So what do you do if you find yourself in a relationship that needs to be changed? Let God begin to change you. Begin to realign your time and activities around those things that you know are pleasing to God. Get back to church. Attend regularly, read your Bible, and take time to pray. As you change, invite these people to join you in these renewed activities and let them know when you cannot participate in theirs. Do this lovingly, not judgingly. Perhaps they will be drawn to the Lord or you both will know that you are on two different pathways of life.

God will bless your surrender and obedience. He will replace any friendships that you have to release with new ones that will not only be deeper and richer but will also be instrumental in building up your faith. And, He will bring a life partner to you that will be the perfect complement and companion for your life and calling.

Choosing your friends is so important. Lord, help us all to choose wisely!

In Jesus Name!

Posted in I Corinthians | Leave a comment

NOT BY POWER, OR BY MIGHT…

I CORINTHIANS 12:11: “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.” NLT
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OBSERVATION: The church could take some notes from the world of politics. Years ago a phrase was penned – “It’s the economy, stupid!” This phrase was used to remind everyone that it was the economy that usually swings elections. As the economy goes the electorate follows.

Unfortunately, many times the church is slow to take notes and also to remember the exhortations of Scripture. To borrow from the phrase above, and without intending to be disrespectful, may I say,

IT’S THE SPIRIT, …!

When did we begin believing that we could be the church without the Spirit? Why do we rely on our talents, tools, and methods more than on the sovereign move of the Spirit? Are the gifts of the Spirit just part of our toolbox, or are they the very means through which the Lord accomplished His will on earth?

Paul reminds the Corinthians believers,

  • “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:”. I Corinthians‬ ‭12:4-7‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Paul speaks of three things – spiritual gifts, ministries, and activities (in the Greek, energema, or workings). The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts, Jesus determines the sphere of ministry, and the Father determines the breadth (or power) of ministry. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are actively involved in the administration and ministry of the church and all of this is coordinated by the Holy Spirit!

  • “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭12:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

When you step back and consider this it is humbling. Our calling is to present our lives to God and be willing for Him to use us as He desires. We are to be surrendered to the direction of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to distribute His gifts among us as He sees fit and for the benefit of others. When did it ever start being about me?

Isn’t this the essence of the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray?

  • “Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Matthew‬ ‭6:9-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The administration of spiritual gifts can only happen in the context of true worship. True worship is not found in a style of music or outward expression. True worship is the surrender of the human heart to the will of God. It is when we begin to seek first the Kingdom of God above all else that we position ourselves for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the release of spiritual gifts in the church.

Revival is never about an event. You cannot plan revival. You can only position your heart for it. Revival comes when we empty ourselves and allow Him to fill us to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. As we become surrendered vessels, the Holy Spirit is free to fill us with the spiritual gifts we need for the moment to make lasting and profound impacts upon the hearts and lives of those we serve.

Think about this. The early church did not have a sound system. They did not have huge digital screens and dazzling multi-media presentations. There were no worship bands or special effects. The apostles did not worry about style and presentation. And, yet – they turned their world upside down! How did they do this? They did it by the power of the Holy Spirit!

What would happen if our churches stopped trying to compete with Hollywood and starting moving in the power and leading of the Holy Spirit? What if we focused more on substance than style, power than performance, and anointing than attraction? What if we surrendered anew to the Lord Jesus Christ and allowed the Spirit to lead and guide us in the administration and orchestration of the church?

PERHAPS – WE WOULD SEE A REVIVAL IN OUR LAND!

Lord, forgive me for the many times I have relied on what I can do and not what Your Spirit desires to do through me. May I humble myself this morning and become a willing and surrendered vessel. May I celebrate Your working in others and be willing to be used in the way that You desire. Jesus – be Lord of my life and Lord of the Church!

  • “So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel (and the church): ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord of hosts.” Zechariah‬ ‭4:6‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

In Jesus Name!

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WHEN DID I GET OLD?

ECCLESIASTES 12:5-7: “Remember him before you become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets; before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire. Remember him before you near the grave, your everlasting home, when the mourners will weep at your funeral. Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” NLT
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OBSERVATION: When did I get old? It seems like just yesterday that I was walking down the corridors of high school, working at the supermarket, and dreaming about my life. When you are a teenager it seems like there is an eternity before you. Then, one day you wake up and look in the mirror. Decades have passed. You still feel like that teenager inside, but the reflection in the mirror is someone you don’t know.

Flash – We will all get old!

Age is relative. I know I have friends who look at me and think I am young. Age is a matter of perspective. I will never forget my dear grandmother. We called her Nanny. She was my Mother’s Mother. Nanny always tried to stay current. She always dressed sharply and never looked like an old person. She kept up with the latest music and news. I remember when she was 86 she told me about the elderly person who lived next store. This person was 90.

Age is relative to our perspective.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, grew old. Ecclesiastes is a book that records his honest evaluation of life from the perspective of a wise older man. He was not only the wisest man in the world but also one of the wealthiest. He tried to find the meaning of life in everything – building, achievements, wisdom, power, literally anything he desired to do. The final observation of Solomon was that there is nothing in this life that will give us true meaning.

Our meaning is only found in our relationship to the Lord.

We live in a youth oriented culture. Everything is geared toward attracting the next generation. In our Western culture, we do not respect the elderly, we push them aside. We do this in every aspect of our life. Seniors are marginalized and their opinions are seen as antiquated. Yet, in Eastern culture the reverse is true. Seniors are honored and their wisdom is sought and revered. We need to revere the wisdom of Solomon. I wish I had received this wisdom into my heart when I was a teenager!

  • “Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken.”

I have met many old and bitter people. They did not remember their Creator while they were young. They have become hardened in their disdain for life and society. Is it any wonder why this saying is so popular – “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” How many lives are filled with regret as they look in the rearview mirror of life? How many missed opportunities and relationships lie unfulfilled because we failed to seek God in our youth?

So what can we glean from these verses? If you are young – seek God now! In the blink of an eye, one morning, you will look in the mirror and not know who is looking back at you. You will no longer hold the job that gave you purpose, your children will be grown and on their own, and you will be faced with limitations that you never even thought about in your youth. Life goes by in the snap of a finger. The time to seek the Lord is now!

What about if I am already old? What if I squandered the days of my youth? What if my rearview mirror is filled with too many regrets to count?

Let me tell you a story about Bill!

Bill was a man in his late 70s. I was a young pastor of only 23 years of age. I had as much in common with Bill as oil has in common with water. Bill’s lovely wife Betty attended our church in beautiful Mt. Baldy, California. The church is a picturesque Stone Chapel with an A-framed window that looks out onto the beautiful mountainscape. I asked Betty to invite her husband to church. Her reply was,

“He will never darken the door of a church. He is an angry and bitter man!”

Yet, Bill did come. Bill loved the mountains, so when his wife asked him to come along, he did. The wonderful thing is that Bill kept coming. I never met the angry and bitter man that Betty had described. Bill embraced Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord and the Bill I met was transformed. He was kind, gentle, and became the husband that Betty never knew. He continued to live for Christ for the remainder of his life. And, the most important thing is that Bill continues to live in the presence of Jesus Christ for eternity!

We cannot change our past. However, we all can allow Jesus Christ to redeem our present and our future!

To the young – seek God now while He can be found! The story of Bill’s life is not guaranteed. I have met more people who did not seek the Lord in their youth and hardened their hearts in their old age. The time to seek the Lord is now!

To the old, and myself – focus on the present and the future! Let God heal and redeem your past. Draw close to God. Seek Him for your daily strength. Let your faith and obedience to Jesus Christ be a witness to the next generation. Don’t focus on what you cannot do. Do everything that you can do to the glory of God!

Lord, my life has changed. I don’t have the same physical stamina that I once had. I don’t look the same as I once did. Yet, within my spirit, I am the same young man that committed his life to you at the age of 18. May I engage this part of my life with the same commitment and enthusiasm for Your Kingdom as I did those many years ago? Grant me the grace to seek You fully today and every day!

In Jesus Name!

Posted in Ecclesiastes | Leave a comment

BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED!

I CORINTHIANS 7:17-24: “Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches. For instance, a man who was circumcised before he became a believer should not try to reverse it. And the man who was uncircumcised when he became a believer should not be circumcised now. For it makes no difference whether or not a man has been circumcised. The important thing is to keep God’s commandments. Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you.” NLT
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OBSERVATION: Am I living a life of contentment? Am I finding purpose and fruitfulness in the situation I find myself in? Is the landscaping of my life growing and blossoming or does the grass always look greener somewhere else?

Everyone in life wants to find joy and fulfillment. There is an innate desire to feel that our life matters. Yet, so many times we miss the blessings of life because we are longing for the things that we do not have rather than learning to cultivate and enjoy that which God has already given to us. We are like farmers, holding seed in our hand, and never sowing – because we keep dreaming of the perfect plot of land.

The reality is there is no perfect life, vocation, or situation. The truth is everyone is insecure and longing for something they do not have. There are those who feel trapped in a dying marriage and long for a new partner. Others feel trapped in a dead end job and are constantly looking for new opportunties. And, some, never use the gifts God has given them, longing for the big break when the doors of opportunity will swing open.

All of us need to hear Paul’s exhortation!

  • “Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you.”

Paul’s first focus regarding this statement was to those who found themselves in a marriage where one was a believer and the other was not. The first inclination for many was to leave the unbeliever. Surely God would not want them to continue in a marriage where their spouse did not love the Lord. Yet, Paul encouraged them to stay married to the unbelieving spouse, if they were willing to stay in the marriage. Why? It was so their unbelieving spouse might be saved!

  • “Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭7:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In this exhortation Paul was not giving his blessing on Christians marrying non-believers. He was simply exhorting those who had come to Christ, while they were already married, to remain faithful to their marriage and allow God to use their changed lives to draw their spouse to the Lord. The most important thing was the believer’s personal fruitfulness in their life and their witness to those in their family.

Paul pivots from his focus on marriage to an overriding principle. If this is true in marriage, it is true for others as well. Paul exhorts everyone to stay in the situation they were in when God called them. Were you a Jew? Don’t try to become a Gentile. Where you a slave? Don’t focus on breaking free but trust the Lord. Live as one who is free in Christ, and allow God to set you free!

  • “God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭7:23-24‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Paul was not saying that slavery was something good. Paul was not even focused on the social issue of slavery when he wrote this. His focus was on living out the freedom we have received in Jesus Christ – right where we are. The goal is to live as those who are committed to Christ and bloom where we are planted. We are to use our gifts and talents in the field of life where we are now and trust the Lord for His blessing and promotion.

One common mistake I see people make after they come to faith in Jesus Christ is a desire to escape the world. They long to leave their old jobs and work in a Christian enviornment. They want to surround themselves with fellow believers and block the world out. Yet, if every believer did this, if they refused to bloom where they already were planted, who would be God’s light in a dark and dying world?

When I think about this I am drawn to remember the life of Joseph. Sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph found himself in the position of a common slave. No longer was he the favored son. He could have become bitter and spent his time longing for what he did not have. Rather, he employed himself in being the best he could be in the place he was in. As a slave to Potiphar, and then as a prisoner in jail, Joseph bloomed where he was planted. Finally, according to God’s plan, and bearing the fruit of his faithfulness, Joseph was elevated to become second in command in all of Egypt.

We all will not become great figures in human history. However, we all can bloom where we are planted. We can be faithful in our marriages, productive in our jobs, faithful in our ministry, and live a life that is a glowing witness that we have been bought with a great price – the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ! Our calling is not to long for what we do not have. Our calling is to use the gifts and talents God has given us and bloom in the field that He has placed us in.

As we are faithful, as we employ our lives in working the field we find ourselves in, God will bless us and open new doors of opportunity. The Lord is not looking for talented people. He is looking for faithful stewards. It is the faithful steward, who simply invested that which he was given, that heard the words –

  • “Well done good and faithful servant!”

What would happen in our lives, our marriages, our jobs, and our churches, if we all began to live a life of faithfulness, contentment, and bloomed where we were planted? I believe we would find ourselves lifted above the humdrum of our daily lives to a life of purpose, fulfillment, and contentment. A new anointing would rest upon our lives and churches. And, we would experience a harvest of souls being ushered into the Kingdom of God.

Lord, help me to bloom where I am planted!

In Jesus Name!

Posted in I Corinthians | Leave a comment

A QUESTION TO THE CHURCH IN AMERICA – “SAVE OUR NATION OR SAVE SOULS?“

I CORINTHIANS 1:18-25: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: As I reflect on these verses of Scripture it is the end of a long and restful July 4th celebration of the Independence of the United States of America. On July 4th I attended church, wore red, white, and blue, and thanked God for His blessings on our nation. However, at the same time, I wrestled with a question in my heart.

Should the Church in America be focused on saving our nation or saving souls?

As a Christian, a conservative, and a patriot, I long for the America that I knew as a small child. Gone are the days when our flag, national anthem, and pledge of allegiance bring our nation together in unity of purpose and solidarity. While these things daily slip away I have watched the church focus more time on saving our dying culture than on reaching lost souls.

This is a peculiar thing indeed. I think it comes from our personal insecurity of losing a culture that embraced our values and affirmed our faith. How did we get from there to here in a mere 60+ years? As our culture slips away the church feels the pressure to do something about it. Yet, voter education, turnout, and conservative efforts have not seemed to make a dent in the fast and rapid slide to the left.

Meanwhile, every year churches have gathered for a National Day of Prayer. Yet, these prayers have not seemed to work either. Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe in the power of prayer. Paul exhorted Timothy to pray for our rulers and all those in authority over us. Yet, our prayers have not been for their salvation. Our prayers have been more focused on turning the cultural tide to our faith and values.

Whatever happened to the mandate to preach the Gospel and be soul winners?

While the world slides down the unstable sandy cliffs of cultural malaise, the church huddles and tries to come up with a strategy to stem the downward spiral. We are trying to change the whole and have almost completely forgotten the part. Jesus always emphasized the importance of the person, the single soul, the individual who was sick and needed a physician, the lost lamb, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.

  • “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.” Matthew‬ ‭18:12-13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

I find it very interesting and challenging to consider that neither Jesus nor the Apostles tried to save their culture. Their focus was on preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified to all who would hear – so that those who were called of God would be saved. They indeed turned the world upside down. However, this was never the game plan. The focus was singular and purposeful. Paul put it this way to the Corinthian believers,

  • “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” I Corinthians‬ ‭2:1-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Paul never expected the Roman government, nor the Jewish leaders to embrace his message. He knew that preaching the cross, Jesus Christ and Him crucified, was repugnant to both groups. The Jews saw the cross as degrading and a curse. The Greeks saw the cross as intellectual foolishness.

  • “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

The powerful point of this statement is that the Gospel was never intended to change governments. The Gospel was intended to change souls – “…but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

When I reflect upon the powerful ministry of the late Billy Graham, I am reminded again of the truth of these verses. Billy Graham held council with Kings and Presidents. Yet, his purpose, his message, his ministry were focused on one thing – proclaiming Jesus Christ and Him crucified! Each time Billy Graham stood at the pulpit to preach he preached the cross. He spoke boldly of the reality of hell, the certainty of heaven, and the only way to bridge this gap – faith in Jesus Christ!

Today, most churches in America are focused on how they can grow their congregations numerically and are not even considering how they can win the lost to Christ. If we are truly honest most church growth and decline is simply the shuffling of the saints from one church to the next. Where are the testimonies of a life gripped by sin radically transformed by the power of Jesus Christ? Why have we been waiting in our four-walled sanctuaries and neglected to go to the highways and the byways?

A culture declines because the moral fiber of its citizens declines. The answer is not found in government. It is only found in the human heart. A changed heart is needed before there can be a changed culture. We have put the cart before the horse, gone fishing without any nets, and become comfortable in our holy huddles as we sing, pray, and watch the world go to hell in a handbasket.

Here are the facts from I Corinthians 1:18-25:

  1. Convential wisdom has always rejected the message of the cross as foolish and irrelevant.
  2. The message of the cross is the only message we have.
  3. God uses this message to transform the hearts of those He has called to salvation.
  4. We do not know who He has called so we must proclaim the Gospel to every person.
  5. When we focus on souls by proclaiming the message of the cross of Jesus Christ – the Holy Spirit shows up and those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are radically transformed.
  6. Finally, when the veil is pulled back, when we see the true reality of the Gospel, we understand that it is both the wisdom and power of God at work in the world.

The message of the cross is the only thing that can save, deliver, and transform!

The church has one call – to make disciples of all nations. We do this by preaching the cross, baptizing those who receive Jesus Christ through faith, and training them how to follow Christ and become fellow fishers of men. The Gospel is spread from one messenger to one heart. It was always focused on the heart of man and not the heart of government or institutions! God has always intended for His transformed children to change it naturally as they live out their lives of faith in their homes, their churches, their communities, and their world.

What would happen in America if the church once again began praying for souls and preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified?

Lord, help me to allow these questions and thoughts to change me and impel me to proclaim Jesus Christ to all who will hear!

In Jesus Name!

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LET’S FOCUS ON THE GOOD!

ROMANS 16:19-20: “But everyone knows that you are obedient to the Lord. This makes me very happy. I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” NLT
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OBSERVATION: What am I focusing on each day? Am I focusing on the good, or am I allowing myself to become entangled in the affairs and wisdom of the world? Is my life marked by a singleness of purpose and heart, or am I being pulled in a myriad of directions?

Paul shares his concern with the believers in Rome as he closes his letter to them. In these closing remarks, he warns them to stay away from those who cause division in the church and who are motivated by their selfish ambition and desires.

  • “And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people.” Romans‬ ‭16:17-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he referred to this as being blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine. Winds are blowing in the church to distract us from our pure devotion to Jesus Christ and winds are blowing in the world. Paul pivots to the winds of this present world when he writes,

  • “I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong.”

We can ascertain that Paul is referring to this present world system because he reminds them of Christ’s coming victory over Satan.

  • “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

When I read these verses I wonder – “Does this apply to me?” Am I in need of this exhortation? Is my life becoming compromised by the wisdom of the world which is contrary to the wisdom of God? It is time that I took an honest inventory of my life!

When Paul exhorts all believers to “…stay innocent of any wrong,” he is not calling us to hide our heads in the sand. We would have to leave this world to escape the constant 24/7 cycle of bad news and ungodly influences that fill the airwaves and are unfolding all around us. How do we “…stay innocent…” of these things?

The word that is translated – “innocent,” literally means unmixed. Paul is not suggesting that we can escape the knowledge of these things. He is exhorting us to stay “unmixed” with them in our Christian life. We cannot escape them, but we can choose to avoid them, stop them at the door of our hearts, and refuse to allow them to become a part of our thought life.

The only way I have found success in doing this is by focusing on the truth. This is what I believe Paul was referring to when he said – “I want you to be wise in doing right…”. When I am focused on hiding the Word of God in my heart, obeying the Word of God in my actions, and speaking the Word of God in my circumstances – I don’t have time or the opportunity to get “mixed up” with the entanglements of this world or its deceptions.

There is something wonderful that happens when we are abiding in the truth. We lose interest in the temptations of the flesh. We become inoculated against the deceptions of the enemy. And, we walk in spiritual discernment and we can test the spirits to see if they are really from God! The truth is the greatest weapon we have to keep us from getting “mixed up” with wrong thinking and living.

There is one more practical application that must be mentioned. While we are not called to understand and become wise in the things of darkness, we must be wise in the crafty ways the enemy tries to sow these things into our lives. One of the key weapons he uses is the media. Subtle deceptions, discouragment, doubt, misinformation, temptation, and ungodly social morals – are all communicated through the media. If we are careless in the choices we make concerning what media we partake of, we will find it an uphill battle in staying “unmixed” from that which is wrong.

We are living in the last days before Christ’s return. The enemy of our souls is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to kill, steal, and destroy. He is attacking individuals, families, and churches. He wants to render our lives powerless and ineffective in sharing the Gospel. If he can get us “mixed up” in the wrong things he knows we will become misdirected and self-centered. Our attention will no longer be to reach the world for Christ. And, our lights will be dimmed or extinguished.

I need to hear Paul’s exhortation today more than ever. I need to live a life that is “unmixed” with the wisdom of the world. I need to be wise in doing what is right. I need to surrender my heart, renew my mind, and commit my way to the Lord. This is not a time for faltering and fear. This is a time for faith and courage.

Lord, help me to live for what is right today! Give me grace to abide in Your truth!

In Jesus Name!

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A CHRISTIAN DRESS CODE?

ROMANS 13:11-14: “This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” NLT
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OBSERVATION: Should there be a dress code for Christians? As we live our life of faith in Jesus Christ, should we look different? Have we become too casual in our worship? Is it only what is on the inside that matters?

Okay, I am not talking about our physical appearance. While a lot could be said about this, and it is a worthy subject for another time, I am referring to what Paul is talking about in the closing verses of Romans, chapter 13. Just as we put on physical clothes each day that match our activity for the day, so we should put on spiritual clothes each day that match our calling.

Paul begins with the context of these statements with a reminder that we are living in the final chapter of human history.

  • “This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here.”

Why is this so important? The time for men and women to place their faith in Jesus Christ is coming to a close. We live in a time of increased darkness. Violent crime is on the increase. Sin is embraced and celebrated. The church is marginalized and disrespected. The only thing standing between this onslaught of darkness is the light of our lives.

Jesus made it very clear!

  • “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:14-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We are not those who hold the light – we are the light. We are not The Light, but we are filled with His Light and our lives and actions are to shine forth. We are to let His light shine through us to a dark and hurting world.

During the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, a Christian musician named Barry McGuire shared his testimony of a life that was lost in the Hollywood scene and drugs and transformed by the light of Jesus Christ. One day he was gazing up in the sky and someone said to him – “Do you see the sun? We are not the sun. We are like the moon and are meant to reflect the glory of the Son.” Barry McGuire continued looking up toward heaven and said – “Lord, let me be a BIG MOON!”

How do we know if we are living like His lights in this darkened world? Paul uses the analogy of changing our clothes. It is a simple and powerful analogy!

  • “So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.”

I have performed many weddings during my pastoral ministry. I have always enjoyed watching the small ring and flower bearers. They come to the wedding wanting to run and play, yet they act differently because they don’t have their old play clothes on. Dressed in a small tux or fancy dress, hair combed and styled, they walk around with a totally different attitude. In this case, the clothes really do make the man (woman).

Paul is not referring to an outward uniform. Many groups have tried this approach and I think it has failed. It draws attention to the receptacle rather than the light. Paul exhorts us to clothe ourselves with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ! Take a moment to think about this. How would we act if we were standing face to face with our Lord Jesus Christ? How would we live if Jesus was walking beside us every step of the way? And, here is the powerful reality…

THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HE IS DOING!

Paul is calling us to live our true reality! We are children of the light. Jesus Christ lives within us. Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives. Just as we would not clean out a septic tank in a formal dress or a tux, so we are not to walk in the pathway of the darkness of our former lives or the false light of this world. We are to throw off these old dirty clothes in the power of His grace. We are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and live as children of light.

Every Christmas Eve we would celebrate a candlelight service. We would start with the Christ candle, and then pass the light from one person to another. As the light was passed, the dark room became illuminated with the glow of each person’s light. It is always a beautiful sight. Yet, at the end of the service, we would extinguish the candles and go home. I am afraid that is how many of us are living today. It is time to keep the light burning brightly for all the world to see!

IT IS TIME TO CLOTHE OURSELVES IN HIS LIGHT!

Lord, help me to live today in the presence and power of my Lord Jesus Christ. Pour out the oil of Your Holy Spirit upon my life and let me shine brightly. Keep me on the pathway of light and life. May my life be a testimony of your life and love in the midst of this dark and dying world.

In Jesus Name1

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WE ARE NOT GOD!

ROMANS 11:33-36: “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory.” NLT
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OBSERVATION: Today we live in a world where people think that they are gods. This is not something that most people verbalize. However, they live as if they are the beginning and end of all truth and wisdom. One of the mantras of our day is – “I need to live my own truth!”

When we refer to our “own truth,” we are really saying that we are equal to God. This statement trumps everyone else’s truth. Therefore, it must make the individual a god. And, with each person creating their own truth and reality, we are setting up a world where everyone is a god.

The only problem with this is that we are not gods. When my truth overrides your truth there is no room for mercy and compassion. There is no tolerance for someone who is encroaching on my truth. It is the equivalent of two small children arguing on the playground who will be king of the hill. When we compare this tiny hill to the universe we see how foolish we really are!

As Paul reflects on the wonderful mercy of God, His grace extended to the Gentiles, and the future salvation of the nation of Israel, he stands back in awe and proclaims,

  • “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory.”

I will never forget the first time I saw the stars when I moved to Texas. I grew up in Southern California in the land of smoggy skies and city lights. When you looked into the sky you saw a few stars but your view was limited because of the smog and light. However, when I moved to Texas, I gazed upward and the heavens were filled with stars that I had never seen before.

When we gaze into the heavens, when we look upon the grandeur of a majestic mountainscape, or the wonders of the ocean, suddenly we feel very small. We are but one small dim light amid billions of stars shining brightly in a galaxy that has no end. We are God’s creation, not the creator. He is the source of truth and wisdom. We are humbled in HIs presence.

When we come to this place of humility, when we fully understand how great God is, we lay down our truth for His. It is only when we surrender our truth that we can walk in His love and forgiveness. Humility is the key to love. As long as we contend for our truth we will judge others and live a life of indifference and intolerance. However, when we embrace His truth our lives will be filled with His mercy and grace!

As the world raises an angry fist in every corner contending for their “own truth,” may we raise hands of surrender and submit to God’s truth. May our lives be filled with mercy and grace. May we walk in humility and love as we proclaim His truth and the wonder of our Creator. May we be like Stephen who was willing to die for the revelation of God’s truth!

  • “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. He fell to his knees shouting, “Lord don’t charge them with this sin!” And, with that he died.” Acts 7:55-60 NLT

Lord, this morning I stand in awe of Your greatness, love, grace, mercy, and truth. Forgive me for the times when I have lived as if I were the source of truth. May I always stand amazed before You and always be willing to proclaim Your truth to all who will hear.

In Jesus Name!

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WHAT AM I THINKING?

ROMANS 8:5-6: “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.” NLT
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OBSERVATION: What were you thinking? Has anyone ever asked you this? This is usually the question we hear when we have done something less than stellar. In this question, we discover a powerful truth.

Our actions are tied up with our thoughts!

James illustrates this point when he outlines the progression of sin in our lives. Sin always begins as a thought. If that thought is nurtured it will produce an action.

  • “And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” James‬ ‭1:13-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The wonderful truth of our new life in Christ is that we can choose what we think about. We are not subject to a life that is controlled by our old nature and the power of sin. Our union with Jesus Christ has broken the power of sin that once held us and our life in the Spirit gives us the ability to walk in a new way. This begins as we learn to allow the Holy Spirit to control our thoughts.

This is not some mystical formula of mind control. The wonderful thing about the Holy Spirit is that He never forces us to respond to God’s grace. The Holy Spirit always gently leads us and always gives us the choice. The powerful reality is that we do have a choice! We can choose to surrender our thought life to our old sinful nature or we can begin to allow the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts into the full purposes of God.

Every believer has experienced the battle for the mind. All of our temptations and fears start with a single thought. To have a thought of weakness or temptation is not a sin. It is merely being human. However, what we do with these thoughts is the key to whether we walk in life and peace or get entangled once again in the works of our old sinful nature.

The battleground is in the mind!

Paul makes it very simple. Those who are walking in the power of the Holy Spirit think about the things of God. Those who are walking in their sinful nature think about the things of the flesh. Here is how he puts it in Romans chapter 8.

  • “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.” (Romans 5:8)

To be controlled by the Holy Spirit is not to be controlled in the human sense of the term. When we think of someone being controlled we think of a puppet who is being manipulated by someone else who is holding the strings. Our life in the Spirit is never like this. It is an invitation to surrender to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our life. It is the privilege of being lifted above our human limitations into the wonderful provision of God’s grace.

How do we know if we are being controlled by the Holy Spirit or by our old sinful nature? The answer is easy. Take an inventory of what you are thinking. Are my thoughts filled with attitudes and actions of my old nature? Are my thoughts filled with worry and fear? Are my thoughts focused on my limitation rather than the power of the Lord in my life? To be controlled by the thoughts of our old sinful nature doesn’t always mean the temptation to sin overtly. It can be simply the temptation to lay down our spiritual armor and surrender to the attacks of the enemy in our life.

Our victory begins with our thought life!

This is why pouring the Word of God into our life each day is not something that is merely good to do. It is a matter of our victory or our defeat. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word. He empowers God’s Word, gives revelation from God’s Word, and builds our faith through God’s Word. As we read and meditate upon God’s Word we are answering the call of the Holy Spirit to allow Him to renew our mind and control our thoughts.

In computer programming, there is an old saying. “Garbage in…garbage out.” This is also true in life. We were delivered from the power of sin and death through the victorious sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are no longer obligated to surrender our minds to an endless cycle of temptation, worry, and fear. We can rise up in victory and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ – through His Word and in the power of the Holy Spirit!

  • “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭10:3-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Lord, this morning help me to take an inventory of my thoughts. Give me ears to hear the Spirit’s call. I surrender my thoughts and bring them captive in obedience to Jesus Christ my Lord. Grant me the grace to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit today and allow Him to guide and control my thoughts.

In Jesus Name!

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THE SANDPIPER AND THE PELICAN…

ROMANS 6:14: “Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” NLT

OBSERVATION: Are you struggling to live the Christian life? Is your life marked by victory or do you find yourself continually struggling with the same sin? Are you soaring in His grace or merely struggling in your diminishing strength?

Are you a sandpiper or a pelican?

I love the beach! This is the place where I can truly unplug and be refreshed. The sound of the waves coming into the shore. The smell of the ocean air. And, the wonderful display of God’s creation in both the sea and the air. It is a place to be refreshed and also a place to learn some important lessons.

The sandpiper is a peculiar bird. They spend most of their time running around on the shore, poking their beaks into the sand looking for something to eat. When they fly it seems like it takes so much effort on their part. A group of sandpipers is an enjoyable and somewhat comical view while relaxing at the beach. They run frantically around in different directions. There does not seem to be a rhyme or reason to their activity, except to find some food. They do not fly in formation, and they never seem to relax.

On the other hand, the pelican is quite different. You rarely see a pelican walking around. They are either perched, floating on the water, or majestically soaring in the sky. They are the antithesis of the sandpiper. Pelicans are somewhat awkward on both takeoff and landing. They seem to know that they were meant to effortlessly soar, riding the air currents that God has supplied. Struggling to take off gracefully, once airborne, they sail majestically in the sky for great lengths of time, without even a flap of their wings. It is a wonderful sight to see a flock of pelicans, soaring through the sky, in beautiful formation!

As believers, we can live our Christian life like a sandpiper or like a pelican. We can either struggle to live life in our strength, or we can discover the wonderful joy of soaring by the power of His grace. Paul makes a clear distinction in Romans chapter six.

  • “Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:14)

When we lived apart from Christ we were like sandpipers. We were aimlessly running, frantically trying to find strength and purpose for living. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ we were set free from the limitations of our sinful nature. Our sinful nature did not magically disappear. However, it was rendered ineffective in controlling our lives. We were set free under the freedom of God’s grace. Like the pelican, we were set free to soar in the provision of God’s grace.

This does not mean that there is no effort involved. Like the pelican, we still need to take the first step in obedience. We look awkward at times as we try to take off in the power of His grace. Yet, when we take that first step of faith, as we engage our lives in obedience to God’s Word, we are met with the overwhelming wind of His amazing and empowering grace. From the first awkward flaps of our wings we are caught up in the current of His love and we find ourselves soaring above the limitations of our old sinful nature and we are set free!

I love the little sandpiper. However, I want to live my life like the majestic pelican. I want to soar in God’s grace. I want to be lifted in the power of His love. I want to walk and live in the Spirit as I live under the freedom of God’s grace. I can continue to run around aimlessly, poking through life, in my own strength, only to be disappointed time and time again. Or…I can soar!

Lord, this morning – LET ME SOAR!

In Jesus Name!

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