How to give through the heart.

Posted: February 21, 2017 in Thoughts on God

Each person should do as he has decided in his heart — not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7)

I went to the car wash the other day and gave the girl a tip, even before the car was washed. She just took it and walked away, no thanks, no nothing. Now, of course, we have no idea what she was going through and you never give to get anything back; but you need to train yourself to have a thankful heart through all situations and all seasons of life.

Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:18 HCSB)

IN EVERYTHING GIVE THANKS – it’s a heart condition. I can tell you as one who is a giver and often never gets a “thank you” in return, it can cause bitterness in giving. You have to guard your heart against this because you are always called to give.

However, you are also always called to be thankful, especially to the Lord above. Even if He never does another thing for you, He did enough on the cross where He bled and died so that you might have everlasting life.

Teach your heart to be thankful. Learn to give Him thanks in your storm. You just might come out faster, or at the least, you will go through the storm with a better attitude.

Father, train our hearts to give thanks in all things and every season of life, in Jesus wonderful name

Not too long ago, I heard someone list three things that tell the truth: small children, drunk people, and yoga pants. I’m not sure if there was an inference in there that all others lie, but the statement itself seems to be true (at least on its face).

In this day of fake news and alternative facts, it’s always nice to know when the truth is being told (as long as it’s not some negative truth about yourself). If you read the reactions to my e-letter from last week (see below), you’ll note that even I was called on my facts.

That is as it should be. None of us should toss around inaccurate statements. In this case, my general assertion was true, but way overstated. I’m glad it was pointed out to me. It will cause me to be a better writer in the future. Kudos to my diligent readers!

But back to the yoga pants. Truth tellers are not always met with overwhelming joy. Take Jesus, for example. As is also ascribed to George Washington, he could not tell a lie. It always got him into deep doo-doo. Eventually, it got him crucified.

Jesus’ problem was he often spoke out when silence would have helped him avoid most messy situations. Of course (had he done that), he could not have carried out his role as Messiah. Then where would we be?

While I can avoid yoga pants (and drunk people, sometimes), I can’t avoid the truth of Christ–at least not without negative consequences. He once said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) While it’s one thing to know the truth, it’s entirely another to be the truth. If what he says is correct, he is the very embodiment of the truth. There is no truth without him.

A preacher once told a congregation, “If God would strike every liar dead, where would I be?” After everyone stopped laughing he added, “I’d be preaching to an empty house. That’s where I’d be.” I guess we’re all guilty of not having enough truth within us.
The Apostle Paul wrote these words. “
Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” (Romans 3:4) We seem to be on a neverending quest for the truth. If Jesus is the truth, it might be a good strategy to begin with him.

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. (Proverbs 24:10 ESV)

Adversity is a mirror. It’s a microscope. It’s the scalpel that opens us up and shows us what’s inside. Adversity, pain, and trials are what shake us.

When things are comfortable, we’re like a tranquil pond. Lilly pads quietly float atop the crystalline water below. Things are good. But then, the rocks of trial come hurdling down. Our water gets stirred up and the silt explodes into an inky cloud. Our once-pure pond is ruined! All of the gunk that’s lain silent is riled up and exposed. Suddenly, we discover facets, depths, and wrinkles in our hearts we’d never known were there. Maybe anger or resentment. Maybe greed or lust. Or any other number of things that come crawling out when the pressure’s on.

In trial, we find out who we really are, what’s really inside of us (Proverbs 17:3). In times like those, we have two choices: faint or faith.

We faint when we’re overwhelmed, when we’ve built the structure of our lives upon the sand. Finances can be shaken and shattered. Health can be gone before we finish crossing the street. Relationships can vanish with the wind—sweet for a moment, bitter the next. The problem is that the junk at the bottom of our pond is often the foundation we’ve built our security upon. But it shifts and shivers and shakes when adversity comes.

We faint when we’ve nothing left to stand on. We faint when our faith has been entrusted in ourselves, our bank accounts, our relationships, our still beating heart—really, our anything… But we learn from Jesus that the wise man built his house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24-27), and when the storm came, it stood. He weathered the hurricane because he’d entrusted the very foundation of his life, his family, and his hope to the great rock. Jesus is that rock. Our identity, value, and worth are both found and secured in him.

Adversity is painful. It is daunting. It is uncomfortable. But we shouldn’t spend our lives running from it.
If we want to grow, this is the path to sunlight. If we want a pure faith, this is the filter. If we want to be deepened, welcome to the dredge. Remember that adversity is the Great Gardener’s pruning, and faith in his ability and intention to care for us is our only strength in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Remember, Jesus was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10). Why should we think it will be any different for us? Should we really want it to be? Press into faith and stand in your days of adversity.

God and creation

Posted: February 16, 2017 in Thoughts on God

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31 ESV)

God looked at his creation and said that it was very good. The world he created, the trees and plants, animals and insects, and even humans were a part of this “very good”. As Christians we do a good job of trying to bring the human part of creation back to the “very good” that God was talking about. We tell people about Jesus with the hope that they will put their faith in him. Our hope is that they may enter into the relationship with God that Adam and Eve had before the fall.

What we sometimes forget is that nature was also considered “very good” in God’s eyes. With this in mind, we tend to neglect the proper upkeep and care of nature. How many times have you been told it is your job as a Christian to protect the Earth from human destruction in a sermon? Probably never. Your first thought coming to your mind after the last two sentences might be “tree-huggers”.

In Romans 1:20 we learn that the creation God made shows his eternal power and divine nature. If this is the case, wouldn’t we want this creation to look the best for those who aren’t followers of Jesus? Do we want generations after us to look at a barren Earth with no hope on it and to think what kind of God would make this? Look around you today and thank God for the creation of nature. Let it bring to your remembrance his power and divinity. Let that spur you on to do the little you can to protect it, and to keep it clean.

Sometimes we forget that nature was also considered “very good” in God’s eyes. Let us remember today the blessings God has given us, and our ability and duty to protect every last one of them.

Out of Egypt, Part 1

Posted: February 15, 2017 in Thoughts on God

And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:4)

Joshua, Caleb, Moses, and Aaron were leaders who trusted God. Let’s be honest here: there is nothing more terrifying to a faithless people than faithful leaders. Faithful leaders see nothing but the Promised Land. Faithful leaders see opposition and grow excited because they can’t wait to see how God will deliver. Faithful leaders believe in a boundless God, an all all powerful God, and an overwhelmingly good God. They believe in Jesus.

But faithless people fear man, and in doing so make the creation bigger than the Creator (Romans 1:25). Faithless people want the comfort of slavery, the ease of captivity, and the burden of familiarity. Faithless people equate safety with predictable circumstances… but that “safety” is a lie.

Egypt was the land of the Israelites groaning, of their chains; but to a faithless people, even that sounded better than God’s promise, because at least it was familiar. It was known to them. Like their chains, with one predictable link after the other, their days would follow a monotonous pattern; but at least they wouldn’t have to risk battling the giants, at least they wouldn’t have to face the chance of success.

Are you convicted by the story of the Israelites lack of faith? Follow along tomorrow, as we deal with this propensity in our own lives.

Many Christians struggle with this issue, especially in our highly technological world, but taking control of our thoughts is essential. Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The “heart” includes the mind and all that proceeds from it. Someone said that every sin we commit, we commit twice, once in our thoughts and again when we act upon those thoughts. It is easier to rid our lives of sin if we attack it at this fundamental thought level rather than waiting for it to become rooted in our lives by our actions and then try to pull it out.

There is also a difference between being tempted (a thought entering into the mind) and sinning (dwelling upon an evil thought and wallowing in it). It is important to understand that when a thought enters our mind, we examine it based upon God’s Word and determine if we should continue down that path or reject the thought and replace it with another thought. If we have already allowed a habit to form in our thought lives, it becomes more difficult to change the path of our thoughts, even as it is hard to get a car out of a deep rut and onto a new track. Here are some biblical suggestions for taking control of our thoughts and getting rid of wrong thoughts:

1. Be in God’s Word so that when a sinful thought enters our mind (a temptation), we will be able to recognize it for what it is and know what course to take. Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4) responded to each of Satan’s temptations with Scripture that applied to the direction He knew His mind should take instead of beginning down the path of the sinful thought. When tempted to meet His physical need (turn stone into bread), He recited the passage about the importance of relying upon God. When tempted to serve Satan in order to obtain the glory of the world, He brought up the passage that says we are to serve and worship God alone and speak of the glory that belongs to Him and those who are His. When tempted to test God (to see if God was really there and would keep His promises), Jesus responded with passages that stress the importance of believing God without having to see Him demonstrate His presence.

Quoting Scripture in a time of temptation is not a talisman, but rather serves the purpose of getting our minds onto a biblical track, but we need to know the Word of God AHEAD of time in order to accomplish this. Thus, a daily habit of being in the Word in a meaningful way is essential. If we are aware of a certain area of constant temptation (worry, lust, anger, etc.), we need to study and memorize key passages that deal with those issues. Looking for both what we are to avoid (negative) and how we are to properly respond (positive) to tempting thoughts and situations—before they are upon us—will go a long way to giving us victory over them.

2. Live in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, chiefly through seeking His strength through prayer (Matthew 26:41). If we rely upon our own strength, we will fail (Proverbs 28:26;Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 26:33).

3. We are not to feed our minds with that which will promote sinful thoughts. This is the idea of Proverbs 4:23. We are to guard our hearts—what we allow into them and what we allow them to dwell on. Job 31:1 states, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman” (NKJV). Romans 13:14 states, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Thus, we are to avoid periodicals, videos, websites, conversations and situations that will set us up for a fall. We should also avoid spending time with those who would encourage us down these wrong paths.

4. We are to pursue hard after God, substituting godly pursuits and mindsets for sinful thoughts. This is the principle of replacement. When tempted to hate someone, we replace those hateful thoughts with godly actions: we do good to them, speak well of them, and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Instead of stealing, we should work hard to earn money so we can look for opportunities to give to others in need (Ephesians 4:28). When tempted to lust after a woman, we turn our gaze, praise God for the way He has made us—male and female—and pray for the woman (for example: “Lord, help this young woman to come to know you if she does not, and to know the joy of walking with you”), then think of her as a sister (1 Timothy 5:2). The Bible often speaks of “putting off” wrong actions and thoughts but then “putting on” godly actions and thoughts (Ephesians 4:22-32). Merely seeking to put off sinful thoughts without replacing those thoughts with godly ones leaves an empty field for Satan to come along and sow his weeds (Matthew 12:43-45).

5. We can use fellowship with other Christians the way God intended. Hebrews 10:24-25 states, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Fellow Christians who will encourage us in the changes we desire (best if of the same gender), who will pray for and with us, who will ask us in love how we are doing, and who will hold us accountable in avoiding the old ways, are valuable friends indeed.

Last and most important, these methods will be of no value unless we have placed our faith in Christ as Savior from our sin. This is where we absolutely must start! Without this, there can be no victory over sinful thoughts and temptations, and God’s promises for His children are not for us, nor is the Holy Spirit’s power available to us!

God will bless those who seek to honor Him with what matters most to Him: who we are inside and not just what we appear to be to others. May God make Jesus’ description of Nathanael true also of us—a man [or woman] in whom there is no guile (John 1:47).

Working for the Lord

Posted: February 8, 2017 in Thoughts on God

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV)

Let’s face it, work can be frustrating. We may not feel appreciated, paid enough, or though others work as hard as we do. You may also feel as though you are not making much of a difference in the world with your line of work, and as though you could be doing much more for the Lord. These are all feelings we have probably felt one time or another; or might even still be wrestling with.

The church in Colossia had a mixed group of members; some of them were even slaves. Paul specifically addresses the slaves in today’s verses. He tells them to work heartily because they are really working for the Lord. Think about this for a minute and let it sink in.

Remember today that, no matter what you do for a living, you are working for the Lord! You don’t have to be a missionary or a staff member at a church. Where you are right now can be used to is serve the King of kings, and Lord of lords. The reason we can say this, and be joyful in this, is because our reward is not a promotion or pay raise. Our reward isn’t being employee of the month or a bonus. Our reward is our inheritance with the saints in Heaven (Colossians 1:12). This reward can never be taken away, and has much more value than anything that could ever be purchased here on earth.

When you just want to quit or stop doing your job, remember today’s verses. Stop and say a prayer and thank Jesus for making a way for you to have the ultimate inheritance through His death on the cross. Take a few deep breaths and remember that you aren’t working for men but for the greatest boss ever, Jesus.

Whether you are a stay at home mom or CEO, remember who you are working for today.