Look Back To Move Forward

When was the last time God showed-up in your life?  Do you remember when God intervened in an impossible situation, how He blessed you in the middle of a crisis?  The disciples had just seen Jesus miraculously feed 5,000 men and their entire families with two fish and five loaves of bread. That same night, they found themselves in a storm and quickly forgot that great miracle. We tend to have short memories when it comes to crises, to the hardships of the faith journey. For some reason it’s easy to forget God’s past faithfulness when a new obstacle threatens to derail our lives.

Jesus told His disciples to expect challenges. Don’t be surprised when trials appear, when you don’t understand what’s happening or why. This is part of life. Instead, stop and remember what God has done in the past. Hold onto the faith of yesterday to get through today. Look back before moving forward.

The children of Israel experienced this same fear and uncertainty. On the brink of entering the Promised Land, they were overcome by fear and began to panic at the obstacles standing in the way.  That’s when Moses stepped in – he told them to look back, look back at the miracles God performed in the past.

But the people were only focused on the problem, the enemy. And the longer they focused on the problem, the faster their fear grew. They quickly forgot the miracles God performed in Egypt only a short-time earlier to free His people from slavery.

In the same way, Jesus says to us —Stop.  Remember. Look back. Look back to the miraculous power of God. Look back to how God has blessed you in the past as you face big challenges today. Remember how your Heavenly Father has met your needs in the past. Stop. Remember. Look back— to move forward.



Taking Your Spiritual Vitamins

Bible Reading: John 14:22-26

The Holy Spirit. . . will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I myself have told you.   John 14:26

It’s Saturday morning, and you are going to be baby-sitting two-year-old Hunter Chase. You’ll be taking care of the cute little guy from morning until night. So his mom is giving you instructions before she leaves for the day.

“Hunter isn’t a good eater,” she explains. “When you feed him lunch and dinner, it doesn’t matter if he finishes. Just serve him a good meal and let him eat as much as he wants. Then give him one of my homemade cookies.”

“Are you serious?” you ask, amazed. “He gets a cookie, even if he doesn’t finish?” Hunter’s mother says yes. You can’t believe it. Your mom never gives you dessert unless every single pea and carrot vanish from your plate—and if you slip them to the dog, your only dessert is a double helping of peas and carrots.

You silently wish Mrs. Chase would adopt you.

At lunchtime you serve Hunter chicken-noodle soup and carrot sticks. He slurps a little soup and eats half a carrot, then dumps the rest on the floor. You give him a cookie, and he eats the whole thing. At dinnertime you watch the same thing happen. A few bites of veggies, a lot of flying food, then a whole mouthful of cookie.

After Hunter’s mom pays you that evening, you find the courage to say, “Mrs. Chase, Hunter shouldn’t get a cookie if he doesn’t eat his lunch or dinner. He’s not getting enough vitamins.”

“That’s why he always gets dessert,” Mrs. Chase says with a smile. “His daily vitamins are in the cookies.”

The Holy Spirit is like that wise mom. His ministry is to keep you spiritually healthy by getting spiritual vitamins into you. He lovingly takes the truth you need and serves it up in a form you can digest.

You might be reading your Bible, for example, and it’s whooshing way over your head. Then you read a verse and—wham!—something suddenly becomes clear to you. It’s like God is right there saying, “Here’s what this means in your life.” Or you’re listening to a Christian CD and a line of the lyrics nudges you to make a much needed change in your behavior. Or you’re in a Bible study, and something your leader says helps you make an important decision.

God knows how to make sure you get the vitamins you need to keep you spiritually strong. And he does it without making you gag!

TALK: Are you surprised that God is so wisely, lovingly committed to your growth? What does that tell you about him?

PRAY: God, thanks for teaching us truth in a way we can digest.

ACT: How are you going to let the Holy Spirit teach you today? Tell God you want to hear from him!



EVER STRUGGLED WITH THE EXISTENCE OF GOD?

If we’re honest, as Christians, we have all struggled with our faith at one time or another. Here is an area that I have struggled with about the existence of God. Look at the first four words of the Bible, “In the beginning God…” In my human mind, I can’t grasp the concept of no beginning. I know that everything begins and ends, except God – He always has been, is, and always will be. That’s just hard to wrap your head around!

But let me tell you why the first four words of Genesis also enrich my faith. Look at John 1:1.  Note the same beginning for the Gospel of John as you saw as the first words in the book of Genesis. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” But we also read verse 14 of John 1. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Who is the Word? The Word is Jesus, and the only reason I can believe in an invisible God is Jesus. And when I struggle with doubts about the existence of God and deal with those unanswerable questions, like where did God come from? Or how could He always exist? I come back to Jesus. I look at His life, God in the flesh, and most of all, I look at the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If Christ rose from the dead, any Biblical claims about God are possible. If He did not, the Bible says we Christians are just a bunch of fools.

My belief in God rises and falls with Jesus, His life, His death and His resurrection.



WHEN YOUR SHAME MEETS GRACE

It was a quick rest stop. Sitting by the well, Jesus waits as His disciples run into town to find lunch.  That’s when she arrives. A woman from the nearby town come to draw water.  At this time of day, in this heat, most avoid the well. But, for this woman, she prefers it this way. Quiet. Alone. No one to condemn and no one around to judge. You see, she is well known around town – but not in a good way. Her reputation and her story are full of shame.

Pretty soon we discover that this woman is thirsty, but not just for water – something more. Deep down she feels empty, unsatisfied. We learn that she’s been searching for satisfaction in others – in relationships. Over and over again, she’s tried to find what she believes will satisfy her heart and soul – but it’s all turned up empty. Her story is full of broken dreams and shattered hopes, baggage and pain.

To Jesus, this comes as no surprise. He knows her story and He lays it all out. Five husbands and the man she now lives with is not her husband. Nothing is hidden from Jesus. There are no secrets here. And what does she do when she realizes Jesus knows her story? Does she run or hide? Just the opposite. She’s excited. She wants to know more. It’s as if she’s somehow been set free.

But, how can this be? How is it possible that revealing all of her baggage before Jesus could possibly lead to feeling satisfied and filled? One word – Grace. Instead of being judged or condemned, she is loved. And that right there is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – grace covering sin and love replacing shame. Only when we experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ will our hearts and souls be truly satisfied. No longer will we need to run and hide, because all that we’ve done has been covered by all that Jesus did. Finally, the deepest longings of our hearts can be filled.

If shame is the driving force of your life, you will never be satisfied. If you’re struggling with shame and unworthiness because of your story, stop running. Come before Jesus with your story and see what happens when your shame meets His grace. This is the satisfaction and joy our souls long for. This is the good news of the Gospel!



DO YOU FIND JOY IN YOUR WORK?

The story is told of a woman who cleaned the same office building for many years. When asked how she endured the drudgery of doing the same chores day in and day out, she replied, “It’s not drudgery. I’m working for the King and He’s pleased, (along with others) when I do my best.” This woman found the secret to meaningful work.

How about you? When was the last time you found joy in your work? The Bible gives us a key, “Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” When we work for the Lord and to serve other people, any honorable work has meaning.

It all depends on your attitude. Are you anticipating another day of drudgery? If so, that’s probably what you’ll get. But if you’re planning to live this day to please God and to serve your fellow man, you may be surprised at how the drudgery is replaced by joy and meaning.

So, on this special day, LABOR DAY, when we honor our working men and women, it is my prayer that you will find the secret to meaningful work.



A DECISION TO HAVE FAITH TAKES ACTION

Don’t just stand there – join in.

Jesus often spoke in parables when describing a great harvest. We’re all familiar with a harvest – the season of gathering ripe produce. But, if we look closely at these parables, it’s pretty clear that Jesus doesn’t want us to sit passively, just watching this harvest; He wants us to participate, to join in. So, what is the ‘harvest’ Jesus is talking about?

Just like a physical harvest, farmers recognize time is limited. There is a sense of urgency. In the same way, time is limited for family members, neighbors, colleagues, or classmates to come to know Christ. One day, we will all die. Those who have not responded to the Gospel of Christ are going to spend eternity separated from God. Jesus recognizes this urgency and out of His love for us, He calls us to join in. He wants us to get our hands dirty – to get off the sidelines, and share the good news of the Gospel with others. This is the harvest Jesus is talking about.

Many Christians would like to focus solely on the benefits of being a Christian –  salvation from hell, victory over death, and eternal life. These are great benefits. But, Jesus wants more. You see, our calling is to make a decision of faith – not because of something we’ve done, but because of His sovereign grace.

The question is this: Have you responded to Jesus in faith? Will you share what you’ve experienced in your life and participate in the harvest?  Don’t just stand there – get with it!



BE ENGAGED IN YOUR CHURCH!

I don’t know about you, but when I don’t feel well, sick with a cold or flu, I can’t think about anything else.  In contrast, when I’m feeling well, I hardly ever think about my health. Isn’t that the irony when it comes to the human body? Problems dominate our thinking, while we take good health for granted.

Jesus says the church is like the human body and God’s desire is for a healthy church. So, if we want to build or maintain a healthy church, what should we be looking for?

  1. Rock Solid Foundation. Anyone in construction knows—if the foundation is not right, the building will not stand. Christ is the foundation of the church, the rock. Jesus is Christianity. Christianity is Jesus.
  2. Leaders who Lead. A healthy church has spiritual leaders who constantly seek Christ—constantly point people to Him.
  3. Supports its Leaders. Those involved in the ministry look to their leaders for support in their walk with Christ, trusting and submitting to their leadership.
  4. Unique Gifts. Just as each part of the body has unique strengths and roles, each member of the church has unique gifts. A healthy church sees each member of the body using those gifts, whether it be teaching, serving, or leading a group of high school guys. Every member is a minister.
  5. Mission Minded. Healthy churches send people out. They are focused on the main mission given by Christ –to go and make disciples of all nations.
  6. A United Church. Christ-centered churches are focused and devoted to their mission. They will usually experience incredible unity as a by-product of that mindset.
  7. Accepts Discipline. Church discipline is not about being mean, harsh, or judgmental. Church discipline is about love.  It’s a tough love, but the whole motive is love.  And the whole reason is for restoration – for an unrepentant sinner to be restored to a right relationship with God and their fellow man.

So, what’s the diagnosis – How healthy is your church? Start today by praying for your church and its leaders. Don’t stop there – join in and participate. Find ways to use your unique skills and be an engaged, mission minded minister in your local church.



I Want That!

In the area where we live, we have to be hooked up to cable TV to get any TV reception at all.  For me one of the best parts about that is that we get the Home and Garden channel—HGTV. It may be called something else in your area, but you probably have a similar channel. I love enjoying the creativity of people who design beautiful landscaping and choose lovely colors and decor for their homes.

One of the programs carried on this channel, however, especially caught my attention. It’s called “I Want That!” The program features new inventions for the home—all the latest gizmos and appliances. I had to laugh when I first heard the name of the show because I recognized that the producers had latched on to a very human trait. We all tend to want the latest and the best of everything whether we need it or not.  This human characteristic reminded me of something Richard Foster wrote in his classic book Freedom of Simplicity:

When taken as a whole, the media commercials constitute a world view, a rival religious philosophy about what constitutes blessedness. We are told by television that the most idiotic things will make us insanely happy. The purpose of all this media bombardment is to increase desire. The plan is to change “That’s extravagant” into “That would be nice to have,” and then into “I really need that,” and finally into “I’ve got to have it!”[1]

Yes, like Eve, who saw the beautiful fruit on the tree, I find it easy to say, “I want that!” But the Apostle Paul reminds us, “Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5).

It’s true–when we know we have God and that He will never leave us, we have the most important possession in the world—really, the only one that matters.



Dark Days

I’m always fascinated to listen to people tell how God met them at their point of desperation. Take the Elegados, for instance. In his work for the copper and gold mines during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, Mr. Elegado had the only car allowed to go back and forth to the mines near Baguio.  In order to be permitted to pass check points he had to have a Japanese sticker on the car.

Eventually, however, he was arrested by the Japanese and taken to Manila to prison. For months his wife left their three children every weekend to search for her husband.  Being a nurse, she knew that if she did not find him he would die, for he could not survive indefinitely on the daily ration of one bowl of rice and a lump of sugar or salt.  Her heart cried out, “If there is a God–if You are really alive–help me.”

At the end of eight months of searching, she found him and began to bring food to him.  God preserved his life through two more years of imprisonment in that dark place, and ever since that time she and her husband have been dedicated to doing all they can for the Lord, who literally gave them back their lives.

There is a postscript to the story.  The Japanese imprisonment, horrible as it was, saved Mr. Elegado’s life.  For immediately after he was arrested, the Filipino guerrillas came through the area to kill him. The sticker on his car to them meant cooperation with the enemy. But Mr. Elegado was safe in prison.

When we are in a very dark place, perhaps the darkness is only the shadow of God’s hand shielding us from greater danger. Psalm 91 says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge” (vss. 1 and 4).



FATHER, THIS ONE’S WITH ME

Do you realize that you can’t earn your way into heaven? It can’t be done. There is just too much sin in our life to ever be offset by any good works we may perform. No matter how hard you try, the ledger can never be balanced. The only way to heaven is through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Salvation is a gift we accept or reject; there are no other choices.

For the Christian, I picture it this way: We’re standing before the throne of Jesus Christ. All of our deeds for this life are brought out. It’s very evident that we deserve hell, because unless we’re perfect (and no one is), we certainly deserve eternal separation from our Creator. Then Christ steps down from that throne of judgment and stands beside us. There’s a wonderful song recorded by the Christian musical group, NewSong, entitled, “This One’s With Me” that pretty well sums it up.  Because, He then takes His robe of righteousness and puts it on us and says (my words), “It’s obvious you’re guilty. It’s obvious you deserve hell. But, I have paid the penalty. I have taken the judgment you deserve upon Myself on the cross, and you have accepted this gift. May you live forever in the joy and gratitude of what I have done for you! Father, this one’s with me.” And what a celebration of gratitude and praising of the Lord that will be.

Have you received the unearned gift in faith?