Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Putting a smile on God's face

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"God, the Master, The Holy of Israel, has this solemn counsel: 'Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me--The very thing you've been unwilling to do.'" (Isaiah 30:15, The Message)

Several verses in Isaiah 15 stuck out for me this morning, but this is the one I sensed God leading me to share for your encouragement.

There are many "works" based religious systems in the world. By the multiplied thousands, they are gaining adherents. They jump through religious hoops, perform rituals, submit themselves to rules that change at the whim of their leaders. In some of the more bizarre and cultish of these, there is even abuse involved.

Unfortunately, even Christianity can become ritualistic and rules based. It seems much simpler to have a formula that says, "If you do this certain thing (or avoid this other thing), then God will bless you." Here's the problem with that: it puts us in charge. If God works in formulas, then He is obligated to do what we want as long as we have pushed the right buttons or jumped through the right hoops.

In case you have missed this along the line, I want to let you in on a little secret: God has not put us in charge.

Today's verse (with New Testament understanding): "Your salvation requires you to turn back to me (repentance--turning to God, thus away from sin) and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves (rituals and works). Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me (trust in the completed work of Christ)--The very thing you've been unwilling to do (because it requires faith instead of formulas).

"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it." (Ephesians 2:8-9, New Living Translation)

Question: What do you need to stop doing that you are doing hoping that it pleases God? What do you need to start doing because He is pleased with you and you just want to make Him smile?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Scrubbing floors for Jesus

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"One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I'd rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin." (Psalm 84:10, The Message)

Roland Earl was my pastor and father in the ministry when I was a seminary student. I was blessed to succeed him as pastor of the Eagle Mountain Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, TX when he graduated to heaven in 1991. Between the two of us, we pastored that church for 48 years (31 for him, 17 for me). Psalm 84:10 was his favorite verse. He never had any desire for accolades. He just wanted to serve Jesus.

This verse is not about spending all of one's time at the "church house". God does not live in houses made of brick and mortar (or any other building material). This is about worship (acknowledging and practicing the presence of God) and ministry (pouring out oneself in service to God).

I am reminded of a phrase from one of my favorite Keith Green songs from many years ago: "And when I'm doing well, help me to never seek a crown, for my reward is giving glory to You."

Question: How will you "scrub floors" for Jesus today?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What's your heart condition?

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"Eternal One: These people think they can draw near to Me by saying the right things, by honoring Me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from Me. Their worship of Me consists of man- made traditions learned by rote; it is a meaningless sham." (Isaiah 29:13, The Voice)

I don't know what day of the week it will be when you read this (these online things have a bit of a shelf life); I am writing on a Sunday morning.

There are various approaches people will take today concerning "church" and "worship".

Some will not give it a thought. The fastest growing religious group in America is "none". They will go about their day and their activities. This is just a day.

Some will make today a personal day. It is a day to relax, enjoy nature, maybe head to the lake or golf course. They may take the approach that, since God is everywhere, I can enjoy His creation. I don't need to be in a building to worship God.

Some will go to church because they always have and then they will go on about their business. They have acknowledged the importance of church attendance and made sure their children have the religious experiences they had years ago.

Some will be in church today because it is important to them to be there. Church attendance is a part of their identity. The discipline of religious traditions and activities helps to give clarity and definition to their lives. If they miss a Sunday in church they feel guilty because they are not doing their duty to God.

Some will gather with other Christ-followers today because they want to have a genuine encounter with God in the presence of others who are sharing the journey. This is obviously my preference and what I believe to be closest to what God desires for His people, though I have tried to list the others without condemnation.

Worship is an issue of heart, not activity. Activities matter, but if the heart is not right, they are meaningless. That does not mean that someone should say, "I just won't participate today because my heart is not right." That means that part of our preparation is to bare our hearts before God and ask Him to prepare us for worship.

Question: How will you draw near to God today?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.  What other approaches can you think of that I left out?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

For the glory of Your name

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"Help us, O God of our salvation! Help us for the glory of your name. Save us and forgive our sins for the honor of your name." (Psalm 79:9, New Living Translation)

I read this quote from Oswald Chambers this morning: "Think about the last thing you prayed about--were you devoted to your desire or to God?"

Between this verse and this quote, I am pondering the glory of God in our prayer lives this morning. Whether we are praying for ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors, our nation ... what is our motivation?

Did you notice these phrases: "for the glory of your name ... for the honor of your name"? Help us, save us, forgive us ... the glory of God is to be the ultimate objective in these prayers. We are short-sighted if our prayers are only motivated by relief or benefit of ourselves or others.

Many of us have loved ones who are not Christ-followers. We pray for their salvation. There is nothing wrong with praying for them to be saved so that we will one day see them in heaven, but it is a short-sighted prayer. Their going to heaven is not God's ultimate purpose. As we pray for their salvation so that God might receive glory in them, we are connecting more with the heart of God.

Similarly, when we pray for those who are sick and suffering, certainly praying for healing and relief is a good thing. Connecting with the heart of God in prayer for His glory to be displayed in their lives is an even better thing.

Question: How will you connect with God in praying for others today?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

He was not JUST a shepherd boy

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"He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them." (Psalm 78:70-72)

"When others see a shepherd boy, God may see a king." That was a popular song back in the late 1980's. My favorite daughter sang it (quite well, I must say) starting when she was about 3. If you've never heard it, you can still probably figure out the gist of it just by reading the title. David was only a shepherd boy, but God chose him to be the king of His people. It is encouraging to know that God sees potential no one else sees.

But if we look at these verses from Psalm 78, we see something amazing. God did not choose David IN SPITE OF his experience as a shepherd; He chose him BECAUSE he was a shepherd. God wanted His people to be led by someone with a shepherd's heart. Those years of tending the sheep were David's preparation and training for being the King that God wanted.

I could tell you that, no matter how insignificant you think your job (or life) is right now, God can use you in significant ways. That is absolutely true.

But could it be possible that God has you where you are right now because He is preparing you for even greater impact?

Question: How might our view of our current circumstances be different if we saw them as an internship with Jesus?

Leave a comment below.  Our online community would love to hear your perspective.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Standing on the Promises

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"With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let's make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let's make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God." (2 Corinthians 7:1, The Message)

It is interesting sometimes to note how the Bible is laid out for us. Some people are not aware that the original manuscripts that were eventually collected to make up our Bible did not contain chapter and verse divisions.Those came about centuries later. As a result, we sometimes get a chapter division that makes sense if we are reading the whole book in context, but lacks information if we just start reading at the beginning of a chapter. 

Like this one: "With promises like this ..." What promises? We have to look back to chapter 6.

"But that is exactly what we are, each of us a temple in whom God lives. God himself put it this way: 'I'll live in them, move into them; I'll be their God and they'll be my people. So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good,' says God. 'Don't link up with those who will pollute you. I want you all for myself. I'll be a Father to you; you'll be sons and daughters to me.' The Word of the Master, God." (6:16-18)

Now those are wonderful promises! That should make us feel really special. But simply making us feel special is not what God had in mind. That's why Paul continues by saying that those promises should motivate us to "make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God.

Or as Oswald Chambers says, "God’s perspective is that through His promises I will come to recognize His claim of ownership on me."

Question: What will you do with God's promises today?

Leave a comment.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Are you following the Good Shepherd?

(My dad, T.J. Lewis and his lambs, 2011)

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep ... My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me" (John 10:14-15, 27-28, New Living Translation)

I am glad to be back with you after a few days of traveling. The time in Vancouver was wonderful and I am really looking forwarding to the partnership opportunities that God is providing there to assist with starting churches. A conservative estimate is that less than 3% of the 2.7 million residents know The Good Shepherd. Some have heard of Him, but they could not be identified by the way He described His sheep in these verses.

They know me ... They don't just know that He is A shepherd; they have a personal knowledge of Him as THEIR shepherd.
They listen to my voice ... They have learned to recognize His voice above the cacophony of noises and voices surrounding them.
They follow me ... Here's where it so often breaks down. Jesus is not simply looking for "believers"; He is calling for "followers". 

Our feet reveal whether the truth in our heads has made its way to our hearts.

Question: In your own community, how many could be described as sheep of the Good Shepherd? How about in your own home?

Leave a comment or a prayer request below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Where's the Peace?

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"You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You. So trust in the Lord (commit yourself to Him, lean on Him, hope confidently in Him) forever; for the Lord God is an everlasting Rock [the Rock of Ages]." (Isaiah 26:3-4, Amplified Bible)

Isaiah 26:3 has long been one of my favorite "centering" verses. By that, I mean that it helps me not be swallowed up by external distractions and frustrations. I can come back to the Center of all reality, the Focus of all truth, the Source of all peace.

In "Throwback Thursday" fashion, I share my first memory of this verse: a song by Andrae Crouch and the Disicples.

This was early 1970's. Oh, my!

Question: What verse(s) are helpful in "centering" you?

Leave a comment and share your verses with our community.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cuts like a knife ...

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"Hide me from the secret counsel and conspiracy of the ungodly, from the scheming of evildoers, Who whet their tongues like a sword, who aim venomous words like arrows, Who shoot from ambush at the blameless man; suddenly do they shoot at him, without self- reproach or fear." (Psalm 64:2-4, Amplified Bible)

Some people are so skillful in wounding others with their words that it seems like they must sit around practicing. Perhaps they do.

I confess that there was a time in my life that I took pride in my ability to "out-sarcasm" others. I thought I was quite the wit, but I was only half right! (You'll get that joke in just a second). 

There came a time for me, however, when I determined that I would only use my words to bless. That doesn't mean that there is not an occasional need for a loving confrontation, correction, or assertion; it does mean that "winning" is not the bullseye and "wounding" is completely off the target.

I know people who love a good debate. For some, they love the energetic exchange of differing views. For others, they just like to argue. For a few, it will always become personal.

There must be a better way.

Question: How do we keep our words aligned with our calling as Christ-followers? 

(I have at least one verse in mind, but I'd like to hear from you)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Word of God, Speak ...

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"O True God, You are my God, the One whom I trust. I seek You with every fiber of my being. In this dry and weary land with no water in sight, my soul is dry and longs for You. My body aches for You, for Your presence. I have seen You in Your sanctuary and have been awed by Your power and glory. Your steadfast love is better than life itself, so my lips will give You all my praise. I will bless You with every breath of my life; I will lift up my hands in praise to Your name." (Psalm 63:1-4, The Voice)

Read those words again, slowly. If you are in a place where you can do so, read them aloud. 

Now, read them again, this time as your own prayer to God. Can you make the Psalmist's words your own? Is there any phrase that really resonates with your heart? Is there any phrase that pushes you out of your comfort zone?

Finally, ask God how He wants you to respond to Him in this moment.

Question: What was this experience like for you?

Leave a comment.  I'd love to hear your perspective. So would the rest of our community.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Swinging with life's pendulum.

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Two days ago, the high temperature was 80. This morning when I got up, the wind chill was -4! How's that for a serious pendulum swing!

Isn't that just like life? Just when you think you've got some momentum going, the pendulum swings the other direction. Ok, maybe it isn't always that way, but we must never make the mistake of thinking we've got it all figured out and under control.

James 4:13-17 (The Message) - And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, "Today — at the latest, tomorrow — we're off to such and such a city for the year. We're going to start a business and make a lot of money." You don't know the first thing about tomorrow. You're nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, "If the Master wills it and we're still alive, we'll do this or that." As it is, you are full of your grandiose selves. All such vaunting self-importance is evil. In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don't do it, that, for you, is evil. 

My plan on this icy day is to stay in and warm and catch up on a few "back burner" items. I pray that God gives me ears to hear Him if He has a different plan.

Question: How will you fit your day into His plan?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Fellowship of the Misunderstood

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"For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name." (Psalm 61:5, English Standard Version)

"You've always taken me seriously, God, made me welcome among those who know and love you." (Psalm 61:5, The Message)

How many times in our lives have we told God that we would do certain things? I'm not talking about bargaining with God (If you will help me _________, I will __________). I think God sees through that and responds according to His plan without putting much stock in whatever rash promise we made. (If He doesn't want you to go to Africa, He is not going to send you there because you promised you would go if you passed that Algebra test).

No, I'm talking about times when you truly sensed His leadership and direction and you made a commitment to Him to take certain action, to cease a certain action, to follow a certain path.

And then resistance came.

Other people in your life did not understand, support, or agree with your commitment. They didn't take you seriously. They thought (and maybe secretly hoped) you would "get over it".

May I tell you something? (If the answer is no, stop reading right now). You are in good company. We might call this "The Fellowship of the Misunderstood". Both biblically and historically, many have had their calling misunderstood and have not been taken seriously.

God takes you seriously. He has not forgotten you and He knows how your heart longs to serve and bring glory to Him. Don't give up.

Question: What might you do today to remind yourself that God takes you seriously?

Leave a comment below.  Our whole community could be encouraged by your perspective.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

We are not alone.

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"Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully." (1 Peter 5:7, Amplified Bible)

Nothing I read during my devotional time this morning really grabbed me. Perhaps you have times like that. When you do, let me encourage you not to rush away. Sit awhile longer in the presence of God.

As I sat and confessed the heaviness of my heart to God this morning, He reminded me of the verse in 1 Peter. I needed that. In just a few minutes, I will load one of our dogs in the truck to take her to the vet for the last time. I can't watch her suffering anymore.

Sometimes God's encouragement is simply a reminder that we are not alone.

Question: How will you give Him your anxieties today?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.