Categories
Articles

WHAT IS YOUR STORY?

We don’t sing the old hymns like we used to. Most churches have moved to the more contemporary style of music and occasionally pull out one of the old hymns of days gone by. I can still remember the lyrics of many of those old hymns I grew up hearing and singing and sometimes they give me such solace and peace. Recently, the Holy Spirit put one of those old hymns in my heart and mind and the chorus has been something that I find myself humming or singing throughout the day. When that happens, you know that God, through the Holy Spirit, is encouraging you to hold on to the message in those words. While the hymn’s title is “Blessed Assurance” written by Fanny Crosby in 1873, it is the chorus that is a constant on my heart and mind. The lyrics of the hymn are:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

{Refrain:}
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above:
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

{Refrain}

Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

{Refrain}

That chorus “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior, all the day long; This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior, all the day long” is such a powerful and compelling message to those who claim to be Followers of Jesus Christ. This chorus being planted in my heart and mind, day and night, brought me to a point of self-examination and introspective searching. Can I truly say this is my story and this is my song? Or have I allowed other things to take the place of this being my story and praising my Savior is an occasional thing like Sunday morning in church or special occasions where I need to look holy to those around me? So let’s take a few moments together to give serious thought and honest evaluation to these questions.

God’s Word tells us ““The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Savior! He is the God who avenges me, who puts the nations under me, who sets me free from my enemies. You exalted me above my foes; from a violent man you rescued me. Therefore I will praise you, LORD, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name.”(1) Do you remember every waking moment that The Lord lives and we owe praise to our Rock! He is the Rock of our salvation and He sets us free from our enemies. So often when I hear men talking about their struggles with maintaining a close walk with the Lord my mind immediately goes to the instructions given to us in 2 Samuel. How can we have a close relationship if we don’t remember first what brought us into a close relationship with the living Lord to in the first place? If we are not praising and exalting the One that brought us out of darkness then how can we possibly maintain a close relationship? Satan distracts us with busy-ness and draws our hearts and minds to numerous other activities and things that removes the eternal mindset we owe to the One who Lives and who gives us an eternal promise. We get caught up in the here and now and when we do, we are prime candidates for the temptations of the enemy!

While there are many scriptures and passages of scripture we could use as an example of “this is my story”, I don’t want to turn this article into a book, so we will use a single passage that hits all of the key points.

David testified “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD. Hear my voice when I call, LORD; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, LORD, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me. Teach me your way, LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”(2)

  • So, using this passage, let’s pull out some key elements that should be part of our story:
  •  Whom shall I fear, whom shall I be afraid;
  •  The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
  •  Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident;
  • One thing I ask from the Lord, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
  • For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling;
  • I will sing and make music to the Lord;
  • Your face, LORD, I will seek;
  • The LORD will receive me;
  • Teach me your way, LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors;
  • I remain confident in this: I will see goodness of the LORD in the land of the living;
  • Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD

While every man’s story will be different because of his life experiences, these elements should be interwoven in the story if he professes to have a personal heart relationship with Jesus Christ. While the language will be different because we do not necessarily speak as scripture is written, the essence of each item above will be in the story. All of God’s men must be prepared to share “their story” so that God may be glorified and others may learn and grow from the story we tell. So, WHAT IS YOUR STORY?


(1) 2 Samuel 22:47-50
(2) Psalm 27:1-14

Categories
Articles

All Things Work for Good

One of the many verses in the Bible that is often misquoted or said at the most inopportune times is Romans 8:28.  I have heard well-meaning Believers quote or paraphrase this verse more so to remove their own feelings of inadequacy and not knowing what to say than any real words of empathy for the person that is going through a difficult life event.  Paul tells us “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”[1]  So people jump to this verse thinking it will surely soothe the pain or misery someone is experiencing at that very moment.

So how can we say cancer or a terminal illness works for good; how can we tell a young mother that has just lost her unborn child “in all things God works for the good; how do we tell someone that has just lost a loved one that was not saved and did not know the Lord as their personal Savior that will work for good; how do we tell those around the world that are persecuted and some even killed for their belief that Jesus Christ is the one true Savior works for good? The list could go on and on because there are many things that happen in our world that cannot and should not be described as good.  Yet God’s Word says plainly “And we know that in all things God works for good.”  So how do we take these disasters, persecutions, and tragedies and apply them to this verse?  I am going to do my very best, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to break down the key components of Romans 8:28.

In the opening of verse 28 there is a promise, “And we know that in all things God works for the good.”  It doesn’t say maybe, we guess, or sorta kinda, it says “WE KNOW”.  We can be confident in knowing that God works for the good.  This raises the first dilemma.  So many of today’s men view the world and what happens in it from a temporal point of view.  A temporal point of view is looking at situations in the here and now and is based on immediate time and circumstances not eternity.  To fully embrace the meaning of this verse and the promise it makes we must have an eternal point of view which means we may not be able to see God’s plan with our physical eyes but we know nonetheless that He is working His master plan all of the time even when it seems He is not.

John Piper[2] says it this way “When it comes to the architecture of promises, there are not any bigger buildings than Romans 8:28. This structure is absolutely staggering in its size. It is massive. The infinitely wise, infinitely powerful God pledges to make everything beneficial to his people! Not just nice things, but horrible things, like tribulation and distress and peril and slaughter. What brick would you lay on the top of this skyscraper promise to make it taller? “All things” means all things.

If you live inside this massive promise, your life is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Nothing can blow you over inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside Romans 8:28 all is confusion, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, straw houses of deadening drugs, tin roofs of retirement plans, cardboard fortifications of anti-ballistic missiles and a thousand other substitutes for Romans 8:28.

Once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure of Romans 8:28 everything changes. There comes into your life stability and depth and freedom. You simply cannot be blown over. The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an absolutely incomparable refuge, security, hope and power in your life. No promise in all the world surpasses the height and breadth and weight of Romans 8:28.”[3]

So to whom is this promise?  It is actually defined in two ways.  The first is “those who love Him.”  Those that do not love the Lord cannot claim this promise.  It is a promise made to those who love Him.  This aligns itself with what is described in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus was asked the greatest commandment.  He replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”[4]  But Jesus did not stop there, He went on to say “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”[5]  If we do not love the Lord with everything we have … heart, mind, soul and strength … then we will not understand, or benefit for that matter, from the promise made in Romans 8:28.  And if we do not accomplish the first we will most certainly not achieve the second.  In order for us to experience the promise of “that in all things God works for the good,” we must totally and completely love the Lord with everything we have.  This holds true regardless of whether we are in the best of times or the worst of times we must love the Lord our God always.

Paul goes on to add one additional component to Romans 8:28 when he says “who have been called according to His purpose.”  Being “called” is not a frequent topic in today’s church and therefore it is often misunderstood.  Paul gives a powerful word picture when he says “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”[6]  While many may hear the Gospel, not all will accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.  While many may be exposed to the Word of God not all will receive it by faith and stand firmly upon it.  We are called to salvation by the Holy Spirit, we are justified by faith and we are glorified by our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  If we were to break it down to the very root of being called to God’s purpose, it is to be more like Jesus every day. When we accept the challenge of living our lives like Jesus it is then that we begin to see how God can take all of the good, the bad, and the ugly and use it for good.  You see it’s not about us but it is all about Jesus.  It is when we put all three pieces of Romans 8:28 together that we can see what an incredibly awesome God we serve and He is more than capable of achieving the passage that says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”


[1] Romans 8:28.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[2] John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
[3] This quote is taken from a message John delivered October 13, 1985 entitled “Called According to His Purpose”
[4] Mark 12:30
[5] Mark 12:31
[6] Romans 8:30

 

Categories
Articles

HORIZONTAL THINKING VS. VERTICAL THINKING

I originally wrote this article under a different title in January of 2005.  Since that time the magnitude and importance of this subject has grown to a level that may determine the very survival of the United States as we have known it.  For that reason, I have updated the article to reflect the importance of “vertical thinking” to God’s men and my hope and prayer is that the Holy Spirit can use it to move men to live the lives God desires.

Too many men, including men in the church, become victims of “horizontal thinking.”  What in the world is horizontal thinking you ask?  It is simply getting caught up in the world’s definition of success.  In his book “THE MAN IN THE MIRROR” [1] Patrick Morley writes “Today men are consumed by desires to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.” A man allows himself to focus on temporal gain to make him feel like a “real man.”  The next promotion, a newer more expensive car, a bigger house, big boy toys (trucks, sports cars, motorcycles, boats, country club memberships, etc.) and numerous other achievements and physical “things”.  Not that any of these things are in and of themselves evil, it is when we devote most or all of our energy to achieve them that they become dangerous.  They are often devious and subversive in how they take hold of a man’s vision of what his life is supposed to be.  Before long, he is consumed with the “horizontal issues” in life and he has lost interest in pursuing or maintaining a vertical relationship with his Heavenly Father.  At this point Satan becomes his greatest ally by showing him all kinds of reasons why his actions are justified.  “I’m doing this for my family”; “I know I’m not conducting my life the way God wants me to but once I accomplish this goal, I’ll get things in order”; “Doesn’t God want successful people in His church”; “If I gain more then I can give more” and so many other rationalizations that we are convinced will keep God at bay.  The interesting thing is “later” rarely ever gets here and the groundwork has been laid for a man to continue down the path of “horizontal thinking.”  What a man intends to do and what he actually does can often go in completely opposite directions.  That is what makes “horizontal thinking” so dangerous.

The best way for us get an understanding of “horizontal thinking” is to look at a scriptural example.  Mark tells us of a rich young man that comes to Jesus to pose a question.  “As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asked. ‘Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.’  Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. ’There is still one thing you haven’t done,’ he told him. ‘Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’   At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” [2]

Jesus knew He was being set up when the young man called Him “Good teacher.”  You see the young man already had a preconceived answer for which he was looking.  When he told Jesus he had followed the “law” since his youth he expected Jesus to tell him he had already accomplished what was required of him to get into heaven.  When Jesus tells him to “sell everything you have”, it wasn’t because Jesus found fault with wealth but it was the fact that this young man placed more importance on his wealth than he did in his relationship with Jesus.  He was caught up in “horizontal thinking” and he had lost site of the more important “vertical thinking.”  It is also important for us to note that the scripture says that Jesus “loved him.”  In spite of the fact that Jesus knew this young man was trying to set Him up, Jesus was drawn to the young man and His desire was to open the young man’s eyes to the importance of a personal relationship with his Heavenly Father.  The young man walks away “sad” because he didn’t get the answer he expected and he was unwilling to let go of his “horizontal thinking” to gain a vertical relationship with Jesus.

I love how “THE MESSAGE” gives us a reminder on this issue.  It says “You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience? This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place. And please don’t toss this off as insignificant. It only takes a minute amount of yeast, you know, to permeate an entire loaf of bread. Deep down, the Master has given me confidence that you will not defect. But the one who is upsetting you, whoever he is, will bear the divine judgment.” [3]   This writing indicates we should not only take this issue seriously (“And please don’t toss this off as insignificant”) but also recognize that God takes it very seriously. It is also important to note that it tells us “This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place.”  It is not within God’s nature to try and derail us from being obedient.  These verses also let us know there will be “divine judgment” for those who interfere and draw God’s children away from “the true course of obedience.”

So how do I avoid “horizontal thinking” and strive to maintain “vertical thinking?”  First let’s acknowledge that it is not always the easiest task to accomplish, but it can be accomplished.  It starts with what Rick Warren so aptly stated in his book “The Purpose Driven Life”, “IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.”   You see, “vertical thinking” is focused on God and not on self.  All men, by our very nature, are selfish to one degree or another.  Throughout history this has been the eventual downfall of so many men because they became more and more focused on satisfying themselves above all else.  David gives us a good “test” for our daily walk with the Lord.  David writes “Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?  Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?   Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts.  Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.  Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts.  Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.  Such people will stand firm forever.” [4]  Let’s look at several of the items David has listed here to help us maintain our “vertical thinking.”

David tells us we are to walk “blameless” and do what is “righteous.”  Blameless does not mean without sin. It does mean we are known to maintain a lifestyle that is based upon “integrity.”  If there is one thing our society today could use more of, it is men of integrity.  The dictionary definition of integrity is “Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.”   Integrity for God’s man is strict adherence to God’s code of conduct, not the world’s.  It’s doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do with no ulterior motive.  It is doing what you say you are going to do and if you can’t, it’s letting people know you will not be able to keep your word.  God’s man does not use integrity only when it is convenient, but at all times – he does so even when it is not easy.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we act in compliance with God’s divine law and by doing so we will be free from sin.  While our relationship with Jesus Christ makes us righteous before God, it is our daily actions and behavior that make us righteous in man’s eyes.

Psalm 15 then tells us God’s man is one “speaking the truth from sincere hearts.   Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.  We have all experienced the hurt that comes from someone lying to us.  It is especially painful when it is someone close to us.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we build relationships based upon truth.  That’s why Paul tells us “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.” [5] God’s man does not get caught up in slander and gossip.  James tells us “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” [6]  Peter teaches us “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” [7]  “Vertical thinking” requires that we harness our tongue and stay away from those that cannot control theirs.

David then tells us God’s man is one “who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD.”  Who do you look up to; who is your role model?  Are they worldly men that daily represent “horizontal thinking?”  We must realize we are sending a message to others and choose our heroes carefully; it is imperative to choose wisely those lives after which we model our own. “Vertical thinking” requires that we seek out Godly men to set the example which we use as our role models for daily living.

The next issue is God’s man is one “who keeps his oath even when it hurts.”  “Vertical thinking” tells us we keep our promises, even when it is not easy or convenient.  It means we keep our promises even if something “better” come along that we would rather do.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we keep our promises the same way God keeps His promises to us.

God’s man is one “who lends his money without usury.” [8]  Usury means interest.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we utilize the resources God has provided without looking for personal gain or attaching “strings” to the item borrowed.  Simply put, don’t take advantage of someone’s need.  I believe this applies not only to money but in today’s world, it could be said of any resource we have available that could help another person resolve a need or problem.

David then gives us one last item and that is God’s man “does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” [9]  Innocence or guilt should be based upon truth and not whether the accused can “buy” their way out of the situation.  Moses was given very clear instruction from God when He said “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” [10]  “Vertical thinking” means truth cannot be bought at any price.

“Vertical thinking” certainly requires us to maintain very different standards than those set by the world around us.  Who are you living to please? Is it the world or your Heavenly Father?  There is certainly short term satisfaction created by the standards of the world but how does that relate to your eternity?  God’s man uses “vertical thinking” to keep him focused on daily living that leads to long term satisfaction — which is spending eternity with our Heavenly Father with all of the benefits of a good and faithful servant.

I am reminded of that wonderful hymn [11] refrain that says:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.” 

Men, may your life be full of “vertical thinking” and may the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of Jesus magnificent glory and grace!


[1] MAN IN THE MIRROR Solving the 24 Problems Men Face; Written by Patrick Morley; Published by Zondervan Publishing House; Written in 1997 and updated in 2014.
[2] Mark 10:17-22.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[3] Galatians 5 from THE MESSAGE, an interpretation of the Bible
[4] Psalm 15:1-5
[5] Ephesians 4:25
[6] James 4:11
[7] 1 Peter 2:1
[8] Psalm 15:5a
[9] Psalm 15:5b
[10] Deuteronomy 16:19
[11] Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Helen H. Lemmel, 1922. copyright status is Public Domain

 

Categories
Articles

LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE

As a boy, I remember going to vacation Bible school and singing “This Little Light of Mine.”  The song says:

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine, Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine, Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine

Don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine; Don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine; Don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine,

 Let it shine til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”[1]

 

While I remember the song very well, I never stopped to consider the meaning of the song and really let it sink in.  The Gospel of Matthew tells us “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”[2]  “The Message”, which is an interpretation of the Bible, says it this way: “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”  A simple children’s song has such a powerful message when we look at the scripture behind it!  Jesus said YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD!  WOW, I wish I could testify that I see many Followers of Jesus Christ letting their light shine every day but from my vantage point there are fewer and fewer that have the boldness and courage to let their light shine.  We have become too concerned with fitting in and worried about what people might think if we let the light of Christ shine in our lives.  As the passage warns, we have put our light under the bowl of being politically correct and socially acceptable.  There is still time to change your situation to truly become a light-bearer for Christ.  It is not too late to let your light shine.  So let’s look at the critical elements needed to be an effective light-bearer.

First and foremost, before we can effectively shine light we must be connected to the source of light, Jesus Christ.  Without Jesus there can only be darkness and in that darkness we are drawn to the ways of the world.  A lamp can have all the proper components (bulb, switch, electrical cord, etc.) but if it is not plugged into the source it cannot shine light.  Jesus said “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”[3]  Clearly Jesus is the light and without Him we live in darkness.  It is awesome to know that our energy source of light never runs out and He provides us the power through Him to shine light to the world.  We are not sources of light but we are reflections of the source of light within us.

This brings us to the second element; the entire purpose of light is to dispel darkness.  If you have ever been in the forest at night where there is no light or in a room that is completely void of light we find ourselves trying to maneuver around attempting to avoid the pitfalls that lie before us.  Sometimes we guess right and sometimes we guess wrong.  We desperately strain our eyes looking for even the smallest ray of light to help us avoid the dangers around us.

When your life is in total darkness you want to find light yet you fear the light because it will expose the sin in your life. The Gospel of John tells us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[4]  Despite our best attempt to extinguish the light it can never be eliminated.  While it is sometimes difficult to open ourselves to the light and expose the sin in our life, it is the light that can bring us to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the result in repentance and God’s forgiveness.

The third and final element is the fact that letting my light shine is a choicePaul tells us  “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.   Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”[5]  By no means an easy assignment, yet we have the ability to accomplish what Paul is saying by relying upon the light within us.  No matter the place or circumstances we are to be like shining stars in this world of darkness.  To accomplish this we must focus on the statement Paul makes saying “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.”  The Prophet Isaiah said it this way “Yet you, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”[6]  To choose to let your light shine means you are willing to be the clay and let our Heavenly Father shape and mold you to accomplish His desired purpose in your life.

So here’s the question, are you going to let your light shine?  There is no question that our dark world needs more shining stars to see the light of truth.  Let your light shine in every aspect of your life and others will be drawn to the light!


[1] Found on METROLYRICS; Written by Jim Curnow; Published by Hal Leonard Corporation

[2] Matthew 5:14-16.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.

[3] John 12:46

[4] John 1:1-5

[5] Philippians 2:12-16

[6] Isaiah 64:8

Categories
Articles

WHO IS “The Man Upstairs”?

 

            I have heard a variety of people from all walks of life make statements like “I’m good with the man upstairs;” or “I know I need to get things right with the man upstairs;” or I’ve talked about it with the “man upstairs;” and I’m certain that you could add more to the list based on your life experiences.  It’s as if the rent is late and you’re going to run upstairs to the landlord’s apartment and make your payment or relying on the knowledge of someone that has achieved degrees of higher learning in hopes that they can share their wisdom with you.  On a recent weekend, while our ThunderHeart Ministries Prison Team was in Parchman Prison, God really convicted me on this subject of hearing people say these things and I have just let them pass as if these statements actually meant something.  You see, when statements like this are made, whether intended or not, they are disrespectful to God and demonstrate a lack of understanding by the person making the statement.  I want to share some of the scriptures that God led me to read to give clarity to who is in heaven and who is in charge of all things.  When I say address, I am not talking about being judgmental or harsh, or being mean spirited, but using the love of Christ to bring someone to a greater awareness of who God really is.

We don’t have to go very far to find a verse that dispels these comments about a “man upstairs.”  Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”[1]  You see there is no mention of man being able to perform any of these tremendous wonders of creation but it was God that performed these miraculous acts.  From the beginning there was God not man.

Another example comes from Jeremiah.  Jeremiah was a prophet during a time when the children of Israel were being extremely disobedient and he had to give some difficult and strong messages to the people.  One such message was “This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.  That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes.  They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.”[2]

God makes it very clear that He is the one and only God and we should have no other gods.  He tells us “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  ‘You shall have no other gods before me.  ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”[3]  Verse 5 of this passage is often misquoted and misunderstood.  When God talks about punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation, He is not talking about punishing children for the sins of the parent but children continue to carry out the sins of the parents.  That is a significant issue in our world today because people are following the role model set by their parents which was potentially set in motion by generations long before them.  After reading this passage, imagine how offensive it is to the LORD your God to be referred to as “the man upstairs.”

Isaiah, another prophet who served God during difficult times with the children of Israel, provides a view of how God sees himself in comparison to man.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”[4]  We can clearly see that God declares His ways are not that of men and his thoughts are not our natural thoughts because of the impact of our sin nature.  God cannot be tempted nor can he be blind to the efforts of the enemy. Yet man falls victim to temptation and the efforts of Satan to lead us astray from the One who loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins and pay our sin debt in full (past, present, and future).  So how could we be so foolish to refer to God as the “man upstairs” and blind to the fact that if it were a man upstairs we would have no hope, no salvation, and no eternity with our Heavenly Father?

Some argue that they have never seen God and so it is difficult for them to believe in something they have never seen.  Paul gives us a very straightforward answer to this issue when he wrote “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”[5]  God has made His presence known in everything we see in creation.  There is no question that man could not have accomplished the complexity and magnitude of creation yet we want to question the very existence of God and refer to Him as “the man upstairs.”  Many people ask for proof that God is real, but it is a matter of faith; there is no proof that will convince someone who does not want to believe.

Let me close with this thought.  One of the Pharisee’s wanted to try and trap Jesus so he asked Jesus the question “Of all of the commandments, which is the most important?”  “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”[6]  If you were absolutely honest with yourself do you believe you could love a man with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind and with all of your strength?  We might be able to do that on a situational basis or for a period of time but to do it all the time would be absolutely impossible.  So how is it that we can overlook or pass up the opportunity to share the tremendous love of God who rules heaven and earth when someone refers to YAHWEH as “the man upstairs?”  We must share the One who is love and because of His love we can have a relationship with Him that will allow us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  I pray for boldness, courage, and obedience for all of us as we deal with a world who fails to realize the power and dominion of our LORD God Almighty.  May we rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to share with those that fail to understand what they are saying when they talk about “the man upstairs” and let our words bring truth and understanding of just how great our God truly is!


 

[1] Genesis 1:1.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[2] Jeremiah 17:5,6
[3] Exodus 20:2-5
[4] Isaiah 55:8,9
[5] Romans 1:20
[6] Mark 29-31

 

Categories
Articles

WHAT IS THE CHURCH MISSING?

As I have been preparing and studying the materials we will use in Zambia Africa to teach pastors about discipleship, I was made keenly aware that the church in the United States is missing a critical element.  We wonder why church attendance is on the decline and why people don’t want to come to our beautiful big building that offers awesome programs and has an incredible ministry staff.  The simple fact is we believe that we build the church which is not at all in accordance with Scripture.  Jesus said “I will build my church[1].  You see the church existed long before you and I were born, before our ancestors were born thus the church could only be built by the one who owns it and that is Jesus Christ.  Scripture refers to the church as “the bride of Christ.”

So if Jesus built His church, then what is it that we are supposed to do as part of His church?  Jesus didn’t build His church ignoring His disciples but He built His church through His disciples using the commandments and teachings He gave them as well as them having a total dependence on the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit.  It is critical that a Follower of Jesus Christ understands that the guidance of the Holy Spirit does not come from head knowledge but, on the contrary, it comes from heart knowledge.  When we accept Jesus Christ as our Personal Savior, it is in the heart this relationship begins and it is in the heart that we will be directed by the Holy Spirit to accomplish what God has in store for us.  There are many brilliant theologians that have an abundance of head knowledge concerning Biblical history and Scripture but they are as lost as a ball in high weeds when it comes to the personal relationship that Jesus Christ desires to have with each of us.  Many of them use their head knowledge to draw attention to themselves and they are not at all interested in using what they know to bring another person to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

SO HERE IS THE GREAT WAKE UP CALL FOR ALL WHO PROFESS TO BE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS CHRIST:  Jesus commanded the church to not only seek the lost and lead them to salvation, He gave us the responsibility to make those who are saved disciples.  At the end of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[2]  WOW!  All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus and He has directed our steps to disciple others, teaching them everything that He has commanded us and taught us to do.  Too often we want to hold on to that portion of this passage that talks about making disciples of all nations.  Satan plants the thought in our minds that this commission that Jesus gave only applies to those who are “called” to be missionaries.  There is nothing further from the truth!  While some will go to faraway lands to share the gospel, Jesus is saying to you and me that as we go about our daily lives we are to be making disciples.  Never thought of yourself as a disciple maker?  Well get used to the idea because that is absolutely the expectation that our Lord has of each of us that claim the wonderful gift of grace and place our faith in the salvation it provides. We accomplish this by changing one heart at a time.

Jesus used parables frequently and on one occasion He used the parable of the weeds in the field.  His disciples came to Him and asked that He explain the parable of “the weeds in the field.”  “He answered, ‘The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.   ‘As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”[3]  Jesus makes it very clear that the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom of God.  The church is missing the fact that as good seed we should be bearing crops through discipling others and they then sow their seed into others and on and on it goes with Jesus building His church.

Jesus also used the parable of the “sower” and he describes it this way “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?  The farmer sows the word.  Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.  Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.  Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.  Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.””[4]  As any good farmer knows, it’s all about the seed.  And it’s not just planting the seed but tending it, caring for it, investing in it, so that it has the best chance of taking hold and growing into a healthy vibrant plant.  It requires time to pull the weeds that Satan will attempt to use to choke out the seed and it will require careful monitoring to see that it is getting the water and nutrition necessary to grow and produce a healthy crop; and from that crop will come more seeds and more opportunities for developing crops. This is a simple yet very effective description of we should view discipleship making.  We find the seed that God has for us and we begin to take the steps, much like a good farmer, to nurture and prepare that seed for growth.  Using the simple mathematics of multiplication we can see how disciple makers can have an immediate impact on the world around them.

So where is your congregation today when it comes to understanding discipleship making?  More importantly, where are you as it relates to being a disciple maker.  No excuses, no rationalization, just an honest, straightforward answer to this question.  If you find you are not where you need to be with discipleship making then it’s time for you to make a change.  Jesus will build the church; He will use you and me as resources to build His church. We will accomplish this assignment by using His commandments, teachings and modeling of disciple making.  He picked 12 men and invested Himself in developing them into disciples.  We simply need to follow the model that Jesus gave us for taking a seed and developing it into a disciple making crop.


[1] Matthew 16:18b.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[2] Matthew 28”18-20
[3] Matthew 13:37-43
[4] Mark 4:13b-20
Categories
Articles

ARE YOU PRAISING OR COMPLAINING?

Recently a longtime friend, Brother in Christ, and previous missions partner Matt Loving[1] posted a passage of scripture that opened the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to lead me to some self-examination.  With so much chaos going on around us, our culture trying to take sin and make it acceptable and leadership that is doing everything but lead our nation has led to a lot of speculation and questioning about where God is and what He has in store.  To be perfectly honest, at times I spend more time complaining and looking at everything I believe is wrong with the world instead of spending time focused on God’s timing and His power and dominion over everything that happens around us.  Some of you that are still in your infancy of your spiritual growth may be asking “does that mean God is making these things happen?”  While I do not profess to be a prophet, scripture is very clear that God allows things to happen, even people’s bad decisions and choices, and He can still use them to serve his perfect will.

Isaiah gives us an incredible word picture when he writes “With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him?  As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.  A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.  Do you not know?   Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood since the earth was founded?  He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.  He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.  No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.  ‘To whom will you compare me?  Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.  Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you complain, Jacob?  Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’?  Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”[2]

“With whom, then, will you compare God?”  An interesting question for a culture that fails to recognize just how many “idols” we have.  People idolize cars, boats, trucks, motorcycles, sports, adultery, pornography, drugs, alcohol, houses, jobs, athletes, movie stars, politicians, pastors, religion, and the list goes on and on.  None of these things can compare to JEHOVAH and for that reason we have an incredible message to share with a lost and dying world.  As the worship song says “There is no one like JEHOVAH!”  Isaiah makes it very clear that God has been on His throne since before the earth was created. He stretched out the heavens and all that lies beneath them.  So how foolish of us to worship things that will rust, rot, wilt and eventually turn back to the earth from which it came while we have a God that sits on His throne watching over everything that He created.  There is nothing that He does not see; there is nothing He does not know; He knows the spoken and the unspoken; He cares for everything and everyone that is part of His creation; so the key question is what are you doing to draw people to God’s truth?  Are you spending more time complaining about the condition of the world or are you lifting praises to the creator of the universe?  Are you complaining about your personal situation or praising God for going through the situation with you?  Are you claiming victory in Jesus or living in despair and defeat because the enemy has led you to believe his lies and distractions?

“The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.”  We serve a God that cannot grow tired or weary!  He is exponentially super powered and all things are subject to His control.  He can bring order from chaos; He can take evil men and bring them to ruin; He can take those who choose to call evil good and ignore Him as the one and only God and destroy them and those that follow them.  Our problem is we want it done in our timing and the way we want things to happen.  God doesn’t work on our timetable and He certainly isn’t always going to do it the way we think it should be done. We must praise Him for His never ending understanding!  He knows us better than anyone could ever know us; He knew us before the foundations of the world so who could know us better and yet He still provides understanding when we complain and we get impatient with life.  Simply put, we need to get with His program and praise Him for who He is, what He has done, and what He is going to do rather than complaining that God has left the building.  His timing is perfect, His ways are perfect and He is always on time whether we comprehend His timing or not.  STOP COMPLAINING AND START PRAISING!

While this is a powerful passage of scripture, my favorite words are at the end of this passage.  With all that is going on around Followers of Jesus Christ, the enemy can be very effective with distracting us away from our reliance on God’s promises and create opportunities for us to complain about anything and everything.  If we simply stay focused on Jesus and our Heavenly Father’s perfection/promises then we can praise Him in the worst or the best of times.  Complaining takes so much energy and can leave us vulnerable to other tactics Satan and his demons will use.  Isaiah tells us that God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  We watch young men stumble and fall prey to the ways of the world yet God’s desire is to give us hope and it is an eternal hope that will give us strength to endure!  We can praise Him for the hope that lies within us and He will give us strength to run the race of life without growing weary; we can walk the challenging paths of life and not grow faint.  So here is the question I asked myself after reading this passage in Isaiah – Am I praising or am I complaining?  As I took an honest look at myself, I discovered there have been times that I have allowed the circumstances around me to lead to complaining instead of praising.  I took my eyes off of the one and only thing that deserves constant praising and that is our precious savior Jesus Christ.  I hope you will allow the Holy Spirit to assist you with self-examination to get you refocused on God’s amazing grace and mercy.  If you will allow this to happen, then no matter what is going on around you, praising will constantly flow from you because you will be filled with the Living Water that only comes from knowing Jesus Christ.  No doubt, from a human perspective there is plenty to complain about yet from an eternal perspective there is nothing that God can’t take care of in His perfect timing.  So PRAISE HIM IN THE MORNING, PRAISE HIM IN THE NOON TIME, PRAISE HIM IN THE EVENING, PRAISE HIM ALL THE DAY LONG!


 

[1] Matt Loving serves as a Mentor to students in the Trek-X program which is an evangelism education program that teaches college age students evangelism for two years and then they serve as missionaries abroad for two years.

[2] Isiah 40: 16-31.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.