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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

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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

 

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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

 

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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

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HALLOWED BE THY NAME *

We are living in a time when people have turned away from God and are looking for solutions to small and great problems. And many of them are looking in all the wrong places. Jesus’ followers asked Him to teach them to pray and He did so by teaching them what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer.  While Jesus never intended this to be the end all of prayers, He used it as a model prayer to demonstrate the content our prayers should contain.  While there is much that can be said in regards to this model prayer, this article will only focus on the first directive Jesus gave.  He said “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”[1]  In particular I want us to spend some time gaining an understanding of what is meant by the term “hallowed” and why we should treat God’s name as hallowed.  This word means “sanctified, holy, and set apart” and we are to treat God’s name in this way … Sanctified, Holy, and Separate.

The prophet Isaiah was given a message to share with the people that said “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.  The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.”[2]  This passage could easily be a description of our communities these days.  We have become a nation that fears hurting someone’s feelings by speaking the truth and therefore we say nothing.  We hold man’s feelings in higher regard than standing on the truth of Yahweh.  Isaiah is telling us not to react to everything people react to and do not dread disappointing people because you do not fear what they fear or believe what they believe.  On the other hand, recognize God as holy and sanctified and as the creator of all things it is Him that we should dread disappointing because he ultimately controls all things.  We must stand on His truth regardless of what those around us may say or do as a result.

Moses is a great example of what can happen when we fail to hallow (treat as sanctified/holy) God’s name and fail to follow His commands.  The people were feuding and fighting with Moses and Aaron because there was no water.  They whined and moaned and blamed Moses and Aaron for the predicament they found themselves in.  The Lord appears to Moses and Aaron and instructs Moses to gather the assembly and call for water to come from a rock and the Lord promised that He would bring all the water needed from the rock.  Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly but instead of doing as God instructed, Moses said “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” [3] Did you catch that? Moses said “must WE bring water”!  I don’t read in there where he gave God the credit for any of this! Moses was angry and he allowed his anger to dictate his actions which were not the actions commanded by God.  There was a penalty to be paid for failing to hallow God’s name.  “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”[4]  Moses lost the privilege of leading the Israelites into the promise land because he failed to show trust and honor in God. So a valuable lesson of how we must hallow God’s name is to trust Him and follow His commands.  We cannot sanctify and make holy God’s name when we take actions out of anger or to serve self.  God cannot bless those that do not trust and follow His guidance and direction.  If we truly hallow His name then we must fully and completely trust and obey His commands.

John gives a strong description of what it means to dishonor God’s name when he said “We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.  Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”  Pretty straightforward wouldn’t you say?  If we make God out to be a liar we are most certainly not treating Him as holy and sanctified (set apart).

Everything stated in this article is an attempt to make the reader keenly aware that we live in a world that does not hallow the name of God and by their actions, many are attempting to make God out to be a liar.  God’s people must refocus and pray for boldness and courage to stand on the Word of God and keep His name holy and sanctified.  There is only one God and one way to heaven yet we often sit silently by as people talk about many gods and many ways to heaven.  By our silence we are not treating the name of God as holy and separate from all other idols and false gods!  Isn’t it odd that we will quickly stand up and defend our favorite sports team, school, or activity but when it comes to treating God’s name with the same energy and passion it is the exception rather than the rule?  What is most important to you?  To be accepted and honored by people or to be honored and accepted by God?   No one said being a Follower of Jesus Christ was going to be easy but God did promise that He would be with us every step of the way.  It is time for God’s people to once again follow the model set by our precious Savior, Jesus Christ, and live out the model prayer which begins with “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be they name”.  Jesus gave his all to pay our sin debt so the least we can do is give our all to share with everyone that God is holy and sanctified and He will not be mocked and He will not accept anything less than the trust and faith that comes from living a life that hallows, sanctifies, and holds holy His name.  I pray that you will spend some quality time with God talking through your relationship with Him and if there are things you need to make right with Him then there is no better time than right now.  We cannot effectively impact this world until we live a life that demonstrates our Heavenly Father is holy and sanctified and as a result we trust and obey His commands despite what the world may think or say.

Holy Spirit I pray that you will burden the hearts of those that read this article that are not living a life honoring your hallowed name.  May they see through their spiritual eyes what You see and if it is not pleasing to you then they will make the needed changes to be the person you planned for them to be.  Father, let us honor You for who You are and recognize that the world thrives on actions and deeds that are driven by sin.  Thank you so much for being a God that loves us enough to give us multiple chances to work out our short comings and grow stronger in You through studying your Word, prayer, and fellowshipping with like-minded Brothers and Sisters.  May all the glory, honor, and praise be given to you Heavenly Father.  Amen and Amen!

 


*This article was inspired by a series of sermons delivered by John  Piper.  John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and Chancellor of Bethelem College & Seminary.  For 33 years he served as pastor of Bethelehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He is author of more than 50 books.

[1] Matthew 6:9.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[2] Isaiah 8:12-13
[3] Numbers 20:9b-11
[4] Numbers 20:12

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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
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The Heart IS the Heart Of the Matter

Mark 4:1-9 tells us “Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge.  He taught them many things by parables and in his teaching said ‘Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.  Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times. Then Jesus said, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”[1]

In today’s age of technology, we know that the key component that makes a computer function is its hard drive.  Without the hard drive, a computer cannot function.  Just as the computer relies on the hard drive, the heart is our hard drive for our lives.  Therefore, the heart really is the heart of the matter.  From a spiritual perspective, if the heart is not surrendered to God’s principles then our lives will not achieve what God has in store for us.

With that in mind, as we look at the parable that Jesus shared with the crowd, He starts by saying Listen!  He then proceeds to tell a story about how a farmer went out to sow his seed.  The word “seed” is used to depict the Word of God and the farmer (sower) is the Son of God and anyone that professes to be His follower.   Just as a farmer sows his seed to produce a crop, you and I as Followers of Jesus Christ are to be sharing God’s Word to produce a crop.  Much of what is going on around us in today’s world is our failure to boldly share the gospel and without the seed being planted then how can there be a harvest.  A good farmer knows that he must sow his seed when the season is right to cultivate the greatest harvest.  Today we have very few who are willing to be good farmers.

The soil is the heart of the hearer.  There are people we come in contact with every day that have experienced challenges and disappointments in life and as a result they have allowed these events to harden their hearts in varying degrees.  Some are downtrodden, some are disappointed, and some are downright bitter.  Much like a potter’s clay, if a heart has been hardened it is virtually impossible to make something useful out of it.  That is why I am so grateful for the Holy Spirit that can come into a life and restore hope which then begins to soften a hardened heart so that God can do a mighty work.

Some seed fell on the path leaving it exposed and subject to its surroundings.  In Jesus’ day, there were no mechanized tools or defined layout of a field so the farmer sowed his seed across the land hoping that it would fall on hearty soil that would allow the seed to cultivate.  Some of us have gotten so busy and allowed so much activity into our lives that we have become like the path.  We’re moving around a lot but there’s not much substance.  We can even get too busy working for God that we lose our roots and foundation.  We have to guard our hearts from becoming so involved with activity and busyness that we lose connection with our Heavenly Father.  We may have been a seed on the path and we were not able to take root in the Word of God.

That brings us to the “bird.”  The bird is Satan and his army of demons.  They desire to devour the seed before it has time to take hold.  Satan is always busy with his lies and devious ways to distract us from truth.  He will use whatever means he can to remove the Word of God from the heart of the hearer before it can take root.

Some seed landed on rocky soil.  Rocky soil represents a lack of spiritual depth.  A person with a heart like the rocky soil may make an emotional or superficial response to the gospel but the minute things don’t go the way they think they should they are quick to blame God for their circumstances.  Because their roots are shallow, when difficult times come along they can quickly be uprooted and slip back to their previous way of life.

Some seed fell amongst the thorns.  Some people hear the Word of God but they allow the worries of life and the desires for things this world has to offer to choke out their desire for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  They are busy chasing promotions in their career, material possessions, belonging to the “in” groups, achieving status by the world’s standards.  All of these can bring stress and worry and many people find themselves dealing with all kinds of physical and mental health issues due to this “chasing” after things of the world.  Worry can kill you and chasing after desires of the world can cause that worry.

Some seed fell on good soil and that would be described as a spiritually productive heart.  The results can only be attributed to the supernatural.  The change that occurs and the peace that replaces the worry and stress are due to the seed being firmly rooted in good soil.  Nothing can hinder the growth and yield of the crop when the heart is good soil.  We must guard and protect our hearts from the efforts of the enemy to harden the soil to make it ineffective in yielding a crop.  “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”[2]

The hard heart is the most vulnerable to Satan.  It is what he looks for so that he not only prevents the seed from taking hold in this person’s life but uses that person to influence others to ignore the Word of God.  There are very real forces at work to do everything they can to prevent spreading the Word of God (the gospel which is the truth).

The flesh is against us like the rocky soil.  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not based on emotion or feelings but through a moving of the Holy Spirit within one’s heart that brings about a spiritual change.  There is no magic prayer that brings about salvation and we can’t live with one foot in the world and attempting to have the other in a right relationship with God.  God’s Word says we become “new creatures” when we enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and we no longer live our former lives but live a new life in Christ.

The world tries to smother growth much like the seeds that fell on thorny ground.  We are constantly bombarded with new products, new technology, and new thoughts around morality and acceptable behavior all of which can smother out the new seed trying to find its way to root into good soil.  We can quickly lose sight of the fact that the world is driven by sin and we fall into the desires of this world so deeply that we are no longer connected to the truth.  The world, just like thorns, desires to smother truth and pull us into the tangled mess that eventually strangles us spiritually.

As I stated in the beginning of this article, Jesus and anyone who professes to be His follower has a responsibility for spreading the seed or the Word of God.  Spreading the gospel should not be confined within the walls of the church.  The church should serve as a school for farmers and equip them with going out to the fields and planting new crops.  Farmer education should deal with the various types of soil and how to prepare a field to receive the seed.  We may have to devise a way to keep the birds away from the field.  At times we will have to remove some of the rock that will prevent the seed from growing strong roots.  We must be willing to tend to the field once the seed has been sown; we will have to pull up the thorns and thistles that will try to strangle out the chance for the seed to develop; we will have to nurture the seed by making sure it gets the Son light it needs and the everlasting water to keep it strong.  A good farmer knows that his hard work in sowing the seed and tending the field is in preparation for God to provide the harvest.  A farmer cannot make a seed grow and develop but God can.  It is God that gives us the increase.

Jesus began this parable by saying “Listen” and he closes by saying “whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”  My prayer is this article will open you spiritual ears and be a source of encouragement for getting into spiritual farming.  God doesn’t need our help but He allows us to come alongside to show the world what a difference a relationship with Jesus Christ can make in a person’s life.  What an awesome thing to be allowed to be in business with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  So get busy getting your spiritual farming education and get out there and sow some seeds for the Lord!


 

(1) All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.

(2) Proverbs 4:23

This article is based on a sermon delivered by Scooter Noland, Lead Pastor of Hope Church, Tupelo, MS on 5/10/15, from a series: Exclamation Point; and the message is titled The Heart of the Matter.