Keeping the Sabbath?

In the midst of ten life rules – we call them the Ten Commandments – we read about “keeping the sabbath.” Let’s read it…

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Many have made this commandment into a legalistic nightmare. When I was growing up in a traditional, non-born again, church family we had separate rules for Sunday. Special clothes we wore to church. Special and fancy lunch in the dining room (only time we ate there), and no friends over to play and definitely no cards. 

A bit legalistic? Perhaps, but you should have known the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They actually crunched the numbers on legalism, and came up with 1,521 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath Day. That sounds like the title of a book no one would want to read.

Among the 1,521: no rescuing of drowning people; no wearing of false teeth (reinserting them, should they slip, would be work); no looking in the mirror (plucking a white hair, also work). If your friend grew ill, you could do certain things to forestall the illness, but actually trying to cure him — too much like work. At the beginning of a famous revolt, many Jews stood and let themselves be killed rather than risking work by defending themselves (1 Maccabees 2:29-38).

Men made a bureaucratic nightmare out of Sabbath-keeping, but it wasn’t what God wanted. This commandment shows a deep affection for us. The word sabbath means “rest.” God knows we grow weary in the cycle of work, so He established a day for us to regularly disengage from toil and refresh ourselves. God cares about both our labour and our leisure.

The Sabbath was also to be a day to turn from the material to the spiritual, to connect in a deeper way with God. Before Christ, people worked toward the Sabbath, resting on the last day of the week (Saturday). Since the Resurrection, we work from the Sabbath (Sunday), living in the power of the risen Christ. 

The early Christians began to worship on the first day of the week because that was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead (Mark 16:9). By the time we get to Act 20:7, we see the disciples coming together on “the first day of the week” to pray, break bread, and listen to the teaching of the Word of God. By the beginning of the second century, Christians universally understood that the Lord’s Day was to be on Sunday, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. And in AD 321, the Roman emperor Constantine, by royal edict, proclaimed Sunday a special day of worship throughout the entire Roman world. It is remarkable to realize that every Sunday from the day of Christ’s resurrection until today, somewhere in the world the church of Jesus Christ has come together to worship.

When I was growing up, Sunday was a special day. And, back then, even those who chose not to attend church still reserved a certain respect for Sunday and how the day should be treated.

We need to accept the wonderful gift of God’s day. We can do this by recognizing its special purpose: to honour Him by resting and reflecting on His goodness. As we do that, we’ll want to find ways to return the gift to Him with gratitude — through ministry, through worship, and through avoiding anything that makes Sunday just another day.

The two command here are to remember it and to keep it holy.

The story goes that when Africa was first being explored, native guides were taking their visitors through the region. After six days of pushing through the jungle, the natives refused to walk. They explained, “We need a day to let our souls catch up with our bodies.”

God has given you a gift to get your soul back in alignment. Will you accept it?

Hyper-conquerors

God’s love is so amazing. It is constant and unfailing. And, amazingly, it is also triumphant. Not only will it endure all circumstance, it will overcome all circumstances: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). We are not merely conquerors; we are more than conquerors. What can this mean?

The Greek word for “conquer” is hypernikao, a compound word made up of ‘hyper’ (“more, above, beyond”) and niko (“to conquer or prevail”). The term is a unique one, occurring nowhere in the Bible but this particular verse. It has no single-word counterpart in English, so we must cobble together two or three words to get the sense of what it means. Scholars have tried such phrases as “overwhelmingly conquerors” and “beyond conquering,” but my favourite by far is “more than conquerors.” Many of the more recent translations contain that familiar phrase. 

But let’s try another one: “hyper-conquerors.” If has a modern ring to it and suggests the idea of a new league of superheroes — “The Hyper-Conquerors”! I think I like it. Let’s try it out on what Paul is telling us:

    • In the midst of all these things that try to bring us down (tribulation, distress, persecution, you name it), we are hyper-conquerors.
    • When facing any problems that life can dish out — you are a hyper-conqueror.
    • In struggling with that problem you’re worrying about this very day, which is ____________ (fill in the blank), you are a hyper-conqueror.

The very term lifts our spirits and seems to infuse us with a ray of hope. But there’s more to being a hyper-conqueror than just emotional hype. If we were merely conquerors, we would have nothing to complain about. We would neutralize the forces that opposed us. We would prevail. But as more than conquerors, whatever comes against us actually ends up working in our favour. Every difficulty that challenges us finally serves to prove the love of God, from which nothing can separate us. When those evils lie in chaotic rubble, God’s love stands high and unfazed like an immoveable monolith.

How does this work in real life? Here’s a story that gives us the answer.

During his reign of terror, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini turned his war machine on Ethiopia and expelled all the Christian missionary there. Christians everywhere began praying immediately. The answer came in two waves: first, in the protection of the expelled missionaries; and second, in reopening the doors of Ethiopia to the Gospel after the military pride of Italy lay broken in the dust and Mussolini was executed by his own countrymen. 

But during the missionaries’ absence, the Word of God multiplied in Ethiopia, and the returning missionaries found a larger, stronger church than the one they left. One group, the United Presbyterian Mission, had only sixty believers when the missionaries were expelled. On their return, the sixty had grown to thirty churches with a membership of sixteen hundred! These believers were more than conquerors.

With God’s love holding us when evils attack, we don’t merely prevail; we turn every dramatic event to our advantage. We feed on adversity and grow stronger. The greater the problem, the more we gain wisdom, spiritual power, and maturity. That’s what it means to be a hyper-conqueror. 

Nothing is meaningless in the world of the believer. Everything has a purpose; and in a world ruled by a loving God, the purpose is always to use every encounter to shape us into the perfect image of our Lord. Every difficulty will be turned to our favour and help us to become “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4). Or, in Paul’s words, to become more than conquerors. 

People Are Watching

People are watching, and they watch more closely when they know we are people of faith. It has been said that we are the only Bible some people will ever study. They have the right to expect our walk to reasonably match our talk even though consistent love and compassion don’t come easily.

Dionysius, a second-century bishop in the city of Corinth, wrote letters describing how Christians behaved in the grip of a rampant plague:

Most of our brethren showed love and loyalty in not sparing themselves while helping one another, tending to the sick with no thought of danger and gladly departing this life with them after becoming infected with their disease. Many who nursed others to health died themselves, thus transferring their death to themselves … The heathen were the exact opposite. They pushed away those with the first signs of the disease and fled from the dearest. They even threw them half dead into the roads and treated unburied corpses like refuse in hopes of avoiding the plague of death, which, for all their efforts, was difficult to escape.

The world is watching how we treat each other. Will they see a difference?

The biblical standard for love is simply to love one another. But now we come to the difficult part. If we stayed with the basic standard to love each other, our faith would be little different than any belief system in this world. But there is a higher standard of love, and Jesus came to give us the definitive expression through His life and teachings. In the words of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, He said, “If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody, can do that” (Matthew 5:46 MSG). Paul builds on this and tells us we are to love everyone when he uses the phrase “one another” and the the higher standard when he adds, “and to all.”

1 Thessalonians 3:12 “and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all”

Loving loved ones is a good start. If we can’t do that, we definitely have a problem. The higher standard, on the other hand, sends a strong, clear message that we, the people of Christ, are not your average, everyday human beings. Those who are watching us don’t weigh the size of the Bibles we carry. They don’t keep a calendar for totalling the number of Bible study meetings we attend, nor do they give us a test on mastery of biblical trivia. But they watch with intense interest to see how we treat others; first, those close to us and then – the championship round – everyone else. Paul writes “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and to all” (1 Thessalonians 3:12). Those final three words are the tricky part.

For the Thessalonians, ALL was a difficult word. ALL constituted certain people who were abusing and persecuting them. “As you abound and increase in love,” Paul is saying, “Don’t forget these!” We don’t like that at first because we know we can’r individually get it done. Just as Jesus said, we can love our families, our buddies, and our friendlier neighbours all by ourselves. So can those who don’t know God. But if we are going to love beyond those comfortable boundaries, if we’re going to advance this love into hostile territory — well, we’re going to need to rely on a greater source. We’re going to need the power of the Holy Spirit. And of course, once we realize that, He has us right where He wants us. We need to call upon the love that He deposited in us (Romans 5:5) when we were first born again. We need to love others like He loved us – unconditionally. And, we can, with His help and His love.

C.S. Lewis helps us with this in one of his writings. He says that an unbeliever makes his choice as to whom he will show kindness, but a Christian has a different secret. He writes that we shouldn’t waste our time worrying about whether we love our neighbour — just act as if we did. The difference between worldly people and Christians is that the worldly treat people kindly when they like them; Christians try treating everyone kindly and thus find themselves liking more people — including some they’d never have expected to like!”

Christians, in other words, let their actions lead and their feelings follow. Human nature feels its way into acting (which can be a long wait). Christ-centered faith acts its way into feeling (which is quick, powerful, and liberating). To put it simply, we followers of Christ are realists. We understand that, naturally speaking, we are never going to like certain people. We know we’re not prone to doing the right thing when left to our own devices. But for the sake of Christ, we’re going to walk in the Spirit and treat others well because it’s the very nature of who Jesus is. Therefore (if we’re living as we ought to), we treat our enemies as benevolently as our friends and soon enough discover we have no enemies anymore. 

 

First and Second Coming of Jesus

It is an historical fact that Jesus came and was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Galilee, ministered in Israel, died on a Roman cross, and rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to be with us.

It is a prophetic fact that He will be coming again.

However, His second coming will look drastically different from His first…

      • The first time Jesus came to earth, He came as a baby. When He comes back, He will come as a full-grown king.
      • The first time Jesus came to earth, He came lying in a manger. When He comes back, He will come riding a white horse
      • The first time Jesus came to earth, He came in weakness and meekness. When He comes back, He will come in power and glory.
      • The first time Jesus came to earth, He came to pay for the sins of the world. When He comes back, He will do away with all sin.
      • The first time Jesus came to earth, He came as a suffering servant. When He comes back, He will come as a conquering master.
      • The first time Jesus came to earth, He came as a sacrificial lamb. When He comes back, He will come as a roaring lion.
      • The first time Jesus came to earth, He suffered momentarily on the cross. When He comes back, He will make sure that Satan will suffer for all eternity in hell.
      • The first time Jesus came to earth, very few people in a town called Bethlehem knew about it. When He comes back, everyone on earth will know who He is.
      • The first time Jesus came to earth, only a few wise men bowed down before Him. When He comes back, every knee will bow down before Him.

There will be a few similarities:

      • The first time Jesus came to earth, He came because He loves you. When He comes back, He will come because He loves you.
      • The first time Jesus came to earth, He came because He remembered you. When He comes back, He will come because He remembers you.

Yes, contrary to popular belief, Someone has come and is coming again. He cares. His Name is Jesus.

SOMETIMES I WORRY

https://rhm.podbean.com/e/sometimes-i-worry/

Today, let’s look at “worry”

“But what if…”

Pastors and Church leaders are suppose to exercise unwavering faith

No matter how circumstances might appear – pastors should rest confidently in the faithfulness of God

As men and women of faith they should not worry or ever be anxious

When everyone else struggles with worry and the resulting anxiety, the fearless leader is expected to step in with just the right faith-filled words

That’s what we are taught in seminary … and that’s what most Christians think, believe, and expect from their leaders

That’s why when a pastor or Christian leader falls into sin everyone is shocked and dismayed

Yet, when someone at work or in the neighbourhood falls into sin – well, its just being human … I mean, what did you expect  Read more

Knowing the Shepherd

A story is told of a talent show held in a small country church many years ago. Two performers stood out in people’s minds that evening: the first was a visitor from the city. He was a seasoned professional actor, well trained in the Shakespearean tradition. Stepping up front, he cleared his throat, and in a deep, resonant voice, the Twenty-third Psalm echoed throughout the chapel. The actor recited the classic psalm with sweeping gestures, masterful poise, and flattering eloquence. He concluded to the brisk applause of a thrilled audience.

The pastor let a moment pass as a brief afterglow ensued. Then the pastor nodded his head towards a farmer near the back door. “Joseph, would you be next?” The pastor said.

“Aw, shucks,” the farmer replied. “I don’t know nuthin’.”

“Sure you do,” the pastor said. “Come on up, Joseph.”

Others joined in the coaxing until sheer embarrassment forced the farmer forward. Fidgeting from side to side, he half mumbled, “Shucks, I don’t know much; but all I can think to do is quote the same psalm as this other man did. I’m not much one for reading, and it’s the only one I ever learned by heart. I’m afraid this other man beat me to it.”

“Well, share it again, then,” the pastor encouraged, and soon others were echoing the request.

The farmer was in his early sixties. Hard times had fallen on his life and little farm but he remained godly and soft-spoken, a man who never complained. Swallowing hard, he stammered and started with his own paraphrase. “The Lord is my Shepherd and ‘cause of that one thing, I figure I have everything I need.” Detouring on a side route, he continued, “Y’all know that my dear wife died six years ago. When my Helen passed, I didn’t think I could go on without her. But God never left me and He reminded me that I was gonna do just fine. He said He’d be there for the kids and me, and He was.”

The farmer paused to remember which verse he was on, then continued, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still streams. He restores my soul. He leads me …” The farmer paused as his thoughts were interrupted by yet another remembrance. “Y’all know that when the war broke out, my boys felt it right to join up. The day they left was the last day I saw them alive. I run the farm alone now … But the Lord goes before me and prepares my table. I’m never truly alone. Not really. And when I don’t think I have much left, my cup always overflows.”

He concluded the Twenty-third Psalm: “Surely good and mercy will follow me and I look forward to dwelling in the house of the Lord, and I know it will be my home too, and my wife’s and my boys’ … forever.”

Without anyone noticing, a profound silence had filled the room; the kind when a deep respect is the only response you can give. It’s the kind of silence when you don’t know what to do, so you don’t do anything at all.

Joseph sat down, and no one moved. Then, slowly, the professional actor made his way to the front again. Standing for a moment as if to find words appropriate enough to disturb the silence, he spoke: “I many know the Shepherd’s Psalm, but this man —“ he pointed to the farmer — “He knows the Shepherd, and that makes all the difference.”

Knowing about God and knowing Him personally are galaxies apart. One might bring notoriety or even fame, but the other brings depth. Recognize the difference and choose well. That one decision will make all the difference, now and for all eternity.

  Sometimes I Feel Disconnected

Dad and Mom were generous with the advice they offered as I was growing up …

They would often look at a situation and give me their viewpoint even when I was not looking for input

In hindsight they had a lot of wisdom which they were sharing when they thought it would help

Most times I really was not all that appreciative of their input

One tidbit of wisdom I always remember was from my dad – I remember it because I heard it so often 

“You can do anything you set your mind to”

And that has proved true over the years since I first heard it

The other piece of advice came from my mom and dealt with my friends and those I chose to hang around with

“You are who you run with” she would say

Sometimes, I have to admit, I was not sure if she was approving of my buddies or encouraging me to find better replacements

This too was a powerfully wise statement that I should have listened to and taken more seriously than I did

Whether you’re a kid, a tween, a teenager, a young adult, or middle-aged, you will become like your closest friends

Trust me in this – trust my mom

Count on it – the company you keep determines who you become

When we connect with another person — we become a conduit for their values, beliefs, and decisions

We are affected by their behaviour, life-style, and morals

This is not just based on my mother’s advice and is not just some pop psychology gained from a self-help book…

In the Bible, Solomon wrote:

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20)

If you stick close to people who are wise, you’ll become wiser

If you hang out with people who are godly, you’re likely going to grow closer to God

If you become close friends with people who make good decisions, chances are you’ll make good decisions too

But the opposite is  dangerously true as well

If you hang out with the wrong crowd, you’ll likely end up doing stupid and dangerous things along with them

If the people you surround yourself with are passive, unmotivated people, you’ll likely do less, not more

If your best friends constantly ignore God, chances are you’re going to drift from Him as well

PERSONAL COMMENT:

When I reflect on my life, I realize I rarely got into trouble by myself

Almost every time I did something stupid or unwise, I was running around with people who were equally foolish

On the flip side of that coin,

I rarely succeeded at anything on my own

When I grew as a believer it was because someone was discipling me

When I grew as a leader it was because another leader was mentoring me

People speaking into my life – offering me valuable feedback and their hard-earned wisdom

When I am closest to God, I’m always simultaneously close to godly people as well

THE TRUTH: Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future

 Any success I have in life and ministry is the direct result of my connecting with the best, God-loving, wise people I could find

Anything good that I’ve done or am doing comes from God using the right people to influence me and make me better

I am who I am today because of the people I choose to connect with in the past 

You are too

The people you know determine the story your life will tell

The people you’re hanging out with today are shaping the person you will become tomorrow

When trouble hits and hard times happen other than a close family member most people either call a close friend

Or wish they had someone they could call

In those moments when bad news is received, we desperately need other people

We need someone who cares to be present with us

We need someone to listen to us vent – to hold us while we cry

We need trusted friends to love us and remind us of God’s peace and presence in the midst of life’s unexpected storms

And not only do we need this type of friend, we need to be this type of friend to others

The kind other people trust and respect, confide in and love to be around

But, regretfully, in our day and age of social media such connections are becoming rare

As a pastor, I often hear the secrets that people are afraid to tell anyone else

They tell me because they trust me

They tell me because they decide it’s safe because I am a pastor

People often bare their hearts to me because they just can’t keep it inside any longer and they have no one else in their lives they trust enough to keep their secrets and to help them overcome whatever they may be facing

And, that is a serious tragedy

Life today are messy — mine, yours, everyone’s

So, if we are going to connect with others, we have to help each other clean up some of the messes

That’s why it’s absolutely essential to have real friends – and the right friends in your life before your life derails in some way

Real friendships, though, take time, effort, focus and an emotional investment, which is part of what makes it so difficult for us to connect

Today it almost seems old-fashioned to hope for the kind of friendship that endures

The kind that sustains you through all the highs and lows of life 

In our fast-paced, mobile culture, we have become suburban nomads

It is just not reasonable to expect relationships to last for years and years

Plus, we now have all kinds of great ways we can stay in touch:

      • Texts
      • Emails
      • Instagram
      • Facebook
      • Twitter
      • What’sApp
      • Viber
      • And other social media

You can always Skype or FaceTime or Zoom with those long-distance friends, right?

But few do and the connection is not the same … it lacks depth and the real personal, in-person touch

The relational impact of social media and technology has redefined the word friend

Once upon a time, even just a decade ago, when someone said they were your friend, you both understood what that meant:

          • You shared interests
          • Understood each other’s goals
          • Enjoyed doing life together
          • Shared holidays
          • Engaged in their life and embraced their issues

Things are no longer that simple

You can have dozens — even hundreds — of friends that you’ve never met IRL (in Real Life)

BBF — but not IRL

They may follow you on social media without really knowing who you are or what makes you tick

Today … the average person has more than 300 Facebook friends, but only one or two that they consider “close friends”

And, two out of three people say they have zero close fiends

Zero, nada, zip, zilch, goose egg, none at all — close friends

There are four reasons people have few friends – and definitely fewer friends than a few years ago…

      • People are working more – so fewer hours available to relate socially. So, any friendship is usually a working relationship
      • People are moving more frequently so geographical closeness is no longer a fact of life and close friendships don’t usually survive distance
      • People are getting divorced more often and so friends tend to side with one or the other in the break-up  and thus friendships are lost
      • People are talking more online and less in person and so filter out the ‘personal content’ to present only their best self – not their real self

As a result people are experiencing less and less personal intimacy

And true friendships are quickly fading and even disappearing altogether

The result of these major changes: 

    • We’re connected, yet feel lonelier than ever
    • Our connections are mostly surface level without personal depth
    • We prefer to control the relationships so let calls go to voice mail and then listen and answer only if we want to and when and if time allows
    • We honestly no longer know how to have a meaningful, fulfilling personal friendship
    • We live life an inch deep and a mile wide without engaging in or embracing the life of another person … so live friendless in the true meaning of the word “friend”

Poverty use to mean only one thing

Now sociologists are acknowledging a least three levels of poverty

            • Material poverty: the lack of basic needs
            • Spiritual poverty: the lack of eternal meaning
            • Relational poverty: the lack of intimate friendships

This third one seems to have taken many people by surprise

But if you think about it, you may realize that it’s true of you as well

Something is wrong

Something is missing

You might even acknowledge that it isn’t actually something but a someone

Most believers need to make a quality decision to connect

Because, believe it or not, you could be one friend away from changing direction

Remember my mom’s wisdom and advice: You are who you run with (hang around with)

When you decide to connect with people — you change the story you will tell one day

That has been true throughout history 

Just consider the man who wrote more than 1/3 of the New Testament – the apostle Paul

Paul wasn’t always a Christian

Before he was a follower of Jesus, he was Saul from a city called Tarsus

He was an angry guy who persecuted and killed Christians

But after taking the lives of those who believed that Jesus was raised from the dead, Paul became one of them himself

His transformation was so big, so radical, so life-changing that Saul-turned-Paul immediately wanted to tell others about Jesus

The problem was that no Christians trusted him, for obvious reasons

Luke – a doctor who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts put it simply:

Acts 9:26 “And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.”

You can’t blame the disciples for their skepticism

I wouldn’t want the guy who killed Christians last month leading my house church! Would you?

So Paul had a problem

He’d been transformed by the love and grace of Christ

Because of Jesus, Paul wanted to preach

He knew he was called by God to do so, but he didn’t have an ounce of credibility with the people who had been following Jesus for a long time

So Paul reached out to anyone who would give him a chance to share his newfound passion and love for Jesus

Little did Paul know that his decision to connect wouldn’t just change his story

it would add to God’s Word and change history

You see, Paul was one friend away from altering the course of his destiny

And that friend was a guy named Barnabas

Luke shows clearly how Barnabas lent Paul his credibility and put in a good word for him

Acts 9:27-28 “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.”

What happened?

Barnabas staked his reputation on Paul’s conversion being real, not just some Trojan horse ploy to infiltrate Jesus’ disciples

Barnabas vouched for his new friend’s faith in Christ, telling the other disciples about the passion Paul had when he preached about Jesus — something that is hard to fake

Because of Barnabas, the other disciples and leaders of the church gave Paul a chance

One friendship

One massive difference in Paul’s life

An even bigger difference in the world

You may be one friendship – one relationship – away from changing your destiny if you just decide to reach out and connect with the right people

You may be one connection away from changing the world

As you consider what it might mean to risk connecting with people

To reveal your heart

To reveal your real struggles

To reveal your thoughts and feelings

To reveal your crazy dreams

Consider the three types of friends everyone needs to reach their God-given potential and destiny

      • A friend to challenge you and bring out your best – the real you
      • A friend to help you find strength in God and to grow in your faith
      • A friend to tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it

To illustrate these three types, let’s look at the life of David in the Old Testament to see the people that God used two make him the man God wanted him to be…

Listen: Everyone needs a good, close friend who makes them better, and makes them want to be better

1> A friend to challenge you and bring out your best – the real you

You don’t need to know much about David’s life to know he was far from perfect

But even with all his mistakes, sins, and shortcomings, David was still described as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22)

If you study David’s life, it becomes clear that the right people at the right time helped him become the right man

Although David had many people who made him better, I’d like to start with Samuel

During the time when God rejected Saul as the king (different than the New Testament Saul who became Paul) God chose Samuel the prophet to identify and anoint the next king of Israel

When Samuel visited the house of Ben Jesse (David’s dad), he saw an obvious candidate

The oldest son was strong, handsome, and qualified

Samuel thought that surely this man was God’s chosen king

But God told him not to consider this son’s stature, because God doesn’t look at the same things people look at

Most people judge others by their appearance, but God looks past their appearance and into their heart (1 Samuel 16:7)

When all the obvious sons turned out not to be God’s chosen one, they finally called in the least likely one, the youngest, who was out tending sheep

And God spoke to Samuel and said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one” (1 Samuel 16:12)

Everyone who have been shocked by this announcement

David was just a kid, and a little rough around the edges, camping next to his family’s flock of sheep

There wasn’t a single person in David’s family who would have picked him as the next king

But God used one man, Samuel, to help David see that God’s will for his life was more significant than anyone could have imagined

Samuel made David better — much better

The prophet helped David see himself the way God saw him — as a leader, warrior, poet, and king

He wasn’t just some kid, cut out for nothing more than wrangling sheep his whole life

Samuel told David, “You’re the one! God has chosen you!”

God had a glorious plan, and Samuel helped David glimpse it

Everyone needs a friend who makes them better

A person who encourages you to be the best you that you can be — the person God created you to be

Walk with the wise and grow wise

David’s son Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said,

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17)

Instead of hanging out with people who dull your skills or put down your dreams

It’s time to start finding friends who make you sharper

If you connect with someone who makes you better today, the stories you tell tomorrow will become even more meaningful to you and others

Question: Who sees you, the real person inside you, the way God sees you?

2> A friend to help you find strength in God and to grow in your faith

This second type of friend can help you find strength beyond yourself in the midst of temptation and weakness

Just as Samuel helped David see that God wanted to do more in his life than he ever imagined

A guy named Jonathan helped David find strength in God when he needed it most

David was chosen to be the next king, but God didn’t promote him to the throne immediately

God still had a lot to do before He replaced Saul with David

First, David became a war hero, winning the hearts of thousands

David was so effective on the battlefield that women danced in the streets singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens off thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7)

You can just imagine how jealous that made an already insecure king.

Feeling threatened by David’s rising popularity, King Saul plotted to take David’s life

David was forced to flee to the mountains to hide from the raging monarch’s posse

There, in David’s darkest moments, God sent him an unlikely friend to help him find spiritual strength

King Saul’s own son Jonathan recognized the error in his father’s ways and stood faithfully by his friend David

Here’s how Samuel describes the courageous show of support:

1 Samuel 23:15-16 “While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” (NIV)

I love that simple phrase, which describes so clearly one of the key ways Jonathan served David: he “helped him find strength in God.”

There may not be a more valuable gesture one friend can make to another than pointing them toward God, encouraging them, to seek His power, loving them towards God’s unending strength

Who helps you to find strength in God?

If you don’t have anyone, it’s time for you to connect with someone who can help

God already has that person ready for you

It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help

It’s a sign of wisdom

Everyone needs a friend who helps them get better (#1)

And we all need someone to help us find strength in God (#2)

3> A friend to tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it

The third type of friend that we must have is one who will tell us the truth — the whole truth, God’s truth, the truth that brings a reality check into your life

A truth: the more successful and established you become, the more you need this person in your life and, oddly, the harder they are to find

“Established” = Married, steady job, house, decent income, vehicle

King David discovered this the hard way

During the season when kings were suppose to be at war, David decided to stay home rather than go to battle

One night he was out on his rooftop when he saw his neighbour’s wife, Bathsheba, bathing outside her house

His selfish lusts spoke louder than his wisdom, so the king sent someone to bring the woman to him

What’s interesting is that whomever King David sent to get Bathsheba had to know that she was married to Uriah, one of David’s closest friends and one of Israel’s greatest war heroes.

But since the messenger was on the king’s payroll (and he might have been afraid of losing more than just his job), the guy did exactly as he was told

He summoned the woman to the king’s palace

And if you don’t know the story, well, one thing led to another, and Bathsheba ended up pregnant

Recognizing that this could become a scandal, David tried to get control of the situation

He called her husband home, figuring Uriah would sleep with his wife and then assume the baby was his

But when Uriah refused to enjoy intimacy with his wife while his men were still on the battlefield, David changed his tactics.

He issued the order to move his friend to the front line where he was sure to be killed.

And he was!

Unfortunately, everyone in the king’s court was too afraid to tell David the truth.

So God sent a man who cared enough to help David see the way back to the right path

The prophet Nathan met with David and told him a story that went something like this:

“Once upon a time there were two men. One was very rich and the other very poor. The rich guy had an unlimited number of sheep and wealth. The poor guy had almost nothing and only one lamb, who was almost like a pet to him and his family. When the rich man had a guest come to town, he took the poor man’s lamb and had it butchered for their meal.”

When David heard the story, he was beside himself with anger

David ranted, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:5-6)

Fortunately, Nathan loved David enough to tell him the truth

“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” (2 Samuel 12:7)

That was enough to jolt King David out of his denial and bring him to his knees in repentance before God

Many people around us tell us the things we want to hear, rather than helping us to see the truth

And the more established we become, the more difficult it is to find people who have our best interests at heart

That’s one reason we must connect with people who love us enough to be blatantly honest and “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

David’s son Solomon wisely said, “An open rebuke is better than hidden love. Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5-6 NLT)

When was the last time a friend loved you enough to tell you the truth and even give you an open rebuke?

Has someone loved you enough to offer helpful correction?

If not, you might be missing one or two very important relationships that could help you grow, thrive, and succeed

Everyone needs people in their lives who will candidly tell them the truth

Maybe you need to connect with someone who is willing to show you what you need to see so you can become the person you are suppose to be

Which kind of friend do you need most in your life right now?

      • Someone who helps you get better?
      • Someone who helps you draw closer to God?
      • Someone who tells you the truth about yourself?

Hopefully you would agree with my Mom that you become like those you run with (hang out with)

Many sociologists say that you eventually become the average of your five closest friends

Your morals will be similar to your five closest buddies’ morals

Your finances will look a lot like those of the people you spend the most time with

Your spiritual passion (or lack of it) will be similar to those who have the most influence in your life

Keeping this in mind, ask yourself, “Who am I becoming?”

Be honest

Be Nathan for yourself

Is one or more of your closest friends battling with dangerous addictions?

 

Are they struggling financially?

Living risky lives?

Making bad decisions?

Are their relationships toxic?

If so, you’re either right there with them or on your way

On the other hand, are you surrounded by people who know and love Christ deeply?

Are they blessed and generous?

Do they have positive, faith-filled perspectives on life and on the future?

Are their relationships thriving?

Are they using their influence to help make the world a better place?

If so, praise God!

You’re likely seeing many of those same blessings in your life as well

You have so much to give to others who want to connect and discover all that God has in store for them

Regardless of where you see yourself, I encourage you to take an inventory of your friendships (relationships)

Which of your friends are close enough to you, intimate enough with you, that you would want them to speak at your funeral someday?

Who would you want describing the special, close bond you shared and telling others about how you helped each other love and serve the Lord more completely?

It’s not too late to connect (or reconnect) with someone who will change your destiny

Your decision to connect will change the story you tell one day

 

 

Risk-Taker

Most of us think of risk as a negative situation we should avoid. But risk is a part of life, and it’s a big part of faith. Not every risk is worth taking, but if you’re too overwhelmed by fear to correctly assess a situation, you’ll miss many opportunities for growth, increased strength, deeper faith, and success.

Have you been playing it safe? Too safe? If forward is the direction you choose in your journey of faith, be prepared to take some faith-based risks. Being a follower and disciple of Christ in today’s world its not safe. And it isn’t intended to be.

In his 2002 book, Seizing Your Divine Moment, Erwin McManus wrote, “I want to reiterate the fact that the center of God’s will in not a safe place, but the most dangerous place in the world. God fears nothing and no one. God moves with intentionality and power. To live outside God’s will puts us in danger, but to live in His will makes us dangerous.”

Think of the people in Scripture who took great risks.

    • Moses wasn’t playing it safe when he returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh – Exodus 5:1
    • Gideon wasn’t playing it safe then he dismissed most of his army – Judges 7:7
    • David wasn’t playing it safe when he strode up to Goliath – 1 Samuel 17:31
    • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren’t playing it safe when they refused to bow to the image Nebuchadnezzar had erected in the Babylonian plains – Daniel 3:16-18
    • Esther wasn’t playing it safe when she put her life on the line to save her people, telling Mordecai, “If I perish, I perish” – Esther 4:1
    • Peter wasn’t playing it safe when he stepped out of the fishing boat to walk across the water to Jesus – Matthew 14:29
    • Paul wasn’t playing it safe when he preached to Governor Felix about “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” – Acts 24:25
    • The apostle John wasn’t playing it safe in his old age when he sent a book from Patmos filled with images of dragons, beasts, and coming days of wrath and judgment.

You can’t play it safe either. Not if you want to seize tomorrow and accomplish the dreams God places in your heart. You will need to be a risk taker.

The best example of a risk-taker in my mind is Caleb. We were speaking about him yesterday. Many people don’t know a great deal about Caleb, because he only occupies thirty verses in the Bible. But what verses they are! What a man of faith! He is a powerful and wonderful example of risk-taking, future-grabbing grace.

In the book of Numbers, Moses sent twelve men – Joshua, Caleb, and ten others — as an advance party to reconnoiter the Promised Land. These men left the safety of their encampment, forded the Jordon River, and slipped into Canaan. Their mission: to make notes of the land, observe the enemy, study the fortification, estimate the population, and bring back enough intelligence to aid Moses in planning the coming invasion of the land God had promised the Israelites. 

The Bible tells the story this way: “So they went up and explored the land from the wilderness of Zin … Going north, they passed through the Negev and arrived at Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai—all descendants of Anak—lived” (Numbers 13:21-22 NLT)

The city of Hebron had been the ancestral home of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now it was inhabited by an evil tribe of huge warriors known as the descendants of Anak. The sight of these warriors terrified some of the scouts.

The scouts quickly harvested some pomegranates and figs from the orchards of Canaan, and two of them lugged back an enormous cluster of grapes, carrying it on a pole between them. Imagine the excitement when the spies returned to Kadesh Barnea! Their mission had taken forty days, during which no one knew if they had survived or perished. Day after day, sentries on Israel’s parameters watched for them. Now that were back — all of them safe and sound.

But they were not united. Ten of the twelve had the fear of failure. The were not risk-takers.

Have you ever heard these names: Shammua, Shaphat, Igal, Palti, Gddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, and Geuel? No? These are the names of the ten spies who risked their lives on an espionage mission only to lose heart, doubt God’s power, and miss Good’s will (Numbers 13:4-15). They came back so discouraged they disheartened the people of Israel. And God determined that because they were not risk-takers and would not believe Him that they would not enter the Promised Land. In fact, they would all need to die in the wilderness before their decendants could cross the Jordan and take Canaan. All must die except Caleb and Joshua. 

Two of the spies had risked their lives to go into Canaan and report to the people what they had seen and encountered. Joshua and Caleb gave a positive report because they believed God when He said to Israel that this would be their land and they would defeat those who currently occupied the land. The other ten saw the same things but from a perspective of fear and not risk-taking and faith. 

Remember, Paul wrote to young Timothy and said, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

To be a risk-taker, stepping out in faith, we must remember that we do not need to fear. That God has given to us everything we need to fulfill His will for our lives. That we walk in Power, love, and have self-discipline. No matter what our age we need to overcome our hesitancy and defeat fear so we can carry on and fulfill the plan and purpose of God for our life.

He calls everyone of us to be risk-takers.  

Knowing and Experiencing God’s Love

With Covid-19 continuing now into its second year we are seeing more signs of people losing hope. The loss of hope around us today is rampant, and it’s lethal. It touches families all around the globe in ways hard to comprehend; and I believe it stems for a growing ignorance or even rejection of God’s love.

We need, even as believers, to revisit Romans 8: 38-39 which says, 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Consider the reasons for having hope packed into this passage. Not only is God real but He loves us. And not only does God love us, but nothing we might experience can separate us from His love. Country music singer Carrie Underwood commented on this passage: “I love all the commas in these verses — neither death, nor life, not angels, nor demons. It’s so powerful.”

The ten things Paul lists in these verses could each be a potential barrier between you and God. But Paul says, with absolute assurance, that none of them can separate you from God’s love.  That should bring us hope!

The powerful words in Romans 8 about God’s love are reinforced by a blessing Paul offers toward the end of that same book. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Take a moment to say that verse aloud but make one little change. Turn it into a prayer that’s personal to you: “Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may about in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

It might be good for you to pray those words aloud every morning, every noontime, and every evening until you know them by heart. That prayer can adjust your mindset in any given season of life, deepen your core convictions, and strengthen your belief. Might even permanently change your life.

I encourage you to make this a regular prayer — maybe for the next month or maybe for years to come: “Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may about in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God loves you and wants you to overflow with hope and optimism! Never forget that. Let that conviction dwell in the very core of your being.

In his book, The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the story of Edward Farrell, a man who decided to travel from his hometown of Detroit to visit Ireland, where he would celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday. Early on the morning of his uncle’s birthday, they went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. As the sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight into the breaking light. For twenty minutes they stood there is silence, and then his elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.

After catching up with him., Edward asked, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”

“Yes, lad,” the old man said, tears washing down his face. “You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me.”

In that moment Uncle Seamus experienced how much he was loved by his Father in Heaven, an overwhelming sense of joy flooded his heart. And he began to dance along the shoreline.

Have you ever had a moment like that? Have you ever awakened and said, “He really does love me”? Do you know what it means to overflow with hope and optimism? Paul, did, and you can too. Hope and optimism can become your habitual attitude because you have encountered and experienced the love that God has for you and as a result you live with tremendous hope. 

Guard Your Heart

In this last entry for January 2021 and a look at life as we enter February 2021 tomorrow,  I want to chat about “Loving Who? And Why?”

Life (and particularly Covid-19) has a way of eroding our confidence in the goodness of God. After all, where was God when Covid-19 hit and took away someone we loved or someone we knew – a friend or someone we work with? Where is God now almost a year later? So, we could — and maybe should — question and wrestle with this whole concept of the goodness of God. And, in the process take an honest look at why circumstances and situations beyond our control cause our hearts to question God’s love and care. In other words, work through what we really think and believe about suffering and chronic disappointments of every day life. Both of which can cause us to pull away from God. Not so far as to abandon the faith … but still creating emotional distance between us and God, the Father, as we question (doubt) his goodness towards us in particular.

Life is a savage assault, striking at random, poisoning our heart’s assurance that God is good, or at least good towards us. This makes it so hard to find more of God, to receive Him in fresh and wonderful ways into our being and daily life. So it’s here we must seek healing within our intimate relationship with the Living God.

Allow me to explain an essential dynamic to the soul’s relationship with God. More of God comes to us as we love God. The more that we love God, the more we are able to experience Him. Part of this has to do with the nature of God, and part of it has to do with our own human nature.

You understand from your own relationships, your story of life, love, and relationships, that you don’t give your heart away to just anyone. You don’t give access to the deeper places in your soul to just any idle acquaintance — certainly not to someone who is at the same time keeping themselves distant from you. We know from your own experiences that when someone loves us, we are much more ready to make ourselves available and vulnerable to them. What we keep forgetting is that God feels the same way.

2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

Psalm 91:14 NLT “The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.’

John 16:27a NIV “… the Father himself loves you because you have loved me…”

I’m really surprised that the human race expects God to pour Himself and His blessings into their lives when He is not even the slightest priority, let alone a close and dear friend. Would you give the best of your life to people who couldn’t care less whether or not you exist? God’s outpouring of Himself is conditional. I know, I know — we’ve all been told all about the unconditional love of God. Absolutely — his grace is unconditional; His forgiveness sis available to all. However, intimacy with Him, the treasures of His presence, the outpouring of His vibrant being into our thirsty souls — that’s for those who love Him. Even in the best friendship, the act of giving and receiving love ebbs and flows with the willingness of the two involved to make it a priority, to invest themselves. God’s heart is very much like yours in this way, for your heart is made in His image.

Now on our side of the exchange, loving God opens our soul up to the presence of God and the gifts that He has for us. Remember — your soul is the vessel He fills. So, we need, as in any friendship, to position our souls into the place whereby we might receive so much more of God. There’s no practice that facilitates the opening of capacity to perceive Him, and receive Him, like the turning of our hearts and souls toward God in repentance and love. Active loving — love as a verb, not a noun. This is what we’re made for, and the soul knows it, even if it’s long been unused. We know it even through we’ve pulled back in sorrow or disappointment. 

So, we need as we continue into month two of the new year to examine our hearts and open them wide open so that we can receive His love and forgiveness and find a time of refreshing in the presence of the Lord.

I love how our wildflowers track to course of the sun through the sky, slowly turning to face the warm, passing brightness from east to west in such a sweet act of humble adoration. Many flowers fold their petals inward come evening, through the chilly nights at seven thousand feet, then open again with the rising of the sun and turn its direction. “Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,” goes the great “Hymn of Joy,” “opening to the sun above.”

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;

Drive the dark of doubt away.

Giver of immortal gladness,

Fill us with the light of day!”

That’s it — we need the clouds of sin and sadness melted away; we need the dark of our doubts driven off like night flees before dawn. We need our heart free of clutter. So that the Giver of immortal gladness might fill us.

Remember: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (proverbs 4;23).