Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights
July 1, 2013
Acts 12:6  "The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance."

Everyone has had a sleepless, anxious filled night.  You know what I'm talking about.  It's when your anxiety about a certain subject matter overwhelms you to the point your whole body is fidgety.  You are unable to fall asleep because your thoughts are dwelling on an issue, possibly too big for you to handle with all of its numerous consequences.  It happened when you were a child, afraid of a thunderstorm.  It happened when you were a teenager, overwhelmed by the next day's events.  It happens now when you are overtaken with fear regarding what could happen at work.  It will happen again when you become stressed about settling things out when there are so many unknown variables in your situation.  The Apostle Peter knew this first hand, far deeper than you or I will ever understand or experience.

Peter was captured by Herod, who intended to persecute him.  Herod had just murdered one of Jesus' close friends and Peter's fellow apostle, John.  When the Bible suggested Herod was going to persecute him, it meant death.  It certainly meant torture and could have ended in crucifixion, being thrown to the lions, or a simple be-heading.  Anyway you spin the story, it was not going to be pleasant for Peter.  He was bound in shackles and tied between two soldiers.  There weren't guards, there were soldiers, ready to kill him should he try to escape or be freed by a rescuing third party.  Peter's future looked bleak.  So what did Peter do?  He fell fast asleep.  How in the world?  If I were possibly going to be tortured and murdered any moment, I could not fall asleep.  I would have a sleepless night, filled with anxiety.  We could learn a lesson or two from Peter's story.  If you read a few verses right before this story of Peter falling asleep, you'll see it is recorded that the saints were in deep intercessory prayer on his behalf.  They were petitioning the Lord for his safety, for a favorable outcome to the situation.  I'm sure Peter was praying as well, begging for the Lord to give him strength to endure what was before him.

If you keep reading in your Bible, the Apostle Paul explains later what happens in these type of situations.  Paul writes, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  Paul instructs us to cast off our anxiety and perform an action.  We are to pray, be thankful, and ask the Lord for help.  If we do this, there comes a benefit, regardless of the answer to the prayer.  The benefit is the peace that transcends all understanding.  This peace doesn't make sense to the outside world.  It is not logical.  If anyone was in a similar situation to Peter's, it is generally understand that you'd have a right to feel anxious.  Every human would feel anxiety, unless the peace, the kind that doesn't make sense, is protecting your thought-life.  Peter had that peace, the kind that protected his human mind and allowed him slumber.  Logically, he should have had an anxious and sleepless night, but the illogical peace shielded him, allowing him to not worry about tomorrow's events.

You are worried right now, slightly anxious about tomorrow or what lies ahead in the coming months.  I am too.  I'm jealous of Peter's friends, those who were interceding for his safety on his behalf.  You and I need that kind of prayer.  We are to pray for others like this and we are to pray for our personal situations like this.  We are to pray so intensely and deeply that illogical peace allows us slumber though we face a possible be-heading.  But we don't do this.  We don't pray for our own situations like this and we certainly don't pray for others this intensely.  Wouldn't it be great to chuckle in the face of our daunting circumstances, being fearless of the consequences knowing the Lord has it all under control and in His hands?  That can only happen through intense prayer.  Your prayer has to be as intense as the current level of anxiety you feel.  It is the only way you will get that kind of illogical peace that allows you a full night's sleep knowing that tomorrow may include torture.  So pray.  Pray for your situation and pray for those around you. Pray for the ones who are facing overwhelming situations.  Pray the Lord gives them irrational peace, peace that doesn't make sense but allows them a full night's sleep.  Pray for your own situations as deeply and as intensely as your overwhelming anxiety.

Not only did Peter get a full night's sleep because of the Lord's peace, but the Lord sent an angel and freed Peter from the soldiers' shackles.  He walked away from the situation unscathed and fully rested.  Sleepless night or restful success?  You choose.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Daniel 6, Acts 12 & 16, Phil 4:6-7

Sunday, June 23, 2013

As Luck Would Have It

As Luck Would Have It
June 24, 2013
Genesis 37:15  ". . . a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, 'What are you looking for?'"

Luck.  If not for bad luck, some people would have no luck at all.  That's how it certainly feels some days; bad luck follows like a little black rain cloud of course.  Everyone can re-live a moment in history when one simple moment of luck could be reversed and life would be completely different.  A car accident, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, something that only chance could get right.  The same is also true of glorious moments when luck pulls through for us, like for the person with the winning lottery ticket.  But is chance really something that happens to us all?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  In the Bible, luck was not an idea thought of by Jews or Christians.  Luck is a more recent explanation for random events.  In the Bible, random events were considered providence by the Lord, not out-of-the-ordinary, unexplainable happenings.  Joseph knew this all too well.  He didn't consider luck as any part of his story.  Or did he?

Remember the story of Joseph, going out to meet his brothers who threw him into a well and sold him as a slave. There is a little two-line sentence we gloss over, one that could be seen as very lucky for Joseph or very UN-lucky for him.  Jacob had sent his son, Joseph, out to check on his brothers who were tending the family flocks in Shechem.  Joseph went as instructed but could not find his brothers.  They had moved on to fuller, greener pastures.  Joseph was wandering in the fields when a random stranger walked up to him and told him where to find his brothers.  What great luck!  Had that random stranger not been there wandering in the empty fields, Joseph would have had to go back home, unable to find his brothers.  This stroke of good luck led Joseph to continue on his path in successfully locating his brothers.  Thankfully that random stranger was there to lead Joseph toward them.  Joseph went right to where the man instructed and was able to find his brothers. Unfortunately, that was also the immediate moment Joseph's brothers decided to sell him into slavery.

I'm sure after Joseph was being led off in chains, he regretted finding his brothers.  He probably replayed the events over and over in his mind, regretting meeting up with that random stranger who told him where to find them.  If only Joseph had turned back home when he couldn't find his brothers in the fields of Shechem.  What a huge stroke of bad luck it was, running into that stranger in the fields.  As luck would have it that random stranger in the fields, who told him where to find his brothers, changed his life forever.  How unlucky for him.  Or was it?  If you fast forward to the end of Joseph's story, he doesn't credit anything at all to luck but only to the providential hand of the Lord.  The Lord allowed his brothers to move on to fuller, greener fields.  The Lord probably even provided that random stranger to advise Joseph on where to find his brothers.  It is even possible the random stranger in the empty fields was an angel sent by the Lord.  The point being, there was no such thing as luck in Joseph's story and there is no such thing as luck in your story, either.

The Lord does not leave anything to chance.  Life is not a series of random events or luck.  It is a completely orchestrated chain of circumstances intended to lead us all on the path the Lord has for our lives.  All of it.  Nothing is out of His reach or beyond His control and your luck as nothing to do with how your life turned out.  The Lord allows what seem like random happenings to shape your life and path, however unlucky they feel.  It is not to your benefit to argue about those events, to regret them and wish they had turned out differently.  As soon as they happen, they are in the past and it becomes your opportunity to ask the Lord how He wants you to use those things for Him and His glory.  We all need to have the mindset of Joseph in the end and realize the Lord wants to use those happenings to orchestrate something amazing in your life.  Don't fight what seems like happenstance; you cannot control what seem like random events.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Genesis 37, Genesis 45:8, Num 26:52-54, Josh 14:2, Josh 18:10, Ps 16:5, Pr 16:13, Ecc 5:18-19, Jonah 1:7, Luke 1:9, Acts 1:26

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Keep It To Yourself

Keep It To Yourself
June 17, 2013
Romans 14:22  "So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves."

Controversy and division is not new to the church.  It has been around as long as the first church.  Christians were divided about controversial topics from the onset.  It's perpetuated today between denominations of churches and among devout believers.  A church might believe strictly regarding some topics while others may not hold the same values.  The Apostle Paul called these topics of debate "disputable matters."  Paul offers some advice regarding the disputable matters.  He said we should have nothing to do with them.

Just one generation ago, the church disputed such menial topics as a woman's make-up, hair style, or clothing choice during a church service.  You may laugh but it separated the church, creating debates and leading others to pass judgment.  In this generation church members debate things like alcohol consumption, whether or not it is a sin to drink a glass of wine.  While the Bible doesn't say it is a sin, it can certainly lead to sin.  It becomes a source of dispute that we like to debate.  We judge others if they do not hold the same belief regarding alcohol or anything else.  Paul said it is completely irrelevant to your salvation and you should keep such matters tightly between you and the Lord.  In fact, he even said if you think you are more righteous than others because you hold a certain belief, then you are actually in sin with your judgmental attitude.  Your "superior" belief dishonors yourself and the Lord, creating an embarrassment within the church.  Paul said if a topic is disputable, then error on the side of conservative in front of others and keep your mouth shut.

It is difficult to keep our mouths shut.  If the topic of discussion is not black and white in the Scriputures (such as Thou Shalt Not Murder), then it is to your own personal benefit to keep the discussion to your self.  It does not build others up by suggesting your level of righteousness is superior or actually what the Lord intended.  Your only job is to manage yourself; you manage you.  Allow the Lord to breath His values into the lives of others.  If someone is intent on following the Lord, then the Lord Himself will convict a person's heart regarding important topic matters.  Only do not be a stumbling block to others.  To be a stumbling block is to create a point of contention or temptation into another person's life.  That will not lead others to righteousness, rather it will draw them away from a right relationship with the Lord.

So, within your church walls there will certainly be other believers who hold slightly different interpratations of Scripture than you.  That is OK with the Lord and that should be OK with you.  I'm not talking about homosexuality or abortion, but I am referring to disputable matters within the church today (communion, gifts of the Holy Spirit, consumption of alcohol, tattoos, seeker sensitivity, once saved always saved).  Instead of joining in the debate with others regarding your point of view, let it go.  Do not judge someone, rather love each person the same.  Keep it to yourself and let the Lord be the shepherd.  Paul says this is the epitome of representing Christ to each other.  As soon as you judge someones beliefs, you have brought judegment upon yourself.  There is only one church and that is the body of believers, regardless of denominational interpretations of Scripture.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Romans 14

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Clean-Up Day

Clean-Up Day
June 10, 2013
2 Kings 23:3  "The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant."

Clutter piles up.  It happens.  We forget to keep things clean and the next thing you know there is junk all around that was never intended.  It happens in our physical lives and it happens in our spiritual lives.  Depending on how long it takes you to realize the clutter, the more clutter you have to clean up.  In the physical sense you might just have a clean-up day where you discard the unintended stuff, the unnecessary, unimportant things that aren't healthy to keep around.  It happens to everyone, even the most devout of neat freaks.  It happens to the best of the best, physical and spiritual clutter happens.  In small amounts it isn't a big deal, but if left alone, the clutter has an opportunity to dwarf everything and anything healthy.  It can create dire living conditions.

The Israelites let this happen on more than one occasion.  The spiritual clutter had collected so much that the new generation of Israelites did not have a relationship with the Lord.  In fact, they knew nothing of his laws, decrees, or promises.  The clutter had enabled them to fall away from the Lord completely.  Then one day, they were literally cleaning up the temple of the Lord (it had fallen in dis-repair) and someone found a book.  It was a book of all the Lord's laws, decrees, and promises.  It was the book of the Lord's covenant with the Israelites.  They read the book and realized they had so much spiritual clutter that their lives no longer paralleled what the Lord required of them.  They all read the book aloud and vowed to get back on track with the Lord, to clean up the spiritual clutter in their lives.  Then they had a ceremony to renew the covenant with the Lord.  Though the Lord never needed to renew His end of the covenant, the Children of Isreal needed to refresh their stance on living up to what the Lord required of them.

You might have a clean-up day around your office or desk, your yard, maybe even your church, but have you thought about a clean-up day for your heart?  Is your heart in disrepair?  When was the last time you read the book of the Lord's laws, decrees, and promises aloud?  Do you need to renew your covenant with the Lord?  You might think you are OK with the Lord, not fallen away if you're reading devotionals, but take an honest look at your heart.  There is a small amount of spiritual clutter sitting there and you walk past the pile every day, ignoring it, thinking it isn't a big deal.  It may not be a big deal today, but it has the potential to stack up and overtake things completely.

You think you can handle it, and in small amounts you probably are living just fine.  But it is not the life the Lord has for you, free of clutter both in the physical and spiritual.  Cleaning out your heart is an opportunity to be honest with yourself and vulnerable with the Lord.  It is a chance to evaluate everything and decide if it is healthy to keep around.  Clean up your mouth, clean up your thoughts, clean up your actions, clean up your friend list, clean up your media content, clean up your reading material, clean up your weekend habits, clean up everything that is not of the Lord.

Once you've cleaned up all the junk in your heart, have a renewal ceremony with the Lord.  Renew your vows to Him, rededicate your life to His service, reestablish yourself as the strong Christian leader the Lord has called you to be for Himself and for others.  If the Israelites needed to do this on multiple occasions, it is probable you and I might need to as well somewhere along the line.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Deut 29, Josh 8:30-34, Josh 23 & 24, 2 Kings 22

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Do It Quickly

Do It Quickly
June 3, 2013
Genesis 17:23  "On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him."

Abraham was a man who had great faith.  While he was not without sin, his life was a representation of a very godly man.  The Lord loved Abraham and He even appeared to Abraham in physical form on several occasions.  Abraham had an amazing relationship with the Lord and it was marked out by obedience to odd requests from the Heavenly Father.  Everyone remembers the off-the-wall request by the Lord to have Abraham sacrifice his second son, Isaac.  Seldom do people remember another more bizarre request, years before that.  Roughly a year before Isaac was was even born, the Lord appeared to Abraham when he was ninety nine years old.  The Lord told Abraham to circumcise himself, his thirteen year old son, Ishmael, his servants, and all the other men in his household and staff.  OK, this is possibly the most bizarre request the Lord ever made of anyone in the Bible.

The Lord was telling, not asking, Abraham to take a razor sharp knife, expose the most sensitive part of his body, and fillet his flesh away from himself.  No one had ever done this before.  Regardless of how you feel about the topic of circumcision, it was a directive from the Lord to Abraham at that time.  And what does the Bible say was Abraham's response?  Nothing.  Abraham didn't give a response to the circumcision; he simply obeyed the Lord and did as directed.  The more amazing thing is Abraham's timing in this obedience.  Abraham did it quickly.  He obeyed and circumcised everyone that very same day.  What a testament to Abraham's faith and relationship with the Lord.  Abraham didn't complain, he didn't debate, he didn't even hesitate.  He pulled out his sharpening stone and went to work without modern day narcotics.  He immediately performed the surgery on himself AND convinced the other men to do the same.

If it were you or me, we'd pray about it a while; there is no way any one of us would take this action on the very same day.  Before making such bold steps, we'd ask the opinion of others, form a think-tank style committee, maybe ponder it for a month or two, read up on it, weigh out all the options.  There is no way we would do it quickly.  We are accustomed to the Lord being patient with us so we use that to our advantage, to draw out what we think we do not want to do because it will be uncomfortable.  We ramp ourselves up to the task to build our courage.  We form our own version of the task to make the pill easier to swallow, to fit into our way of doing things.  Not Abraham.  He was no holds barred.  He just did it and did it quickly.  Even when the Lord told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he acted quickly, without debate. The Lord appreciates this kind of obedience.  The Lord loves this kind of obedience.  Future blessing came as a result of Abraham's immediate obedience.

It brings honor to the Lord when we obey Him immediately, without hesitation or debate.  This isn't something you and I do very often, obey Him on the spot.  This frustrates the Lord, similar to when your employees or children take a great deal of coaxing to honor your wishes.  Yes, the Lord is patient but it is far better to not test the patience of the Lord.  If you are going to obey, you might as well do it quickly.  It is never to your benefit to disobey the Lord, so why not simply do it without hesitation.  Your life would probably go so much better for yourself if you just did it quickly, the same day, without questions or needing a reason.  Even now, the Holy Spirit is possibly prompting your heart or reminding you of something you've been asked to do, but have put off from doing quickly.  The Lord would ask you to obey this very day.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Genesis 17, Genesis 22:17-19, Genesis 26:4-6, Exodus 19:5, Lev 18:4-5, Deut 4:30, Deut 6:3, 2 Thess 1:8, 1 Peter 3:6, 1 John 2:5