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What Do You See?

We talk a lot about life consisting of three major parts . . . where you live, where you work, and where you play.  In all those parts of life when you are just simply doing life as a Christian within the culture around you that is most definitely against you, you will have to say there is a struggle to maintain a strong and committed walk with Christ.  And if you are honest when are striving to live a sold-out, committed Christian life you will most likely echo with me, “The struggle is real!”.        

The allure and pull of culture is to get you away from your foundational truths.  The world system that we are called to live in is not under the influence of God.  It is influenced by Satan and goes contrary to a Biblical worldview, Biblical truths and living a Christ-like life.  But what we have to understand is a truth I have come to embrace recently and it is this . . . Appearance doesn’t have to be reality!  Another way you could  say this is . . . What something appears to be does not have to be what it really is!  God’s plan is to redeem culture.  

This must be what I would call our “Default Setting for Life”.  It’s like when your computer gets all cluttered up with “stuff” and in order for it to function right again, you have to totally clear it out and go back to the basic default settings.  Through living life and encountering the world system and culture around you, you can get all “cluttered” up with all kinds of wrong thoughts and behaviors.  There comes a time when you have to just delete all that clutter and unnecessary stuff and go back to your default setting which must be . . . Appearance doesn’t have to be reality!    

God’s plan is to work in you and through you to bring about change in the world around you where you live, work and play.  When you see the direction the world is going, that doesn’t have to be the way it ends up going . . . When you hear something in the news, it doesn’t have to play out like you hear or see . . . When you hear something from a friend that has not been proven yet or is not in line with God’s character, it doesn’t not have to end up that way.  Here’s the deal . . .  God is always at work all around us in every way and in everything and when 

God is working . . . Appearance doesn’t have to be reality!  The way something appear does not have to be the way they will really be!  If you don’t believe that, what you are saying is, “That’s just the way it is.”  Until it actually happens and until it is proven, that is NOT the way it is.  If you serve the same God I serve . . . If you read the same Bible that I do . . . If have experienced God like I have . . . If you know the power or prayer . . . There is NO way you will say, “That’s just the way it is.”  When it happens it is true that it is what it is, but even then it doesn’t have to stay that way.      

Back in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings 6, Elisha is God’s prophet and messenger to the people of Israel.  After Elijah was taken up to heaven in the chariots of fire, Elisha is chosen by God to take on the role of prophet.  During this time the nation of Syria was an archenemy to Israel.  And Elisha was able to give the Israelites really good intel about the Syrian army’s plans to attack.  After this happened multiple times, the king of Syria is baffled and he is ticked to say the least.  The king thinks he has a traitor around him and calls in his top officials and begins intensely questioning who this person is that is always a step ahead of him.  But what he finds out is his spy is not internal; it is external.  It is Elisha, the prophet of Israel who is giving divinely inspired intel from miles away.   

He asks them to find out where Elisha is and he finds out he is in Dothan.  13 And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” (2 Kings 6:13).  As soon as he finds out where Elisha is, he executes  an attack plan that he thinks is guaranteed to succeed.  14 So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. (2 Kings 6:14).  He sneaks in under the cover of darkness and completely surrounding Elisha, leaving him no room for escape.  

Now, this is where it gets interesting.  The next morning when they all are getting their coffee and waking up, Elisha’s servant goes out and is scared to death at what he sees.  15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (2 Kings 6:15).  When he walks outside all he can see in every direction is the enemy army with all their horses and chariots.  Now he is freaking out.  He is wringing his hands, his heart is racing, his mind is going crazy, etc.  And he asks Elisha the only thing he can think to ask, “What are we going to do?”  

I really don’t think this is a question really seeking a plan because in his mind they are toast.  This is a response of panic from a person who has given up hope.  When you encounter the culture around you that is just beating you down . . . “What am I going to do?” . . . When you all you hear in the news is the daily “doom and gloom” report . . . “What are we going to do?” . . . When you get a report from the doctor and it is not good . . . “What am I going to do?” . . . When you are going through a divorce . . . “What am I going to do? . . . When you are butting heads with somebody that is just so hard to get along with . . . “What am I going to do? . . . When the boss says you are going to be laid of . . . “What am I going to do?” . . . etc.           

You might be thinking by what you have read, what you have heard, what you have seen or what you have experienced that you are doomed.  It’s like in Luke Bryan’s new song, Most People Are Good.  One of the lines says, “I believe if you just go by the nightly news Your faith in all mankind would be the first thing you lose.”  Whatever you have heard, read, seen or experienced, you always have to remember that when God is involved, and He always is . . . Appearance doesn’t have to be reality!  

The way things appear does not have to be how they really are!  Look at Elisha’s immediate response to his servant.  16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16).  I bet his servant is going, “Have you lost your mind?  What do you mean ‘Don’t be afraid’?  Look around you man, we are completely surrounded.  And Elisha, they are not here to hang out over a cup of coffee!”

Right about now, his servant is freaking out.  Based on what he sees he has given up all hope and he’s thinking, “This is it.  We are doomed!”  He thought it was what it was but what he didn’t know was God was working and as long as God is working things don’t have to be as they appear to be.  So, now after his servant thinks he is crazy, Elisha begins to pray.  This is the good stuff!  17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17).  Look where it says the army of God was.  Not just in Dothan, but all around Elisha. When you guard your heart, guard your mind, walk in God’s ways, in the midst of the enemy and His attack and this world system, He will surround you with Himself and His army.  What things appear to be is not what they have to be.  

What you see doesn’t have to be until you see all God wants you to see!  Our prayer needs to be just like Elisha prayed right here, “Lord, open our eyes so we can see!”  And while we are waiting to hear from the Lord and see what God is up to we have to rest in Him.  19 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. (Psalm 94:19-NIV).  What you have recently seen, heard or experienced might cause you great concern.  Things might seem borderline depressing.  But know that God is working, pray that God will allow you to see what He is doing and all the while rest in Him and allow His truth to be your refuge and joy.       

What things appear to be at the moment don’t have to be what they really are.  Appearance doesn’t have to be reality!  It wasn’t time to say, “It is what it is” because God had not made Himself known yet.  The heavenly army was on top of the mountain with horses and chariots that immeasurably outnumbered the enemy.  Things were not what they appeared to be.  What have you seen in the news that appears to be pretty bad? . . . What have you heard this week that appears to be doom and gloom? . . . What have you experienced this week that makes you feel as if things are not going to turn out so good? . . . etc.  Whatever it might be, know that when God is at work, and He always is, things do not have to be what they appear to be.   


Father Forgive Them

Jesus’ last words while dying are your first words for living. The words that Jesus spoke from the cross while He was dying in your place are the very words that will bring you the real and eternal life that you are searching for if you will receive them and believe them.  When Jesus hung on the cross it was a great dividing line in eternity. Just like the two thieves we will all end up falling on opposite sides of this line and end up forever separated in eternities apart.

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:32-38).

When it says these men were “criminals” these guys were most likely insurrectionists which meant they  wanted to overthrow the Roman government. They were most likely very violent and desperate men who wanted to get out from under the power of Rome and were trying to start an uprising against Rome.

When you think about it, this was the defining moment of God’s work in human history. And when it takes place He is between two random, unnamed criminals. Does that sound like the way you would want your defining moment to be remembered? Well, God did because that was what His greatest moment was really about! These three crosses are within themselves a microcosm of human history that tell the entire story of the human race.

If we were to label these three crosses they would be called . . . the cross of redemption . . . the cross of rejection . . . the cross of repentance. Jesus’s cross represented the cross of redemption in the middle. One thief represented the cross of rejection and the other thief represented the cross of repentance. When you and I look at the cross maybe we understand why Jesus was there and maybe we don’t.  God had His own purpose for Jesus going to the cross.

From the beginning God had told His people He would send a Savior to take their place when it came to the curse of spiritual death. He promised a Savior who would come and die in their place. God told Adam and Eve when they sinned in the garden that a deliver would come. From that moment on, the entire sacrificial system in the Old Testament was a foreshadowing of Jesus. It was all predicated on the concept of an innocent substitute taking the place of the guilty. Once a year they would bring a perfect, unblemished lamb to lay on the altar and place their hand on the lamb to cast their sin upon the lamb and then sacrifice the lamb for that sin.

Jesus would become the immoral person, the drug addict, the spouse who has been unfaithful and run out on the family, the rebellious teenager, the hypocrite, the proud person, the selfish person, etc. Jesus becoming all of our sin and so much more enabled Him to look at all of us in our rejection of Him and failure to live a righteous life and pray those words, 34 Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34). Jesus could extend forgiveness to them because He was being punished for them.

Anytime you forgive somebody you are absorbing the consequences for their actions in yourself. When you totally and truly forgive somebody for what they have done to you, you are letting the sting of that person’s sin end in you.  This is the very definition of the gospel . . . Jesus just didn’t die for you but He died in your place! He took your place on the cross! Jesus didn’t just die for us; He died instead of us!

So there is Jesus as the spiritual divide for all mankind and on each side is a thief that has been sentenced to die.  Both of them were equally bad. When it came to their crime and their guilt they were equal. As a matter of fact Matthew says that both of them joined in with the crowds and cursed Jesus in the beginning. And both of them would have been extremely happy for Jesus to save them from death. Both of them had the same offer from Jesus. One of the thieves began to understand the things that are necessary for true conversion.

True conversion happens when you realize . . . Jesus is all you want or need. I’m sure the repentant thief would have been very happy if Jesus had offered to deliver him from the cross but he didn’t ask for it. You see that he even rebukes his buddy for asking. All he is concerned about is seeking God and being right with Jesus. 42 Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. (Luke 23:42). Another major part of this story is when he realized what he needed he also realized . . . He didn’t deserve it. He has realized that what he needs is not a change of circumstance but a change in direction of his life. He didn’t want God for what God could give. But he simply wanted God Himself and nothing else.

What this repentant thief had to come to grips with was, “I want Jesus and nothing else. Even if it means that I stay on this cross I know I need Jesus and He is all I want.” If your cancer is not healed, do you still want Jesus? . . . If your job situation stays the same, do you still want Jesus? . . . If your marriage doesn’t improve, do you still want Jesus? . . . etc. Do you want Jesus simply for what He can give you or do you simply want Jesus? Have you truly repented? Have you ever surrendered yourself to Jesus to follow Him with all your heart? Are you more serious about your soul or your skin?

There are several indicators that will tell you whether or not you have done this:
You have a growing relationship with Jesus. You are spending time with Him daily and constantly growing to be more like Him.  You are totally surrendered to Him in all areas of your life. There are no areas of compromise. Jesus is both Savior and Lord of your life because you know it is impossible to separate the two.  You are faithful and active in church and serving in His mission to proclaim the gospel to others.

Have you come to the place in your life where you want Jesus and nothing else or no one else? True conversion happens when . . . You understand your guilt before God. Look again at how he responds to his buddy on the other side Jesus. 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. (Luke 23:41). Think about this for a minute. We said earlier that he is most likely an insurrectionist. He hated Rome and his crime was attempting to overthrow the Roman government. When he said they were being punished justly and were receiving due reward, he was not talking about Rome. He felt like what he was trying to do against Rome was totally justified.

He was referencing their spiritual sentence before God. Just before that statement he said something very intriguing. 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? (Luke 23:40). He saw the three of them before God dealing with a sentence of condemnation.  He finally realized his sin was totally against God. Just like when David committed adultery with Bathsheba, murdered Urriah, lied about all of it and tried to cover it up. When David was confronted by Nathan and God brought him to repentance, he finally realized that his sin was against God and God only. That is when David wrote Psalm 51. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight (Psalm 51:4).

Repentance has to be vertical first before it is horizontal. Repentance to God for your sin will produce remorse for what your sin has caused. But it is possible to feel remorse over what your sin has caused and not feel repentant towards God for your sin. There is a big difference between just feeling remorse for what your sin has done and not being repentant to God about it. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10). Are you truly sorry to God for your sin or are you sorry for what your sin has caused in your life?

A common way we say this is . . . Are you sorry for what you have done or sorry you got caught? Are you genuinely sorry for how your sin hurts God because you first and foremost know your sin is against only God? Repentance is about your heart change towards God because of your sin. And if your heart has never changed towards God that most likely means you have never repented.

The most amazing thing about this whole story is the repentant thief asked Jesus to remember him and Jesus honored his request. Jesus looks at him and says, 43 “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). Now that he has understood that Jesus is dying in his place, repented of his sin and placed his trust and belief in Jesus he can now rest in the fact that Jesus said he would be with Him. Jesus immediately forgives him and extends to him grace and mercy.

Salvation, coming to know Christ as your Savior and Lord is at it’s very core is a change of position and status. Salvation is not essentially a change of circumstance. Salvation is not essentially a change of behavior. When you come to know Jesus as your Savior and Lord your position and status change and that change brings with it a change of behavior and circumstances.


2018: What Will It Be?

As we are finishing out 2017 and getting ready to launch into 2018, have you given any thought to what 2018 will be like for you?  How will it be the same?  How will it be different?  When January 1st rolls around many people will make New Year’s Resolutions which usually end up being just good suggestions and not really resolutions.  They are good for a month or two and then they are shelved and forgotten.  But what will 2018 look like for you?

For me it will be trying to grasp the truth that my life as a Christian is not about being good.  If life was really about being good, then the Pharisees would have had it all figured out.  They memorized the first five books of the Bible which contains so many laws.  They were rigid when it came to those laws.  But according to Jesus they didn’t get it at all.  Being  a Christian is all about relationship, grace and Jesus.  Jesus is the entire point of my existence.  Jesus said, 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40).  

I want 2018 to be a time of awareness that life is all about Jesus.  I want to live in such a way that I know my life is not about being good.  I don’t want to focus on my behavior but focus on my relationship with Jesus.  And when I focus on my relationship with Jesus, everything else will fall into place.  I want to know Him and trust Him in a way I never have before.

In Matthew 11 Jesus said, 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. (Matthew 11:19).  Jesus was called many things but I think the one that He really resonated with was being called a “friend of sinners.”  What they meant as a derogatory statement He received as a compliment.  When people in the culture and society threw a party, Jesus was on their guest list.  Although Jesus was fully God, fully man and never sinned a day in His life,  people outside the church wanted to be with Jesus and He wanted to be with them.  When the world throws a party and puts out their guest list, I want to be on their list.  I want to be with them.

I want 2018 to be a time to be a real friend of sinners.  Jesus hung out with the “sinners” of His day.  He went to their parties, He hung out at their houses, He ate dinner with them, He met them at places like the well (Coffee Shops, Restaurants, Bars).  Okay, yes I said it . . . Bars!  Jesus gave us the example and those places are exactly where He would be.  I want to be where they are, let them know I am a real person doing real life just like them and most importantly that Jesus is real!   I want to do life-on-life with them so Jesus can be seen in me and through me.

I want 2018 to be a time to focus on living the Bible.  It is so easy for me to get focused on studying the Bible for knowledge and miss studying for wisdom and application.  Paul challenged Timothy when he told him, 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17).   I want to know God’s Word so I can flesh it out.  I want to study His Word so I can grow to be more like Him and be more effective in sharing it with others.  

I want 2018 to be a time when I show people that Jesus is the most important person in my life.  One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis.  Several years after he died some essays were found that he had written but never got published.  These writings were published years later in book called God in the Dock.   In one of those essays he said, “One must keep pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance.  The one things it cannot be is moderately important.” (God in the Dock, p. 101).  I want to live in such a way that I know that Jesus and Christianity is of infinite importance and others will see that in me as well.  

2018 . . . may it be a year of becoming more like Christ to be more of Christ to those around me!     


The Good Life

When you ask people if they want to live the good life, they look at you like, “Well, that is a stupid question. Of course I want to live the good life. But for most people livin’ the good life is directly connected to what is commonly called “the American Dream.” Their version of livin’ the good life involves upward mobility and always wanting newer, bigger and better.

It’s climbing the corporate ladder, having more things, getting into certain circles the pursuit of “bigger and better”, more money, bigger house, nicer car, that certain social circle, etc. But ultimately if you pursue this thinking it is the good life you will only end up in frustrated, unfulfilled and everything but happy. The reason is livin’ this false version of the “good life” is really a diversion from the real thing and a very destructive and deceptive lie!

Jesus explained and illustrated for about livin’ the good life in The Sermon on the Mount.  We all probably know from experience that Life isn’t easy and life isn’t perfect.  We would all have to admit that this is true. Life definitely isn’t easy and many times life is simply difficult. Life definitely isn’t perfect and many times it just doesn’t seem fair. Jesus’ definition of the good life and the world’s definition of the good life are opposite of each other.  When you live according to the world’s way, life is not good at all.  But when you live life like Jesus says to live it according to His ways and from His point of view . . . Life isn’t easy, Life isn’t perfect but Life is good!  As Jesus said “Blessed” or “Happy” are you if you live like I am telling you.


Sleeping With The Lions

Every setback is a setup for a comeback!  When things are not going well in our lives we face a huge dilemma and temptation. The dilemma is do you trust God or do you not trust God. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7 Be not wise in your own eyes; (Proverbs 3:5-7). When we are in a tight spot, totally discouraged and feel like we are going to lose we panic and sometimes by taking control of the situation we do things we know we shouldn’t do.

The most difficult part of practicing the principles of Proverbs 3 is to stay on that path. There are times in life when you get off the path because you made some wrong choices. Then there are those times when life just took a turn you never expected and never saw coming. Daniel never saw coming what happened to him.

How many of you would like to be taken captive by your national enemies and forced to live in their land and their culture. How many of you would prefer to move away from all the people and culture you have ever known to live the rest of your life away from your home and family? As part of the entire nation of Israel Daniel and some of his friends were taken as prisoners and slaves by the Babylonians.

Babylon was the very personification of evil in that day. So much so that if something was considered evil in Biblical days, they would say it is “Babylon like.” Babylon was the word picture for evil. Their ruler, Nebuchadnezzar raided God’s temple and put the holy things on display in his demonic temple. When it came to culture, astrology and the occult were the government sponsored religion and core curriculum in the schools.

Daniel is probably about 16 years old when he is kidnapped and enslaved in a foreign and pagan country. He gets to Babylon and they even change his name. The name Daniel means “God is my judge” but the name they gave him, Belteshazzar means “Baal’s prince.” In one name change they have attempted to change him from a young man who honors and worships God to someone who honors and worships satan. But that didn’t work. Daniel was like, “You can change my name if you want to and I will even study these books if you would like for me to. But I can’t eat this food you are wanting to give me from the king.”

Daniel stood strong and remained faithful to God and His calling on his life. Daniel was able to thrive in a godless society. Daniel was able to maintain his godliness and integrity the entire time. How was he able to stand strong, remain faithful, thrive and maintain godliness and integrity.  Daniel stayed optimistic being a slave in a pagan country. Given his situation and circumstances you might be wondering how he could do that? The answer is, he knew who wins! He knew that with God He was on the winning team. He knew that in the end we win! Daniel knew from the prophecies that God gave about bringing them back that he would win. Daniel being a godly guy in the midst of a nation that didn’t honor God held onto his optimism in the middle of all that. For us today, if you are fretting about what is happening in the culture, remember . . . we win!

It’s like watching your favorite sports team being really behind in the last few minutes. You are so passionate about your team and you get really worked up, worried, angry, upset, etc. You are beside yourself. Then they begin this miraculous comeback and win the game. You have gone from extreme anger and anxiety to extreme exhilaration in a matter of seconds. Let’s say you have DVR’d that game and you go back and watch it later. You get to the last few minutes where they are so far behind. Do you still worry or anxious? No and why? You know who wins. When you read the end of the story, you know that in the end Christ-followers win!

Fast forward to when he is thrown into the lion’s den. At the time of the lion story Daniel was most likely in his 80’s or 90’s – without much hope that he would ever get to return to his homeland. Still, in the midst of these less than ideal circumstances he shines.

Daniel has lived through a couple different kings in this foreign land and he continued throughout each king’s reign to prove himself and give strong testimony to God. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. (Daniel 6:3). This excellent spirit within Daniel was nothing more, nothing less than God shining through him. Daniel was faithful and God was honored by that.

Here he was a foreigner and the king was going to put him over the entire kingdom. The locals didn’t like that one little bit. They despised the fact that a foreigner would rule over them. They were so jealous and hated him so much they would do whatever it took to get rid of him. Do you see a common thread between all of our people in this series. David, Joseph and now Daniel did nothing to earn this. Jealousy and hatred caused all of it! It wasn’t on his “bucket list” and it wasn’t in his job description. He was just living the way he knew he was supposed to live. When you are an underdog and even before you find yourself as an underdog it is important to . . . Stay faithful to God. This brought both a blessing and a curse.

Has this ever happened to you? Daniel always gave the kingdom its allotted time. Even when you do the right thing the right way and live the way you are supposed to, people get jealous and start pushing you out. They scheme against you, gossip about you, leave you out, etc. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. (Daniel 6:4). What a life Daniel lived!

They searched hard and they did everything they could to dig up some dirt on him but they found nothing. The only fault they could find with him was with his relationship with God! When people search my life and search your life, is God the only thing they can hold against us? 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” (Daniel 6:5). Daniel didn’t know when but he knew things could get really bad for him. Things were going to get really bad for him really soon.  When you find yourself as an underdog in need of a comeback . . . Don’t forsake what you know for what you don’t know.

Look at Daniel’s response. 10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. (Daniel 6:10). Daniel knew the consequences but kept doing what he had been doing all his life.

Notice what Daniel didn’t do when he found out the document had been signed. He didn’t go out and start a picket line in front of the palace. He didn’t get into an argument or debate with them about it. He didn’t start a campaign to shut them down or attack them. He simply did 10 as he had done previously. (Daniel 6:10). He continued to live out truth . . . He continued to be faithful in his relationship with God . . . He continued to worship God . . . He continued to pray.

Daniel did exactly what he had been doing for all his life . . . he worshipped God, he trusted God and he prayed! When you are an underdog and need a comeback . . . Pray! He offended them by loving God, revealing what they needed and praying! When we pray things happen! Prayer causes a collision in the heavens between the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of Light, between Satan and God. Prayer starts a war and prayer changes things! Our words won’t change things, our plans won’t change things . . . only prayer changes things!

Daniel knew that the document had been signed. He knew what it meant if he was caught. He did what he had always done in the way he had always done it. When you are an underdog and need a comeback . . . Keep doing the right thing the right way. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. (Daniel 6:11).

When you are on the verge of being an underdog and needing a comeback, don’t run and hide. Don’t let fear change what you do or how you do it. Daniel kept doing the right thing the right way like he had done all his life. And it did get him thrown into the lions den. Daniel had experienced God’s blessing and His faithfulness even in a pagan nation among pagan people. His desire was to worship God and that was not going to change regardless of the threat that was before him. God had been faithful to him and he was going to be faithful to God.

Sometimes we have the thought that if we do the right thing the right way and honor God with our life, we will never have trouble or difficulty. That is so not true! Sometimes even when you do the right thing the right way you have trouble. Sometimes even when you honor and worship God with your life you will face difficulty because you honor and worship God. Daniel’s example is a very vivid example of that. The very thing that got Daniel thrown into the lions den was the very thing that got him out of the lions den.

Daniel did the right thing the right way his entire life and look where he ended up . . . but that is not the end of the story. What you do and how you live might not be an indicator of what’s going to come your way but how you live and what you do will determine how and if you come out of it. 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. (Daniel 6:22-23).

Daniel did the right thing the right way his entire life and look where he ended up . . . but that is still not the end of the story. 26 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. 27 He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” 28 So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian. (Daniel 6:26-28).

Daniel had learned a very powerful lesson which is a powerful lesson for all of us as well. You can be nothing publicly for God that you are not first privately! Who are you when nobody else is looking? When you look in the mirror what do you really see?

 


Caterpillar Thinking

Have you ever wondered what a caterpillar might think?  For most of us probably not, but if we actually took the time to think how it might think it would be very interesting.  At the beginning of its life, the caterpillar just crawls around a small patch of ground and eating plants.  Until one day that caterpillar takes a nap, a very long nap.  When it wakes up its world has totally changed.  What used to be a little slender plump body has now become a lightweight, slender body.  And on the sides are these beautiful, colorful and delicate things that he can flap and take off up into the air.  Where all he used to be able to do was crawl and eat, he can now fly over that same ground and go wherever he wants to go.   He is not limited anymore; he has been set free!

He will never be content anymore with just crawling around because now he can fly!  That should be how it should be with us when the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us.  Once we have experienced the freedom and the awesomeness of the Holy Spirit, we can never be the same again.  The Spirit-empowered life enables us to live differently.  Where we used to just exist, we now thrive.  Where we used to be without purpose, we now have a purpose.  Where life used to have no meaning, we now have meaning and experience fulfillment.  If the Holy Spirit truly inhabits us, we should not be satisfied to live any longer like people who do not have the Holy Spirit within them.  We should want to be different.

We should desire to live in such a way that we are constantly submitting to the Holy Spirit and experiencing all that He has for us.  We should live in a constant awareness of His strength, His enabling, His vision, His plan and His purpose.  Why should we crawl when we can fly?  I don’t know about you but I don’t want to keep crawling when I have the ability to fly!  (Adapted from Forgotten God by: Francis Chan).


Generosity

When you sit down in a restaurant there will be a waiter or waitress who will serve you. At the end of the meal you will get your check and you will pull out your phone or “tip estimator” and figure out how much tip to leave the person for waiting on you. You will leave them a tip them based on how well you feel like you were served and taken care of during your meal. Many of us just stick with the standard 15% or we will include a little extra because we received excellent care and service. Think about this with me. If you see your life as God serving you and taking care of you, how much would you give Him?

Your life is a total gift from God to be used in a way that glorifies God. Like we say in our purpose statement, “We exist to glorify God by Reaching UP, Reaching IN and Reaching OUT!” All of your time, talents and treasures are given to you that you might use them in a way that brings glory to God. We glorify God by how we invest our time, talents and treasures and how we give back to Him and His Kingdom. If we are going to glorify God in our giving it all comes down to a question of control and identifying what we are controlled by. Is it God or is it something or someone else that controls you?

What are you controlled by? It could be one of many or even several things. Some people are controlled by relationships . . . approval . . . status . . . money . . . possessions . . . pleasure . . . etc. This question is by far one of the most important questions you will ever ask yourself and honestly answer when it comes to living an abundant life on this side of eternity. Because what you are controlled by will determined what you live for and how you live your life. How you handle and how you respond to everything and every situation that comes at you is influenced by that all important question . . . What is controlling me?

This question is not a “one-time” ask and then you are good to go. It is a question that must be consistently asked everyday because all of us are tempted by those things I just mentioned and many more. This question is the most important question you will ever ask yourself because what controls you determines how you live, why you live like you do and your attitudes. This one question helps us understand the attitudes that are driving our actions. What controls you determines how you respond and your level of generosity in giving. If someone or something else other than God is controlling you, your response to giving will be a “have to” kind of thinking. But if God is really the One controlling you, your response to giving will be a very generous “get to” kind of thinking.

Paul answered that question for himself when he wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth. Paul was a guy who really never got over what Jesus did in his life. When Paul did something he was an “all in” kind of guy. He gave it everything he tried everything he had. Before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he did everything he could possibly do to get rid of Jesus and this movement called Christianity or “the Way.” He was persecuted Christians, put Christians in prison, approved of their executions, etc. But when he met Jesus all of that changed. From that moment on, he was consumed with Jesus and controlled with promoting Jesus every time he had an opportunity.

From the moment Paul came to know Christ, he was totally consumed with Jesus. He was controlled by Jesus, making Him known to everyone he met and making sure his life counted. So much so, that some people thought he was crazy. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. (2 Corinthians 5:13). When was the last time you were so on fire for God that people really wondered whether or not you had lost your mind? Or has that ever happened to you. Paul’s awareness of what Jesus had done for him was so strong that the way he lived his life caused people to think he was out of his mind.

When you dig into this passage you begin to see what caused Paul to be this way. He says in the next verse he was controlled by the love of Christ. Christ’s Love Controlled Him. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, (2 Corinthians 5:14). The love of Christ had become the guiding and motivating principle in his life. Everything he did was visualize and passed through the lens of Christ’s love. When you think about that statement, what does it mean to be “controlled” by the love of Christ?

It means Jesus has taken over first place in your life. Everything else in your life aligns under and is shaped by Christ’s love. Paul never “got over” Jesus’ love for him and what Jesus did when He saved him. Jesus’ love at the moment of salvation consumed his every thought and action. He didn’t think or do anything that was not influenced by Jesus’ love for him. 14 because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

When Paul stepped back and looked at the sacrifice and price Jesus paid for Him he quickly realized he could never give enough or do enough to pay that back. But he also realized he needed to sacrifice and show God that he trusted him because of what Jesus had done for him and how Jesus had proven to be faithful. When you look at your life and how you give of your resources and your life what does it say about your value of Jesus?

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”

He was letting us know that because of what Jesus had done for Him it changed the way he lived. Christ’s love controlling you will change how you live. That raises a question for us . . . Are you living differently with the love of Jesus than you would live without the love of Jesus? When Jesus’ love controls you, you are a conduit of His love to other people. Jesus love flows in you and through you to other people.

It’s like the old song that says, “Make me a channel of blessing.” That is what we mean when we say, “We are blessed to be a blessing.” When Christ’s love is controlling you realize your life is not really yours. 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:20). Your life becomes about what God wants and not what you want. Your life becomes what is best for others and not for you.

When Christ’s love controls you, your focus is totally on the price Jesus paid for sin and how much that means to you. Christ’s love controlling you causes you to see people differently. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). When you look through the lens of Christ’s love at other people you will always see them totally different.

Paul was letting us know that with the love of Christ controlling him, he didn’t see people the same anymore. He only saw two types of people . . . saved and lost! He didn’t see black, white, hispanic, asian, etc. He only saw . . . saved and lost! He didn’t see rich, poor, republican, democrat, educated or uneducated. He only saw saved and lost! When you see people what do you see? Is your first thought what is limited here to this world? Or do you look at them through the lens of Jesus’ love and see only . . . saved and lost!

When the Titanic sank there were many people who went down with that ship. As you can imagine there were many relatives and friends of those people who were desperate to know if their friends and loved ones had survived or not and there was obviously panic. The story is told that some officials in London set up a gigantic chalkboard in the downtown area with two columns: Saved and Lost. There were people on that ship from many places around the world from all different classes of society.

But at that moment only two things mattered . . . Saved or Lost! That is how Paul saw the world . . . just saved and lost! How do you see the world? Does the love of Jesus have control of you? Are you looking at the world from the perspective of what Jesus’ love is and has done for you? Do you see just saved and lost or do you see everything else?

When you view people from an eternal perspective and all you see is saved and lost, that will change your view of giving. It will make you a generous giver. You will not ask, “How much do I have to give?” But you will say, “God, what are you asking me to give and how much do I get to give?” When you see people as just “saved and lost” you become so concerned about their eternal destiny that you are not content with average giving.

When the question is raised of “how much” there is a “measuring stick” we can use to measure what we give and how we give against. Christ’s controlling love illustrates how and how much you are to give. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21). Giving is all a part of loving. How we give shows people know how much you love and believe in Jesus and how much you love them. When you think about how Jesus gave the most logical place to go is the most familiar verse in the Bible. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). We give because Jesus gave for us. Out of gratitude we should have a generous attitude!

I don’t have to give and I don’t give to get but I get to give. Did Jesus have to do what He did for us? Did He choose to do what He did? Jesus paid a price that wasn’t His to pay for people who didn’t deserve it all because He loves us. We need redemption and He was determined to give all He had, His very life to make that possible. He bought back what was already His to begin with! There is a song that goes, “He paid a debt He did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sin away. And now I sing a brand new song; Amazing grace all day long. Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.”

When you truly realize what Jesus has done for you in love and that love controls you, there is no way you can hold back. We will never look at our time, talents, possessions and money the same any longer. When we measure what we give against what Jesus did for us there is no way we can ever be anything but a generous giver. Everything is His already and it’s not that we just give back 10%. We give as much as we can in a way that shows how much we value what He has done for us and how much we truly trust Him!

See what Jesus has done for us and seeing people around us who have not experienced that for themselves should motivate us. When Christ’s love controls us we are compelled to give and share. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. (2 Corinthians 5:14-NIV Translation). When come to the point of repentance and asking Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, Jesus “passes the baton” for us to then be His witnesses which is called the ministry of reconciliation.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). The way you and I share in the ministry of reconciliation is by sharing our testimony and giving of our money and our time.

On December 7, 1941 something happened to us that had never happened before that time. We were bombed at Pearl Harbor and brought into World War II. Many people during that time have stated that it impacted them so much that they never got over it and felt obligated to do something about it. One of those people was Desmond Doss.

Desmond enlisted in the army and reported to Fort Campbell for his Basic Training. He had a conviction about guns due to an altercation with his alcoholic father where he almost killed him. He swore he would never touch a gun ever again and he didn’t. After a lot of ridicule and abuse for not carrying a gun, his commanding officer asked him what he would do on the battlefield. He told him he would give his very life for his men.

Their first deployment was to Okinawa where the Japanese were making progress. They were sent to fight on what came to be known as Hacksaw Ridge. It was a huge ridge where they had to climb up a rope ladder to even get on top to engage the Japanese who were hidden underground in a series of tunnels. After a long, hard battle the company retreat back down the ridge with the exception of Desmond. He stayed on the ridge all night rescuing his fallen comrades.

He knew that if they didn’t get help they would either die or be taken prisoner by the Japanese. He kept rescuing them one at a time and pulling them to the edge to lower them down the ridge in a harness he learned to tie as a young boy in the West Virginia mountains. At the point of exhaustion being a very strong Christian, Desmond looks up into heaven and prays, “Lord, I can’t hear you. Please speak to me.” Then he prays, “Lord, please give me the strength to get just one more!” One more turned into many more and by the end of the night he had single-handedly rescued 75 men. He was the only man who never carried a gun in the army to receive the Medal of Honor.

Do you live your life this way? Do you invest your time, treasures and talents in a way that says, “God, please let me get just one more in your Kingdom.” Is God’s love controlling you to the point that you see there is always one more? Do you say, “God, please tell me how much I get to give because there is one more we need to reach.” Our world is so far away from God and alienated from His truth. When we look out there there is always, “just one more.”

Think about how you live your life and how you invest your time and your money. Would you say that you are controlled by Christ’s love or are you controlled by something else?Looking back at your life, how has God blessed you, served you and given to you? Using our analogy about leaving a tip at lunch today, what does your “tip estimator” tell you to give when you think about how Jesus has served you, blessed you and given to you? Do you stick with the standard amount or do you give back extravagantly? Based on all this are you just an “average tipper” or are you a “generous giver”?