Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stopping the Pity Party Mindset

2 Timothy 1:8-12 -  8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.

Today, as I began my Bible Study, I did so with a pity party mindset.  I was tired, frustrated, and had simply had enough drama from all of the "messes" going on in my life.  However, as I began to sit down and pray and read the beginning of Second Timothy, my Heavenly Father began to give me a slight attitude adjustment. 

At the beginning of the letter, Paul is in prison and is writing to his beloved pupil, Timothy. Other supporters had deserted him and he has suffered a lot for the cause of Christ.  However, Paul instructs Timothy to not be ashamed of the gospel or of its messenger.

I began to meditate on verse 12.  Paul suffered so much, yet complained none.  The reason for this is because He knew WHY he was suffering.  He realized that there was a purpose for it.  His purpose was to share the gospel, no matter what.  More importantly though, Paul was able to suffer well, because He knew the Lord well.  He was not ashamed because he KNEW whom he believed.  The Greek word used here that means "to know" can have two different meanings: the first is to have information about someone or something and the second is to be intimately acquainted with someone or something.  The range of the word is as vast as our own use of the English equivalent.  However, Paul KNEW Jesus.  It is evident by his testimony he gives in verse nine. 

In thinking about these verses, I have come to realize, how we handle suffering directly correlates with how well we know Jesus.  If we simply know him to be the subject of children's songs, hard times will seem pressing.  However, if we trust in Christ as the one who has the power of God, who has saved us and has called us to a holy life, not because of anything that we have done but because of his own purpose and grace, not only will we endure suffering, we will conquer it with JOY.  Paul was such a great testimony to Christ because he was not ashamed in his suffering. Rather than blaming God for his perils, He praised Him for His purpose because he knew that in his suffering, others would see Christ.

Paul understood how difficult it was to have such fortitude in a harsh world.  That is why he wrote Timothy such strong words of encouragement.  I know I often cower in my own discomforts, but it is my prayer that I may have the MINDSET of Paul so that my actions may gravitate toward gratitude.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Get Over the Guilt

1 John 3:19-24
19 By this (Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and our response of love) we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

The power guilt has over a believer is often suffocating. It distracts us from our ultimate purpose of seeking God's kingdom and His righteousness.  We often wallow in guilt, allowing our hearts to condemn us over and over again for either an isolated mistake or a habit we are trying to break.  Yet, Scripture gives us comfort.  First John 3:20 reminds us that when our hearts condemn us, we must remember that God is greater than our heart and He knows everything.  This is not a verse of judgment, stating that God can make you feel worse because He is bigger and can remember more of your transgressions because He knows everything.  Rather, it is a verse of comfort. The all-knowing, all-powerful God has extended mercy and love to us through His Son, with the only requirement that we believe and love (1 John 3:24). Therefore, we have no reason to allow our hearts to condemn us when the God of the universe no longer does.

No matter what has happened in the past, or perhaps even what is going on now, there is no reason to let guilt have a strong hold over you.  It is not the life God wants for you.  He has made it possible to become free of that guilt simply by believing in who He is.  God does not want us to cower before Him, but rather to have confidence, because our confidence comes from knowing the Truth.  When we are self-absorbed with guilt, we serve and love for the wrong reasons, and others do not see Christ in us.  However, when we are confident before God, we are focused on Him and love like Him, which allows others to see Him in us.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Your Responsibility to Ask, Seek, and Knock

Matthew 7:7-9 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened."

Often times, in hardships I hear, "I just can't see God" and "I don't believe God hears my prayers."  As I've pondered on these statements and surveyed Scripture, I've come to the realization that our ability to see God at work is based on how hard we are actually searching for Him.  I've gone through some difficult times in my life, and 100% of the time, how much I saw God in the picture was dependant upon how hard I was seeking Him. 

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus gives a conditional command.  In essence, he is saying, "if you ask, it will be given, if you seek, you will find." These are not simply a one time event of asking, seeking, and knocking, but Greek grammar dictates that the command is continual. In essence, the person is to continue to ask, seek, and knock.  There is no object to what is given.  Many people think this verse implies that we may ask anything of God and He will give it, which makes God out to be our own personal genie.  However, Jesus is speaking these words in Matthew 7 during the Sermon on the Mount, where the emphasis is the kingdom of God.  Therefore, what is asked for, sought, and knocked upon should be seen in light of the kingdom of God.

One of the most striking examples of this is that of George Mueller. He began praying for five of his friends to come to faith.  After many months, one of them became a Christian. Ten years later, two others were came to faith. It took 25 years before the fourth man was saved. Mueller continued in prayer until his death for the fifth friend, totalling 52 years of fervent prayer. Mueller's faith was rewarded, for soon after Mueller’s funeral the last friend was saved.
in Matthew 7:7, it is interesting to see who makes the response happen with each of the corresponding actions a person does.  God is the giver to the asker and the opener to the knocker.  Yet, nestled between the two, the seeker is the one who will actively find.  Therefore, the biblical principle is made: if someone continually and actively seeks, he will find."

Sometimes life doesn't make sense.  It seems unfair and unjust.  And if we get down to it, it isn't just, because sin has entered the world.  However, sometimes, we place the blame of life's conditions on God. We think that God doesn't hear us and that He doesn't care. That belief is not biblical truth. The truth is that if we seek Him, we will find Him. The challenge for us is this: when we walk through trials, we continue to seek because the seeker is the one who finds.  No one else can do it for us.

Even in the grimmest situations, God can be found.  It might not be in the answer for which you were looking, but that does not negate His presence nor His purpose for you.  Our emphasis should not be placed on the impending result, but rather on our continual plight to ask, seek, and knock.  When we do, our hearts will be more in line with the heart of God and we will better understand the plan He has for us in light of whatever circumstance you are going through. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Importance of Love

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 - "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

As we approach the Valentine's Day season, we cannot help but be bombarded with one message: LOVE.  For some, this day is dreaded (at one point I was one of those rebels, wearing black to show my denouncement of the holiday).  For others, it is the most anticipated day of the year because it is the one day their significant other must show their love in a tangible way. No matter how you celebrate February 14th, it is hard to ignore.

While I was thinking about this upcoming holiday, I began to think about 1 Corinthians 13.  Here, Paul tells the Corinthians about the importance of love.  He tells them that they could have and use the greatest spiritual gifts, but it would fall on deaf ears if they did so without love.  They could possess great faith in God, but it means nothing if they cannot love another person.  They could be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for Christ, yet if they do not love, the sacrifice is worthless.

How many of you have ever tried to listen to someone give a spiritual talk when they had scorned you in some way?  Was their message engaging or did it sound like a broken record?

If someone knows the Word and is passionate about it, and has great faith, but does not care about others, how receptive will others be to the message?  Jesus was the ultimate lover.  He saw the "unlovable" and welcomed them.  He saw the "untouchable" and healed them.  It was His love that compelled people to listen. 

We as the Church need to examine how we are doing at loving others.  How are we loving those closest to us?  How are we loving those with whom we worship?  How are we loving strangers?  How are we loving our enemies?  So often we focus on our own spiritual lives and disciplines, that we forget that there is a hurting world around us who need Jesus.  We are his disciples and his ambassadors representing him on earth.  If we do not love, we give the wrong impression of him and every effort we make is in vain at best.

This Valentine's season, I want to challenge you to begin to pray that God will give you a heart for his people and will grow your love. 

They Shall Know We Are Christians by Our Love.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Personal Word on Prayer

For those of you who do not know...last week my daughter and I were involved in a fairly bad car accident. I had just taken my son to school. As we were turning out of our driveway, I noticed I was on empty. I made note of this to my son who pleaded with me to stop at the nearest station by our house. I told him that I would stop after I took him to school. On the way to the gas station, I was t-boned by another car going about 65 mph because I turned without seeing him coming. I then hit another truck which landed my vehicle on the ground. After it was all over and I had my daughter in my arms, I realized how bad it could have been. My SUV was in shambles, as was the other one. Yet all parties walked away with minor injuries.

In the next day or so, people began to tell me how on that morning, they had felt compelled to pray for me by name. They stopped what they were doing and prayed. One person was praying at the exact moment my son was trying to tell me to choose another gas station. I can pinpoint several people who had specifically prayed for my safety that morning. I am grateful and humbled to say the least.

Oftentimes, I dwell on the Sovereignty of God and I think that my prayers make no difference. However, that is an unbiblical view of prayer. In Luke 11, Jesus tells us to ask of God. Our God is not simply some unfeeling powerhouse. He is our loving Heavenly Father who hears us when we cry to Him. He wants us to ask of Him because when we ask and He gives, it is a testimony of who He is.

I know without a doubt that I walked away from that accident because my Heavenly Father listened to the prayers of His people. He compelled them to pray, they followed in obedience, and He heard their prayers. This example shows both God's Sovereignty as well as our responsibility.

I know I do not typically log about my own experiences, but this truly was a defining moment that will shape my priority and content of prayer.