Friday, May 29, 2020

What It Means To Serve

If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?” – 1 Corinthians 12:15-19

Where has God placed you in the Body? What is it that He has purposed for you to do? Are you able to rest in that place or do you desire more. There are times when we find ourselves doing something that we would prefer not to do. Lacking spiritual understanding we might think that somehow God made a mistake.  That He really doesn’t understand what we are capable of. The truth of the matter is that He absolutely does.

 I know a man who wanted to be a deacon.  He was convinced that he was supposed to be a deacon. The problem, he had been divorced, and the church he attended interpreted the scripture that a deacon had to be a husband of one wife meant that the man could not be divorced and he was.

 Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” – 1 Timothy 3:12

 He attended the church faithfully.  He was respected for his heart for God and his family.  But, he was disqualified from holding the office. The solution – he left the church and wen to a church that would allow him to be a deacon.

 I knew a pastor that had been a pastor in one denomination, but divorced his wife and that disqualified him as a pastor. So he left that denomination and joined one that allowed him to be a pastor even though he was divorced.

 We must be careful that we don’t whittle our beliefs down to fit our circumstances.  If we are a square peg, that we don’t trim off the corners so we will fit into the “round hole” that we desire.  Both men felt justified in their decisions and action.  Sometimes, we find ourselves disqualified from serving in one way but that does not mean we are disqualified from serving.

 But God said to me [King David], ‘You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood.’” – 1 Chronicles 28:3

 David was a man after God’s own heart but was disqualified from doing certain things. The test for all three men was what they did when they were told they were disqualified.  The first two went their own way – tried to make what they were kept from doing – happen anyway. David yielded to the will of God.  And that is our challenge.  We may find ourselves in a place – a place where we don’t want to be – maybe not because we are disqualified but because God has purposed us to be there for another reason but we are not satisfied – we want to do what we have decided is the right thing to do. If we defy God why would we expect to please God?

 And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” – Mark 9:35

 So where does God have you right now? Or perhaps the question might be, “Where do you have you right now?”  Don’t force your way into service or don’t dodge what God has for you. When the Draft was in force, some men would get a draft notice and they would, as the British say, “do a runner”  They would go to Canada or some other place.  After I was in Vietnam for 12 months, I was allowed to go on Rest and Recuperation (R&R) for 5 days.  I went to Sydney, Australia. While there, I met some American soldiers who did not go back to Vietnam after the 5 days.  They deserted.  They refused to go back to the fighting – to their duty.  I don’t know how many did that, but I can see how easy it was to do it.  

Please pardon this digression.  This was before I was born again and I often self-medicated with alcohol. I had been drinking, a lot, and found myself at a party with some of those deserters. Not sure how that happened.  Maybe I met them in a bar.  The party was in an apartment building. Your could hear the doors in the stairwell closing – booming when they closed. For whatever reason, I thought it was artillery firing – cannons, and was telling everyone to be careful because I could hear artillery.  Let me just say that I was not a hit at that party. (That memory just popped into my head)  Oh – FYI, I went back to Vietnam after my five days were up.

 The point here is that it is part of our old nature to satisfy ourselves, to go our own way, to decide what is right for us, even in the face of a greater authority.  We do it out of lust for something we want or fear that we are not capable of success, but do it we do.  Let me end this with a reference to one of my favorite verses.  Something for you to consider in light of today’s devotion.

 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12:1-2

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Spiritual Nature Of Our Prejudices

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28

I am certain that you are aware of the recent death of a man caused by the actions of a police officer. Just as you are aware of the angry response, not only of the Black community, but of many others. It seems that a wrongful death always exposes other, deeper issues that run just under the surface of the relationships of the people in this country. Social justice is a reasonable expectation for the people of the United States – after all it is written in our founding documents. Those documents, at their root, reflect God’s design for mankind. So why then is there injustice – wrongful deaths – prejudice?

The problem is sin. That may seem too simple an explanation – but that is at the root of the problem of prejudice and injustice – and every other relational malady in the world. True harmony between two people, irrespective of race, color, or social standing is dependent upon the condition of their hearts. We can write laws – declare them in the documents that form a country – but laws don’t command the intentions of the heart. Apart from God, and perhaps in spite of God, mankind ( including some Christians) will always show what a sinful heart is capable of.

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’  And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’ But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” – Luke 10:25-29

In Matthew 22, Jesus answered the question. In Luke, the one who asked the question answered his own question. Living a right-life starts with God and is reflected in right relationships with other people.  In the following verses in Luke, Jesus shared the parable of the Good Samaritan. Based upon how his people were treated, this man would have justified to do what the priest and Levite did – walk on by – but he didn’t.  If I might have the liberty, let me update the setting of the story to somewhere in the United States.

(Luke 10:30-37)

“Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from an affluent part of the city to shop at a mall, and fell among thieves as he walked to the store, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead in an alley way. Now by chance a certain pastor, from the same side of town, came by that alleyway. And when he saw him, he passed, he was afraid for his own safety and walked quickly by. Likewise a deacon, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and he too was afraid and walked on thinking the person probably deserved what happened to him – it was someone else’s problem. He didn’t even know the man and didn’t want to get involved.  But a certain man of a different color and from a poorer side of town, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. …. [Jesus asked] So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”

People want to be treated with kindness which comes from the heart. There are many who do indeed treat others as equals even though they are not born again.  But the world does not remember them.  The press does not shout out their praises. No – people are more likely to remember the evil others do than the good.  The press elevates the bad above the good. Looking at it a different way – the press reminds us every day of why the Father sent the Son.  And when that evil happens, it only serves to confirm people’s fears and own biases.  So what to do.  Jesus called us lights on a hill – in a dark place.  We are not going to change the hearts of men – only God can do that.  But we must show the world Jesus by the way we live and love. We don’t love others that are not like us because we have to – making ourselves do it whether we want to or not – we love others because God has changed our hearts and His love dwells in us and manifests itself in the way we treat others. Unfortunately I have know many Christians who felt justified in their biases, prejudices – not because of what the Bible said but because of what their people said.

Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men [their fathers].” – Matthew 15:7-9

You have heard it said that “Beauty is only skin deep.” Suggesting that being attractive does not mean that you have a good heart.  But for Christians I would say “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We may look different – speak with a different accent – live in a different part of town – but if we have been born again by the same Spirit – we are brothers and sisters by faith in Jesus. When I was living in Haiti, I would preach twice a month in Haitian churches. The first time I preached at any church I would say, “Mwen pa blan, mwen fre nou” (I am not white – I am your brother.) I didn’t want them to see me as a white man first – but as a Christian and their Brother in Christ.  I really don’t know if I convinced anyone – but it was nonetheless true. Then and now. So how can you fulfill the second greatest commandment? It starts by obeying the first and showing mercy to others. There is a great divide among people groups in this country. What is the solution? I have a friend who served with me in Mississippi.  When I would ask his, “What do you think?” His answer was always the same – no matter what the circumstance – Jesus Saves. Jesus is the answer to reconciliation of man to God and to each other.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things [including division] have passed away; behold, all things have become new [including unity and harmony]. Now all [new] things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

When Is Enough - Enough

“….we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Is there a time in our lives when we can hang up our spiritual spurs and set back and rest from our labor? Martie and I went for drive the other day – taking a break from being COVID-19 home-bound.  We traveled into a rural area and stopped at a restaurant that YELP said was 4 ½ stars worthy.  The first time in a restaurant for a number of months.  Three battered pickup trucks pulled in the gravel parking lot. The men got out of the trucks – slowly.  Their boots were all worn and everyone had spurs.  Something you don’t see every day in Houston – or anywhere else.  I told Martie – those men have been working hard.  One of the men must have been 80 something.  He was dressed the same, but moved very slowly.  As I watched him, I thought, “I want to be like him. Pressing on.” Not ready to take the spurs off my boots and hang them on the wall.

The question of when is enough – enough will cross my mind from time to time.  I have mentioned before that this August I will be 70 years old.  An age that I never imagined I would be – but here I am at the doorstep of the Platinum Jubilee.  But then comes the question – “So What?” These bodies of ours transition from helpless to hope-filled to helpless, if we live that long.  But that has to do with our mortal bodies.  Paul wrote of our duplicity (the good use of the word) and the ensuing struggles. I don’t feel any different on the inside than I did when I was in my 20’s. The thing is that my body – the outside can no longer keep up.

The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Matthew 26:41

Jesus was speaking to the disciples in the Garden – but was referring to the tug of war that goes on between our natural body – the flesh – and our new nature – the spirit.  So back to the question – “So What?” The Church in the United States has the idea that when you get to a certain age, it is time to move aside and let the younger one have their turn at the wheel. They have special terms to describe the age group.  Personally, I am very intentional about avoiding being labeled with something that I equate to being done – my usefulness to the kingdom having passed. Now if you ask someone about that they will say “that is not true” right before they ask you to get on the bus that is going to Branson. What we do for the kingdom may change over time, but the fact that we are continue in some capacity does not.

I remember a time when we were in the midst of the Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi.  I got a call from a friend who pastored a church in Alabama.  He asked if he could bring some “seniors” for a one day visit to our camp. I told him, “Of Course”.  When the 40 passenger bus pulled up I could see the faces peering out of the windows.  My friend stepped down out of the bus and I said, “You know that they will be dirty when they get back on the bus don’t you?” After all it was a disaster area. That thought apparently had not occurred to him. So he asked me if I could take them on a tour of the area. I did, but swore to myself that I would never do that again.  Destroyed homes and fractured families are not a tourist attraction. We have known a good number of people, older than I am now that continue to serve in some very difficult situations. But continued service doesn’t have to be in response to the ravages of a hurricane.  It could be in the community or the church. If you are older – don’t quit – don’t hang up you spurs. If you are younger – don’t make the older Christians feel like they have no place in the Body.  That is not your call. Service has no age limit.

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.” – Philippians 3:13-15

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Sensing God’s Presence

Look, I go forward, but He is not there, And backward, but I cannot perceive Him; When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him. But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth  More than my necessary food.” – Job 23:8-12

There was another contrast in the Book of Job that I wanted to share.  Job said that although he could not see God or perhaps sense His presence, Job remained faithful. He treasured the Words of God more than life-sustaining food – so you might say more than life itself. His words, in contrast, reminded me of David and Psalm 139.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.” – Psalm 139:7-12

Do you see the contrast between the two men.  Isn’t it interesting?  David struggled with sin but was known as a “man after God’s own heart.” There were times that he acted as if God was not there. And then times when he was very aware of the holiness of God and David’s own propensity to sin.  (Psalm 51) So what was it that enabled Job to be faithful to God even when he did not sense God’s presence and David’s awareness of God and yet that awareness did not seem to help him resist the temptation to sin? Is it possible that spiritual awareness is not the key to obedient, God honoring, living?

Who do you identify with, Job or David? Oh, for me, how I would like it to be Job, but, sadly, I fear it is David.  Sin is not a good thing, but in the Christian life it can bring a good result. What could that possibly be, you ask? I will tell you.  Sin in my life is a stark reminder of my need for a Redeemer. My flesh is incapable of producing holiness. I was born, naturally, with a flaw. My tendency to sin only proves that I am not worthy of salvation but still I am loved. God has restored me to Himself, not because of my goodness but because of Jesus sacrifice and His love for me.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” – Romans 6:1-3

We are given new life in Christ by the grace of God. My response to that grace should not be that I might sin all the more or see it as no big deal – but, that I would sin all the less as I yield my life to God all the more.  Like Job, that I would treasure “the words of His mouth  More than my necessary food.” Whether you sense the presence of God as you go about your life is not the point.  The point is, as David understood, there is no place we can go that God is not there. The world says “God is Nowhere” but the truth is “God is Now Here”

How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth!” – Psalm 119:103

Spiritual awareness is a reflection of the level of my intimacy with the Word of God.  It is not about memorizing scripture, although memorizing scripture clearly has its benefits, but reading scripture – desiring to hear God’s Word even above food. There are many verses that point to that truth. Psalm 119:11, Joshua 1:8, 2 Timothy 3:16 to list a few. (By the way, I have had many people tell me they just seem to memorize scripture. So I ask them for their telephone number or address, which they readily share. That only proves that they can remember what is important to them. Not memorizing scripture is a choice they have made.)

Monday, May 25, 2020

Sympathy and Compassion

It’s Memorial Day. Does it seem like that to you?  Perhaps since you have been homebound, “what day it is” has lost its significance.  Holidays are just another day.  I know for Martie and me that has been the case since we went on the mission field.  Trouble and misery do not take holidays.  Just this last Christmas, I received a call from someone we are helping repair their home. The husband has a terminal illness – ALS. Their lives have been upended.  Priorities shifted. Dreams derailed.  The trouble was a gas leak in the kitchen. They needed help. On Christmas.  Why call me?

Because they knew or hoped that I would help – even if it was Christmas morning.  Understanding the danger and the immediacy of the situation, I called a plumber that I use for the homes we repair damaged by Hurricane Harvey. But on Christmas?

He did what was necessary to stop the leak – got the gas company involved – on Christmas.  I am not sharing this so you might be impressed with me.  I am sharing this to make a point. Trouble never comes at a convenient time. The question is, “Are you willing to be inconvenienced when it shows up on somebody else’s door step?”

The pastor at the church we attend has been preaching on the book of Job.  Job is one of those Old Testament books that you read, but you may not call your favorite – it might not even make your top 10 of the 66 books of the Bible. Honestly, the only verse from Job that I tucked away in my memory is “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” [Job 15:13]

But it was chapter 22 that got my attention. Job’s friend Eliphaz was accusing Job for the third time – trying to get him to repent convinced that Job must have sinned to have such terrible things happen to him. Eliphaz said

“For you have taken pledges from your brother for no reason, And stripped the naked of their clothing. You have not given the weary water to drink, And you have withheld bread from the hungry……. You have sent widows away empty, And the strength of the fatherless was crushed.” – Job 22:6-7

What struck me was that the charges Eliphaz made were the same that Jesus made when He was separating the sheep from the Goats in Matthew 25 and what James defined as pure religion in James chapter 1.

Jesus said -

 Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:  for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’  And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:41-46

James wrote

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble” – James 1:27

Do you see it? Eliphaz was bring the same charges against Job that Jesus brought against the “Goats”. And what James said was proof of right faith and living.  I love it when the Lord shows things like this to me.  But He never shows me without purpose.  So, back to the title of the devotion. Sympathy and Compassion.

As Christians we have been called to be more than merely sympathetic for other people.  The priest and the Levite that walked past the man in the ditch may have felt sorry for him (sympathy) but were not inclined to let their lives be interrupted for someone they did not even know.  No, they have much too important things to do. Compassion is sympathy with hands and feet.  It is not just feeling sorry for someone’s trouble, but doing what you can to help them in their time of trouble. Compassion always costs the one showing compassion. It is not a loss it is a sacrifice – an offering.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

I have taught on these verses in the past and have thought of them in terms of bringing comfort to people who experience the same thing that I have experienced. That is empathy. But I have skipped over the words “who are in ANY trouble” meaning that it doesn’t matter what they are facing – to bring godly comfort to them does not require that I must have experienced the same life struggle that they are experiencing.  The focus is on God’s comfort, not mine.  The love of God – Agape – poured out through us. We know that God is able because He has comforted us. The comfort we can give is sweet – a balm – but oh so much more comforting if we have faced the same trouble.  We may not relate to the specific problem, but we can relate to a gracious God  in whom we found comfort in our affliction. The Good Samaritan didn’t help the man who had been robbed and beaten and left in the ditch because that had happened to him. He did it because of his love for others – a love that went beyond merely feeling sorry for this trouble. 

Oh – one other thing …… Eliphaz was wrong about Job!

Who has God placed in your path, your life, when it was not convenient, when it meant going beyond feeling sorry for them – knowing you could offer comfort – but it would cost you something – disrupt your plans – cost you time, emotion, maybe even a holiday or two.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Still Struggling With The Old Man?

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” – Romans 6:6

Is there some aspect of your life – your old life – that you still struggle with? The King James version refers to our old nature as the “old man” some of the newer translations use “old self”. We can’t relax spiritually. Just when you think your are safe, that the “old man” can’t find you – BOOM! – there he is showing himself and typically not in a nice way.  Ok – for the sake of clarification – God created man and woman – out of man – so my reference to the “old man” applies to both sexes. And there are only two – God made X and Y chromosomes and combined them in two and only two ways.  But I digress …..

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:16-18

I have read and heard a lot of discussion over those highlighted words – “old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. That is a reference to our old and new natures. We have been made alive toward God when we were born again. Living that new life and not yielding to the influence of our old nature – well that is another thing altogether.  You might hear someone say that you are sanctified and are still being sanctified – conformed to the image of Jesus – which is to say yielded fully to the will of the Father and free from the influence of the flesh.  I might suggest that your sanctification, perfection if you will, will not be completed this side of heaven.

The issue at hand is not whether the old man will reveal himself in your life.  The issue is “what are you going to do when he does”?  Most often, I think, we try to pretend it didn’t happen.  Like the character on TV that would sheepishly say “Did I do that?” It is as if my sin is not as bad as someone else’s sin.  They may need to ask for forgiveness or say I am sorry, but not me. Can I get an Amen?  Or perhaps and “Oh me!” Our old man is offensive toward God and others.  Jesus went to the cross because of our old nature – why would it be OK to display it towards others when the second greatest commandment is to love others?  Let me paint a picture – if you are wondering what the old man looks like

 “The acts of the flesh [Old Man]are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” – Galatians 5:19-21

Please don’t look that extremes in this list and think, “Oh that is not me!” Trust me – we are all in that list somewhere, maybe several somewhere.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” – Galatians 5:22-25

‘Nuf said!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

What Has God Been Saying To You?

Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel answered, ‘Speak, for Your servant hears.’” – 1 Samuel 3:10

We just finished our Experiencing God study via Zoom!  It is a study about how we can come to learn how God interacts with His children, really since the beginning.  Do you believe that God will and does speak to you by the Holy Spirit? It’s true.  Like Samuel, the Lord has something to say to each of us – even though we might not want to admit to ourselves or to others. Dr. Blackaby, the author of Experiencing God said that it is not a question about whether we hear God, the quest is “Will we obey God?”.

While preparing to teach the lesson I was reminded of something that happened to Martie and me, some years ago.  We were in Mississippi repairing homes and, at the time, running a volunteer camp in Waveland. (this was before Pathfinder Mission)  The Lord had connected us to the Missions Pastor, Bill, from Orlando First Baptist church.  He was sending volunteers to that camp. Bill called me one day and told me that there was someone that he wanted Martie and me to meet and could we have lunch with them. We agreed of course and me them at a Mexican restaurant in Waveland. One of the few that had reopened since the storm – Hurricane Katrina.  The man he wanted us to meet, Jim, had been the senior pastor at Bill’s church since 1977 and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention for a few years.  I really wasn’t sure why we were meeting him, but I make it a habit to ask the Lord why I meet anyone like that. I always assume it will be for God’s purpose in His time.

Martie and I had been struggling with obeying what we felt God has said plainly to us, which was to start a ministry, Pathfinder Mission – but at that time we didn’t have a name for it yet.  We had been praying but had not really shared what God was leading us to with others yet.  So, as we sat at the table with Bill and Jim, Jim looked at me and said – “So, Charley, what has God been saying to you?” I just looked at Martie and she at me. It was like God had allowed Jim a peak into our hearts and knew there was something up.

Dr. Blackaby said that God speaks by the Spirit though prayer, the Word, circumstances and other Believers. I thought for a few seconds, squeezed Martie’s hand and told Jim what we believed God was telling us to do.  He did not blink.  He said, “If there is anything I can do to help you, just let me know.  I will be happy to help.”  We never did go back to him for any assistance.  He had already helped us, probably more than he knew.  We were encouraged to decide to obey what God was saying to us.  And the rest is, well, history and history in the making.

We have learned that there are no coincidences in life of a Christian only “God-incidences”.  So tell me – “What has God been saying to you?”

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:11-13

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

God Will Always Ask The Impossible

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21

God never asks you to do something that you can do without Him. You will always need God to accomplish what He sends you to do. Remember Gideon. God used Gideon to defeat an army of thousands using only three hundred men, torches and clay pots. When Moses sent the twelve spies across the Jordan to spy out the land, all but two (Joshua and Caleb) came back with bad news. In the minds of the ten, it was impossible for Israel to defeat the giants that lived there. It was too hard a task. Forty years later, Joshua was once again standing at the banks of the Jordan. The task was the same. Joshua was to take the land for Israel. And the Lord said:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” ― Joshua 1:9

God chooses to use ordinary people to do what is impossible in the minds of men. If you are going to do something for God, you cannot do it apart from God. What any of us do that has eternal benefit for God is by the power of God through His Spirit.

This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord of hosts” ― Zechariah 4:6

I would be at great fault if I did not make it clear that anything that was accomplished during Martie and my journeys must be credited to the dedication and commitment of the hundreds of volunteers that helped us. Volunteers that God provided. Time and again, the right people with the right skills, heart for service, and financial resources came to Mississippi, and later to Haiti and now to Texas. When we faced the trials and challenges that we encountered, we most often had no idea how to overcome them. “But God” is perhaps one of the strongest phrases in the Bible. It appears no less than 47 times. But God met the challenges and trials using the volunteers who would come to our aid. I could not possibly acknowledge each one, each group, each church that set their lives aside to help the “man in the ditch.” I would have to devote an entire book to each one of them. Not only did they minister to the people in the communities, but they ministered to Martie and me.

What we did and are doing, where we served and are serving, was and is very difficult and, at times, dark and dangerous places to be. Those God sent to help us were like the balm of Gilead. They encouraged us. They blessed us. They stood in the gap for us. To this day we count many as dear friends and partners in the fields in which the Lord has set our plow.  God uses ordinary people to extra-ordinary things as a witness or testimony to Him. Has God asked you to lay something down to follow His leading? Were you, are you, willing to do it? 

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” ― Luke 14:26

Does that sound harsh to you? Do you question whether God would really ask you to put Him before your family? Are there limits to what you would be willing to do? That verse doesn’t mean you can’t love your family if you love God it means that you must love God more?  If you read Matthew 22:36-39 you see that God requires all of your devotion and that devotion then gives birth to a love for others. Saying yes to God requires faith ― trust ― obedience. Where we get into trouble is when try to do something for God without God.

“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’  Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:36-39

Have you faced faith challenges in your life? Are you facing one now?  

Most people I know put a limit on their devotion to God.  We all struggle with that problem.  We struggle with the tension between natural devotion and spiritual devotion.  Anything can become a god if we let it have preeminence over our devotion to God.  The second greatest commandment is to love others, but that is the second greatest, not the first.  God really asks very few to physically abandon their families to serve him.  But He commands every one of us to abandon any and all devotions that would push Him aside. 

Even loving Him more requires Him to do it.  We can’t do it on our own.  We must do it in faith by the power of the Spirit.  There are many admonitions in the New Testament to love others – above ourselves – but never above God.  The temptation is strong, but God is stronger.  God never asks us to do anything that we can do on our own except this one thing; to lay our lives down at the foot of the cross, to trust in God and not ourselves.

Let me close with Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus.

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,  that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, ac-cording to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” – Ephesians 3:14-21

Monday, May 18, 2020

When I Just Don’t Know What To Say

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” – Romans 8:26-27

Have you ever been at a loss for words? Ever said or thought, “I just don’t know what to say.”? I know I have.  I feel like I ought to say something but the words will just not come to mind.  That is what it is like sometimes when I pray to God.  I want my prayer life to be more than “Thank you for this food.” or “Help me!” But the words just won’t come to mind. I was just thinking that sometimes I feel like I “have to” pray when, in fact, the truth is, I “get to” pray.

Have you heard someone pray – not in King James English – but it seemed that they were praying from their heart bringing peace to your soul?.  Their words blessed you. Or maybe you watched someone at church pray for the congregation and they were reading something they had written beforehand. Often it is more like a mini-sermon than an outpouring of the heart. My point is not to be critical but that we all struggle with praying spontaneously, revealing our vulnerability and our need to be heard by the Father.

Have you ever been in a room with someone, wanting to say something but the words that came to mind did not just seem to be the right words, so you are silent? Have you ever had someone say to you  - “Why don’t you just say something?” It is a struggle when what you have to say – what you must say is difficult to say. It might be “Forgive me.” Or “I am sorry” or perhaps “I need help.” Or “I am hurting physically or emotionally.” Or …..

We have a hard enough time when the conversation is with a person – how much more when it is with the Creator God. Have you ever been with a group of people and they were talking about things that you just did not understand? Perhaps thinking, “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.” (People cannot agree who said it first) I have been there – fearful that I might be shown not a fool so much as ignorant.” It can make you feel uncomfortable.

And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” ― John 14:16

Because that very same Helper is in each and every Believer – sealing us for the day of redemption – we are never at a loss for words when it comes to talking with – praying to God.  Praying is a spiritual activity. A conversation from our hearts to God’s heart. There are deep spiritual truths that we are just not capable of understanding this side of Heaven. Things that we are not able to express to God. Not because we have not been to seminary. Not because we have not memorized enough scripture. It is because we are like children and there are things that, as spiritual children, we just don’t understand.  But God knows that and He has made a way for us by His Spirit.  The helper that Jesus talked about. 

So does that mean that I don’t have to pray? Of course not! God craves for time with each of us.  The Bible is replete with admonitions for us to pray – above and beyond meal time. 

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

But we don’t have to “wax eloquent” in that conversation.  What we must do is speak from the heart that which we do know to say, and when we are at a loss for words, the Spirit will help us with the rest.  It is really that simple and that wonderful.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

God Calls, Prepares, And Then Sends

"Then He said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.' They immediately left their nets and followed Him."  - Matthew 4:19-20

God never sends without preparation. He never prepares apart from His calling. Each sending builds upon the previous. Sometimes Christians get ahead of themselves. They don’t wait for the call or they don’t wait for the preparation ― they just go. It is a mistake to try to do something for God without God. Acting solely in the power of your flesh is a mistake. If you do, you have underestimated the reality of the powers of the air and principalities at work around you.

My last job in the Army required that I review all the messages that came to our unit. On one particular day I read a message that announced a new early separation program. The Army was downsizing after the Gulf War. It was then that I heard a voice. It was not an audible voice, more like an impression, but not. What I heard was, “You are sacrificing your family for success in the Army. Choose your family and leave the Army.” I had 17 ½ years in the Army. 2 ½ years away from retirement. Who would do that? Yet, I knew it was God and I knew what I must do. I spoke to Martie and shared with her what I believed God was saying to me. She replied “I agree. I believe we should leave the Army, too.” To bring this into context, I was up for a promotion to Lt. Colonel and was already identified to go to U.S. Space Command to serve in a Lt. Colonel position, a Joint assignment. I was on my way, succeeding, as far as the Army and the world were concerned. But I was failing as far as God was concerned. Both Martie and I have learned how important it is that in whatever we did as husband and wife we must be in spiritual agreement.

Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” ― Amos 3:3

We have committed to be willing to leave our old life behind and follow Him wherever He leads. I used to be an Army Officer. I used to be a helicopter pilot. I used to be an Operations Research and Systems Engineer. I used to be a lot of things. Now I am something of greater worth, a dedicated servant of Jesus Christ. We don't know where the Lord will lead us in the days ahead. We never expected to be where we are now or where He has sent us in the past, but we do know that we are where God wants us to be today, doing what He wants us to do …… now.

Following God’s call will always require you to abandon something. What are some aspects of your life that God’s call might require you to lay aside? Our old nature wants to protect itself and to indulge itself.  Sacrifice requires denial of self and abandoning worldly desires. (Matthew 16:24) Even a cursory reading of the Bible exposes the nature of the heart of people, which does not change, and reveals the will of God. 

I was succeeding in the world. I was the envy of many who loved the same things. But what I valued changed.  What would had to change in my life to make a radical decision to leave the Army 2 years be-fore retirement? I had to see that there was something of greater value to give up what I loved and had been pursuing. Discontentment happens when there is a spiritual stirring and what once brought you joy becomes drudgery.  Think about how God might use that as part of your preparation to go? Perhaps you have experienced holy discontentment.  Routine and habits bring comfort. If you are settled, you might not want to change things. How do you know it is God? It requires spiritual discernment to know when it is God and when it is just life.

Preparation to follow God’s call is not always pleasant and the reason something is happening is not always clear when it happens. If you live your new life depending upon pleasant circumstances to be the proof that you are in the center of God’ will, you are in for a disappointment and are sure to be disillusioned.   

Consider how God prepared Joseph for His purpose. On the face of it, Joseph traveled a strange and difficult journey for someone for whom God had a purpose. God gifted Joseph with discernment and wisdom. Recall that Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery because they were jealous of him. He rose to prominence as a slave only to be falsely accused and thrown into prison. He again rose into prominence as a prisoner and was called to Pharaoh’s court. He rose into prominence once again and at that point, fulfilled his purpose. When he did finally face his brothers, this is what he said to them.

Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” ― Genesis 50:19-20

While serving in in the midst of the devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina, a volunteer asked me, “Do you like being in Mississippi?”  I thought for a moment and answered, “There is nothing better than being in the center of God’s will. Geography has nothing to do with it. I love being in Mississippi!” Difficult circumstances are not the test for God wanting you to do something else.  Don’t use circumstances as the only measure for God wanting you to change.  You might be in the difficult circumstances to be a light in the midst of a dark situation.  The darker the night – the brighter the light.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Loving Each Other Like God Loves Us

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” – John 15:10-13

I was talking to a friend the other day and he commented that I was spoiling my wife.  I responded by saying, “My wife is the most important person on this planet, as far as I am concerned, why wouldn’t I shower her with blessings and attention?” Husbands – wives – is that that how you see your spouse? Are you willing to lay your life down for them – if Jesus said we should for our friends – how much more for the person that we have committed our lives to in marriage? The thing is – for a marriage to be what God intended – it doesn't take two, it takes five. Where both the husband and wife are submitted, by faith in Jesus, to God the Father by the indwelling and submission to the Spirit and to each other.

To love others the way Jesus said we are to love others requires that we be “right” spiritually. It all begins there – with our relationship with God. I am not suggesting that people apart from God cannot love. What I am saying is that for our “joy to be full”, for us to experience what it is that God intended in the marriage relationship, it must be lived out as each of us walks in obedience to the Lord. Loving my wife is a natural manifestation of my love for God. How much I love my wife and the way I love my wife is a reflection of how much and the way I love God. I am not making this up – although as I type, I did not think this was the direction I was going this morning.

That guy that suggested that perhaps I was doing more for my wife than was necessary? He is a Christian so I could speak to him “spiritually’. I say this because the natural man cannot understand spiritual truth – it is foolishness to them (1 Corinthians 2:14). So I pointed him to the Book of Ephesians.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.” – Ephesians 5:25-27

What did Jesus do for the church? He laid his life down.  The way husbands and wives love each other should be a bright light in a dark culture.  Do you remember the words you spoke at your wedding?

“…. to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you."

There is an assumption in those words, that you each are submitted to God and obedience to Him by the power of the Spirit and not the strength of your will. Enter Satan with the words, “Did God really mean that?” What if you decide it just isn’t working? I would suggest that it is a love problem – not between the husband and wife only, but between one or both of them and God. I can’t love my wife the way God says to love her if I don’t first love Him.  Pretty simple – but often overlooked or just ignored. Two cannot become one apart from the “glue” that sticks and holds them together – their faith and the Spirit of God. God is the root – Jesus is the vine and we are the branches – the fruit – our love and the quality of our marriage is a result of that. That is why we are warned to not be unevenly yoked.

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-16

Many marriages start out with God no where to be found. Even though the ceremony may be in a church and the vows before God said. That is just part of the ritual. When the couple leaves the church building, they leave God behind. They may both not even be Christians. I know that I was not when I married Martie. It is by God’s grace that we both were born again some years later.  So today, the words I shared with my friend would not have come out of the mouth of the man who made the vows that he might not have been willing to keep – what's more, would not have been able to keep on his own. But because I abide in Christ – there is fruit.  Husbands – wives – I am not suggesting you decide to love each other more – but that you decide to love God more – and loving each other will be the fruit from your staying connected to the root.

Monday, May 11, 2020

We Hear But Do We See

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. – Job 42:5

The Pastor at the church we attend is preaching on Job.  At our Sunday Bible study, the lesson was on suffering, and you guessed it, the Bible references came from the Book of Job.  It was during that lesson that the Word was suddenly illuminated to me. Has that ever happened to you?  You read the Bible but sometimes without your spirit connected to it. You could as well be reading a magazine. You are reading because you are supposed to read – not because you have a hunger. I can remember a time, just after I was born again, when I had a voracious appetite for the Word.  I could not seem to get enough of it.  Like a new born wanting to be fed. It was no longer in the womb, but in a new place and it was experiencing hunger – for the first time. I was experiencing spiritual hunger.  Has that ever happened to you? I digress.

As I heard verse 5 being read, I suddenly “saw”. If there is one thing that we Christians in the United States have it is an abundance of spiritual food. Plenty for the taking.  I probably have 15 Bibles within reach right now – that is not considering the Bibles available on-line through my computer and phone.  When Job said that he had heard, but then he saw, I thought about me.  How often I had heard but not as often had I seen.  Seeing in the sense that there was a deep spiritual understanding that was not filtered through my old nature.  A moment when the Spirit of God revealed a heavenly truth that refreshed me like a long drink of cold water on a hot day – refreshing to my soul. It is an intimate encounter with God. In retrospect I have not experienced enough of those. Not for the lack of God’s wanting, but for my lack of seeing. Perhaps with being satisfied with merely hearing.

For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear;  for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” – Matthew 13:15-17

Jesus was referring to His coming as the prophets had longed to see – just like we long to see His return.  But in the meantime, the Spirit of God is waiting to reveal deep truths to us, if we will but open our spiritual eyes.

“[I, Paul] do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,  the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.”  – Ephesians 1:16-21

It is that same understanding that came to Job, that Paul prayed for the saints in Ephesus and that God desires for us all. To know the hope of His calling for us. The exceeding greatness of His power toward us. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead. It is that revelation that comes when we no longer merely hear, but see.  What a gift. What a blessing. How refreshing. How encouraging.

Open my eyes, that I may see Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;

Place in my hands the wonderful key That shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now I wait for Thee, Ready my God, Thy will to see,

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”  – Open My Eyes, That I May See | Clara H. Scott, 1895, Public Domain

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone

Friday, May 8, 2020

If Rejecting God Is Wrong, They Don’t Want To Be Right

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”  - Romans 1:28-32

Who is Paul describing? People you meet every day.  People who believe that what they believe is right – that the way they behave and others behave is OK.  That is what happens when we wander from the framework that God intended for how His Creation was to live and act and think.  Imagine a fish swimming in the ocean and deciding they weren’t meant to swim in the water – they didn’t like swimming in the water – so one day they leapt out of the water onto the shore – flopped around for a while – surrounded by air but unable to breath it. And so they died right there on the bank within inches of what would give them life – but refusing to do what they were created to do – swim in the water.  They would rather die in misery than submit to their creator. And what’s more they encourage others to do the same.  Nobody like to sin alone. The more the easier it is to justify the behavior.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work..” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

God has provided the guide to right living and right relationships – with Him and with others. Then He provided a way to live that way – His Spirit. All that is required is a person with a heart yielded by faith, devoted to God and not themselves.  Even a blind bird can catch a bug now and again. Meaning that people who live apart from God might do good things but that does not make them right before God.  There are some people who are evil and some people that are not so bad.  Apart from God – their destiny is the same.  They are just fish flopping on the shore – gasping for air even while they are surrounded by it – refusing to believe that they might be wrong – their last breath on the bank is the proof of their folly.

Imagine living your entire life thinking that you are right in your rejection of God and His Son – only to discover that you were wrong. The thought of that brings a deep sorrow to my heart. The culture we live in is pretty much described in Romans chapter 1.  I know that not all will be saved, but some will be. And my responsibility? My responsibility –  your responsibility is to be a light – a peculiar people – pointing others to the Truth. A seed planter. A garden waterer.  Paul says it in Romans 12.

“I [beg] you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  – Romans 12:1-2

I want to encourage you to see the world as it is. That sin is sin and not just an alternative choice that is OK so long as you don’t hurt someone else.  Like abortion, if it does hurt someone else you just redefine what  “someone else” is.  If it is not human then you are not hurting someone else, so it is OK.  Lower the bar until you can jump over it – call it good and a victory for what is right. 826,000 abortions in the US in 2017 (Guttmacher Institute).  That is what happens when people abandon what God says it right. 

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  – Proverbs 14:12

God wants your heart totally devoted to Him.  A heart turned toward God and away from the world. And the result will be that we love others the same way that God loves us. With mercy and grace.  Pretty simple really. So why then isn’t it easy? Simply stated – it is our old nature – what we want to do naturally.  Jesus was telling us to do what man cannot do apart from God. Certainly is starts with a decision when we are born again – but continues with really that same decision every day – with every breath we take – choosing God and not the world.  So what will you choose today?

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone