Monday, December 31, 2012

A New Focus For The New Year

"Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being."
1 Corinthians 10:24 (NKJV)

Each year around the end of December people begin to make projections about what they expect the next year to bring.  In the past I have seen things like, "This will be the year of increase", "This will be the year of the double portion", and "This will be the year of abundant provision".  The thing I notice here is that all of these predictions for the New Year are very self-centered, the focus is on what will happen for us and how can God bless us in the New Year.  But, instead of thinking about what we can receive in the next year why not think about what we can give?

While I have no problem with the fact that God wants to bless His children and give them success in every area of life, God does not want us to prosper just so we can sit on a pile of money.  God does not want us healthy just so we can take a vacation and go mountain climbing.  God does not want to reveal the truth of His Word to us just so we can fill our mind with facts.  God blesses us so that we can live the best kind of life AND so that we can be in a position to help others.  Our goal for this next year and every year should not be just to see how we can be blessed but to find a way that we can be a blessing to others.

As we approach a New Year I believe it would be good to have a new focus and start looking for what we can do for other people.  Let's make this next year the year where we are a greater blessing to others than we have ever been before.  In the coming year let's take the focus off of ourselves and what can we receive and let's look for what we can do to improve the lives of other people around us.  Imagine what our churches would look like if we all had this kind of attitude.  If we have a new focus in the New Year and do what we can to bless others we will find that we will be blessed as well and it will be a great way to start the New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What Kind Shape Are You In?

"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 12:2 (NKJV)

People spend a lot of time and money trying to look a certain way.  Some people go to a health club to get into shape or to maintain a certain level of fitness.  There are some people who have surgery to alter how they look to maybe impress other people or to change what they see in themselves as something that is less than desirable.  Some people will watch what they eat because they know that certain types of food have so many calories or this or that health benefit.  But what is even more important than the physical shape we are in is the shape our life takes based on what influences us.

There are many good things in the world but we cannot allow ourselves to just follow whatever society values because those values may contradict God's values. God wants us to follow the pattern for life that He has given us in the Bible.  If we fill our life, our mind, and our words with what God has said we will be "transformed".  The word "transformed" here in Romans 12:2 comes from a Greek word where we get our English word "metamorphosis".  Our life can be transformed as we focus on God and His Word, we can be changed and take on an entirely different shape than we have ever had before.

So, what shape are we in today?  Are we thinking, acting, and talking like the world or are we thinking, acting, and talking like God?  Whatever we are allowing to influence us is going to have an effect on us and cause us to be shaped in a certain way.  If we find that a lot of the things in our life are there due to a wrong kind of influence and the shape we are in is more like the world than God, then we need to make a change.  Check up on yourself and see what shape you are in and make sure that the pattern you are following is from God.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

God's Word - Quality Or Quantity?

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,"
2 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV)

God's Word is profitable and valuable for us; I like to say that the Bible is our blueprint for life.  Everything recorded in the Bible can be helpful to us, and at different times some parts of the Bible are more relevant to us than others.  One thing I have noticed over the years is that some people get the idea that more is always better, especially when it comes to the Bible.  Now I am certainly not saying that people need less of God's Word but my question is, do quality and quantity always go together, especially when it comes to the Bible?

For example, just because I have read the Bible once or more, does that automatically mean that I really have an understanding of it and I know how to apply what God's Word says to my own life?  This is an issue for a lot of Christians.  When you tell some people what the Bible says about their situation they will say things like, "Well yes I know the Bible says that!"  But if we really do "know" what the Bible says and we understand it doesn't that mean that we will then act on it and it then becomes a part of our life?

We need to know what the Bible says but our goal should not just be amassing quantity, we should strive for quality.  When we know and understand even one verse from the Bible it can change our life.  Just knowing a lot of facts without a practical understanding of the facts is useless.  We should all make sure that we have a regular time of reading and studying God's Word but we don't want to just hurry through what we are reading so we can check a chapter or book off of our reading list.  We need to come to God's Word with an understanding that all of God's Word is beneficial and it can change our life, that is a good way to get quality from God's Word.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Has God Revealed To You?

"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."
Deuteronomy 29:29 (NKJV)

God is a revealer of truth; God wants us to know His will.  Over and over again in the Bible we see God showing people truth and helping people see the direction they should go.  Today as Christians we even have the Holy Spirit living in us!  Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth and the Holy Spirit would remind us of things that Jesus has said (John 14:26).  Jesus did say that we must ask to receive, seek to find, and knock to have something opened (Matthew 7:7), but we should remember that God is not trying to hide His plan from us but rather God wants us to know His will.

Too many people focus on the questions they have and what they don't know instead of what they do know.  Many times when some tragedy has occurred or something has not happened the way someone hoped it would there are questions.  We can sometimes get so focused on the questions we don't have the answers to that we lose our focus on what we do know.  If we are not careful we get so caught up in asking "Why?" that we don't do what we do know to do.  It has been said that analysis brings paralysis and that is what happens if we just stay in the place of asking questions without moving forward with what we do know.

What has God revealed to you through His Word and what are you doing with it?  What are you doing about what God has led you to do in your life?  We want to have answers to all of our questions but we should remember as it says in Deuteronomy 29:29 that the things that are secret and unknown to us are in God's hands but what has been revealed is given to us so we can do God's will.  Instead of staying in the dark, so to speak, with the questions we don't have answers to we should walk in the light of God's Word that we do have; God will always let us know the things we need to know so we can do what we need to do.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Simplicity In Christ

"But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ."
2 Corinthians 11:3 (NKJV)

When Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians he warned them about being deceived and getting away from the "simplicity that is in Christ".  Too often people have taken the simple Gospel message and complicated it with man-made rules and regulations.  The fact is that God sent Jesus to die on the cross for humanity and to become our substitute to pay for sin; that is the Gospel message, the good news.  God and His Word are really not as complicated as people sometimes make Him and His Word out to be.

Jesus talked about spiritual things in a very simple way that anyone could understand.  Jesus did not use complex terminology to try and further complicate a God that many people did not really know or understand. The religious leaders of Jesus time also spoke about God, but not like Jesus did.  One reason for this was because those religious leaders were more focused on the rules and regulations of following the Law than they were about having a relationship with God.  In Matthew 23 Jesus said that the Pharisees would even tithe from the herbs they grew but they neglected justice, mercy, and faith.  In other words, the Pharisees missed the point of the Law while trying to keep the regulations of the Law.

God wants a relationship with us, but some Christians have gotten away from the simplicity in Christ and have complicated it with rules, doctrines, and traditions which leave people with no joy and an ineffective Christian life.  We need to spend time with God in prayer, not trying to sound sophisticated or super spiritual but just talking to our Heavenly Father.  We need to spend time with God in His Word, not so we can learn more facts or find some new revelation but just to get to know God better and to discover who we are in Christ.  If you have gotten into the rut of just following the rules then maybe you need to take a look to see where you have gotten away from the simplicity found in Christ and get back to the basics of a focusing on a relationship with God and not living by a set of rules.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Missionaries Need To Share Their Vision

"Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it."
Habakkuk 2:2 (NKJV)
Raising support is a part of missionary life.  This support can be in many different forms, such as: financial support, prayer, donations of materials and so on.  For missionaries to be successful in connecting with people to help raise this support it is necessary for a missionary to be able to share with others what God has called them to do, their vision.  There may be people who are interested in supporting some work that a missionary is doing, but if those people do not know the missionary or understand their vision they won't get involved.  Unless a relationship is built between the missionary and the potential supporter the thing that the potential supporter has will not get to the missionary.

The vision God has given to me is to teach God's Word and to help people learn how to put it into practice in their own life. This may sound like a very general thing because every minister should be able to teach God's Word.  But some missionaries are more focused on evangelism, some missionaries are more focused on establishing churches, some missionaries are helping to meet the natural needs of people while also evangelizing or teaching people.  Whatever area it may be the missionary needs to find a way to share their vision and make it clear so that anyone who is interested in helping the missionary can make the necessary connection and give their support.

Every missionary needs to stay with the work that God has called them to do and trust God to supply all of their needs.  If missionaries get away from their primary calling and spend an undue amount of time raising support or getting involved in projects just trying to get people to support them it can be a negative thing because the missionary is getting away from the direction that God has given them.  Our part is to make our vision plain and easy for others to hook up with and get involved with in the area of support.  Whatever God has called a missionary to do is what the missionary needs to focus on and then find a way to make the vision clear to give people a way to become a partner with them in the work that God has called them to do.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What Did You Bring?

"How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification."
1 Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV)

When Paul wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth he had to correct some things that were out of order there.  Paul said several times that everything in the church needs to be done for edification, to build up others.  Here in 1 Corinthians 14:26 Paul mentioned that everyone in the church at Corinth came with something to contribute to the meeting but even then everything had to work together for the good of the whole group.  It would be like being invited to a party where each person is asked to bring something to eat so everyone can enjoy the evening.

If Paul was writing to churches today he might say that when everyone came together it would be nice if someone besides the pastor had something to contribute or maybe Paul would say that everyone came with a big need.  Although there were some problems in the church in Corinth, people having something to contribute was not one of them. What is really interesting is if you go back to 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 you see that Paul said these were not spiritual people but they were carnal!  A group of carnal people, who had problems, but they still came with something to give!

How about us today, do we come together ready to give something?  Do we have something to bring that will contribute to the edification of others? We do of course come to church to receive something edifying from God, and that will come through other people, but shouldn't we be able to give something as well?  There are plenty of places to get involved in the local church and share the things that God has given us.  How can we come ready to give?  Spend regular time with God in His Word and by talking with Him in prayer.  If we do this we will have something in us that God can use to help edify others through us.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

If You Don't Work (Spiritually) You Won't Eat (Spiritually)

"For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat."
2 Thessalonians 3:10 (NKJV)
When Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians he encouraged them in several areas including personal responsibility, which is what he was talking about in 2 Thessalonians 3:10.  Some people did not have their own food to eat and they had to depend on others.  While there is a good natural principle here what I want to look at is a spiritual application for this verse.  The reason some people don't have much to eat spiritually is because they are not doing much spiritually.

If a person only eats and never does anything physically that person will soon be in a sad physical condition, the same is true spiritually.  I have met people who say that they go to church and read the Bible but they never seem to get anything.  Sometimes these people start looking for a new church or they get caught up in the latest spiritual fad thinking that is the answer.  The real problem could be that while they are taking in spiritual food they are not doing anything with it.  If a person is not working naturally, why should they just keep on eating and eating?  If a person is not involved in any spiritual work, why would they need more and more spiritual food?

God wants to bless us and teach us from His Word but not so we can just sit around and get more and more.  When God teaches us through something we hear in church, or a home group, or somewhere else or when God blesses us it is not just for our benefit, God wants us to do something with what He gives us.  If you are in a place where there does not seem to be much spiritual food coming your way don't just point a finger at your pastor or someone else.  Take an honest look at yourself to see what you have been doing with the knowledge and ability God has given you.  Get involved in your church and where ever else God leads you.  As you give out the good things that God has given you watch how He will continue to teach you and help you so that have even more to give!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Style And Substance

"Therefore let no one sit in judgment on you in matters of food and drink, or with regard to a feast day or a New Moon or a Sabbath.  Such things are only the shadow of things that are to come, and they have only a symbolic value.  But the reality (the substance, the solid fact of what is foreshadowed, the body of it) belongs to Christ"
Colossians 2:16, 17 (Amplified)

One thing I have noticed over the years is the difference between style and substance in regard to someone's personal relationship with God and the teaching and preaching of God's Word.  For example, many of my friends are fellow ministers of some kind and they all have different styles.  But they all have the same goal of getting people connected to God through a relationship with Jesus Christ and helping people grow and develop spiritually.  While the substance is the same the style used is different depending on the person and the situation.

The style of how people serve God may be different too, but if the substance is based on God and His Word then we don't need to be too concerned about the style.  Usually we like our own style and view anything different as wrong, but that is not necessarily the case.  Our goal should not be to find things we disagree about based on a certain style but to find ways to help and encourage each other.  We need to learn to appreciate the differences and find ways to blend the variety we have in the Body of Christ to work together and become as effective as possible.

Colossians 2:16, 17 says we should not be worried about people who would judge us because of what we are eating and drinking or how we celebrate a certain day because these things are about style and not substance.  If there is a problem with the substance of something, if there are some doctrinal problems, then that certainly needs to be addressed; we do not sacrifice substance in favor of style.  Also, we should not just accept a person or teaching because of the style involved without checking the substance.  Each of us need to make sure that our style stems from the truth of God's Word, that way what we are doing will really produce fruit for God and His Kingdom, no matter what the style may be.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Spiritual Identification

"Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, set apart to proclaim God's Good News,"
Romans 1:1 (Weymouth)

In his letter to the Romans Paul begins by introducing himself to the Christians in Rome; Paul wanted to introduce himself and tell the Romans about the things he was teaching because Paul had not yet been to Rome.  As Paul introduces himself he goes from the general to the specific.  Paul starts out by talking about his relationship with God through Jesus, a bondservant, and then Paul talks about his calling, an apostle.  After this Paul says that as an apostle he was set apart to proclaim the Gospel.  In other words, in his calling as an apostle there was something specific Paul was called to do.

Paul understood that his identity began with his relationship with God and went on from there.  If Paul was more focused on his calling from God than his relationship with God he would not have been able to do what he did.  Everything we do for God starts with our relationship with God; if we are not a good bondservant, a good Christian, then we will never accomplish the things that God has called us to do.  We must first and foremost develop our relationship with God because everything we do for God comes out of our relationship with God.  Then once we find the thing that God has called us to do there will be some specifics in that calling.

If Paul was like some people today he would have started by talking about his calling as an apostle and then listing all of the things he had accomplished, but that is not what Paul did and it is something we can learn from.  We must put our spiritual identity first and not base our identity on anything that we have done.  Over and over again in his letters Paul talks about his relationship with God and refrains from listing his accomplishments as a way to identify himself.  We need to base our identity on who we are in Christ, that is our spiritual identity.  From who we are in Christ, God will lead us into the specific thing He is calling us to do.  It all starts with our relationship with God so get to know who you are in Christ and let God lead you into the specific plan He has for your life.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Major Doctrine Or Major Distraction?

"till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,"
Ephesians 4:13, 14 (NKJV)

God wants all of His children to grow up spiritually, Ephesians 4:13 talks about becoming a "perfect" man.  That term can be a little misleading because the word "perfect" here does not mean "flawless" but it actually means "complete".  What this is telling us is that God wants us to grow up and develop spiritually and to be a complete person, ready and equipped to do the will of God.  The problem is that many Christians are not complete and ready to do God's will but they are undeveloped and lacking the things that God wants them to have.  The reason for this is that many Christians do not focus on the major doctrines of the Bible and they end up with major distractions.

The majority of Christians are very sincere people who love God and want to do the right thing; the problem is caused by what they feed on spiritually.  While the Bible does have some major and important doctrines, like salvation, faith, prayer, walking in love and so on, most Christians get focused on doctrines that are not so important and this hinders their spiritual development.  Too many Christians are like what it says in Ephesians 4:14, they are unstable, tossed around, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.  Whatever the most popular doctrine of the moment is they follow it and this causes problems for them.

If Christians do not focus on the major doctrines of the Bible they will end up being distracted by minor issues.  Many times I have had discussions with Christians about different things and I have thought to myself, does this really matter?  How is this topic relevant to a person's daily walk with God?  So often we get sidetracked by something that we find to be interesting but it is not really something that will help to build us up spiritually.  Keep your attention on the Bible doctrines that are really important and you will see continued spiritual growth and development in your life which will help you to fulfill God's plan for your life.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Most Important Ministry

"As each one has received a gift, minister to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
1 Peter 4:10 (NKJV)

If you did a survey of Christians and asked them, what is the most important ministry, I am sure you would get a lot of different responses because people have so many misconceptions about what ministry really is.  When you look at how the Bible defines ministry, the term ministry is really referring to serving.  If we understand this it can change not only how we define what ministry actually is but also how we view "ministry".  When we "minister" to someone in some way we serve them and in the context of Christianity and the Bible this service is really something we do for God to help someone else.

One thing that Christians must understand is that anything we do for God is important and vital.  From God's perspective, whatever He directs someone to do is significant, no matter how people may view that thing.  Too often we tend to glamorize some elements of ministry, like teaching and preaching and downplay some elements of ministry like the ministry of helps or children's ministry.  But the thing is, if there is not a harmony of the different aspects of ministry then even the ministry of teaching and preaching God's Word will not be as effective as it should be.

In 1 Peter 4:10 we see that each one has received a gift from God, so each one has to make use of that gift.  If we do not make use of the gift that God has given us, if each one of us does not do what God is leading us to do, then God's plans will never come to pass the way He intended.  If you are someone who is not really sure what gift God has given you then I encourage you to continue to grow and develop as a Christian through regular time with God by reading the Bible and talking to God in prayer.  It also helps to get involved somewhere in your local church to make use of the gift you have.  Being involved in your church can even help you discover what gift you have if you don't know what that is yet, as you get involved God will direct you.  So what is the answer to the question of what is the most important ministry?  The real answer is that whatever God leads you to do is the most important ministry.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Walking In The Light, Or Just A Reflection?

"The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple."
Psalm 119:130 (NKJV)

As a Christian I have been blessed by the teaching and preaching of many wonderful men and women of God.  But, while I am very thankful for all these people and their ministries I am even more thankful for the Bible and the Holy Spirit, this is where I get most of my spiritual development.  Psalm 119:130 tells us that the entrance of God's Word brings us light; we need to walk in the light of God's Word.  What I have found is that a lot of Christians are not walking in the light of God's Word but rather in a reflection of light from God's Word that has come to them through some other man or woman of God.

Often when I am talking to Christians they will share what their favorite minister has said or something they learned through this one or that one.  Some people quote a man or woman of God as though that person is the source of truth.  While we can see that God has placed spiritual leaders in the Church to teach and equip Christians (Ephesians 4:11, 12) our focus should not be on any man or woman above God and His Word.  Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would teach us (John 14:26), that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth (John 16:13) and 1 John 2:27 tells us that we do not need to rely on any person to teach us because the anointing, the work of the Holy Spirit, is what teaches us.

Don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that it is wrong to be taught by people that God Himself has gifted and graced, but we need to know God's Word for ourselves.  What I see in God's Word and learn for myself is more important than what anyone else sees in God's Word.  I can't just live my life trying to walk in the light of God's Word that others have given to me because that is really like walking in a reflection of the actual light.  If we want to have true spiritual success we have to walk in the light of God's Word that we see for ourselves and not just rely on a reflection we receive through someone else.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Thought Filter

"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things ."
Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

Many people struggle with depression, lack of self-esteem, and a negative outlook on life.  Over the years as I have talked with people like this I have found that the root of their problems can often be traced back to what they are thinking about.  In Isaiah 26:3 we are told that God will keep us in perfect peace if our mind is focused on Him.  The things we spend our time thinking about will shape our life and help us to live in peace or cause us to live in turmoil.

The Bible has a lot to say about our thoughts and in Philippians 4:8 we have a good guideline for how to filter the thoughts that come to us.  There are things we could think about that are true, but is that same thought pure and lovely?  While it may be true that some people died in some terrible accident that does not mean we should spend all day thinking about it.  Something may sound very noble, but is it true?  Don't spend time thinking about things that you don't even know to be true.  Just because someone tweeted something or posted something on Facebook does not mean it is true and that you need to think about it!

Philippians 4:8 says that we should think about things that are of "good report".  What is a good report?  In the book of Numbers we see that the ten spies who went to the Promised Land and said that Israel could not conquer the land that God had promised to them gave an "evil report".  So an evil report is something that is contrary to what God has said and a good report is something that agrees with what God has said.  This gives us an easy way to filter our thoughts, is the thing we are thinking about in agreement with what God has said in His Word or not?  If we will use the thought filter we find in Philippians 4:8 we will be able to quickly recognize the wrong kind of thoughts and it will help us to focus on the right things and live a life of peace.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Missionary Maintenance Plan

Being a "missionary" is one of the most rewarding things and one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Now, I am not complaining because I would not trade what I am doing for anything; I know that what I am doing is part of God's plan for my life and I have been involved in so many great things as a missionary.  What I have discovered, as I am sure many other missionaries have, is that to be a successful long-term missionary you need to have a missionary maintenance plan.  For me there are three parts to this plan.

First, we need to have a strong relationship with God; we must make sure that we are regularly spending time with God through His Word and in prayer.  It is easy to get so busy working for God that we start to ignore our relationship with God.  As a missionary it can also be easy to focus on the aspect of raising support.  The Bible says that God will supply what I need, not based on all my efforts, but through Christ.  Matthew 6:33 says that if we seek God's Kingdom first then all of the other things we need will be added to us.

Second, we need to stay focused on the call of God in our life.  There will always be hard times as a minister and as a missionary there can be the added stress of living in a different nation than where you are born.  While I can happily say that I enjoy living and ministering in Germany and Europe there are things here that are different from where I grew up.  That is not to say that one is right and the other is wrong, it is just different.  When we are frequently faced with things that are different than what we are used to it can be a problem, this is where culture shock comes in.  For me the solution is to focus on what God has called me to do.  If God has called me to be in a certain place then He will give me the grace to live, work, and succeed there.

Third, we need to develop strong personal relationships.  Thankfully this is an easy one for me; I work with an awesome group of people here in Germany.  It is important to have good personal relationships with people who can help to encourage us and support us in what God has called us to do.  We were not designed to work and live alone so we must have some good friends to help us along the way.  These three things have been a help to me as a missionary and I plan on continuing to use this missionary maintenance plan.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Who Do You Compare To?

"Not that we [have the audacity to] venture to class or [even to] compare ourselves with some who exalt and furnish testimonials for themselves!  However, when they measure themselves with themselves and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding and behave unwisely."
2 Corinthians 10:12 (Amplified)

One of the problems Paul faced in his life was people who did not respect him or his ministry; this is one of the issues Paul writes about in the second letter to the Corinthians.  Some people said that Paul's physical appearance and how he talked was not impressive (2 Corinthians 10:10).  Paul's response is that while some people measure and compare themselves with others he was not interested in doing that.  As we read in 2 Corinthians 10:12 Paul said people who compare themselves with others and measure themselves by others are not wise.

In Philippians 3 Paul talked about his natural heritage but said all he wanted was to be "found in Christ".  Paul knew that the only important thing in life is how we measure up to and compare with what God wants for us.  It is easy to start measuring our life and our success by other people but this is a trap the enemy wants us to fall into.  God has a plan for our life and how successful we may or may not look compared to other people does not matter as long as we are doing what God wants us to do.

If we try to build our confidence and self worth on how we compare to other people we will get into trouble.  God does not want us comparing ourselves to others but He wants us to take a look into His Word and compare ourselves with the standard that we see there.  We will get off track with God's plan if we don't follow God's standard but instead look for approval from others and compare ourselves with others.  We need to be interested in being approved by God, not people.  So, who do you compare to?  Let's make it our goal to measure up to the godly standards we see in the Bible and not compare ourselves to other people.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Watching For Wisdom

"Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice?
Blessed is the man who listens to me (wisdom), watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors."
Proverbs 8:1, 34 (NKJV)

In Proverbs chapter 8 wisdom is personified and shown talking to people about the advantages of wisdom, understanding and instruction.  In Proverbs 8 we learn that kings reign through wisdom (8:15), that God had wisdom before creation (8:22) and wisdom is like a master craftsman (8:30).  Most people would agree that wisdom is a good thing but strangely enough wisdom is something that many people don't seem to have enough of.

Since wisdom is so good what can we do to get more wisdom?  Proverbs 9:10 tells us that the fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  If we do not put God and His ways in first place in our life we will not even be able to start on the path of wisdom.  Proverbs 11:2 says that with humility comes wisdom but that with pride comes shame.  This lets us know that a right attitude is also important if we want to get wisdom.  A third thing about getting wisdom is that we need to watch for wisdom.

How can we "watch for wisdom"?  The Bible tells us that God gives wisdom and He stores up wisdom for the righteous (Proverbs 2:6, 7).  We can get wisdom by following God and making sure we spend time with His Word.  Another good way to get wisdom is to make sure we spend time with the right people.  Wisdom is with those who have understanding (Proverbs 10:13, 23; 14:33) and wisdom comes from the mouth of the righteous (Proverbs 10:31).  The people we listen to should first of all be godly people and secondly people who have some understanding.  There are a lot of people who want you to listen to them but they don't have any wisdom to give.  Be choosy about who you listen to and watch for wisdom coming through God's Word and godly people.  Take the time to watch for wisdom and you will reap the benefits!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Whole Is No Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts

"And if one member suffers, all the parts [share] the suffering; if one member is honored all the members [share in] the enjoyment of it."
1 Corinthians 12:26 (Amplified Bible)

There is a saying that goes something like, "The whole is greater (or more) than the sum of its parts".  The idea is that things working together produce or become something greater than what they are individually.  This saying expresses an important truth that we also see in the Bible, but there is something else we can see here if we look at this phrase a little bit differently. The whole is no greater than the sum of its parts when every part of that whole is not functioning properly.

Usually the whole cannot rise above the sum of the parts involved.  In other words, you can have a very healthy and strong group that is restricted from its fullest potential by one or more weak member. There may be a company that is excelling in most of what it does but the parts that are not excelling are hindering the whole from moving forward.  A church may have several areas that are working well but if there are some areas that are weak and struggling it will have an effect on the whole church.  As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:26 when one part of the body is suffering the whole body is affected.  The Body of Christ and organizations are made up of many parts; just think, what could happen if every part was doing well in their particular area?
Every Christian will either be contributing to the heath and stability of their local church, and the overall Body of Christ, or they will be hindering it.  Ephesians 4:16 says that every part of the body has something to give.  But what if some parts of the body or an organization did not fully give what they could, would that body, church, or organization do everything that it could or should do?  We need to take an honest look at ourselves and ask if we are being a weak or a strong part of whatever we might be involved in.  This applies especially to the Body of Christ and our local church but also in our families, where we work and whatever else we might be involved in.  Let's all function at our full capacity and make the whole strong rather than be the weak part that holds the body back from achieving its fullest potential.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tracing Your Spiritual Genealogy

"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  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 3:26-28 (NKJV)

There are some people who spend time researching their family history, their genealogy.  These people can go back quite a few years and tell you many stories about this or that ancestor.  Other people may not know a lot about their personal family history but they are very proud of their country of origin or their ethnic background.  Still others put a lot of confidence in their education, social standing, financial status, or their job.  While it can be interesting to learn about our family history and who our ancestors were, it is far better to trace our spiritual genealogy and get to know it better.

In Galatians 3:26-28 we are told that through faith in Jesus Christ we have become sons of God, God is now our heavenly Father.  Today we are God's children and that is the main aspect of who we and what we need to focus on.  No matter what earthly family we came from, good or bad, we can now easily trace our spiritual genealogy; the spiritual family that we are in is what really matters.  Paul says in Galatians 3:28 that for those in Christ, people who have received salvation through Jesus, there is no nationality, social standing, or gender that takes precedence over our spiritual position in Christ.

No one is able to choose the natural family that they were born into, but once we choose to receive salvation we are a part of God's family and we have become a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Because we are a new creation in Christ all of the old and former things that identified us are gone.  We need to find out who we are as a child of God and live our life based on that, not on who our natural relatives are but who are spiritual Father is.  Get to know who you are through God's Word and don't allow your natural past or present, good or bad, to be the thing you base your life on.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

You Are What You Eat, Spiritually

"For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God."
Acts 20:27 (NKJV)

There is a saying about how the food you eat has an effect on your overall well-being, you are what you eat.  If you eat healthy foods you will be healthy and if you eat a lot of junk food you will not be so healthy.  Concerning natural food, we need to have a diet that is balanced with foods from all of the proper food groups.  Spiritually speaking we need to get to know all of what God's Word has to say and not just our favorite parts of the Bible or whatever happens to be the latest emphasis in Christian circles.

Our main source of spiritual food is from the Bible, but we need a proper balance.  For example, some people have so much of their focus on judgment and sin.  They have a steady spiritual diet of teaching in this area so that is how they view everything.  Any little sin they see is magnified in their eyes and worthy of condemnation.  Other Christians have a spiritual diet of nothing but the mercy and grace of God and this is all they seem to see.  It is almost as though sin does not exist for them and they end up living undisciplined and irresponsible lives.  These are just a couple of examples.
If we don't have a well-balanced natural diet we will get into trouble and the same goes for our spiritual diet.  Paul talked about the whole council of God (Acts 20:27) and this needs to be our focus as well.  Spiritually it works about the same way, we have to realize that there are many important truths in the Bible and we need to have a well-rounded understanding of God's Word and what it means for our lives.  You are what you eat, spiritually; what does your diet consist of and do you need to make some adjustments?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What Do You Have, What Can You Do?

"Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat. But He answered and said to them, You give them something to eat. And they said to Him, Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat? But He said to them, How many loaves do you have? Go and see. And when they found out they said, Five, and two fish."
Mark 6:36-38 (NKJV)

Many people know the story from Mark 6 about the feeding of the 5,000.  The disciples were concerned about the crowd of people having something to eat and Jesus told the disciples that they should provide the crowd with some food.  Immediately the disciples started talking about the problem and asking if they were supposed to go and buy food for all the people; they were more focused on what they didn't have than what they did have.  Jesus replied by asking the disciples what they did have and the end of the story is that Jesus used what was available to meet the need.

We can see this principle repeated over and over again in the Bible, that God wants us to make use of what we have and start with what we can do.  God will take what we have and use what we can do to meet the need and bring a solution to the problem.  Two other good Bible stories about this can be found in 1 Kings 17 and in 2 Kings 4.  Both situations show someone in need who followed God's direction and took what they had and did what they could and found a solution.  It may be true that there are some things we don't have yet or can't do at the moment but what is available to us right now?

So often we find ourselves in situations where we feel inadequate and don't think we can do what needs to be done.  We focus on what we don't have instead of what we do have.  God will meet all of our needs and help us with whatever problem we face, but sometimes we need to take the first step.  If we use the principle we see from the feeding of the five thousand we will first find out what we do have and what we can do.  Then we can give those things to God and allow Him to help us meet the need and to do what needs to be done.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk

"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,"
Philippians 3:13 (NKJV)

Recently I thought of the phrase, "Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk".  My problem was not spilled milk but there was a fly in my coffee.  I had made myself some coffee and I went out onto the balcony of my apartment with my computer to do some work outside.  But, when I went to take the first drink of coffee a fly had landed in my drink.  So, rather than just sit there with a sense of disappointment and thirst I removed the fly and got something else to drink.  In the same way, when we deal with difficulties in our life, we need to do what is necessary to take care of the situation and just move on.

When we have a problem it makes no sense to sit there and cry about it, that won't change anything; this is where the idea for the saying about the milk came from.  In Philippians 3:13 Paul talked about forgetting what happened in the past and moving forward.  Paul admitted to not having had a perfect past but he didn't allow the problems of the past to cloud his future.  We can see similar things with other people in the Bible who continued to move forward with God's plan in their life despite the problems and disappointments they faced.

Everyone will deal with difficulties in life but it is what we do when we experience the difficulties that matters.  If we just stop and feel badly or if we don't do anything about the problem nothing will get better.  In the letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation Jesus talks about the rewards overcomers will receive, but there are no rewards for those who just give up and cry about the problems they have faced.  Hebrews 13:6 tells us that we can boldly say the Lord is our Helper; with God's help we can clean up any mess we encounter in life, move forward, and fulfill the will of God!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Christian First, Missionary Second

One thing that has helped me over the years is having the right perspective about who I am.  My identity first and foremost is who I am in Christ, I am a Christian.  After my identity as a child of God comes the plan God has for my life; because I am His child I go to Him to see what it is He wants me to do.  However, if I get these two things mixed up I might have some problems.
As someone who lives and works for God in a country that is not their country of origin I am usually referred to as a missionary.  As I wrote about in a previous blog, the word missionary is used to identify people who actually do many different things but generally a missionary is someone who lives in a country they do not originate from.  No matter what work a missionary may do, or what anyone might do for that matter, our work does not define us.  And no matter where we live, our location does not define us; it is our relationship to God that matters.
One problem that missionaries have had in the past is that rather than go to evangelize and teach others, missionaries have gone to countries and worked more to change customs and culture than they have to promote God and His Word.  When living in another country where things may be different than what we are used to it can be tempting to only focus on trying to make others like us and not to make them disciples like Jesus talked about in Matthew 28:18-20.  This focusing on changing customs and culture without changing people normally ends in failure and frustration.
Many missionaries, spiritual leaders, and other people working for God get "burned out" because they are focusing on the wrong things.  Too often people are missionaries first and Christians second or even, Americans first and Christians second.  While I am very thankful for the work God has called me to and I certainly do appreciate my country of origin, my plan is to focus first of all on being a Christian and to let everything else come into line after that.  In my view that is the way to be successful as a missionary or in anything else we might do for God.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Were The "Good Old Days" Really That Good?

"Do not say, Why were the old days better than these? For it is not wise or because of wisdom that you ask this."
Ecclesiastics 7:10 (Amplified)

In the Old Testament we read about God delivering Israel from bondage in Egypt.  The people of Israel were in "oppression" in Egypt (Exodus 3:7), they were "mistreated and afflicted" by the Egyptians (Deuteronomy 26:6), and there was even a time when the Pharaoh commanded the people of Israel to kill all of their baby boys (Exodus 1:16).  If you continue reading the story about Israel being delivered and their journey towards the land God promised them you see something very strange happening, the people of Israel started saying that they wished they were back in Egypt!  Over and over again when Israel ran into a problem in their present situation they said they would have been better off in Egypt.

What happened with Israel in the Old Testament sounds a bit crazy, people talking about going back into slavery just because things get difficult.  But what the Israelites did is the same thing that happens today when people talk about "The Good Old Days" and how wonderful things were in the past.   When we face a problem in life and things are difficult it is easy to look back to the past and think that everything was better back then.  If we are looking back to some time or situation in the past and believing that it was so much better than what we have now we are falling prey to deception. 

In Philippians 3:13, 14 Paul talked about forgetting the past and moving forward to the goal God has for us.  If you really take an objective look back, the "Good Old Days" were really not always as good as we remember.  If we stop or slow down to take a look behind us we will delay our process of moving forward and even create more problems for ourselves.  We need to stop being deceived by romantic views of the past and move forward in our life. God has a plan and a purpose for us and it is not found in the past but in our future!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Walking In Love - Specks And Planks

"And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye?
Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Matthew 7:3-5 (NKJV)

In these verses we see a situation that too often repeats itself, someone pointing out the problems of another person without taking note of their own problem areas.  It is quite sad to me how frequently I have seen or heard stories of someone who is quick to point out something negative about someone else.  It is easy to spend time looking for the problems that other people have but it is better to look for areas in our own life that need development.  Besides that, the New Testament says more about building up and encouraging others than about judging one another.

If we read 1 Corinthians 13, and specifically verses four through seven, we get a very good view of what love is; my favorite Bible version of these verses is the Amplified version.  In 1 Corinthians 13 we see that love is patient, kind, not touchy, it bears up under anything and everything, and love believes the best about other people.  Try to point fingers at others and judge them with all of that in mind!

How much time do we spend looking for ways to build people up, encourage them and help them go the right direction?  If we focused more on helping people go the right direction then we would not have to be so concerned about people going the wrong direction.   Let's spend more time dealing with our own "planks" and not be so concerned about the "specks" we see in the lives of others.  Remember that God is love and He does not just spend all of His time telling you about your problems but instead He is trying to help you grow and develop spiritually so that you can be an effective part of the Body of Christ.  That is a good example to follow!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Untaught And Unstable

"As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures."
2 Peter 3:16 (NKJV)

In 2 Peter 3:16 there is an interesting combination of words, "untaught" and "unstable".  The word "untaught" comes from a Greek word meaning ignorant or uninformed, describing a person who does not know something.  The word "unstable" means "unfixed", giving us the picture of someone who is not settled in one place, someone who lacks a firm foundation.  Peter did not say untaught and stable, or taught and unstable and I think that is an important point to notice, Peter connects being unstable with being untaught.  You may be a nice person but if you are untaught you will probably be unstable.

Peter is saying that some untaught and unstable people had taken things that Paul had written and "twisted" them, resulting in their own destruction.  It would seem that if those same people had been taught correctly that they would have been more stable and they would have been less likely to have misunderstood or misinterpreted what Paul wrote.  Usually we don't have problems with the things we know about, it is the things we don't know about that we have problems with.  Many Christians are very wonderful people who love God but they are uniformed about what the Bible has to say.

It is sad to say but many Christians have not been taught well and they tend to be unstable.  Too often people are like what Paul described in Ephesians 4:14 where he said "that we should no longer be children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine"; that is a picture of an unstable person.  God needs stable, mature people to carry our His plans and purposes in the earth today.  God's Word gives us a firm foundation to live a successful life.  We need to regularly spend time with God's Word so that we are not untaught or unstable and we don't destroy ourselves or others.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Christian Cruise Control

"As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures."
2 Peter 3:16 (NKJV)

On a recent trip I took through several states in the USA, I rented a car that had cruise control, as most cars do today.  As I drove along, I would get up to the speed limit and then set the cruise control.  What I noticed was that some cars passed me but I later caught up to them and passed them.  Other cars were going much slower than I was but when I got close to them they would then increase their speed.  For me this was all very odd but it made me think of a spiritual comparison and how so many people are not stable in life, they are always up and down.  It seems like what they need is some Christian cruise control.

If we base our Christian life on circumstances, our feelings, what other people say, the current economic or political situation and so on, we will not have a steady, stable life.  If we choose instead to live our Christian life based on what God has said in His Word, then no matter what we face in life we will continue on the right path unhindered by the different things that could possibly get us off our course.  The only way to have a steady stable life based on God's Word is to know God's Word and put it into action in our life.

So many Christians don't seem to know a lot about the Bible, and this is definitely a problem.  Often people just rely on what they hear in church for their spiritual nourishment.  While I am certainly not against good churches that teach the truth of God's Word, every Christian needs to take some time each day to read and study the Bible.  There is no substitute for our learning God's Word and making it the basis for what we do, think, and say every day.  By doing this we are setting our Christian cruise control for success and we will live the kind of life that God has planned for us.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Abraham Was Fully Convinced

He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God,
and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.
Romans 4:20-21 (NKJV)

Have you ever had someone tell you something that you did not think was really true?  Maybe they told you about something that happened and you found it hard to believe that it could have happened as they said it did.  But what if they had several friends with them who also said that this thing took place, would you believe it then?  What if that person then showed you a picture or a video of what they were talking about, would you be convinced then?  While you may not have believed what they said to start with and you had your doubts, eventually you were convinced that what was said was true.

When God promised that Abraham would have a son, Abraham was not convinced.  In fact, he laughed and even tried to suggest to God how something else would work just as well.  Abraham did not believe what God said but Romans 4 tells us that Abraham was fully convinced that God could do what He said.  So how did Abraham go from not being convinced to being fully convinced?  In Genesis 17 God changed Abram's name to Abraham.  The name Abraham means, "father of a multitude", but this was not the natural reality in Abraham's life. Then in Romans 4:17 it quotes what is said in Genesis 17 and adds "God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did".

Abraham made the decision to talk about himself in the same way that God did and that is the key.  As Abraham continued to act and speak in faith, by simply saying what God had said, he grew stronger in his faith and became fully convinced that what God had said was true.  Many people are weak in faith and unconvinced about what God says in His Word, first of all because they don't really know God's Word, and secondly because they are not talking like God talks or seeing themselves as God sees them. No matter what is happening in our life we need to go back to God's Word and see what God has to say about it and then speak and act accordingly.