Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reflections for July 30, 2009

"The Folly of Pigheadedness"

My father-in-law loved to farm. He always planted a big garden and raised enough meat for the family table. He used an electric fence to keep his pigs contained. One pig he owned refused to be confined by the fence. He had been bitten so many times by the fence that he came to the point he would run through it. He would get back from the fence, paw the ground, squeal loudly, and charge. He knew he was going to be shocked but his desire to escape became greater than his fear of the pain. He would run full speed into the fence squealing all the way. When he was on the other side he would usually head to the neighbors yard to destroy the lawn.

The electric fence was not there to torture the pig. It was there to provide a place of safety, where he would have access to all he needed and would be free from the dangers of traffic and the neighbor’s gun. Apparently, the pig was not smart enough to realize this. He saw the fence as an infringement on his desire to roam. He chose the inevitable pain from the fence over the comfort of remaining within the boundaries set by his owner.

Many people are like this pig. I guess you could say they are pig headed. While they are aware of the boundaries God has placed on their lives, they do not seem to understand God’s reasons for placing them there. They see them as hindrances to the happiness they seek. They believe they drain all the fun out of life. Of course, this thinking is wrong. God’s boundaries are not to deny us the joys of living but to protect us from the accesses within our hearts. So much of the pain people suffer is directly the result of their own or someone else’s refusal to live within God’s boundaries.

What we do not seem to understand is that there is no safer place than within the boundaries God has given. To live outside them, makes us vulnerable to the pain the world has to offer. To live within them gives us a place of security and comfort in good times and in bad. To live within His boundaries gives us access to a peace that baffles those who live on the other side of God’s boundaries.

Each one of us must decide whether we want to live within God’s boundaries, which God has provided for our provision and protection, or we can paw the ground, squeal loudly, and, like my father-in-law’s pig, charge through God’s boundaries and live our life outside His provision and protection. The ladder my bring momentary pleasure and satisfaction but in the long run it will leave us confused, frustrated, and scared by the unforgiving nature of the world.

If you have chosen in the past to be pigheaded, there is good news for you. God is aware of your situation and He is willing to forgive you and allow you once again to find a peace that surpasses understanding living life within the boundaries He has set for His children. All that is required is a repentant heart and a sincere desire to have the joy of your salvation restored.

The choice before us each day is not complicated. We can either be pigheaded or we can commit our lives to being God-centered. One always leads to disappointment and the other leads to fulfillment. Which choice do you choose to make today?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reflections for July 23, 2009

"Trials Can Be Learning Experiences"

During a difficult time in my ministry, I slipped away to a special place for a day of fasting, prayer and reflecting. In the chapel where I was praying I found an old paper back book. I can not remember the title but I can remember the portion that spoke to my heart. It was a chapter devoted to the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.

The account of these three men’s ordeal can be found in Daniel 3:16-30. As you continue to read, I suggest you open your Bible and read the story for yourself. Prior to these verses the king had issued a degree that required everyone to bow down and worship the idol he had made. These three brave young men refused to obey. When threatened with the horror of being cast into a fiery furnace, they chose to place their trust in God and to refuse to bow to the man made idol (Daniel 6:16-18).

Their refusal left the king with no choice but to throw them into the furnace. He had them bound and thrown into the fire (Daniel 6:19-23). As the king gazed through the fiery blaze, he was astounded the men had been freed from their bindings and were walking about in the flames. Even more, astounding there was a fourth figure in the fire with them (Daniel 3:24, 25). Some believe this was the preincarnate Christ. At the very least it was a heavenly being sent to comfort these men in the middle of their crisis.

Nebuchadnezzar was so moved by the experience he responded by giving glory to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego and threatening all who would speak against their God with an unimaginable punishment (Daniel 3:28, 29). He, then, caused the young men to prosper in the province of Babylon (Daniel 3:30).

There are four things this story teaches me. One, doing the right things can sometimes bring trials into our lives. Two, God is never nearer than when His children are in the midst of trials. Three, our obedience to God in the midst of trials is one way for us to honor and glorify Him. Four, in due season, God always rewards the faithfulness of His children, either in this life or the next.

I went home that evening with no resolution to the trials I was experiencing but with a confidence that God was with me in the midst of them and that He would ultimately deliver me. My expectations that day have not gone unfulfilled. God did deliver me and He has blessed me indeed.

As your read this short reflection, if you are in the middle of a trial in your life, remember, trials are opportunities for us to meet God in the most personal way. It is an opportunity for us to prove the truth of the words of the psalmist: “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry … The righteous cry and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm34:15, 17, and 18).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reflections for July 15, 2009

Bringing People Together

Early in our marriage, my wife and I had the opportunity to assist in the formation of a young couples’ Sunday school class. It was an important time in our spiritual development. For me, it was the time when I began to see the Bible as being relevant in everyday life.

One of the greatest lessons I learned from our experiences with the class was God’s ability to bring together people who were completely different. There were two men in the class who were as different as night and day. One man played in a rock band. He had shoulder length hair and all the other trimming that would make him fit perfectly into the counter culture of the sixties. He played in his band until the earlier hours of Sunday morning, but he still stayed awake long enough to come to the class. The other man’s hair was a short flattop. From his appearance, it was clear he was not a part of the counter culture. He looked more like he was home on leave from the military. In the beginning, you could feel the tension in the room, when they entered.

It was amazing during the months that followed to see how God worked in the lives of these two men. Through class discussion the hearts of these individuals began to show. When all the exterior things we use to define people were removed, it became clear that both knew the Lord Jesus and wanted to serve Him. Their paths of service might differ but their intent was the same. While they did not become compatible in areas such as politics, they did become the best of friends.

If these two men had not sat down together in this class, they would not have taken the time to listen to each others heart. Instead, they would have looked across the church with their preconceived notions and would have missed an opportunity for friendship.

This is a lesson that is desperately needed in the church today. Too many congregations are divided by age, worship preference, organization styles, etc. Likewise, denominations are too willing to cast stones at their brothers and sisters from differing denominations. We all would do well to listen to the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26, 27 NASB) If we will heed Paul’s words, we might get beyond our stereotypes and we might find meaningful friendships in the most unlikely places.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Reflection for July 8, 2009

One Step At A Time

In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers there is the story of twelve spies who went to scout the Promised Land for the Jews following their deliverance from Egypt. Of the twelve, only Joshua and Caleb gave positive reports. The remainder reported there was giants in the land and recommended they not go into it. The people listened to the ten and the Jews ended up wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The lesson for us today is that we should never let fear stand in the way of any assignment that God gives. Faith tells us that He provides every need to accomplish every task that He gives.

In the thirteenth chapter of First Samuel, there is another story that gives us an equally devastating response to fear. In Chapter 10:8, King Saul had been given directions by the Prophet Samuel to go to Gilgal and to remain there for seven days until he came. He said that when he came he would offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. Then, he would tell Saul what he was to do. The seventh day came and Samuel was no where to be found. As the day passed, the threat of the Philistines created fear in the people and impatience in Saul. Finally, Saul took matters into his own hands and made the offerings and sacrifices himself. Immediately following his actions, Samuel arrived. For his disobedience Saul lost the privilege of his kingdom enduring forever through his heirs. The lesson for today is that we should always wait and do things according to God’s timing and not our own.

Here you have two stories that demonstrate the mistakes that people often make. First, fear causes them to dig in their heels and to refuse to move forward. Second, impatience causes them to panic and to rush ahead of God’s timing. Both responses lead to disaster. These two blunders lead us to ask how we can know it is from God and it is the right time to do something.

I believe the most important ingredient in discovering and following God’s time table is to engage in intensive prayer. James 1: 5 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (NASB) As we pray, it is important that we realize that God wants us to be successful in discovering and doing His will. He does not hide His will from us. He does not want us to fail. Therefore, if we will put self behind us and be open to what He reveals, we can be assured that He will help us to see clearly, not only what He has for us to do but when He wishes for us to do it.

As we pray we must do so with faith. It is faith that can overcome our fears and calm our impatience. It is faith that brings us our greatest blessings. Andrew Murray said it this way, “Be assured that if God waits longer than you could wish, it is only to make the blessing doubly precious. God waited four thousand years, till the fullness of time, ere He sent His Son. Our times are in His hands; He will avenge His elect speedily; He will make haste for our help, and not delay one hour too long.”

What we can learn from the example of the Jews and King Saul is that we should never pull back from a God assigned task in fear and we should never become over zealous and race ahead of Him. The best strategy is to walk with Him step by step and He will lead you to the place He wished you to be.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reflection for July 1, 2009

Free Indeed

Chrysostom, a fourth century patriarch of Constantinople, was a great example of being free indeed. One of the stories about him tells of an occasion when the Roman Emperor demanded that he renounce his faith. The emperor’s first threat was to have him banished from the kingdom, if he refused to deny his faith in Christ. To this threat he replied, “You cannot because the whole world is my Father’s kingdom.” The second threat was to take his life. He replied, “You cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” The third threat was to take all of his treasures. His reply was, “You cannot, for my treasure is in heaven where my heart is.” Finally the emperor threatened to drive him away from anyone who may befriend him, leaving him all alone. He replied, “You cannot, for I have one Friend from whom you can never separate me. I defy you for you can do me no harm.” Chrysostom had learned the secret of living free under the most adverse conditions.

We do not face this kind of threat because of our religious faith. We are blessed to live where we can worship as we please. While we have political freedom, many of our people have not learned to live free. They remain enslaved to their own passions, habits and fears.

Jesus provided for us a way to live our lives totally free. He said, ‘if you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…So if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed”(John 8:31, 32, 36 NASB). From these verses there appears to be three steps to realizing genuine spiritual freedom.

The first step is to believe in Jesus. In the scriptures belief in Jesus is more than an intellectual accent to the reality that He lived. Belief refers to the belief He was who He said that He was. It is the belief He is the answer to man’s sin problem. It is the belief He is the Savior and that through Him the relationship that was broken by sin can be restored.

The second step has to do with abiding in His word. While we have everything we need to live free, when we believe and receive Christ, we do not experience our freedom until we learn to abide in His word. When we abide in His word, it becomes the governing force in our lives.

The third step is to grow in our understanding of the truth. John 14:6 (NASB) reads, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, but through Me.’” Jesus did not say he knew the truth; He said “I am the truth” As our understanding of Him grows, we become equipped to truly live free, because He becomes the source of our freedom.

When we walk this path step by step we come to understand what it means to be “free indeed”. Chrysostom understood. Fear of death, loneliness, loss of treasure did not bind him. He found all that he needed in Christ. We could learn from his example.