Friday, April 30, 2010

Reflections for April 30, 2010

"The Most Important Verse in the Bible"

If someone asked you what the most important verse in the Bible was, what would your answer be? I can think of many possible answers. Each time I believe I have found my most important verse I discover another one that speaks more loudly to my heart. The verse I have chosen to write about this week rarely makes the cut on people’s most important list. Yet, I believe it is the most important. The verse I have chosen is Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (HCSB).

I can almost hear the gasp of many who would ask, why that verse? If you take time to consider the magnitude of such a statement, you might understand the faith it takes to belief it. When you read further, you discover the word “let” over and over again. It is significant because it does not allow for God to gather materials from all over the galaxies with which He would create a new world. It literally means He spoke it into being. Think about the complexities of our world and you can understand the awesomeness of the one who created it by simply saying “let there be”.

Why is it important? It is important because, if one does not accept the first claim made in a book, he/she is unlikely to accept the claims made throughout the remainder of it. On the other hand, if one accepts this verse as a fact, everything else the book claims does not seem to be difficult. A God who can speak the world into existence has no problem parting a great sea, making the sun stand still, making an axe head float, making a donkey speak, sending His angels to take up one of His faithful prophets in a flaming chariot, etc. If one believes this verse, he/she is well prepared to answer the question posed by God to the Prophet Jeremiah: “Look, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for Me” (Jeremiah 32:27 HCSB)? For those who believe the answer is a resounding NO, nothing is too difficult for you, Lord. This means there is no problem I have that is beyond His control and ability to fix.

Once I had accepted fully Genesis 1:1, the next big question for me was, why would such an awesome God care for someone like me? Yet He does. This leads me to my second most important verse, which is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (NASB). God’s love for the world clearly includes me. While I still may not understand why he has chosen to love me, I can humbly accept His love and rejoice, because, after all, He did create this world and He can do as He chooses.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reflections for April 22, 2010

"Are You A Dial-Up or Broadband Christian"

In his book, Signs of Life, David Jeremiah wrote about dial-up and broadband spirituality. He wrote, “Too many Christians log on to God once a day when they have their quiet time or once a week when they go to church. They pray; they read their Bible; they’ve connected with God. And that’s good…as far as it goes. The problem with that approach to the spiritual life is that there is no sense of being ‘always on’ __ no sense of living in the moment with God once you’ve finished your quiet time. You open your Bible, bow in prayer, conduct your business with God, and then log of for the day.” (p. 17)

The reality is that there are more dial-up Christians than there are broadband ones. They pride themselves on the few minutes that they allot to God each day. There biggest concern is whether they should give Him the five or ten minutes in the morning or at the end of the day. They pride themselves on their faithfulness to this special time. Besides the time allotted, they remain disconnected for the remainder of the day unless a problem arises that they do not feel capable of fixing.

Before you start having thoughts of how judgmental this sounds, let me add that we all have the tendency to be dial-up Christians. Our mistake is to believe that we can handle most things on our own. We do not want to bother Christ with the mundane things of life. We make all kinds of decisions without consulting Him and, when our decision proves to be faulty, we blame Him for letting us fall into the mess we find ourselves in. The truth is most of the messes in our lives would never occur, if we would switch from dial-up to broadband.

Broadband Christians may set aside a special time each day with the Lord, but they understand that this time is not enough. They know that they need God’s input throughout the day. This doesn’t mean that there is a constant stream of information being passed to them, but it does mean their mind is open to receive directions anytime God wishes to send them. They recognize it is dangerous to tell God that He must wait till morning or evening to give His input.

The benefits of being broadband Christians are many. They are always open to the divine appointments that God puts in their path during the day; they are never turned off to God’s directions; and they do not miss the divine opportunities that God provides each day. As a result, they fulfill God’s command to be salt and light in their world.

It would behoove us all to make a definite commitment to broadband spirituality during this wonderful season of celebration and in the years to come.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reflections for April 14, 2010

"The Importance of Teamwork"

Any great coach understands the importance of teamwork. While teams may have stars that are mostly created by the fans and media, the coach understands that the star shines more brightly when his/her teammates provide the support needed. The greatest challenge for the coach is to discover where the individuals can be used most effectively to assure the team will benefit the most. In the process the coach must convince each player that his/her contribution to the team is vital. When you eliminate star status and have everyone understanding their contribution is essential for the team to be all it can be, the team has the greatest opportunity to reach its full potential.

This same principle of teamwork determines the success of the church. The major difference is the Lord Jesus Christ is the owner of the church. Through His Holy Spirit, He provides the gifts that His church needs to fulfill every demand He places upon it. Failure to succeed is never due to lack of giftedness but to underachievement by the individuals to whom the gifts have been given.

Like a great coach, the successful pastor must be able to lead the people to discover their gifts and to use them effectively for the building up of the body of Christ which is the church. Paul spells out this responsibility in his letter to the Ephesians. He wrote, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ;” (4:11, 12 NASB).

I believe these two verses teach that a pastor has three important responsibilities toward his members. First, the pastor must assist his people in discovering their gifts. One of the reasons the 20-80 percent principle (20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work.) is reflected in many congregations is the people have never been taught they are gifted. Because they have had no formal training, they assume they can do nothing. Second, the pastor is responsible with assisting the people in developing their gifts. God gives the gifts but the receiver is responsible for developing it. It does not develop without the proper attention. Third, the pastor must be willing to lead the people into deploying their gift in ministry to the church and the community in which the church is located.

Is the picture becoming clearer? Christ gives the gifts; the pastor does his part; and the people do theirs. Working together the task gets done. Since Christ gave the gifts, He is the only one who deserves praise. Everyone else has done his or her part, according to the gifts that have been bestowed upon them. No one has the right to claim more importance. Only Christ is deserving of the glory.

Have you discovered your gift(s)? Are you looking for opportunities to develop your gifts? Are you using them to build up the body of Christ? If you answered yes to these questions, you are the type of team player, I believe Christ would call faithful.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Reflections for April 8, 2010

"Lessons Learned from a Tree"

There is a tree in our backyard that refused to shed all of its leaves last fall. I watched expectantly as the winds of winter blew through the tree, expecting the final leaves to fall, but about one third continued to cling tenaciously to the limbs. As spring approached the sap in the tree began to rise and new growth began to appear on the limbs. The new growth gradually forced the last leaves to fall to the ground. For months the leaves had withstood the forces from without that were trying to dislodge them, but they were no match for the force of the sap and the new growth it created from within. This beautiful picture of nature serves as a great example of the struggle that goes on within the lives of Christians.

When someone becomes a Christian, the scripture teaches they become a new creature:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come” (II Corinthians 5:17 NASB).

This raises the question, what new things come? I believe the change involves our very core. At our core, there must be a desire to follow our Lord. I guess you could say our “want to” changes.

That said, we all find ourselves in the struggle Paul faced when he wrote,

“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15 NASB).

While Paul’s core had changed creating the desire to obey, his flesh had not been eradicated.

We can all identify with Paul’s struggle. Each one of us has our own battle with the flesh within us. Like the leaves on our tree that refused to give up all its leaves, we have certain things that continue to hold onto us, robbing us of our joy. Paul found the secret to winning the victory over the flesh. He wrote, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 NASB).

I believe Paul recognized that all the good intentions in the world could not deliver us from the temptations of the flesh. While we might escape from many of them, we all have our own weaknesses. As we die to self daily and learn to walk under the guidance of the Spirit, these things will begin to have less and less sway in our lives. Like the sap, which produced new growth, forced the last leaves from our tree, the Spirit will force those tenacious sins of the flesh from our lives and will replace them with the beautiful fruit of the Spirit. Paul describes the fruit of the spirit this way:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is not law” (Gal. 5:22, 23 NASB)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me this day to die to self and to walk in the Spirit. Create in me a bountiful supply of the beautiful fruit the Spirit produces in the life of one who walks in Him. Drive out every remnant of the flesh that keeps me from being the man you want me to be. In Jesus Holy Name I pray. Amen.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reflections for April 1, 2010

"Joy or Grief"

This past week has brought forth a flood of emotions. On Sunday in our church, a man who had not walked without a cane since 1978 and had not walked at all outside of his house since 1989, walked unassisted to the front of the church and helped to take up our offering. On Monday morning, we received an email from one of our dearest friends telling us that his oldest son (40 years old) had succumbed to the cancer that had plagued him for the past year. Both of these families love our Lord. Yet circumstances dictate that one face this week with great joy and the other with hearts filled with sorrow and loss.

The first gentleman had endured four previous surgeries and none had relieved the problem. Because of the four unsuccessful surgeries, he was hesitant to consider another attempt. Finally, after the pain became unbearable, he gave permission to the surgeon to proceed and he turned the results over to the Lord. While the world may give credit to the surgeon for the operations success, the family understands that the ultimate praise belongs to our Lord. The surgeon may have held the scalpel but I am convinced God guided the hand.

The second family had stood closely by and ministered to their eldest son’s needs for the past year. They too had prayed for God’s healing but physical healing had not come. Their consolation was when the end came, it came without struggle. Their son spoke clearly to his brother who was sitting by his side and then slipped into eternity. Their second consolation was they knew he had a home waiting for him in heaven. For him, it was not an ending but a new beginning. For them, it was hearts filled with deep sorrow and loss and the question, why did it have to end this way? Why could he not have lived?

Here within twenty-four hours my wife and I witnessed two heart touching moments. The first was one of great joy. It is easy to respond to such a situation. It is a time of joy. It is a time to give thanks unto God and to praise Him for His goodness. It is a time to marvel at His greatness. It is a time to rejoice with a family who was experiencing something I believe can be described as a miracle. Words are not hard to come by in circumstances such as this.

The second was totally different. Most words seem trite. People find it hard to say anything but feel uncomfortable being silent. In their quandary they sometimes say things that sting the heart more than comfort it, that raise more questions than they answer. It is at times such as these that less words are normally the better choice. When the fog of shock and loss has begun to lift, the family will remember your presence more than anything you might say.

Knowing how shallow words can sound at a time such as this, I prayed for God to show me something to share. I picked up a copy of Streams in the Desert, compiled by Mrs. Charles Cowman. I opened it randomly and found myself at the words written for July 19. As I read, I believe God provided words to share. Here is a portion of that day’s contribution:

The most comforting of David’s psalms were pressed out by suffering;
and if Paul had not had his thorn in the flesh we had
missed much of that tenderness which quivers in so many of his letters.

The present circumstance, which presses so hard against you (if surrendered to Christ),
is the best shaped tool in the Father’s hand to chisel you for eternity.
Trust Him, then. Do not push away the instrument lest you lose its work.

Strange and difficult indeed
We may find it,
But the blessing that we need
Is behind it.
The school of suffering graduates rare scholars.

While they may not be ready to hear it, the family who is now drowning in the cauldron of sorrow may have the greater blessing. I say this because it is at the bottom of our deepest grief that we have the greatest opportunity to encounter the loving touch of the one who gave His own Son that we might someday spend eternity with Him. He too understands the immense pain of seeing His son suffer.