Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stirring Up Your Joy

I wonder if the joy that we're supposed to have in the Lord as Christians doesn't really show in the way that joy is supposed to show in our lives. I mean, shouldn't it shine?! Shouldn't our faces be so full of radiant joy that the light would nearly blind the eyes of those we meet?

In the first few verses of 1 Peter we're reminded that according to the mercy of God in which we've been born again:

  • We have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
  • We have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading.
  • We have a salvation that ought to cause us to rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory!
With that kind of faith foundation, let me offer you, Christian, seven things you can do this week to stir up your joy in the Lord:

1. Do you best James Earl Jones impersonation. That is, read your Bible out loud. Try it! Get into character and add the emphasis where it should be. Feel the excitements, the sorrows, the tears, the warnings, the pleadings, the surprises, the hopes and the wonder. Hear the Lord speaking. Hear His compassion, His anger, His love. Be encouraged and strengthened in His promises. Remember His mighty acts of deliverance and salvation on behalf of His people. Where do you begin? Try any one of the Psalms. Maybe start with Psalm 33. Romans 8. 1 Corinthians 15. Read your Bible out loud and see if His word doesn't cause you to rejoice in Him.

2. Go to your room and shut the door. And pray. Pray for God's glory. Get down on your knees before your Father who is heaven, who sees what is done in secret, and pray like you've never prayed before. Refocus your praying from your own agenda onto God's agenda. Pour out your petitions before His throne knowing that He hears you. Cast your cares upon the Lord, for He cares for you. Pray in faith according to the will of God, believing that God will answer. See if the peace of God that passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus doesn't flood your soul with joy.

3. Jam along with Third Day in a song of praise. Sing along with Third Day or Chris Tomlin or the Gold City Quartet, or whatever your favorite group, in an offering of praise to the Lord. Or pick your favorite hymn or chorus and let 'er rip. Sing a new song. Sing it out loud. Sing it real loud! Dance if the Spirit moves! Raise your hands in the air or bow your knees to the ground. Let praise flow from your heart through your lips and up to heaven's throne.

4. Count to twenty. And name your blessings along the way. Write down twenty blessings you have received from the hand of God, and delight in the Father from whom all blessing flow. Give thanks to the Lord for His many blessings, for His goodness and His grace. Count them, name them one by one, and I bet you won't be able to stop at twenty.

5. Make your feet beautiful. That is, share the gospel with someone who needs to hear it. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news (Rom. 10:15). The message of salvation in Christ Jesus is the greatest news of all time! Don't keep it all to yourself - let it out! You may not only brighten someone's day, but deliver the word that will bring them to the light of everlasting life. See if the sharing of your faith in Christ doesn't bring joy to your own heart!

6. Bake cookies for your neighbors. Use your gifts in ministry. If baking's not your thing, then do your thing. Those with the gift of encouragement or mercy or service may find that baking cookies and taking them to cheer up or minister to a discouraged soul becomes an avenue of great blessing and joy. You use whatever gift you have recieved in the Spirit to build up the body of Christ. If it's in giving, then give with gusto. If it's teaching, then study and teach that message like there's no tomorrow. You will find great joy and fulfillment in using your God-given gifts for the building up of the church for the glory of God.

7. "Brace for impact." Those words spoken by the heroic pilot who carefully guided his powerless plane into the Hudson River and saved the lives of his passengers are helpful for us, as well. You know there's going to be hard times and trouble in this life. You know you will face suffering and pain. Christians are not immune from crash landings. Be ready for them and brace for impact, so that when the times of trials and testing come, you will not be caught off-guard and be shaken, but you will be able to stand firm in the faith. The glory that awaits on the others side far outweighs our light and momentary afflictions here. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds" (James 1:2). "Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed" (1 Pet. 4:13).

OK, one more. Number 8 is this, if you want your joy to be full, spoken from the lips of Jesus: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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 be in you, and that your joy may be full." - John 15:9-11

May the joy of the Lord be yours in abundance!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Living in Fear of the Lord

I remember back in the dark ages of fourth grade a time when I got paddled in school. It was the wooden one, with holes drilled in it so that the air current would not deter the force of the swing. Three whacks from our principle, Mr. Wright, at Lincoln Elementary School in Robinson. Ouch.

What did I do wrong? Coming in from recess one snowy afternoon, a couple of classmates and I were stomping our boots down the hallway, making noise when we should have been quiet. Three whacks.

To this day I quietly brush the snow from my boots and walk quietly down every hallway. The fear of being sent to the principle’s office and having to bend over and take such punishment was enough to keep me out of trouble (mostly) throughout school. It was a healthy fear, knowing that Mr. Wright didn’t bear the paddle for nothing.

There used to be a time when most students lived in a healthy fear of their teachers and principles. Children lived in a healthy fear of their parents and elders. Citizens lived in a healthy fear of the law. And Christians lived in a healthy fear of the Lord. What’s happened to that?

I’m not sure that we know what it is to live in the fear of the Lord. For followers of Christ Jesus, living in fear of the Lord is living in reverence and awe of God. It is knowing that God is the all-powerful, almighty, righteous, holy and just Judge to whom we must give account of ourselves as we stand one day before the judgment seat of God (Rom. 14:10-12). To fear the Lord is to hate evil (Pr. 8:13). It is understanding that every action I take, every word I speak and every thought and attitude of my heart and mind is subject to the examination of God’s ruling.

For Christians, this judgment is not the same as that of an employee who’s messed up on the job walking into his boss’ office about to get fired. This judgment seat has nothing to do with salvation. When we received Jesus through faith, believing in His atoning sacrifice for our sins upon the cross, God forgave our sins and declared us righteous in His Son. We are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24), and “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Thank God we are saved from the wages of our sin, which is death and hell!

But we will still give an account of our works to God. And the kind of healthy fear of the Lord we ought to have is that of one who’s been rescued from death and brought to life, having a burning desire to please the Lord in all that we do. Paul writes to the church saying, “We make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:9-10).

Christian, is it the great aim of your life to please God? Do you have a healthy fear of His loving discipline, which leads to holiness? Are the motives of your heart, the attitudes of your mind, the work of your hands and the words of your mouth pleasing to the One who redeemed your life from darkness by the blood of Christ and brought you into the His kingdom? When we meditate upon the sacrifice of Jesus for us, we should want to obey God and live holy lives for His glory.

Would you be willing to pray with the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24)?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Stick-together Families

I read this article by Chuck Swindoll and thought it was a pretty good summary of how a healthy family functions - not just what it looks like - but how it works. These are families that stick together, grow together and enjoy life together. Our culture desperately needs healthy families!

Swindoll also offers some insights that I needed to be reminded of and a word of challenge I needed to hear. Read it and see what you think. Are there other characteristics you think should be on the list?

No matter what kind of family situation you're in now, you can become a part of the eternal family of God through faith in Christ Jesus, His Son.

John 1:12 says: "But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

I'm thankful for the gracious blessing of my wife and two sons. I'm thankful for my own parents and grandparents. I'm thankful for my siblings and their spouses and children. I'm thankful for my extended relatives. I'm thankful for my in-laws and their families.

But with a deeper gratitude I am thankful that I'm a part of the family of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

I'm humbled by the greatness of the love of the Father, that we should be called children of God (1 John 3:1).

I'm overjoyed by the truth that by following Jesus in doing the will of the Father in heaven, we are called his brother and sister and mother (Matthew 12:49).

I'm thrilled by the privilege of calling upon the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth as "Abba! Father!"

Here's what the apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome, and what the Holy Spirit writes upon the hearts of Christians throughout the ages:

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:14-17).

There's a healthy family for you! The invitation is open for you to become a part of God's family - a family that will stick together forever. Will you come to the Father through Jesus Christ, His Son, today?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Born Again

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice...(1 Peter 1:3-6)

This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, and this song by Third Day captures beautifully the joy of being born again. The lyrics are below. Listen and watch this You-Tube video.

Today I found myself
After searching all these years
And the man that I saw, he wasn't at all
who I thought he'd be
I was lost when you found me here
And I was broken beyond repair
Then you came along and you sang your song over me

It feels like I'm born again
It feels like I'm living
For the very first time
For the very first time
In my life

Make a promise to me now
Reassure my heart somehow
That the love that I feel is so much more real
than anything
I've a feeling in my soul
And I pray that I'm not wrong
That the life I have now, it is only the beginning

It feels like I'm born again
It feels like I'm living
For the very first time
For the very first time
It feels like I'm breathing
It feels like I'm moving
For the very first time
For the very first time

I wasn't looking for something that was more
Than what I had yesterday
Then you came to me and you gave to me
Life and a love that I've never known
That I've never felt before

It feels like I'm born again
It feels like I'm living
For the very first time
I'm living for the first time
It feels like I'm breathing
It feels like I'm moving
For the very first time
I'm living for the first time
In my life

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Supernatural Love

I can’t imagine the pain of a spouse’s infidelity. My heart hurts for those of you who have been through it. Surely there are few things that would rival the feelings of abandonment, betrayal and violation of the marriage covenant.

Most marriages never survive such unfaithfulness. Some do. The depth of forgiveness and love that it would take to restore a marriage when one partner has been disloyal goes beyond normal human capacity. That kind of love comes from above.

One of the most intriguing descriptions of God’s supernatural love for His people is found in the prophet Hosea.

Prophets were often given assignments from the Lord that sane people would never sign up for. Read about Jeremiah, the underwear prophet (Jer. 13), and the guy who walked around with a yoke around his neck (Jer. 27). And what about Ezekiel? Read about his sleeping patterns and cooking lessons in Eze. 4, and about his grooming instructions in chapter 5. God often told His prophets to act out His message in graphic detail to penetrate the hardened hearts of the people.

So it was with Hosea. In order to reveal His own steadfast love for His people, God told Hosea to marry an adulterous woman: “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (Hosea 1:2).

Hosea was to experience the pain of a spouse’s infidelity. His hurt over his wife’s unfaithfulness mirrored the hurt that God experienced as His own people left Him to commit spiritual adultery with other gods. What had they done? They went after other lovers and they forgot the Lord their God. They abandoned their God, betrayed Him, and violated the covenant God had made with them.

Even though the Lord had been so gracious in loving Israel, calling her out of Egypt and carrying her to the promised land, they turned their back on Him. Even though God was the One who raised them in love, taught them to walk, took them up by their arms and healed them, who led them with cords of kindness and bands of love, who eased their burdens and bent down to feed them, still Israel chased after other gods. The people failed to acknowledge the Lord, they sold themselves to others and forgot their Maker.

The judgment that Hosea’s wife deserved for her sin was death. The judgment that Israel deserved for their sin was death. The judgment that you and I deserve for our sin, likewise, is death. But, thanks be to God, that’s not how the story ends.

God told Hosea to redeem His wife: “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel” (Hosea 3:1). Hosea obeyed and literally had to buy back his wife from slavery to sin as he rescued her and redeemed her and restored her.

That’s the picture of God’s supernatural love for His people, as well. In order to redeem His own people from slavery to sin, God demonstrated His love for us by sending His own Son to pay the price for our salvation upon the cross of Calvary. In spite of our unfaithfulness, disloyalty and sin, God offers His mercy and grace in His Son, Jesus Christ. Though we often fail to acknowledge the Lord, chase after other idols and forget our Maker, God’s steadfast love reaches out to us and gives us life instead of the death we deserve. He willingly forgives our sins, cleanses us from all unrighteousness and loves us with an everlasting love.

Friend, have you received this love from God? No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, God offers you the opportunity to repent and trust in Jesus, and to enjoy the riches of His blessings in Christ for eternity, for God so loved the world.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Real Greatest Love of All

If you’re from my generation, or for some insane reason ever find yourself listening to the 80’s station on the radio, you’ve probably heard the song, “Greatest Love of All” as performed by Whitney Houston. It’s a stirring pop ballad that has no doubt inspired many and has probably been sung at high school graduations and talent shows all across the land. It spent three weeks at the top of Billboard’s charts in 1986, and you can download it today for your cell phone ringtone.

Disclaimer: If this is your favorite song, you might want to stop reading now or you’re going to hate me in the next paragraph.

The song stinks. No, not literally. In fact, it smells quite pleasant to the non-discerning ear. It speaks about learning to discover within oneself the ability to love oneself, saying that’s the greatest love of all. This idea appeals powerfully to people who may be struggling with depression, loneliness or lack of self-worth. It addresses a true need to be loved that resides in the depths of every human being.

But it’s fatally misguided.

Linda Creed wrote the words to this song while going through a struggle with breast cancer. The lyrics attempt to express her feelings about coping with a terminal illness and being a young mother. She died at the age of 37.

Yet as much as I sympathize with her plight, the song is wrong.

She looked inward when she should have looked upward. She learned to depend upon herself when she should have learned to depend upon God. The greatest love of all is not in learning to love yourself, but in receiving a love that is greater than we could ever know.

The greatest love of all is the love that God demonstrated for you when He sent His Son Jesus into this world to die on the cross for the sin of all mankind. The greatest love of all is a love that never disappoints, never grows weary, never fails and never ends. The greatest love of all is a love that “reaches to the heavens” (Ps. 36:5), a love that “surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19), and a love that lays down its own life for its friends (John 15:13).

You will never find the greatest love of all by learning to love yourself, but you will find it when you learn to look to the cross of Calvary, for “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). You will find it when you learn to receive His forgiveness and put your trust in Jesus, for “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). You will find it when you learn to obey the Word of God, for “in him truly the love of God is perfected” (1 John 2:5).

This is the love that will help you to cope with the terminal illnesses and loneliness and depression that you may face in life. This is the love that will sustain you and carry you through sorrows and pains and fears and uncertainties. This is a love that will speak peace to your heart when the night is long and cold and the outlook for tomorrow dreary.

Friend, maybe like Whitney laments, you’ve “never found anyone to fulfill my needs.” Meet Jesus. He is able to fulfill every need you have and all the ones you don’t even know about. God knows your need to be loved, and He loves you more than you know. Will you open your heart to receive through faith the real greatest love of all?