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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Make His Joy Complete

"Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:1-2, NIV).

How do I make Christ's joy complete is my question this morning after reading these two verses again and again. Being complete is being fulfilled. Jesus wants to experience fulfillment in each one of us. He wants to joy in us, and in our lives. How can I give Him fulfillment? How can I give Him joy? In these verses in Philippians I find an answer. If I have been encouraged by the Lord–if I have been comforted by His love–if I have shared with my brothers or sisters in His spirit–if I have had any tenderness and compassion, then I bring Him “complete” (verse 2) joy by having the same love and being unified in spirit and mind. Being unified in spirit and mind is not having the same opinion about everything. It is Christ's love that binds us. In spiritual unity we agree that God's Word is our standard and our purpose. We also agree that even in our differing personal opinions we find common ground together in His love.

Unity is absolutely necessary for good spiritual health in the body of Christ. However, it is so hard to find, and then it can be so hard to keep. We are all so different. We come from different backgrounds. We are different ages. We have different likes and interests, ideas, and preferences. But it absolutely possible to be united without everyone being unanimous in a vote or in a decision. Being like-minded doesn't mean having the same opinion, but it does mean having the same attitude. We work together to accomplish His purpose. We work together to accomplish the Great Commission. Having the same love and being one in spirit and purpose brings unity. Even if we aren't always one in our opinions, being one in Christ means means we seek His will instead of our own. It means that we lay down any agenda, and seek to come together in His purpose.

I have a friend who creates mosaics. She uses different materials to create a work of art–colored glass, stones, broken ceramic and other things. The materials she uses are of all different sizes, colors, shapes, and of substances. From all these unique materials with different consistencies she creates a beautiful masterpiece. Just as she creates a beautiful unified work of art, Jesus Christ can take our unique differences and create something beautiful in the church. Our unity can only come from being unified with Jesus. He is the cornerstone and our anchor. As long as we regard Jesus Christ as our anchor and our reason for being–as long as He is our purpose–as long as we realize that our treatment of each other is the way that we treat Christ–as long as we put Him and His love first before any of our own ideas or opinions, we can discover this unity of spirit that brings us together in love. If we have the same unselfish attitude of Jesus (Philippians 2:5) –one that gave His life for us–according to Philippians 2:1-2, we can make His joy in us complete.

Drive Out Unbelief

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. [21]But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:20-21, ESV).

everal versions of the Bible do not include verse 21 in Matthew 17. In an attempt to study the reason, I have discovered that not only could a long explanation be written on the subject, but that understanding Greek would be beneficial. One thing I know is true about Matthew 17:21 is that it is a verse that jumps off the page at me, and explains how I can overcome unbelief. Jesus was saying in this verse that fasting and prayer are ways of driving it out of my life.

.In this chapter Jesus has just come down off the mountain where he has been with Peter, James, and John. These three disciples have witnessed the incredible sight of Jesus speaking with Elijah and Moses. Now Jesus is suddenly approached by a man whose son has been tormented by a demon since he was a child. The other disciples have been unable to help this man’s son, and have just asked Jesus why they were unable to rid the son of his demon. Jesus answers that it is because of their little faith. In that illusive verse 21, Jesus explains that faith—strong enough to cast out the son’s demon—is discovered through prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting are tools God gives us to help us overcome the natural unbelief that comes through our human desire to understand the “why and how” of everything. The name of Jesus can move mountains and drive out demons. His power is greater than our need to control and analyze. Faith to believe that He can move mountains can be found through the disciplines of prayer and fasting.

Unbelief is a “personal demon” that keeps you from believing in the faithfulness of God. Do you suffer from fear and a lack of trust in God? Are you tormented by feelings of failure and inadequacy? Do you drive yourself crazy by analyzing the reason behind everything? Whatever your unbelief, it can be conquered. As verse 21 reveals, prayer and fasting are two disciplines that make a difference.

Prayer isn’t just telling God what you desire, but is about listening and understanding what He desires. Prayer doesn’t change God; it changes you. When you enter into holy communication with God, the Spirit of the Lord within you prays to the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Romans 8:26, NLT). When you get to this depth in prayer, you have surrendered control and your need to analyze and understand with the human mind. When you release your heart and mind to the Holy Spirit praying for you, you are able to receive faith without the analytical perspective the mind always attempts to interject. The shield of faith grows stronger in your life.

Fasting focuses the mind on God instead of what you want or desire. It brings you to a place of peace where your mind has surrendered your need to His need. “You will keep in perfect peace him, whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). You can experience supernatural peace when the mind surrenders its struggle for control. (Philippians 4:6-7). When the human mind is bypassed, the need for reassurance is gone. Jesus spoke of this spiritual plane when he said to Satan in the desert, "Man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). In another instance, the disciples insisted that Jesus eat, and he said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about”. The disciples didn’t see any food. “My food,” Jesus explained, “is to do the will of him who sent me to finish His purpose" (John 4:32-34). Fasting draws you away from physical need and brings you closer to God. It gives spiritual sustenance which produces greater faith.

When we surrender control to God—whether in prayer or by fasting—we receive more of the Lord’s strength to handle life’s uncertainty. As we grow in these disciplines, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit increases, revealing our own inadequacy, and teaching us how to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). On the mountain, Peter, James, and John witnessed an amazing sight. It created emotional fervor in these three disciples, and then later, when they came down off the mountain, the other disciples were unable to cast out a demon. Jesus called them an unbelieving generation. Feelings on the mountain don’t inspire greater faith, but spiritual training through disciplines like prayer and fasting do! Jesus Christ reveals clearly by word and deed that He is all that is necessary to have great enough faith to cast out unbelief.

Greater faith is the only way to end unbelief's ability to control your life. Prayer and fasting are two disciplines which inspire greater faith. I don't want the things that I have allowed to define who I am to have the ability to always define me. I want a strong enough faith to believe God over my feelings. I am a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:7). And I want to be new in every way. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Adversity Produces Perseverance

You know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4, NIV).

When do we grow spiritually? Certainly not during times that are easy and demand nothing of us. We grow when our faith is tested during times of hardship. Trials and adversity serve a purpose. They have the ability to teach an important character trait−perseverance. That is the ability to hang on until a goal is reached or a lesson is learned. A person can have commitment in his life, but commitment means nothing without the ability to remain strong no matter what happens.

Perseverance completes a work in each of us. During times of adversity and hardship, perseverance shapes and molds us to God's higher purpose. Trials are painful, “but afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:11b, NLT). If we faithfully persevere through times of hardship, we learn how to handle adversity with maturity and grace.

God uses the trials of life to prune our character and change the way we live–the way we handle new problems–the way we respond to others–the way we think. If we allow hardship to produce perseverance instead of defeating us, spiritual maturity rewards us with “a peaceful harvest of right living.” Having grown spiritually enough to handle life, we will face each problem and challenge with a positive attitude and with His peace.

We also rejoice in our sufferings,” Paul wrote, “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3–4, NIV). Here it is again. Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance develops character, and character produces hope. Hope inspires greater faith to understand that God's purpose is better than struggling against what He wishes to teach you.

Never struggle emotionally against a trial. Never allow your feelings to take you all over the map. You will drown in your own emotional turmoil. That struggle will only frustrate and defeat you. God is your anchor. Yield to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to guide you through your hardship. If the Holy Spirit guides you in ways to address your circumstance, then it is His purpose to use you to change something. But only address that problem if He directs you to address it. Address it in His strength and in His Spirit. Remember that you can never change a circumstance which is beyond your control, but you can allow it to mold your character. Instead of having a negative perspective of life, a positive one will emerge. When perseverance has finished its work, you will be spiritually mature, and able to peacefully trust God through each problem that life offers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Necessary Instruction

“God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8, NLT).

How often in our Christian walk does God need to jerk us up like an disturbed parent, and tell us to behave? Sometimes we get so self-satisfied with where we are–with what we do–with where we lead–with how we instruct, we lose our humble teachable spirit. We become hardened to the Holy Spirit without even realizing it. He calls us to live a pure life. A pure life not only honors Him outwardly. It is a life that honors Him inwardly with a teachable spirit that yearns to follow Him. He reaches out with correction and guidance, but we often miss Him because we are so wrapped up in self.

“What you do speaks louder than what you say,” He speaks to me, and maybe to you. “Sometimes you say one thing and do another. You instruct another in my ways, but then do the very thing you said another shouldn't do. My Word calls for honesty and integrity in all areas of your life. When your witness does not support what you say, then you make my sacrifice worthless. It breaks my heart just as my body was broken for you. Don't rationalize your actions until you no longer hear my leading. Don't become so self-satisfied with where you are in your walk with me that you miss my heart. Don't miss the very best for your life. Give up the past that has defined you. Give up your “my way is the only way” attitude. Don't get to the place where you have made so many excuses that you no longer feel my conviction. I want you to see that you have areas of your life that need my Hand to mold. Never be casual about me. I am not casual. I am life, and I wait for you to allow me to mold you. You cannot correct or rebuke or encourage another with patience and careful instruction if what you say is not realized in your own life. Have a heart like David. Cry out for me to always keep you pure of heart. Live your life filled with my love and my Word, and allow that Word to accomplish every day what it was sent to accomplish-new life in me. I love you child, and I long for you to know my heart completely.”

Isn't this necessary instruction for all of us? God calls us to stay open and pliable in His Hand. The moment we choose our own way and follow our own direction, is the moment when we, like David, go astray. It is the moment the Holy Spirit is silenced. The moment that I believe I understand all the incredible depths of my Lord is the moment I no longer grow spiritually. The moment that He becomes casual to me is the moment that I have placed other things before Him. The moment that my life does not support what I say is the moment I speak death instead of life. The moment I believe I have arrived is the moment that I have failed.

Today I give Him my life again. I lay all on His altar.

Monday, August 24, 2015

In His Peace Find His Strength

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13, NLT).

Without God we can never know contentment and peace. Nothing in this hectic world can offer such peace―no possession, no person, no joyful anticipation. Only God promises spiritual contentment and peace, and that is something the world can never give. Paul wrote that he had learned the secret of living in every circumstance. The NIV speaks of that secret of living as being content in every circumstance. Whether that circumstance was joyful and inspiring or hard and discouraging, Paul knew contentment and peace.

Paul's contentment came from a deeply intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and from fulfilling God's purpose in His life. He didn't want to be in prison, and he certainly didn't want to be dependent on others to provide for his needs. But, no matter what he faced, he was content. His eyes were not on what He was around him, but upon His Savior. God gave him peace, and a purpose to fulfill. Fulfilling His purpose only strengthened Paul's faith in God's provision. His incarceration could not stop him from trusting God to meet all his needs. His chains could not keep him from writing of God's great goodness. He had learned the secret of being content in every circumstance. 

Often we discover that many things are just impossible for us. We cannot find contentment and peace in our circumstances. Struggling doesn't help. Anger at others for what is happening doesn't help. But there is a peace that passes our human understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). When we know God as intimately as Paul, we can give Him all that rages in our life, and take refuge in Him. Paul's life shows us that is it absolutely possible to have peace and contentment when we trust God. The secret is to know God intimately and completely. 

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart,” Jesus said, “and the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27, NLT). “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows, but take heart because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NLT). God's peace is not dependent upon what the world or circumstances offer. We will have trouble in this life, but we do not need to fear. He has over overcome whatever we face. When we seek Him with all of our being, we will find Him and discover His peace. We realize that nothing is impossible for Him. We can boldly face whatever is to come with His peace and His purpose. Just as Paul, we can rise up and do whatever God calls us to do. All things are possible through Jesus Christ who gives us the strength to accomplish it.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Press On

"Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

I will have courage and not fear. Today I start again, and put my old mistakes behind me. He gives me a fresh beginning. I will not worry or be frightened. If His forgiveness was only for the righteous, it wouldn't be needed. Not one of us is perfect. We all have fallen short. But His forgiveness is new every morning.

So why do I worry? He longs to give me that fresh beginning, but my life is dirtied with worry and anxiety. As long as I dwell on what is bad in my life, I cannot see His promise of new life. He wants to help me so much, but why would He when my fears crush whatever He tries to do? In spite of my past or circumstance, He wishes to grace my life daily with His power and His blessing. I need to persevere and press on so that His grace transforms my life into a joyful one that continually receives.

I press on toward my prize to be all that He wishes. I forget what has been, and I praise Him for transforming my life. I shall be joyful and realize that with this new beginning, I once more step out in faith to trust and believe in His promises that never fail.  I press on to be molded into a vessel He can use for His purpose. If I reach for Him every day of this life, He will remain with me, intervening in my life to bring about His best. One day He will carry me heavenward to the greatest of all prizes-a life peacefully and eternally at rest with Him.

I will have courage. I will not fear. I will press on.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Benefit of the Doubt

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32, NLT).

Nothing has the power to create emotional turmoil as something that happens between friends who do not speak openly and honestly with each other about their feelings. Friendship is a gift, but it is a gift which requires work. If anything has any value, it is worth hard work. This work can be painful. It can be sacrificial, and sometimes brutally honest. Friendship that endures Satan's lies and life's pressures is a friendship that has been fired in the kiln of life and stands strong. Friendship requires more than just one person working at it. Just one person trying to bridge a gap will never make a difference. Two need to share their feelings; two need to lay down their preconceptions; two need to be willing to listen. A friendship is only worth how much two people will work at it. If it lies dormant, that friendship will die. Open, honest, and even painfully alive at times, that friendship can thrive. Real friends can share how they feel about an issue or something that has happened because they want to understand the reason.

Perhaps you feel betrayed by someone you believe is your friend. Do you actually know if someone has betrayed you or do circumstances appear that they have? Has another person said something that makes you believe your friend has turned against you? If you heard that your friend has done or said something, there is a possibility that they might not have done what you have heard. Why would you immediately believe something over the character of your friend? In any situation such as this, never assume. Give your friend the benefit of the doubt. Always ask. Don't allow hurt to turn into bitterness because you never ask. Don't allow a wall to grow. In openness and sharing, without anger and harsh words, many times issues can be resolved. Remember always that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Here is what is hard, but it is so necessary for our spiritual survival, and our peace in this life. Forgiveness is necessary. It is God's requirement. It means laying down feelings and listening. It means a willingness to face the hurt in order to understand. You might discover that what you thought happened never happened. You might discover that the friend you thought had betrayed you actually defended you. You might discover there was a reason for something that you never knew about. Make an effort to bridge the gap. You gain nothing if you don't try. If after discussing things with your friend, you still believe that a betrayal really happened, then what are you going to do with it? Forgiveness is still what is needed for your heart to be set free from its hurt. Without forgiveness you will forever be in bondage to your pain. Paul says that we are to be kind and tenderhearted toward each other, forgiving each other as Jesus Christ forgave us. Jesus came to offer us the greatest forgiveness. If we believe in Him, then forgiveness should always reign in our heart over any anger or hurt. God created us to be forgiven. He gave His life to forgive you and to forgive me. Forgiveness flows from Calvary. Without forgiveness, alive and free, you will never survive. With it in your heart, Christ's love will flow continually setting you free to experience a joyful life.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

No Greater Love

Read John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 together, and see how the first Scripture flows naturally into the next. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16, NIV).

God loved us so much that He gave His only Son for our good. Jesus suffered, died, and sacrificed all of himself because of such a great and amazing love. This is how we know what love is. He showed us. Jesus died for everyone‒not just a few. This sacrificial love is available so that each might know the grace‒the mercy‒the forgiveness of Jesus. His love is given and revealed through me. It is my responsibility to give my life for others. Their life's need should be greater than my own. I choose to love with His love, because He loved me so much with His. I choose for the verse “we love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NASB) to become my life's story.

God calls for the love of Christ in my life to be agape love–sacrificial and unconditional. It is nonjudgmental and positive. It speaks the healing power of the Holy Spirit into each heart without regard to who that person is or what they have done. It speaks the love and life of Jesus into hearts filled with negativism and doubt because of life's pain. The love of Jesus speaks life without regard to what a person feels about me, says about me, thinks about me, or does to me. The love of Jesus in my life forgives freely and without reservation. The only way that this kind of love can live in me is for my personal feelings and desires to be surrendered to the Savior who gave His life for me. It is only when I surrender my own “self” and “needs” to His will that the love which flows through me has its origin in Him, and not in me.

Agape love knows who and what God is, and realizes its cost. Because of its deliberate desire for the highest good of the one who is loved, it is shown in personal sacrifice for that person. That is what God did for us (John 3:16). That is what He wants us to do for others (1 John 3:16). “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5. NIV). His love was offered without any condition, and He calls for us to give it freely without the weight of condition or expectation. The Holy Spirit pours this love into my heart when I am surrendered to His purpose and not to my own.

Paul writes of agape love as the most important Christian virtue. “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB). When we love sacrificially and unconditionally with the love of Christno matter who someone might be or in spite of what they have donewe offer God's grace and forgiveness, so that someone else might also come to experience the healing love of Jesus. When love that is born of Jesus Christ is unmasked in my life, I am free to love. No barriers or walls, this love answers any question, accusation, or infliction with honesty, grace, and forgiveness. This love always sees the best in others. It rejoices in the truth, and hurts when another is wounded. The love of Christ in me (without me getting in the way) has the power to help another person experience the Resurrection power that heals all facets of life. Jesus laid down His life for me. I am called to lay down my life for others. It is His calling, and it is my choice. There is no greater love.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

His Grace Abounds

The life-changing power of the Holy Spirit is the only way to experience release from any stronghold that plagues your life. God desires your obedience to seek Him and His Word. Paul writes, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (II Corinthians 10:4). Sin is a stronghold, but the power to annihilate it is found in the Word.

Admit that you struggle with your stronghold‒that it is really sin, and you are powerless to defeat it on your own. “I know that nothing good lives in me,” Paul exhorts, “that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19). Paul later in the same chapter praises God for the gift of Jesus Christ, and for the promise of His deliverance. Until you accept the fact you have no control over that stronghold, there is no hope. When you finally admit you are powerless to change on your own, then you are ready for His help.

There is the promise of deliverance. As sin’s hold tightens, Christ’s grace abounds even more (Romans 5:20b). To experience freedom one must understand the power found in Jesus Christ. To understand the power found in Christ, you must have spiritual knowledge of the Word. Knowledge of the Word of God liberates (John 8:32). As you grow in the Word, you experience faith, and sin’s control lessens. As the power of grace increases, spiritual wisdom renders the ability to deny that stronghold's power in your life.

Here is a Scriptural truth! Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Not only should you confess your sin to God, you should confess to a mature Christian that you trust implicitly: perhaps your pastor or Bible teacher. This is a hard task, and calls for your willingness to be vulnerable not only to the Lord, but to another. This kind of openness reveals the level of your faith in the Lord. With confession and repentance of your sin, you can experience a new spiritual cleansing depth of God's forgiveness, and healing can begin.

Now the Lord is the Spirit,” Paul declares, “and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (II Corinthians 3:17). The Holy Spirit liberates and creates an atmosphere of healing. He doesn’t heal through condemnation. He restores through the healing power of conviction. As you seek Him and seek His truth you will discover that His grace abounds more.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Walk Toward Freedom

Do you have an overwhelming struggle in your life? A stronghold which you cannot shake? The life-changing power of the Holy Spirit is the only way to experience release. God desires your obedience to seek Him and His Word. As you seek repentance and receive His grace, you will grow to understand that Biblical truth can change your life. 

The Word flows from the life-giving heart of God, and accomplishes the very purpose for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11). Paul writes, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (II Corinthians 10:4, NIV). Any stronghold in your life binds you in an ironclad grip. The spiritual weapons God provides for its destruction are found in the Bible. Sharper than any two-edged sword, His Word spiritually separates soul and spirit. Dividing joint from marrow, it judges the attitudes of the human heart (Hebrews 4:12). 

Determine the allegiance of your heart. Are you really surrendered to Christ?  Does the Holy Spirit determine your thoughts, actions and reactions? Reconsider what it meant to you when you gave your heart and life to Christ. Evaluate what it means to you now. It should be just as alive as when you first accepted Him into your life. If not, seek His forgiveness. Seek Him. The promises in His Word are powerful, but they are only true for those who know Him as Savior and Lord.

Jesus Christ has removed the power of sin to control our actions (Roman 6:3-4). Peter explains how this is accomplished in II Peter 1:3-8. As a Christian you have the potential to live a godly life. Jesus Christ has provided everything you need to achieve this high goal. You make a decision to grow in the virtues of faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. The Holy Spirit provides divine strength for you to add these virtues, but He can’t strengthen what you have not resolved to accomplish. Instead of your carnal nature gaining control of your life, your knowledge of Jesus Christ will grow to the point where He controls your mind and actions. You will have what you need in your life to overcome your stronghold because a mature faith results from spiritual growth in Biblical principles. When you decide to live a virtuous life instead of one of defeat, faith in God’s deliverance increases.

Over the next few days I will share Scripture that has the power to change your life. There is victory over whatever your struggle. Where His Spirit is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). You can walk above the fear of anything that tries to control your life. He offers His love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7), and His Resurrection power that accomplishes absolute freedom.W

Monday, August 17, 2015

He Owns My Heart

“Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new. God has done it all! He sent Christ to make peace between himself and us” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18a, CEV).

I no longer own who I am. I have been purchased by my Lord's sacrificial love for me. His sacrifice for my sins has been accomplished, but that sacrifice only becomes real for me when I accept His gift into my heart. Then His forgiveness is absolutely real. The old “me” that has lived in sin, or dealt with fear, or been hurt, or been told that I will never be good enough... is gone. He has set me free with His love. I am forgiven. I am a new person because of His love for me. It is in my daily surrender to Him that I discover again and again the amazing wonder of my loving God. When I allow Him to be Lord of my life, I discover an intimacy so deep that nothing compares. It is in my letting go of all that I am, I discover who He is.

In “The Practice of the Presence of God”, Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, wrote, “I regard myself as the most wretched of all men, stinking and covered with sores, and as one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Overcome by remorse, I confess all my wickedness to Him, ask His pardon and abandon myself entirely to Him to do with as He will. But this King, filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite. He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways; He forgives me and relieves me of my principle bad habits without talking about them; I beg Him to make me according to His heart and always the more weak and despicable I see myself to be, the more beloved I am of God.”

I will “practice” His presence everyday of my life. He is my loving Master, who gave all so that I might be free from all the sin and pain that has defined my life. He sees me, as Brother Lawrence, writes, through the eyes of grace. He is my the Lord who owns my heart.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Live a Sincere Faith

"The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:24, NIV).

God calls each one of us to live a faithful life that shares His love. So many times we feel that there is something that we personally must do to change someone's heart. That is not our place. He has called us to share His love and to live our faith honestly and sincerely (2 Corinthians 2:17). We are to leave God's work in the human heart completely in His hands.

People don't just need to hear about who Jesus Christ is. They need to see us living changed lives as a result of His love at work in our own hearts. They don't need to just hear about His forgiveness, but they need to continually receive ours. They don't just need to hear about His power, but they need to experience it through our lives. They don't just need to hear about His peace, but they need to see our calm reassuring faith in Him no matter what our circumstance. They don't just need to hear about His joy, but they need to see His joy spring up from depths of faith. They don't just need to hear of His love, but they need to feel His love that washes away sin, recognizes their need, and encourages their potential.

If we live completely surrendered to Him, people will see Him in us. They may accept or reject Him, but they will have experienced His love and witnessed His power. “Our lives,” Paul declares, “are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16a, NIV).

God wants me to make this personal. It is not just about how “we” live for Him. I am responsible for how I live my life. I can't live another Christian's faith or calling. When I live His calling, He does the work and brings all His power to draw each heart to Him. All I must do is be faithful to Jesus Christ and allow Him to continually change my own heart. I never have all the answers. He has the answers; I live His love. I am called to live my life for Him in sincerity and honesty. I pray to be a life-giving perfume, but it is not my place to save or change anyone else. It is my place to live the change He has wrought in my life, and leave the work of the Holy Spirit in each man's heart to the Savior who makes all the difference.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Not Enough Words to Thank You

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever” (Psalm 30:11-12. NLT)!

I thank you, Lord, for your heart which always listens to my cry. I thank you for your time which you give so completely. You are always there the moment I speak your name. I thank you for your love which always looks beyond my fault and sees my potential. I thank you for your forgiveness which you offer unconditionally. I thank you, Lord Jesus, my friend, because you are the friend who listens to my prayer when I am distraught. You are the friend who lifts me from my lowest state, and gives hope to believe in your promise of joy and peace. You are the friend who reaches into my heart, and removes all the hurt and pain. You are the friend who has always known my failure but encourages my best. You are the friend that knows the things of which I cannot even speak. You are the friend who knows me so intimately that, when I am ready to speak, you know my words before they are even uttered. You are the friend who sticks closer than anyone in my life. I can't thank you enough for never giving up on me. I can't praise you enough for your sacrifice and absolute forgiveness that makes my life new. I can't give you enough for all you have given me. Thank you for giving your life for me, and saving me from the selfishness of my own heart. Lord, may I give away unselfishly the love which you have given me. May I offer that love with no hesitation or judgment. I know there will be times that I fail, but I know you will pick me up again. You will encourage me to never quit or give up sharing your love. Don't ever let me retreat from your love. Don't ever allow any failure to keep me from trying again. Lord, there are just not enough words to thank you for turning this life of sadness and mourning into one that sings with your joy. Thank you, Lord, for always praying what is in my heart. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for praying all that I do not even know. There are no words I can find to offer you all that you deserve. But you are here. My heart is full of your presence, and I praise your faithfulness with all I can offer–my life surrendered to you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Forgive God and Forgive Yourself

Forgive God and Forgive Yourself

Forgive and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37b, NIV).

Have you ever felt like God has failed you? Perhaps you believe He made you a promise that He didn't keep. Perhaps your whole world has been turned upside down and your heart is broken. He is your Father and He is suppose to care for you. Why did He let something happen that you believed with all your heart He would prevent? The hurt escalates. One of two things happen. You either become outwardly angry with God and run away from Him, or you internalize that anger and feel guilty for your anger. Either way you end up at the same location. Unforgiveness has taken root. That unforgiveness robs you of your joy and peace.

Do you have trouble forgiving God for what you believe is His failure, and have trouble forgiving yourself for being angry at Him? “Do not judge,” Jesus instructs, “and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). “I can't judge God” you tell yourself, “so I can't be angry at Him for failing me. It is wrong for me to believe He has failed me!” So here you are. You don't want to sin and be angry at Him so you become angry at your own inability to forgive Him. In condemning Him, you feel condemned. A horrible cycle of self-destruction begins.

The cycle must be broken. Admit your anger. Admit you need to forgive not only Him, but you need to forgive yourself. You have a choice what to do with the disillusionment, the hurt, and the anger. If you allow that hurt to define who you are, anger will immobilize you. You are then in bondage to your inability to forgive God and forgive yourself. The Holy Spirit invites you to forgive so that you might be free from its bondage. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” Paul writes (2 Corinthians 3:17). God does not want you in bondage to your hurt or your disillusionment over what you perceive as a failed promise. That hurt and anger can become your own failure. You have the freedom and the power to forgive God and to forgive yourself.

Be real with God. Tell Him you have been angry at Him because you believe He has failed you. Tell God you have been mad at yourself for being angry at Him. Ask for His forgiveness, and daily decide to forgive. Never close the door that the Holy Spirit has opened. Continue to be honest with God when hurt tries to build. You have asked forgiveness for judging God and judging yourself. Some days will be easier than others. Don't condemn yourself on harder days. Lay all the hurt and unforgiveness on His altar again and again. You have begun your journey of healing.

Now climb your mountain of healing daily. As you struggle up its slope, He carries more and more of your load, and the climb grows easier. One day you will discover you have arrived at the top. And you realize that your burden is completely gone. You are free, and all the self-destructive anger is gone forever. You know God has never failed, and forgiveness will not only flow for you. It will flow for others, too.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What Kind of Friend Am I?

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24, NIV).

Friendship is one of the sweetest joys of life,” C.H. Spurgeon wrote. “Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend." This is the kind of friend I wish to be–one who knows I can't solve a problem or fix an issue, but who realizes that in listening to my friend's heart, I have given the very best I can give. I want to be a faithful sounding board, an encourager, and someone my friend can lean on. I want to help my friend experience hope without burdening him with my human expectation.

Have you ever tried to help a friend, and ended up unintentionally hurting him? Was it something you were certain would bring relief, but all it did was bring more pain? Sometimes in an attempt to lessen a friend's pain and ease a breaking heart, we attempt to fix something that we don't really understand. Only the Holy Spirit does. Sometimes the Holy Spirit does guide and give direction to encourage our friend, but it is always His place to do the work. We can't fix anything. Only He can. Look at Job's friends. Job didn't ask for their advice, but they gave it anyway. They believed that they were helping Job with their insight. All they did was hurt him with their judgments and accusations. They really didn't understand the larger picture, and neither do we.

If a friend shares his heart, he has trusted you enough to make himself vulnerable to what you think of him. If your friend comes to you seeking advice, pray for God's wisdom and always extend the grace of honesty without judging him. Love you friend, and realize that you don't have all the answers, but carefully listen. If the Holy Spirit gives you insight, only offer that insight. You may make a suggestion, but also make it clear that you love him no matter what–that you do not have all the answers. We can't demand anything of anyone, but we can love completely with Christ's love that sees potential without passing judgment. There is no greater love than when we give ourselves for our friends. We must lay down all our human judgment or preconception or expectation. We must release all this so then we are free to love. When we love with His love, all things are possible. 

Lately I have been praying about living intentionally for Christ. That means that my life is a risk. I become vulnerable in places and friendships where I might not have been vulnerable before. I can't hide or retreat. In my intentional love for my friends, I must live a surrendered life that places another person's need before my own. The best I can do for my friend is pray and ask the Holy Spirit to make me sensitive to their needs, to help me see and encourage potential without passing expectation, to make me a good listener that hears what my friend is really saying, and to share the love of Christ that brings healing. If God wishes to use me, I will make myself available. But I will never assume it is my place to do anything but surrender to Him. If my friend comes to me asking for advice, I will pray for God's guidance and His heart. I pray that in our mutual surrender, we will know His peace and joy and have a greater sensitivity to Him and to each other.

Am I a friend who sticks closer than a brother? Only I can live the right answer.

Monday, August 10, 2015

It is Time

“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. ” (Joshua 1:9, NLT).

With the vision of God's Promised Land just within their grasp the Israelites couldn't muster enough faith to face the giants who lived there. For years they wandered in the desert knowing their promise was just within reach, but they also knew that they would have to overcome obstacles to receive it. It would not be handed to them on a silver platter. They lived in fear of what it would cost.

Does this sound like us? We see God's promise, but we just can't make the commitment to reach for it because of the fear of what it will cost us. It might cost money or time or work. But that is not the most important cost.  It will cost our complete surrender and it will cost faith. That is the payment that is required. We want the promise, but we don’t want to face the giant of our own fear of what may happen. Our promised land is within reach, but it requires obedience, commitment, and trust in God's faithfulness.

God told His people then, and He tells us now, to be strong and courageous, to be obedient and committed. Know the Word. Fill your mind and heart with its promise and the strength that it brings to receive His promise. Do not be afraid, and never be discouraged. Reach out and make the commitment that is needed to receive His promise. Disillusionment and discouragement will vanish with commitment to Him.

Are you sitting on the edge of your Promised Land? “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT). Faith gives you the assurance that those giants are nothing when faced with the power of God. Faith is your confidence to move forward in His will for your life believing He brings about His promise. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36, NIV).

What is your vision? What has God promised you? If you are wandering in a desert of dry bones, it is time to speak life to what God has promised. “God will make this happen,” Paul wrote, “for he who calls you is faithful” (I Thessalonians 5:24, NLT). It is time to move forward trusting that God will supply all that is needed to overcome the obstacles. It is time for your promise to live.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Joy Refined by Fire

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2, NIV).

James, the brother of Jesus, did not believe in Jesus as the son of God until after the Resurrection. After his conversion James became a leader in the church in Jerusalem, and eventually became the head of the church there. In this verse he addresses Christians in Jerusalem who face persecution because of their beliefs, and he encourages them to consider the trials of their faith as joy. James calls it “pure” joy. It is the kind of joy that has been refined in the fire of life. All impurity has been burned away, and only the purest element remains.

A trial tests strength. For the early Christians and for us, it tests our faith, our honesty, and our spiritual ability to withstand the world's onslaught. You don't know how strong or how weak your faith might be until it is tested by a trial. James declares that our lives are filled with trials. We may be plagued by illness, or a financial crisis. We may face the death of someone close to us, or great loss in other ways. Someone may take advantage of us, and perhaps we may be falsely accused of something we didn't do. The phrase “whenever you face trials” reveals that trials are just unavoidable. You can’t escape them. The Lord does not insulate us from the trials of life. He allows them to shape us and, hopefully, make us stronger. Look at Job. He believed in God, and was a righteous man. God allowed Satan to test Job, and his whole life was a massive trial. Trials can make us bitter or they can make us better. Job would not turn against the Lord no matter what came against him. “He knows the way that I take,” Job declared. “When has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10, NIV).

Job's attitude during his horrendous suffering was paramount for his faith in God to flourish. Your attitude in the midst of life's trials is paramount for you to spiritually become the person God intends you to be. You can just endure with a bitter attitude, or you can consider whatever you face as something which will make you stronger–something which will burn away the impurities of bitterness and negativity. Job's kind of attitude makes the best of whatever happens. It sees positive whenever faced with trials and struggles. It believes in God's best no matter what it hears or sees. It believes in the potential that only God sees. That kind of attitude turns what Satan can use to destroy you into what God can use to prosper you (Romans 8:28).

Consider in pure joy,” James writes, “whenever you face trials.” God wants you to spiritually grow and realize that trials can actually produce joy which remains strong and unshakable. When tested and fired in the kiln of life, this kind joy becomes refined as gold, and nothing can rob you of its promise. You have fought for it, and allowed it to define your life. It is joy of the purest kind.

Friday, August 7, 2015

I Press On

Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God” (Romans 14:12, NLT).

Personal accountability is not an option. God has standards for our actions in this life. If we break those standards, there are consequences. It is time that we take responsibility for who we are, what we believe, what we say, and how we act. We are not responsible for circumstances over which we have no control, but we are responsible for what we do or say and how we respond to circumstances, our failures, our mistakes, and our problems in life. We are totally responsible for our actions and our reactions. It is time to realize this accountability. 

“You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others,” the writer to the Hebrews declares. “Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food” (Hebrews 5:12, NLT). If I never make an effort to grow up, then I remain an infant in my actions and attitudes. I do not understand what God requires of me. But spiritual growth in Christ is a requirement. Spiritual growth does not allow me to make excuses. It instructs that I must take responsibility for my bad attitude or any fly-off-the-handle reaction. It teaches that I should learn from my failure, and if I am responsible for a problem, I should make every effort to not create that circumstance again. Spiritual maturity also tells me that the next time I am faced with circumstances either of my own making or not of my own making, I should react in a mature way which honors God. Spiritual maturity instructs me that I can humbly speak with confidence and not be consumed with worry over the reactions of others. To do this I need to have matured spiritually until knowledge of His will pervades my life. “
We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will,” Paul writes, “and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:9b-10, NLT).

Without spiritual wisdom and maturity to control my attitude and my reactions, I cannot live a life that pleases God. As I grow to know Him better, it is easier to surrender to His will. My actions and reactions are more easily controlled by the Holy Spirit. A life controlled by the Spirit exhibits the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The only way that I can have the fruit of the Spirit alive in my life is to allow all my selfishness and “me” attitude to be taken to the grave so I can be raised in newness of life in Christ (Romans 6:4). I must surrender all that I believe I own or feel I deserve. When I am willing to be crucified with Him and make this selfless journey
when I am willing to accept my responsibility for all that I amwhen I am ready to realize that without Him I cannot become my true selfthen I have begun the journey to grow spiritually deeper in Him.

Have I matured to the point where my actions and reactions are controlled by Him instead of an unchanged and immature nature? God's plan for my life is always ahead, but I cannot realize it until I allow Him to control my life. One day we all will answer to Him for all our actions, interactions, and reactions. We will answer about how we loved, and if we respected each other. I pray that I will be able to say, “Lord, all my selfishness has been crucified with you, and you have lived within me.” I agree with the Apostle Paul. “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14, NLT). No, just as Paul, I have not achieved it, but I want to grow up to become who God knows I can be. Spiritual growth is a process. Process means that I am headed somewhere. It means that I can never remain stagnant, stale, or negative. It means that I have been bought with the most precious gift of His love. I press on in an attitude of surrender to the Savior who gave Himself unselfishly for me. I press on toward the goal to which God has called me.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Help Me Overcome My Unbelief!

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24b, NIV).

“I believe, Lord, but help me overcome what I can't believe you can handle. Help me to believe you will take care of everything. Help me to trust you more!” This is the cry of my heart. It reveals areas where I lack faith, but it also reveals how my faith has grown. “I believe” reveals my faith at this point in my life. “Help me overcome my unbelief” reveals my hunger for greater faith. Think about it. As I grow closer to Him, I know Him more, and understand what His power means in my life. But at the same time I am more conscious that I fall short of complete trust in Him. This is the soul's growth. There is increased ability to believe, and then comes an obstacle that brings a plea for greater faith. This plea is a cry to overcome my unbelief. It is a cry for me to let go of everything that hinders my ability to believe, and have complete trust in Him that the obstacle will be overcome.

When my heart cries out for Him to help my unbelief, He hears my cry, and answers my prayer with more faith. He also reveals where I still fall short in trusting Him. With that awareness and my surrender, He imparts the power to walk the path that leads, step by step, upwards and closer to Him. It is a journey where one moment I believe His truth absolutely, and then in the next moment I am faced with another obstacle to my faith. That obstacle spurs me onward again with a cry for more faith, and inspires me to surrender what I cannot overcome. He answers my cry and my surrender once more with greater faith.

A life of faith moves upward one step at a time‒over each obstacle and each barrier. When facing each obstacle I continually surrender each problem with faith that He will take care of it. Each day I press on to discover His prize in the midst of each storm. His prize is the peace that passes all understanding. His prize is His power for each additional obstacle to come. His prize is His presence that never leaves or forsakes me. In this journey of life I find that my surrender of each obstacle to Him conquers my unbelief, and He rewards me with greater faith to believe He will not fail me.

Lord, you meet me in each moment that I need to believe for your best. In these moments you always create in me a hunger to trust you more. You meet each need with more faith as I surrender what I cannot handle to your faithful care. I trust you to continue to give me the faith I need for this journey. One day I will know without a doubt that my journey of faith has been worth each obstacle along the way. In each surrender I will have learned greater faith to overcome my unbelief. I will know your unchanging faithfulness, and I will believe.

Grow in His Grace

And as He spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled tha...