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Thursday, October 15, 2015

The sounds of silence

I am old enough to remember Simon and Garfunkel's song entitled, "The sounds of silence."

Really, silence can be deafening in our lives.

Yet we struggle with it - I know that I do.

Our hearts, minds and souls are filled with noise, every minute of every day - especially in the age of social media.

Here's my challenge and word to you today:  Let's begin a process whereby we allow ourselves to spend time in the presence of the Lord in silence - both individually and corporately.

A.W. Tozer has written that in some instances, absolute silence might well become our greatest act of worship.

Revelation 8:1 shares with us:  "When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour."

I have been in worship situations where all of a sudden a "holy hush" would fall upon everyone standing there in worship.  No one would move.  No one would say anything.

And really, friends, that is when the glory of God begins to call.  The Shekinah glory of God.

In stillness, that is when life is put into perspective.

In stillness, that is when our hearts are filled with peace.

In stillness, that is when clarity can come in the midst of confusion.

In stillness, that is when we can really understand and experience the holiness of God.

Andrew Murray has written, "the very thought of God in His majesty and holiness should silence us."

But we must also learn to carve out holy moments of silence individually.

In Psalm 131:2, the writer talks of quieting his heart before God or, as The Message phrases it, "I've cultivated a quiet heart."


I cultivated.

In other words, I am working to create an environment of stillness in my heart and life where I block everything out but God.

Bill Hybels has written, "Is the ambient noise level of my life low enough for me to hear the whispers of the Lord?"

My encouragement today?  Let God hear your worship today - in silence.  Listening to Him.  Thinking about Him.  Learning from Him.

Just a thought for a Thursday.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Entropy and Christ's authority and power

Entropy is a law of the universe.

The law of entropy is that everything in the universe is continuously  and irreversibly decaying.

All matter is degrading and all energy is dispersing. 

Scientists have known this for years.  Our world is dispersing into disorder - in other words, the world is winding down.

Our planet is decaying (which by the way completely discredits the theory of evolution).

The sun will burn out.

The rain forests are vanishing.

Different species of animals are becoming extinct by the thousands every year.

Your car falls apart by the mile.  It rusts and decays.

Your body is wearing out and will eventually die.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:16, "Our physical body is becoming older and weaker."

Just look in the mirror!

A lot of us have furniture problems - our chest is dropping to our drawers.
Have I encouraged you yet?  :) :)
Yet, there is hope!
Ephesians 1:21 teaches us that there is hope!
Paul speaks of Christ's power in Ephesians 1:19 - his "incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power, Paul writes, is like the working of his mighty strength."
What that means, my friends, is that the same power that brought Christ back from the dead is within us as believers! 
Because of that power - you and I can know that God is on our side, ready to help us meet each and every obstacle.
That God is always fighting against the forces of evil on our behalf.
That no human strength or spiritual power from the evil world (not even Satan himself) can deter or change God's inherent power. 
But then Paul writes not only of Christ power, but his authority has well.
(Ephesians 1:21):  "Far above all rule land authority (the laws of the universe including the law of entropy), power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come."
Christ's authority is far above any other.  All laws, especially the laws of the universe bow at the feet of Jesus! 
For we followers of Christ, instead of the world just fizzling out, we are heading toward a definite conclusion where Christ is Lord and God will make all things right!
Entropy is the law of the universe, but Christ is Lord over the universe.
Practical point today?  We can rely upon Christ and his all-sufficient power and authority to meet our daily needs.
Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Christ's love in the little things

There is a tremendous amount of validity to showing the love of Christ in the "big things". 
Ministering at City Church once a month.
Serving in a ministry at our church.
Making a meal for someone in need.
But there is also a huge amount of effectiveness in showing Christ's love in the small things.
John Ortberg relates this story:
"There was a front-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a metro-transit operator named Linda Wilson-Allen.  She loves the people who ride her bus, learns their names, and waits for them if they are late and then makes up the time later on her route. 
A woman in her eighties named Ivy had some heavy grocery bags and was struggling with them.  So Linda got out of her bus driver's seat to carry Ivy's grocery bags onto the bus.  Now Ivy lets other buses pass her stop so she can ride on Linda's bus.
Linda saw a woman named Tanya in a bus shelter.  She could tell Tanya was new to the area and she was lost.  It was almost Thanksgiving, so Linda said to Tanya, "you're out here all by yourself.   You don't know anybody.  Come on over for thanksgiving and kick it with me and the kids."
Now they are friends.  Linda has built such a little community of blessing on that bus that passengers offer Linda the use of their vacation homes.  They bring her potted plants and floral bouquets.  When people found out she likes to wear scarves to accessorize her uniforms, they started giving them, as presents to Linda.
Think about what a thankless task driving a bus can look like in our world:  cranky passengers, engine breakdowns, traffic jams, gum on the seats.  You ask yourself, "How does she have this attitude?"
The Chronicle states, "Her mood is set at 2:30 A.M. when she gets down on her knees to pray for 30 minutes," the Chronicle states.  "There is a lot to talk about with the Lord," says Wilson-Allen, a member of Glad Tidings Church in Hayward."
When she gets to the end of her line, she always says, "That's all.  I love you.  Take care." 
Have you ever had a bush driver tell you, "I love you"?
People wonder, "Where can I find the kingdom of God?"
I tell you where.  You can find it on the #45 bus riding through San Francisco.  People wonder, "Where can I find the church"?  I will tell you.  Behind the wheel of a metro transit vehicle."
Great stuff from John Ortberg.
I encourage all of  us today to be open to sharing the love of Christ in the small things today - and in the little things of life.
Just a thought for a Tuesday.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Another beautiful day in the neighborhood! :)

And Jesus says:  "Won't you be mine"!

I am really looking forward to this coming weekend with Ned and Joan Way. They are wonderful guest speakers who minister specifically to children - but will have the entire Sunday  morning service (both services) - and will share and gear the morning toward the entire family.

You won't want to miss this time of family worship!

Just while I am thinking about it - I encourage you to maybe invite a family in your neighborhood to come.  It would be a perfect event to bring them to - and let them hear the Gospel!
Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and writer wrote:  "To hope is to risk frustration.  Therefore, make up your mind to risk frustration."
Just a few quick thoughts:  We never get anywhere if we depend upon our feelings.  There is something a thousand times better than our feelings - God's Word.
There is God's Word that you hold in your hand - the Scriptures.
And there is God's Word that comes to you through divine revelation on a daily basis.
Both take obedience.
The word of the day is:  The question is not - is God speaking - but am I going to be obedient to what He says?
I encourage you to take time to be with Jesus today.  Take time for communion with Him.  It is the only true, sure way that you know that it is God speaking to you.
Love you all.......

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Every marriage needs a safety net

I know you will agree with me that having a healthy, holy marriage is just a lot of hard work.  Daily work. 
We never "arrive" at a complete state of perfection in our relationships with our spouses.
Every so often, I come across someone who says, "My mate and I never fight."  When I hear that, I make a mental note to teach on lying.  :) :)
Debbie and I like to say that we've been married for 34 years (20 of them pretty good!) :) :)
No matter how hard two people try to love and please each other, they will fail.
What's the safety net?
What's the one thing that will maintain an open, intimate and happy marriage?
Asking for and granting forgiveness quickly. 
I don't need to tell you that Jesus taught a lot about forgiveness and the fact - well let me just quote Him from Matthew 6:14, 15:  "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." 
God expects us to be "forgivers" - and marriage is the supreme setting for implanting this practice.
To forgive means this:  "To give up resentment or the desire to punish."
Forgiveness is a choice.  An act of the will.
It is not an emotion.  Forgiveness is an act that says, "I am letting this go - now I am going to drain my emotions and process my feeling of disappointment or rejection."  It may take a while for your feelings to catch up with your will. 
You say, "I cannot forgive you," - that translates out as:  "I choose not to forgive you."
Forgiveness is saying:  "I am sorry."  "Please forgive me."  "I was wrong."
Forgiveness is not just feeling sorry that the person feels bad or has been hurt - true forgiveness accepts that wrong has been done and take ownership of that.
That is hard when you're 60 percent right and only 40 percent wrong - and 60/40 situations come up all of the time.
You and your spouse are angry with one another.  The battle lines are drawn.  Your ticked off. 
Verbal blows have been given.  Wounds have been created and scars are beginning to pile up upon scars.
Here's what I also know:  To truly forgive, we need the help of the Holy Spirit.
"God, you have to help me here.  I need to move to forgiveness because you have commanded me to do so.  I need you to empower me, to enable me to give up the right of punishing my spouse and to forgive."
What if the person just keeps doing it again and again? 
Forgiveness is tough when there has been no authentic repentance on the offender's part. 
In that case boundaries and consequences need to be established - in some cases restitution will need to be made - but that does not take away from the fact that Jesus (Matthew 18:21-22) tells us to keep on forgiving - and saying, "I forgive you, and if you are really serious about being forgiven, I would ask that your actions show some believable repentance."
Ruth Bell Graham says it in just a powerful way:  "A good marriage is the union of two forgivers."
Action points:
Think about the issues and situations where you find it hard to forgive your spouse.  Write down why it is hard to forgive.
In prayer and as an act of your will, give up "your rights" to punish your spouse.
Write across your list of offenses and hurts a statement of forgiveness.
Live in freedom. 
Just a thought for a Thursday.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Christian marriages and walking with Christ - together

Warning:  reading this blog will lead to you having a healthy marriage!
I am of the firm opinion that any two people, who put Christ at the center of their marriage - will have a long, loving and committed marriage.
That is not to say that there won't be trials and adversity - every marriage has times of disagreement.
What you have in any marriage are two wounded, imperfect, broken sinners who do not have the ability to love (on their own) another wounded, imperfect, broken sinner the way they need to be loved in this thing we call "marriage."
But with Christ at the center of our marriages - we can make it.
This blog describes some practical ways that you and I can implement "a God-centeredness" in our relationship with our spouses.
Let's start with some thoughts from Jesus about the two different foundations for life itself:
"Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock.  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand.  And the rains descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell and great was its fall."  (Matthew 7:24-27).
Principle:  Build your marriage upon a solid foundation through increasing obedience to God and His Word.
When you build  your marriage (your house) upon that Rock, you can withstand any storm - and the storms will come.  Financial storms.  Health storms.  Relational storms. 
How can you and your spouse be obedient?
It all comes back to this one word:  Discipline.
I am not talking about applying a punishment when a spouse does wrong, I am speaking of those daily activities that  you and your spouse are called upon to implement if you desire Christ at the center of your marriage.
Let me give them to you.
Disclaimer:  I am not proposing a lifeless list of legalistic tasks that will turn the Christian life into a series of do's and don'ts.  A joyless, religious marriage based upon works.
No!  But just as you and I must exercise to stay health - so we must apply our daily spiritual disciplines not only on an individual basis but on a "couple basis" as well.
Pray individually but also as a couple.  More than anything else, Satan will fight you on this.  Couples will practice intimacy in any and every area of life except in the spirit realm.  In fact, I would suggest that it is the  most intimate thing you can do as husband and wife - and will draw you closer more than anything else.  Try starting by praying together for 1 minute a day.  Then 2 minutes.  Then 5 minutes.
Study the Bible together.  Now, I am not talking about an hour, verse by verse study.  I am speaking of taking a verse, reading a devotion, listening to Bible CD's together.
Worship together in church.  Come to the altar - together.  Put on a praise CD at home and spend 5 to 10 minutes "praising the Lord" together.
Debbie and I teach that it is a necessity to have joint checking accounts.  The same goes in this area of giving.  Tithe as a couple.  Give as a couple. 
Of course, we talk about small groups a lot.  Small groups give you as a couple time to be with other couples.  And - when you hear who other couples are dealing with certain issues - you know that you are not the only ones struggling.  You can know that you will make it - as other couples have.
Volunteer together for service at church or in the community.  Even as I write this, the word "Together" really comes to the forefront of this blog.
This is huge.  Rarely does a couple witness together.  But it can happen and should happen.  Debbie and I had dinner the other night with a non-churched couple.  It was a wonderful time of them seeing how a Christian couple can have fun.
Now then, three things:
1.  Discuss the above thoughts - together.
2.  Use the following scale (1 = poor and 5 = great), how would you rate your commitment to each of these spiritual disciplines?
Prayer                       1 2 3 4 5
Bible Study              1 2 3 4 5
Worship                    1 2 3 4 5
Giving                       1 2 3 4 5
Fellowship                 1 2 3 4 5
Service                       1 2 3 4 5
Witness                      1 2 3 4 5
3.  What changes might you make as a couple in being more faithful in exercising these disciplines?
Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Guilt and living in freedom

Did you know that God not only wants to forgive you but take away the guilt of your sin?
Yes he does.
David wrestles with this in Psalms 32:4,5 where he cries out to God, "for day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength as sapped as in the heat of summer.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord and you forgave the guilt of my sin."
God forgives - but God can also take away your guilt.
When God forgives, he forgives instantly, totally and completely. 
Lee Strobel shares this story.
He writes, "We were doing a baptism service.  We told people before they came up to the platform to be baptized to take a piece of paper, write down a few of the sins they've committed, and fold the paper.  When they come up to the platform, there was a large wooden cross on the stage.
Take that piece of paper, take a pin, and pin it to the cross, because the Bible says our sins are nailed to the cross with Jesus Christ, and fully paid for by his death.  Then turn and come to the pastor to be baptized.
I want to read to you a letter a woman wrote who was baptized in one of those services.  She said:  "I remember my fear.  In fact, it was the most fear I remember in my life.  I wrote as tiny as I could on that piece of paper and read it and find out it was me.  I wanted to get up and walk out of the auditorium during the service, the guilt and fear were that strong.
When my turn came, I walked toward the cross, and I pinned the paper there.  I was directed to a pastor to be baptized.  He looked me straight in the eyes, and I thought for sure that he was going to read this terrible secret I kept from everybody for so long.
But instead, I felt like God was telling me, I love you.  It's okay.  You've been forgiven.  I felt so much love for me, a terrible sinner.  It's the first time I ever really felt forgiveness and unconditional love.  It was unbelievable, indescribable."
Strobel goes on to write, "Do you have inside of you a secret sin that you wouldn't even want to write down on a piece of paper out of fear somebody might open it up and find out?  Let me tell you something about the Jesus I know.  Not only does he want to adopt you as his child, he wants to lift the weight of guilt off your shoulders."
I encourage you today, my friends, to walk in freedom - for as Paul writes in Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now, no condemnation in Christ Jesus."
Rebuke the enemy and his condemning thoughts.  You are a child of God!
Just a thought for a Tuesday.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend

We are now into some fall weather.  Beautiful stuff.

God is good - all the time.
Thank you to those who prayed for my dad - his second surgery last Thursday was a "success"!  We are still waiting on the results of the biopsy - but the doctors feel they got all of the cancer.  We are grateful!

When you have a need - plant a seed.

I always enjoying being in the presence of the Lord in worship on Sunday mornings.

We have such a giving congregation.

Many thanks to everyone who makes Sunday mornings "happen"!  I don't have an official count in front of me of all those who participate - but we are grateful for all that you do!

If you haven't been baptized in water yet - or have and would like to be baptized again as a sign of your recommitment to Christ, please feel free to sign up in the foyer this Sunday.  Water Baptismal time:  Sunday, October 18th - first service.

Wasn't the presentation from the kids Nicaragua wonderful yesterday?  These are kids taken off of the streets of Nicaragua - who have come to Christ - and are expressing their love for God in the way they know how - through doing flips, etc.
Just as a side note:  If I tried to do what they were doing - I wouldn't be walking today.  :) :)
Thanks for giving to the building fund - and making faith pledges!  I know that the Holy Spirit lead you to give by His revelation!
Let's continue to press in and pray - pray for our church family, pray that more people would come to Christ - pray that God's healing power will touch those who are sick in our church body - pray for the leadership of our church - the list goes on and on.  There is power in prayer!
People need the Lord!
Let me encourage you today, in the midst of all of the stress and pressure, to stop and even physically raise your hands and praise God.  Place everything in His hands, and I would suggest that there is no other place we would rather be than in God's hands!
Debbie and I love you all.........

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Pressure and stress

Let Debbie and I be open with you:
Debbie's sister-in-law, Cindy is experiencing a recurrence of cancer (her and her husband are missionaries to China).
Debbie's mom is slowly "going downhill" and is now in assisted living.
As I write this - this morning, my dad is in surgery to remove any more of the cancer cells in his bladder and to see if the cancer has spread.
It is a trying time in our lives.
Lots of pressure.  Lots of stress.
Yet here is what I know:  God is a refuge for His children in times of pressure and stress.
Listen to the words of David in Psalms 91:
"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.  Surely he will have you from the Fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence.  He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge."  Psalms 91:1-4.
God provides a shelter - a refuge.
Are you under enormous pressure right now?  Are you feeling like there are some unfriendly people or forces that you just can't seem to escape?
In the Old Testament, God established six cities for the people of Israel to run to in a time of need.  They were spread out for easy access.  They all had paths going their way and signposts pointing to the city or refuge. 
Joshua 20:23 states, "to designate the cities of refuge as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood."
Sometimes we need a safe place to run to.  Free from accusations and negativity.
God is that refuge - and He delights in that role.
God is our physical refuge.  In a times of physical need (such as my father today) He is there to provide healing and comfort.
God is our spiritual refuge.  He "shelters us under his wings."
A couple of years ago, outside my office window here at Stone Church, I watched as a mother Robin built a nest, had some chicks - and then watched as the little chicks hopped around chirping, pecking, doing all that chick stuff. 
I watched as someone or something came over to the nest and all of a sudden the mother bird would lift both wings simultaneously and within just a few seconds all the baby chick disappear under them.
They hide there.
They are sheltered there.
They regroup there.
Eventually, they have to crawl out to face the real world again, but for a time, there is nothing like being sheltered under wings.
Here's what I know:  Hurting people need a refuge from their distress.
Who needs a refuge?  Well, I would suggest that if you have to ask - you probably haven't needed one yet. 
Cities of refuge didn't mean much to the average guy on the Old Testament streets of Israel.  But to the person who had a blood avenger chasing them, it was the most important place on the planet.
God is our emotional refuge.
Are you feeling oppressed today?  Run under His wings.
Are you feeling troubled?  Run under His wings.
Are you feelings worried?  Run under His wings.
Do you feel grief?  Run under His wings. 
Do you feel lonely?  Run under His wings.
God says, "Let me shelter you for a time.  Let me shelter you from those angry, spouses that some of you are dealing with.  Let me shelter you from devious business partners, from frightening medical reports, from overwhelming financial needs, from parents or children who do not understand."
I can hear God whispering to all of us in need today, "Stay here for a time."
Take the first step.
Psalms 91:15 says, "When he calls upon me (God is speaking to you and I) then I will answer him.  When he calls upon me, I will be with him in trouble.  I will rescue him and honor him.
Call out to God today.  Run to God.  Don't hesitate.
Secondly, pour out your hearts to God.
Just for a moment, stop complaining to those around you about your adversity - and give it to God.  Let God take care of it.  Let God take control. 
I love Psalms 62:8, "Pour out your hearts to God, for he is a refuge for us. 
Pouring our hearts out to God is messy.  It is not pretty.  But God welcomes us to rest under His wings.
You can do this anytime, anywhere. 
Just a thought for a Thursday.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Why trials? Part 2

This week, a person turned in the following request to our church website (You Version). 

The request touched me.

All it said was, "Help me God."

It brought back what I know:  "When God is all I have - God is all I need."

Sometimes we reach a point in our lives where all we can pray is, "Help me God"!

Let's go back to James 1:3 (Part 2 of a two part blog on "why God"?) where Pastor James writes, "the testing of your faith produces".  Produces what?

Endurance.  Perseverance.

Literally, "the ability to remain under".

You see, in the midst of the adversity that you are going through - God wants you to remain (strong, steadfast, in peace) under.

If you are like me, when a problem comes, you start to feel the pressure - we start to feel the weight that God allows.

We try to remain strong.

But if we were all candid today, we don't want to remain under the trial, we want to get out from underneath it.  We want to run away - and run away as fast as possible.

Here's what I know (and it is a hard truth):  complaining is not the same thing as enduring.

When we face a problem we want to either complain, lash out or take it out on other people around us or bail.

"I didn't sign up for this."  "This is not why I got married."  "This is not why I took this job."

Can I tell you something?  Never make a major decision in your life when  you are feeling the pressure - and never quit.

What do we do when problems come?

We humble ourselves before God.

I Peter 5:6, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you at the proper time."

In other words, bear up under that trial with the strength and grace of God.

Ask for wisdom.

James 1:5 states, "If you lack wisdom, ask of God who gives to all generously without reproach (without fault - God never looks down on us, friends, for asking the "why" question) and it will be given to him."

Remember, gang, this verse is written in the context of trials.  If you lack wisdom about the adversity you are going through, God will answer.

He may not answer the "big questions" of, "why is there a world.  Or why do bad things happen to good people."  (And there are good answers to those questions).

He may not answer the biggest "why" - "Why do I have to go through this Lord?"  "I need to know."

The "why" that Jesus will answer is the answer to the question, "What do you want to teach me through this Lord?"

"What's next on your agenda for me in becoming more like you?"


That doesn't mean I fake it or pretend like everything is okay when everything is not okay.  God's not into denial.  Nor does it mean that I am to be some sort of masochist.  "Great, Lord, hit me one more time!"  "I love it!"

That doesn't mean that I play the victim.  This is huge.  It is so easy for us (me) to play the martyr.  The victim. 

Here are some of the symptoms of playing the victim:

You can't stop talking about the issue.  You become consumed with "the issue" until you lose your focus completely and sometimes say or do foolish things that hurt yourself and others and permanently damage relationships so you end up feeling more miserable than when you were in the trial itself.

But give thanks, not for the problem but in the problem.  Not for the situation but in the situation.

Why should I give God thanks for my marriage ripping apart?  For cancer?  For an accident?

No!  We give thanks because we know that God can take the bad in our lives and turn it around and bring good out of it.

What makes the difference?  Our attitude.  We choose joy.

Praise God at all times.

David writes in Psalms 34:1, "I will bless the Lord at all times.  His praise shall continually be in my mouth."

I will praise that Lord at all times.  I choose to praise God.  I choose to walk in joy. 

Finally, know that God cares.

God is aware of your situation.  God sees everything you are going through right now. 

God has you on his speed dial!

God could change your situation in an instant - but God is more concerned about you!  Your character.  Your holiness.

James writes in James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial.  When he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him." 

God says, "there will be a reward."

Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Why trials? Part 1

Tomorrow evening in our life group, I am giving a devotion about, "why trials"?  And....."How can I deal with adversity?"
So....I thought I might blog the next two days about some things that I am going to share.
(Disclaimer - these are the "bare bone points" - please feel free to apply your own illustrations).
Why trials?
It's probably the biggest question we face as Christians.
Why, God?
Please open your Bible to James 1:1-12. 
Pastor James (who was the pastor at the church in Jerusalem at that time) writes in verse 1:
"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations."
Right off the bat, we see that the Jewish believers are scattered throughout Asia Minor for their faith.  They are going through adversity and trials.   
And then right away in verse 2, James writes, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers."
(We will talk about the word, pure, tomorrow).
Wow.   How would you like to get an email like that?  "You got problems - be happy"!
Is James saying, "Be happy, happy, happy, when you face trials?"  No.
Happiness is based upon our circumstances.  If only "this would happen," then I will be happy.
You might say, "My friends are coming over to watch the Bears game and we are going to eat some hot dogs and chips.  I am so happy."
But then when they lose (0-3 this year remember) - and we are not so happy anymore.
Happiness is fleeting.  But joy is eternal.  Joy comes from God. 
I cannot create joy in my life on my own.
When James says, "Consider it all joy," he is saying, "Reach out to God.  Get God's heart in this matter.  Understand the "big picture" of what God is doing in your life.
The bigger questions is not, "why God," but "what are you trying to teach me?
Joy is the deep settled confidence that God is in control of every area of my life.
I would suggest that to know the Lord, to really know God, makes happiness completely mundane and superficial.  Joy is a supernatural delight in the presence of God.
Your understanding of this determines your attitude in the midst of what you are going through.  Rejoicing is not just positive thinking - but is based upon the biblical facts of what we are talking about in this blog.
So what this have to do with the "why God"?
Well, joy comes from understanding that there is something bigger than me going on in the midst of my trials.  Something way beyond me.
God has a purpose for my trials - and the key is to find a way to keep on trusting God even though you and I can't see that purpose in the present.
And joy is a supernatural delight in just hanging out with other Christians! 
That's why life groups are so important.  We can share with one another, learn from one another, pray for one another.
We learn that most everyone is going through some kind of trial - if not the same thing that we are going through.  We find out that if another brother or sister can "make it" - we can "make it" too!
Notice that James says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers." 
Only Christians really get this - that only those who follow Christ can consider a trial - joy.
Now then, James says, to "count" or "consider"
In other words, go over it, measure it, even calculate it. 
As we do so, we have the ability to deal with trials in a way that unbelievers do not - and that displays to the non-churched person that life is Christ is truly powerful.
I can consider trials, "pure joy."  How?  Not by filling your mind with entertainment to dull the pain or by filling your heart with anger to deal with the suffering, or filling your body with substances to overcome the hurt. 
But by counting it, by considering it, and who and why you are on this planet.
Questions:  "What trial are you going through?"
"Why are you here on this earth?  What is the purpose of your life"
Write those down and then read on.
Surely, gang, we are not here just for a few moments of happiness.  We are here for God - to display his working and presence and power in our lives.
And then a third question:
"How can this trial advance that purpose?  What can I do here and now to advance the purpose of displaying the superiority of a life lived in God?   I have all of Kingdom resources at my disposal, how can I use these resources to bring glory to God?"
Let's take one more point here and then I will finish up tomorrow.
James writes, "whenever you fall into trials of various kinds."
"Whenever."  You can count on it.  You will experience trials.  They are not an elective in the class of life.  They are a required course. 
Life is difficult.  Life is hard.   We are not to run from that fact - but embrace it.  In fact, and listen to me gang, you will not live a healthy life, mentally and emotionally until  you put your arms around this principle and not run from it.
That word "fall" is interesting.  You are going through life, minding your own business, when "bam" you're flat on your face.  Trials are not planned.  We can seldom anticipate them.  They come when we least expect them. 
And that word "various" is fascinating as well.  It means that they are "many colored."  They come in many shades and varieties. 
There are physical trials, mental, spiritual, emotional trials.  What you go through is different than what I am going through.
Some trials are tough, some are tragic.  Some are difficult, others are devastating.
And finally (for today) James writes, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when  you face trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance."
In other words, trials have a purpose in our lives.  They can be productive.  They can produce and accomplish something in us. 
"For you know."  In other words, if you don't know now, you will. 
Trials separate the mature believer from the immature believer.
When the pressure is on - they show us how deep our faith in God is.
They test us.  They purify us.  They develop our faith. 
We as Christians are like steel, when we are tested - we come out stronger. 
Job says, "He knows the way that I take, and when he has tried me I shall come forth as gold."  (Job 23:10)
Are you being tested? 
So, some questions:
Do you believe that God is in control?
Do you believe that God is good - no matter what you see or face?
Will you wait on God by faith until the darkness becomes light?  Will you wait?
You may be walking in the darkness - but will you wait until you see the goodness of the Lord?
Our natural, fleshly desire is to take matters into our own hands.  But will we wait?
What do trials produce?
Staying power.  The ability to keep on keeping on.  In the Greek (which is what James wrote - it literally states, "the ability to stay under pressure)."
They sanctify our character.  They make us like Jesus
James writes, "so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
God's number one purpose in your life is to make you like Jesus. 
More to come tomorrow.........subject?  How to handle your problems.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:
I am told that between the Royal Ranger and Mpact events over Friday and Saturday last week - over a hundred Stone Church family children were ministered to!
Many, many thanks to all of our Royal Ranger and Mpact leaders and volunteers!
You are appreciated!
Thanks for being such a loving and generous congregation - I am thankful to serve a church family that gives in their tithe - to missions and to the building fund!
We can never out give God.
You and I have a shovel, God has a shovel - we shovel in and God shovels back and He has a bigger shovel than we do!
God is concerned about buildings.  72 chapters of the Bible are devoted to the building of either the tabernacle or the temple.
In the second half of the book of Exodus - there are hundreds of detailed commands regarding how God wanted the tabernacle to be built.
If you read 1 and 2 Chronicles, 19 chapters are devoted in whole or in part to the construction of the temple.
God cares about buildings so much that he sent prophets like Haggai and Zechariah to rebuke his people when they procrastinated and didn't get on with the task of building a place where he will be worshipped or where people can meet with him.
And - God is concerned about buildings because of what they represent.  Ministry to people. 
The true goal of what we are doing is building people's lives, introducing people to Jesus, restoring people who have made wrecks of their lives, who have been abused.
We encourage you to bring your pledge to the building fund this coming Sunday!
Good worship yesterday - I love it as I sense God's ministering presence.
Fall is coming!
My condolences to all of your Chicago Bears fans!
Enjoy the weather - winter is coming.  (How's that for a word of encouragement!)
Love on somebody today - speak creatively - forsake negativity - and see what kind of day you have.
Love you all......

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Post 911

I was going through some files today and came across a devotion that I gave after 911.
I still remember the feelings of shock and horror that beautiful day in September (2001) (much like it is today in Chicago).
My assignment was to stand up the next Sunday morning and provide words of comfort and encouragement.
Here are some of the bullet points of what I said that day:
Some may ask:  "Why didn't God stop this?  Where was God in all of this?"
The Bible teaches us that this is not a perfect world.  We live in a world where people, because of bad, evil choices and sin do wrong things (and bad things to happen to good people).
There are two mistakes that we make when a disaster like this happens:
We think that all good things that happen to me prove that I am good.
We think that all bad things that happen to me prove that I am bad.
But that is incorrect.
Ecclesiastes 8:14 states, "Sometimes something useless happens on earth.  Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people."
Sometimes we face problems in life that are our own fault (I can be my own worst enemy).
We do reap what we sow.
But sometimes we suffer because of what other people do to us.
Could God have stopped those terrorists?  Yes, but He chose not to for this reason:
God has given  you and I the ability to make free choices.  It is the greatest blessing in our lives but it can also be the greatest curse. 
And when people choose to do wrong, innocent people suffer.
Not everything that happens to us is God's will.  For example, God's will is that everyone should repent (2 Peter 3:4).  But does everyone repent?  No.
What happened this week (the week of 911) was not God's will.  God is grieving also.  God's will is not always done.
So - where is God in all of this?
Well, (and this is true today in 2015) God is there all the time.  God is just waiting upon you and I to call upon Him.  God does care.  God is concerned.
One of my favorite verses is Psalms 50:15, "And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor me."
So what can you and I do in the midst of our grief?
We must reveal our feelings.
We must allow ourselves to walk through:
Denial:  "This can't be happening."
Anger:  "Why did this happen and what are we doing about it?"
Bargaining:  "God if you do this we will do this."
Depression:  "Lord, this is scary and we are fearful."
Acceptance:  "Father, I accept the reality of what happened."
We must feel free to grieve. 
Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Life isn't always happy, happy, happy.  It is okay to cry and show emotion.
Closing thoughts:
Accept what cannot be change.  Walk in faith.  Faith is facing the facts of life and not being discouraged.  It is not pretending everything is great.  Everything is not great.  But it is trusting in God.  I don't know why things happen as they do - but I do know God - and God can be trusted.
Job said, "Reach out to God, then face the world again firm and courageous."  Job 21:25
Focus on what's left - not on what's lost. 
This is huge.  Focus on what's left and not on what's lost.
Can you lose a home, career, marriage, your health, a loved one?
But can you lose God?  NO!
Paul said it like this (2 Timothy 1:12):  "I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." 
Receive help and prayers from others.
We really do need each other.
Receive help from God.
Paul said in Philippians 4:13, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
Remember 911?  I do - and let's keep on applying the principles that we learned the week after to our everyday lives in 2015 - and be encouraged and comforted today my friends.
Just a thought for a Thursday.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Identity determines behavior

Here's what I know:  Identity determines behavior.
Let me explain.
In Numbers 13, the nation of Israel is about to enter the land God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Moses sends 12 spies - in first - to see how fertile the soil, how rich the harvest, how big the warriors and how strong the forts are.
When the spies return, there is a majority report and a minority report (No I am not referring to the Tom Cruise movie!).
10 of the spies tell the people, "If we cross this border we will die.  The nations who live over there are tough and big."
Numbers 13:31-33 tells us, "But the men who  had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us."  So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, "The land through which we have gone in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.  There also we saw the Nephilim (a tribe of huge people - giants) (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); (the giants Goliath was a descendant of the sons of Anak, one of the Nephilim) and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight." 
"We're grasshoppers next to those guys."
Here's the deal:  Because the 10 saw themselves as grasshoppers, the Nephilim saw them as grasshoppers.
Please know this:  The way you see yourself is not to be determined by the way others see you.
If you think you are a grasshopper, other people will see you as a grasshopper.
How you see yourself will always, always determine your behavior (identity determines behavior).
Because the 10 spies saw themselves as small and weak, they were unwilling to do what God had commanded His people to do; invade the land and possess it.
You see, "grasshopper thinking is contagious."
The rest of the nation of Israel began to think, "We can't go in there, we are not able to possess it.  We are not able to conquer the tribes who live there.  We are going to get killed."
Only two of the spies - Joshua and Caleb disagreed.
They said:  "this is a wonderful land and God will give it to us - if we obey him."
What made the difference?  Joshua and Caleb saw themselves for who they really were - God's people for whom God himself would show himself strong.
But their voices were drowned out - and so 40 years later, the children of Israel made another attempt to go into the land of the promise.  40 years later!
Why?  Because the children of Israel said, "We became grasshopper in our own sight and so we were in their sight."  - and they ran into the desert.
Here's the word of the Lord today!  You are not a grasshopper
You are a child of God!
Don't let the enemy defeat  you with thoughts that you are any less.  Remember who you are in Christ!  Don't let other people and the circumstances in your life define who  you are!
Identity determines behavior.  You will always live consistently with who you believe yourself to be.
Stop looking at where you have been and start looking at where you can be!
Repeat after me:  "I am a child of God."  "I am an overcomer."  "The enemy has no hold over my life."  "Greater is He in me than he who lives in the world."
Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Email from God

Just thought I would blog about an email that I received from God today.  :) :)
God wrote to me:

"I am God.  Today I will be handling all of your problems.  Please remember that I do not need your help.  If the devil happens to deliver a situation to you that you can not handle, do not attempt to resolve it.

Kindly put it in the SFJTD (something for Jesus to do) file.

It will be addressed in my time, not yours.

Once the matter is placed into the file, do not save it or delete it. 

Saving it or deleting it will delay the resolution of your problem.

If it is a situation that you think you are capable of handling, please consult me in prayer to be sure that it is the proper resolution.

Because I do not sleep or slumber, there is no need for you to lose any sleep. 

Rest my child.  If you need to contact me, I am only a prayer away."

This echoes the prayer of David in Psalms 5.

David writes:

"Give ear to my words, O lord, consider my sighing."

David pleads before God for His help. 

"Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.  In the  morning, O Lord, you hear my voice, in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation."

Notice here that is a morning prayer.  You can pray any time and any where - but there is validity to getting up early and praying and starting  your day out with God."

Notice that it an honest prayer.

David's words seem to intensify as he writes.  He cries out, He sighs.  He cries out, "help"!  God never looks down on us when we are open and vulnerable before Him.

But it is also an expectant prayer.

"In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice....I wait in expectation."

That is a promise from God, gang.  God will always hear your prayers.  Instead of giving up, hand your troubles over to God - God knows what to do.  (Please read Psalms 142:2,3).
As I said last Sunday - God knows more than you and I do!

David writes, "I lay my requests before you."  The phrase here means to "place an order."  In other words, David is specific in his "asks." 

He "waits in expectation."  He is looking forward to an answer from the Lord.  He expects God to answer His prayers. 

Then - David goes from making a plea to stating how great God is.  He begins to mediate on God.

Verse 4 - "You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.  The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.  You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors." 

The key today in overcoming your discouragement is the word "focus."  Whom are you going to focus on?  If I get my focus off of myself and get it on God - much of my discouragement and depression and frustration in my inner emotional tank is drained. 
Go down to verse 11:  "But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.  Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you." 
Joy!  You can experience God's joy today! 
"For surely," David writes in verse 12, "you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield."
Some closing thoughts - I encourage you today to:
Take time to be alone with God.  Admit your need; your discouragement.  Be specific.  Review the attributes of God.  Remind yourself of God's defense.  Remember His promises.
God is for you today!
Just a thought for a Tuesday.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:
Wasn't Frank Wolf's testimony powerful yesterday!
As he spoke, I could sense the level of faith arising in the room.
It was and is a miracle!
Confirmed by the doctors!
We rejoice with Frank and Sandy at God's goodness to them.
Let me echo the announcement that Sandy made yesterday:  There will be a "celebration and thank you to Jesus" dinner at our church on Saturday, October 10, 2015:  4:00 P.M. 
You are invited to come and rejoice with the family!
I am grateful for the way that God is moving in our services.
It is a beautiful fall day today - can't wait for the fall colors to come.
I enjoyed meeting a new family yesterday - and introducing them to a couple of Stone Church families.
Tony Romo hurt:  Bad news for my Dallas Cowboys.
When all is said and done, much more is said than done.
Faith is persisting when you don't feel like it.
You don't become a master musician by only practicing when you feel like it.
Master musicians practice in spite of their feelings.
Super salesmen don't make calls just when they are in the mood.
"Oh, I don't feel like I'm in the mood today.  I think I'll stay home and watch, "The View".
You are not going to be a super salesman.
And godly men and women don't get that way just by their feelings.
They develop habits in their lives, spiritual disciplines, like having a daily time with God and they do it whether they feel like it or not - and that puts a smile on the face of God.
Question:  Does that mean that even if I don't feel like doing it - spending time with God - it pleases him?
Yes.  Why?  Because you are doing it in faith.
Faith is persistent.
I don't want to bring up a bad memory from yesterday (The Bears game) but let me share this story with you as I wind down this blog:
During a Monday evening football game between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants, one of the announcers observed that Walter Payton, The bears' running back had accumulated over 9 miles in career rushing yardage.
The other announcer remarked, "Yeah, and that's with someone knocking him down every 4.6 yards!"
You see, Walter Payton, one of the most successful running backs ever, knew that everyone - even the best - gets knocked down. 
The key to success is to get back up and run again - just as hard.
That's God's Word for you today.
Love you all......