Friday, March 31, 2006

2 Peter 2:1-3

2 Peter 2:1-3 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. [2] Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; [3] and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

Satan has two weapons he uses to attack the church. One of those weapons is persecution. Most of us know nothing about persecution. Of course, this is because we live in a nation where we are free to worship as we choose.

The second weapon that Satan uses to attack the church is deception or false teaching. Every person reading this has been exposed to some form of deception or false teaching at one time or another. At times you immediately recognized it and other times you didn’t.

My first experience with false teaching came early in my walk with Christ. A few weeks after I became a Christian, I received a copy of a magazine called The Plain Truth. This magazine, as some of you may remember, was published by the Worldwide Church of God which was founded by Herbert W. Armstrong. After reading one of those magazines, I began to struggle with worshiping on Sunday. The magazine I read presented a convincing argument for worshiping on Saturday. It was especially convincing to a new Christian who knew almost nothing about the Scriptures. Before long that magazine had me questioning many things. Finally, I went to my pastor and he set me straight on those issues. He showed me how the teaching in The Plain Truth was in error. He also explained to me that the Worldwide Church of God was a cult. Looking back at my experience, it is clear to me that enemy will do all he can to deceive us with false teaching.

The problem for us is that Satan is sneaky and deceptive. He doesn’t come to us and say, “Hi I am the liar and the deceiver and I am here to give you some false teaching.” Instead he comes as Paul writes in 2 Cor. 11:14. In that verse Paul says, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” False teachers always disguise themselves. Usually, they appear to be good and moral people and their teaching will be appealing and persuasive. It will always contain some truth mixed with error. They use the just enough truth to get people to listen.

Peter warned us about such teachers in 2 Peter 2:1-3. “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them‑‑bringing swift destruction on themselves. [2] Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. [3] In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” Peter makes at least four important points here. First there will be false teachers in the church. Second they will introduce destructive heresies. Third they will bring Christianity into disrepute. Finally they will be motivated by greed. Does this describe any of the so called Christian teachers you are familiar with? I can think of several, and most of them are on a particular Christian TV network.

My purpose in writing this devotion is not to denounce TV preachers. But I do want to adequately prepare you to stand against the onslaught of false teaching in the church today. That is my responsibility as an under-shepherd of the Lord Jesus Christ.

How can you avoid being deceived? First, study the Word of God for yourself and measure everything you hear by it. Second, pray for discernment. Third, pay attention to the Holy Spirit inside you and His promptings. The Spirit will raise a caution or check in our spirits if we are exposed to error. Whatever you do don’t quench the Spirit, instead thoroughly search the Scriptures and pray for answers. Fourth, join a Bible believing church if you don't belong to one. Finally, invest the time necessary to gain a basic understanding of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. If you’ll do these things you won’t be easily deceived!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Colossians 4:12-13

Col. 4:12-13 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. [13] For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Yesterday, one of my spiritual fathers emailed and shared that he had been praying verse 12 for me at 5:00 am in the morning. Talk about encouraging! I praise God that I have someone who is so concerned about my spiritual growth that he is praying Scripture over my life. I am confident that God will answer.

My spiritual father is like Epaphras. Note what the Life Application Commentary says about Epaphras. "He was a hero of the Colossian church, one of the believers who had helped keep the church together despite growing troubles. His earnest prayers for the believers show his deep love and concern for them. The word for wrestling is the same word used in 1:29 and 2:1. It describes physical striving and conflict, as with an athlete in an arena. Just as Paul was struggling for the church in ministry, so Epaphras was struggling in intercessory prayer. Such descriptions indicate that prayer was not a one-time event, but a long-term labor requiring complete energy."

Epaphras prayed two things for the Colossians. First he prayed for their spiritual maturity. That’s what he means by standing perfect. Second he prayed that they would be confident or fully assured about God's will.

Maturity is becoming complete in Christ. It is becoming all that God has planned for you to be. It is reaching your full potential in Christ.

Being fully assured about God's will is to know His truth and plans. This includes more than just knowledge. It involves discernment. You see, there were those in Colossae trying to deceive the believers (See Col.2:4 ff.). Epaphras was in essence praying that the Colossians would be so sure of God's will that it would be impossible to deceive them.

Maybe you don't enjoy the blessing of having a spiritual father who faithfully prays this way for you. I want you (LVCC) to know that I consider it a privilege to interceed for you. Have a great day!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Proverbs 30:7-9

Proverbs 30:7-9 Two things I asked of You, Do not refuse me before I die:[8] Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, [9] That I not be full and deny You and say, "Who is the Lord?" Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God.

I have made it my habit to read through Proverbs every month for the last several years. I read chapter 1 on the first day of the month, chapter 2 on the second day and so on. By reading Proverbs this way, I have etched many of the book's nuggets of wisdom into my mind.

One of my favorite nuggets of wisdom is contained in today's passage. Agur, the human author of this text, makes two requests of the Lord. He asks the Lord to give him neither poverty nor wealth, but just what he needs.

Some wrongly assume when Agur asks to be kept from "falsehood and deceitful words" in verse 8, that it is a separate request. But Old Testament scholar Duane Garrett says "The “falsehood and lies” of v. 8 are the deceptiveness of both wealth and poverty. The former convinces one that God is not necessary; and the latter, that either he is of no help or that his laws are impossible to keep."

Folks, Jesus taught us to pray this same way when he instructed us to ask for "our daily bread." In the first century, when Jesus uttered those words, one was considered well off if they had clothes on their back and food for the day. How foreign this is to the American way of thinking. Most of us have several days’ food in our cupboards. In fact, most Americans have such abundance that they have lost their sense of dependence on God.

Could it be that our apparent prosperity has caused us to assume that God is not necessary? Is this why there are more cars in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart on any given Sunday than our churches? Who can deny that America's material prosperity has created an atmosphere of spiritual poverty?

No doubt, some of you are struggling financially. Could it be that God is trying to teach you to trust Him on a daily basis for your needs? Could it be that God is teaching you to be content with the basics? Maybe you’re struggling financially because of your tendency to drift away from God when you prosper. Whatever the reason, draw near to the Lord and trust Him to meet your needs. Resist the urge to depend on Visa or MasterCard!

Also, notice Agur's motivation for seeking God's provision in verse 13. He doesn't want to be put in a position where he will give in to temptation and profane God's name. Agur's request is not so much about himself or his comfort as it is about God's reputation and His glory. God will answer this kind of prayer.

Now do you see why I read Proverbs everyday? God's wisdom is available to those who take the time to seek it. Are you making time on a daily basis to seek God's wisdom?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

James 1:1-4 Responding to Trials (part 6)

James 1:1-4 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. [2] Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, [3] knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. [4] And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Yesterday morning as I was praying for several from our church family who are going through difficult times, I believe the Lord gave me this insight. The Lord is planning to use LVCC to do some incredible things for His glory. He is using our present circumstances to build perseverance in us individually and corporately. The Lord is bringing our corporate body to maturity. He wants us to grow up and reproduce! As I have said before, there are no shortcuts to maturity. Maturity is developed as we struggle through trials with God's help.

In addition to character and maturity, God is seeking to establish and strengthen our faith. It will take great faith to do the things God is preparing for us. Think about what is ahead. We are on the verge of forming two different partnerships to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Folks, this will take perseverance, maturity and faith!

I believe God has more planned for LVCC. He intends to use us to impact the Fox Valley in some unique ways. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us. It will not be easy but it will be worth it! Again, we will need perseverance, maturity and faith.

We have some decisions to make. Will we learn and grow as a corporate body from our present trials? Will we let them make us better or will we cave into bitterness and miss the opportunities that lie ahead? God is looking for a people who will love and trust Him whether times are good or bad. It's easy to love God and follow Him when things are good. Only the faithful hang in there when times are really tough! Let endurance have it's perfect work so that LVCC will be mature and complete, lacking nothing. We want to be ready for the Master's use!

Monday, March 27, 2006

James 1:5 Responding to Trials (part 5)

James 1:5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Today's devotional is in honor of my friend and brother in Christ, Garrick Eppinger. Garrick is having a pump surgically implanted in his chest today. This is a temporary fix until a donor heart can be found for a transplant.

Garrick's attitude through this trial has exemplified James words in James 1:2-4. Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

Garrick views this time of illness as an opportunity to witness and minister to others. He has determined to encourage and show Christ love to everyone he encounters. In fact, when you go to the hospital to minister to Garrick you leave knowing that he ministered to you.

No nurse or doctor works on Garrick without hearing about his Lord and receiving some encouragement. When the hospital chaplains come to see Garrick he prays for them. One chaplain recently commented that Garrick should be a chaplain. Garrick is a chaplain where ever he goes!

Wisdom is the ability to see life from God's perspective and respond accordingly. Garrick's wise and godly response to his adverse situation is the result of possessing this wisdom. Where did he get it? Is it available to everyone? James 1:5 answers this question. Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.

The next time you find yourself in the midst of adversity let me encourage you to follow James command and Garrick's example! Such a response will glorify God, strengthen your faith and character, and impact the lives of others.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Acts 1:8

Acts 1:8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

I received an email last Thursday entitled The Dying American Church. It was written by Dr. Thom Rainer the new president of LifeWay Christian Resources. I think we all need to hear Dr. Rainer’s message and respond appropriately. For most of us this will mean repentance! Dr. Rainer wrote:

I am by nature an optimist. I have seen the hand of God too often in my life to live in a state of despair and defeatism. But the state of evangelism in the American Church is such that I do have my moments when I wonder if the Church is headed down the path of many European congregations: decline and death.

The facts of a 2004 research project I led are sobering. It takes 86 church members in America one year to reach a person for Christ. Now I realize that such statistical studies are imperfect, and I make no claims of omniscience, especially in matters such as the regenerate population. But if the research is even close to accurate, the reality is that the Church is not reproducing herself. In just one or two generations, Christianity could be so marginalized that it will be deemed irrelevant by most observers.

Why has the American Church become evangelistically anemic? The research points to several possible factors.

First, the Church and many of the Christians who serve in the churches have become doctrinally ineffective. Repentance is often avoided as a key truth of the gospel. Hell is rarely mentioned, despite its abundance of references in Scripture. And regenerate church membership and church discipline are sometimes perceived as relics of an old and irrelevant era. When these and other key issues are avoided or even watered down, the Church loses her power, and the gospel is no longer the gospel.

Second, church leaders are becoming less evangelistic. A survey of pastors I led in 2005 surprised the research team. Over one-half (53 percent) of pastors have made no evangelistic efforts at all in the past six months. They have not shared the gospel. They have not attempted to engage a lost and unchurched person at any level. They have become busy doing many things, but they have chosen through their lack of actions to be disobedient to Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19, and many other clear passages of evangelistic mandates.

Third, Christians in churches often get caught up in the minor issues and fail to become passionate about the major issue of evangelism. I served as pastor of a church that spent two hours in a business meeting debating over a 5 percent differential in the cost of two similar pieces of furniture. I wish I had seen such passion for the lost and the unchurched in our community.

The numerical evidence seems clear. The American Church is dying. We are not reproducing Christians. American Church growth is typically the transfer of members from one congregation to another, rather than the conversion of the lost. I guess I could blame the churches, her leaders, and stubborn church members. But I must confess that I too often fall short in my own evangelistic zeal. Sometimes I get so busy that I fail to do the main thing.

Perhaps the first step for all of us is the confession of our own sins of disobedience, our own failures to take the evangelistic mandate seriously. Perhaps if we determine that the problem begins with me, then we can be a part of the solution.

Will you join me in a personal evangelistic renewal? The results of our evangelistic efforts are in the hands of a Sovereign God. But we can be His instruments for this renewal. Perhaps then the American Church will see new life and new hope. Such is my prayer. I hope it is yours.

After reading this email and listening to a testimony given by my DOM Dr. Dennis Hansen, I made a commitment last Thursday. My commitment is that by God's enabling grace I will never let another week go by where I fail to share Christ with at least one person. I pray that you'll make a similar commitment and then trust God to help you keep it.

For you Viners out there don't forget about the three lost people you have committed to pray for and witness to!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Luke 21:10-19

Luke 21:10-19 (HCSB) 10 Then He told them: “Nation will be raised up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be violent earthquakes, and famines and plagues in various places, and there will be terrifying sights and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you. They will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of My name. 13 It will lead to an opportunity for you to witness. 14 Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, 15 for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will even be betrayed by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. They will kill some of you. 17 You will be hated by everyone because of My name, 18 but not a hair of your head will be lost. 19 By your endurance gain your lives.

I'm sure you have all heard about Abdul Rahman. If not, he is the Afghan man who faces a possible death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago. He was turned in by his parents upon his return from Germany. Abdul is being prosecuted by the Afghan Supreme Court. Abdul's predicament is exactly what Jesus said would happen to his followers. Therefore, we should not be surprised or alarmed. Jesus warned us in advance.

Even if the Afghan court bows to the pressure brought to bear by the international community to release Abdul, his life is in extreme danger. The following quote from WorldNetDaily verifies this reality.

Whether or not the Afghan judiciary spares Rahman, today senior Muslim clerics insist he must be executed – and that if the government gives in to international pressure and frees Rahman, the clerics will instruct the people to "pull him into pieces."

"Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," said cleric Abdul Raoulf, according to an Associated Press report.

"He is not crazy," added Hamidullah, chief cleric at Haji Yacob Mosque, according to the AP report. "He went in front of the media and confessed to being a Christian. The government is scared of the international community. But the people will kill him if he is freed."

The chief cleric is right. Abdul Rahman is not crazy. No! He is a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ! Abdul may be hated by the entire nation of Afghanistan, but he is dearly loved by God. As Jesus said, "but not a hair of your head will be lost." This does not mean that Abdul's earthly life will be spared, but it does mean that he will stand before our Lord and hear the words, "Well done good and faithful servant."

How should we pray for Abdul? Pray for him the way that the Apostle Paul asked the Ephesian church to pray in preparation for his trial before Caesar. Ephesians 6:19-20 (HCSB) Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. For this I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might be bold enough in Him to speak as I should.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Psalm 24:1-2

Psalms 24:1-2 (HCSB) 1 The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord; 2 for He laid its foundation on the seas and established it on the rivers.

The first two verses of Psalm 24 declare a very important truth. Everything belongs to God because He created it. Think about that for a moment. Let it sink in.

Nothing you possess belongs to you. It is God's! Even you belong to God! You are His possession to do with and use as He chooses. Do we really comprehend this truth? Do we truly believe it?

If we do grasp this truth our lives will reflect it. We'll recognize that we are simply slave-stewards of what belongs to God. Possessions, time, our persons and all they entail must be used for His purposes alone.

The New Testament apostles understood and embraced this truth. That's why they called themselves slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ. Note what Paul says about himself and Timothy in Philippians 1:1a (HCSB). Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. Notice what James says in James 1:1a (HCSB). James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter uses this same terminology in 2 Peter 1:1a (HCSB). Simeon Peter, a slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ.

In the first century, a slave had no rights or possessions. He was viewed as property. His sole purpose was to do his master's bidding. His only aim was to please his master.

The apostles were simply following the example of the One they and we call Lord. Philippians 2:5-8 (HCSB) say, Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.

How do you view yourself? How do you view the things which God has entrusted to you? Is your view Scriptural or self-centered? How are you actually using those things God has entrusted to you? Do you use them selfishly or for God's kingdom?

Every slave eventually has to give an accounting to his master for how they have managed his possessions. Are you ready for that day? Jesus is coming back you know!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

James 1:1-4 Responding to Trials (part 4)

James 1:1-4
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. [2] Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, [3] knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. [4] And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The final principle James teaches us about responding to trials is in verse 4. James says “And let endurance have its perfect result.” In other words, we must allow our trials to fulfill their intended purpose. Two quotes from men I highly respect shed light on this principle.

Pastor and author Derek Prime says, “One of the dangers of trials, either when they actually happen or as we see them appear on the horizon of our life, is our tendency to try to escape them in some way or another, or to endeavor to avoid their full force rather than to see them through to God's planned conclusion. We must deliberately let endurance show itself in practice. We must prove to ourselves – as well as to the silent spectators who may be watching to see how real our faith is when it is tested – that perseverance is both possible and profitable.

Isobel Kuhn, in her book, Green Leaf in Drought Time, describes how some missionary friends found great encouragement in Andrew Murray's formula for trial.
1. Say, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place and in that fact I will rest.
2. He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child.
3. Then He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn.
4. In His good time He can bring me out again – how and when He knows. So let me say, I am (1) here by God's appointment; (2) in His keeping; (3) under His training; (4) for His time.”

The great 20th century expositor Ray Stedman said this about trials. “Undoubtedly, one of the greatest misconceptions held by many is that being a Christian means that life should suddenly smooth out, mysterious bridges will appear over all chasms, the winds of fate will be tempered, and all difficulties will disappear. No, Christianity is not membership in some red-carpet club. All the problems and pressures of life remain, or are even intensified. Christians must face life in the raw, just as any pagan will. The purpose of the Christian life is not to escape dangers and difficulties but to demonstrate a different way of handling them. There must be trouble, or there can be no demonstration.”

In short, if our trials are going to fulfill their intended purpose we must cooperate! The writer of Hebrews makes this same point in 12:5-11. “And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; [6] For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives." [7] It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. [11] All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

James calls persecution trials. The writer of Hebrews calls persecution the Lord’s discipline. So you see, trials and discipline are one and the same. In Hebrews 12:11 it says the result of discipline is the peaceful fruit of righteousness. The fruit of righteousness is equal to the mature Christian character James refers to. What’s my point? Our Heavenly Father designs trials for our lives because he loves us and seeks our good! He wants us to share in His holiness! Can there be any better reason to cooperate with Him and allow our trials to fulfill their intended purpose?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

James 1:1-4 Responding to Trials (part 3)

James 1:1-4
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. [2] Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, [3] knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. [4] And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James teaches us a third principle for dealing with trials in verses 3and 4. We must know that our trials have an important purpose. If God is Sovereign and He is, then that means that God is in control of my situation and responsible for the trials in my life. If God is good and He is, that means the trials God plans for my life must have an important purpose!

James tells us that one of God’s purposes is to build perseverance or endurance into our lives. A particular commentary describes endurance as faith stretched out. Endurance involves trusting God for a long duration. Folks, we cannot really know the depth of our faith until we see how we react under pressure and over time.

Diamonds are coal, subjected to intense pressure over a period of time. Without pressure, coal remains coal. The testing of your faith is the combined pressure that life brings to bear on you. Endurance is the intended outcome of this testing. It’s one thing to say you have faith but it’s another thing to prove it. Trials reveal whether or not our faith is genuine. As the singer says, “I’m just an old chunk of coal, but I’m going to be a diamond someday!”

James goes one to say that endurance leads to mature Christian character. That’s what he means by “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” As I said yesterday, God’s ultimate goal is to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ. When the Bible talks about being conformed into Christ’s image it means that we become like him in character.

Paul agrees with James about the purpose of trials in Romans 5:1-5. Look closely at verses 3 and 4. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, [2] through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. [3] And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; [4] and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; [5] and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Do you see why trials are so important? First, they verify and strengthen your faith! Second, they make you more like Christ. The next time you’re tempted to give up, run away, or mumble and complain, remember that your struggles with adversity have meaning and purpose. Don’t get bitter! Get better by embracing your trials with joy knowing that each painful step of the way you are becoming more like Christ!

Monday, March 20, 2006

James 1:1-4 Responding to Trials (part 2)

James 1:1-4
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. [2] Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, [3] knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. [4] And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The second principle that James teaches us about responding to trials is in verse two. We must embrace trials with an attitude of joy. This does not mean that we put a phony smile on our face and pretend to be happy. No, James is not encouraging us to pretend or be hypocritical. The joy that James is talking about is the inner sense of contentment and well-being that comes from knowing that God is control and keeps His promises. So joy is not event oriented, it’s relationship oriented! We rejoice because we believe Romans 8:28 which says, And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. The next verse, Romans 8:29, goes on to tell us that God’s purpose is that we be conformed to the image of His Son.

Folks, there are no shortcuts to becoming like Jesus. Trials are a major part of the process. We must wisely see them from God’s perspective rather than our own. Every trial that God allows into our lives is specifically designed to make us more like Christ.

I leave you with a quote from Warren Wiersbe, “Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to “count it all joy.” If we live only for the present and forget the future, then trials will make us bitter, not better.”

Embrace your trials with joy so that you become a better Christian not a bitter Christian! It’s up to you.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

James 1:1-4 Responding to Trials (part 1)

James 1:1-4
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
[2] Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, [3] knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. [4] And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Yesterday’s message was so important I feel like it’s worth revisiting in this week’s devotion.

In the first chapter of James, the writer deals with a subject that is relevant to every one of our lives. He deals with the subject of trials. I’ll never forget the first time I preached this passage. It was in 1989. As I walked from the parsonage to the church the Holy Spirit said to me, “Get ready you are going to live this passage.”

I had no clue what that would mean at the time. But for the next seven years our lives would be marked by one trial after another. We had already been struggling with my wife Melinda’s illness. In two short years she went from being relatively healthy to wheel chair bound. In the years that followed we would experience trial after trial. Melinda would make numerous trips to the hospital for illness (some life threatening) and arthritis related surgeries. Shortly after one of those surgeries, they discovered her neck was broken and she spent several weeks with a halo.

During this same period our apartment was burglarized and our car was stolen. I was forced to resign from my church and later on I was laid off from my construction job. Then in January of 1995, Melinda passed away due to complications from minor surgery.

I wish I could say that my response to these trials was always biblical and Christian. Unfortunately I can not. In the beginning I was frustrated and angry. I wrestled with bitterness and there were times when I wanted to walk away from the Lord. Thankfully, the Lord was patient with me and I eventually learned many life-changing lessons.

How should Christians respond to trials? People in the world often respond by complaining, grumbling, blaming and medicating. In contrast, the Christian’s response to trials should be spiritual and not worldly. James teaches us in James 1:1-4 how Christians should respond to trials.

The first lesson that James teaches us from this passage is in verse two. We must understand that trials are the norm for the Christian life. Notice, James says when, not if you encounter various trials. James is simply agreeing with Jesus who told us in John 16:33 that in this world you will have trouble.

The people James wrote to were suffering persecution because of their faith. They were Christian Jews who had been run out of Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen in Acts 8. Most of us have never experienced real persecution, but we all know about trials. We know by experience that the trials of life are definitely not limited to persecution. James understood this also. In fact, he uses a Greek word to describe trials that means variegated or multicolored. In other words, trials come in all shapes and sizes and they come from various sources.

Some of the trials we experience are due to the fact we live in a fallen, sinful world. Lost people hurt others and cause them pain. Death and disease are the norm and the natural result of sin. They cause every human pain.

Other trials we encounter are due to the enemy. The Bible says that Satan runs around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. When you decide to follow Christ you automatically become his target. Job is a prime example of this phenomenon, although we must never forget that Satan had to have God’s permission to attack him. In fact, Satan cannot touch a believer without God’s permission. Folks, there are times when God gives the devil permission to sift us like wheat, just like He did with Peter.

Many of the trials we experience are due to our own sin. If we are honest we would have to admit this is true. Nevertheless, our sovereign God uses them to accomplish His purposes for our lives.

In short, trials are the norm for the Christian life. No matter what their apparent origin, our sovereign God uses them. We will discover this week that trials are the key to our Christian growth! That’s why we need to embrace them with joy. We’ll save that discussion for tomorrow.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Colossians 1:9-14

Col. 1:9-14
For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, [10] so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; [11] strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously [12] giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. [13] For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, [14] in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Apostle Paul was a man with an outstanding prayer life. His life was incredibly busy and difficult yet he made time to be an effective intercessor for God's people. Paul understood that the most important and powerful thing any of us can do is to pray. From reading Paul's writings it is evident that he spent a tremendous amount of time in prayer. He was a man with a very long prayer list! I am convinced that if Paul were standing before you this morning he would exhort you to follow his example. In fact, in Paul's letter to first letter to Timothy, he wrote, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone."

Clearly Paul taught and exemplified that we in the church should pray for one another. The question before us this morning is we will follow Paul's example and teaching by effectively praying for one another? To do anything less would be disobedience. To do anything less is sin.

Some of you may be questioning if failing to pray for each other is really sin. In 1 Samuel 12:23, Samuel said to Israel, As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. So you see, failing to pray for each other is sin. It is sin against the Lord and one another. Folks, whenever we fail to do what we know we ought to do it is sin. In fact, James 4:17 says, Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

Should we pray for one another? Absolutely! If we want to please God we will. If we want to see each other grow in faith and maturity we will pray for each other.

Now let’s talk about some practical tips you can use to begin effectively praying for each other. Effective prayer needs to be consistent prayer. How can you make this an intentional reality? First, make an appointment with God every day to pray. Schedule it or else you will not do it. I know you are busy. We are all busy. Remember if you are too busy to pray you are too busy!

Then get a church directory or make your own list and divide the list up so that it is manageable. Try to pray for everyone at least weekly. Learn to pray consistently.

Our next tip for effective prayer is to pray scripturally. I have found the best way to do this is to use Scripture. In fact, I often use the prayer from this morning's devotion to pray for others. For example, Father, I pray for Bob this morning. I pray that he will be filled with knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. I pray that he will walk worthy of you and please you in every respect. See how simple that is. Use Scripture to pray for one another. You can use other prayers in Scripture, the Psalms, or passages that address specific issues in a person’s life. If you wisely use Scripture you will always have something to pray and it's guaranteed to be in God's will.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Matthew 6:25-34

Matthew 6:25-34
"For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? [26] "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? [27] "And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? [28] "And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, [29] yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. [30] "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! [31] "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' [32] "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. [33] "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. [34] "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In yesterday's newspaper it was reported that several hundred people will be laid off in our community in the near future. Such unsettling economic news has become commonplace in the Fox Valley and across the nation. Everywhere you go you hear people's anxiety. Many are worried about their personal futures and the American economy. It appears that the god of prosperity is proving himself to be nothing more than a figment of the American imagination. That's a good thing! Maybe we will turn back to the God of the Bible.

The God of the Bible has an answer. The God of the Bible promises to meet the physical and spiritual needs of His children. He says in Matthew 6:33, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. When the God of the Bible makes a promise He always keeps it. You cannot say that about corporate America. Who are you trusting?

Folks, our spiritual needs are far more important than our physical needs. So often, God uses our physical needs to gain our attention and draw us to Himself. Our lives are marked by sinful rebellion and by nature we do not seek after God. Praise God that He comes looking for us. He is far more concerned about our eternal destiny than our present comfort. From His perspective it is better that we lose all our earthly possessions than to throw away the possibility of eternal life, especially when those possessions have become our own modern day idols.

Finally, let me ask you a simple question. Do you have what you need today? Then quit worrying about tomorrow! God has promised to meet your needs today. In God's kingdom we must learn to take one day at a time.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Selected verses from Proverbs 16

Proverbs 16:1
The plans of the heart belong to man,
But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.

Proverbs 16:3
Commit your works to the Lord
And your plans will be established.

Proverbs 16:9
The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.

In Proverbs 16 there are at least three verses that relate to planning. These verses are 1, 3 and 9. The one point all these verses make is that God is in charge and we’re not!

Eric Lane says, "The sovereignty of God is no mere philosophy, it is about life, both in its totality and its details. . . We work out where we want to go and how to get there, then take steps to fulfill our plans. But while free to follow our reason, we can ultimately do nothing without the consent of God's providence. He may prosper these plans, redirect or stop them altogether. For he too has plans, which take into account things we either don't know because we lack foresight, or we don't choose because they are unwelcome. (Emphasis mine) But he is the one with the greater power and it is his ‘purpose that will stand’ (Isa. 46:10, Prov. 19:21, 20:24, 21:30). Our best course is to cooperate with him by submitting our thoughts to him so that our plans coincide with his, and by committing our lives to him as we go out to fulfill them (cf. v.3)."

Folks, there is nothing wrong with planning. In fact, it's foolish not to plan, but we must never forget who is really in charge. When things don't go the way we planned we must resist the urge to grumble or complain. Instead, we need to recognize that the Sovereign One is working out His perfect plan and submit to Him!

As Eric Lane said, often God will choose things for us that we would never choose for ourselves. Many times this means adversity and a measure of suffering. When those times come we would be wise to remember James 1:2-4 which say, Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, [3] knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

By the way, James 1:2-4 will be the text for Sunday morning's message! Hope to see you all Sunday!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Psalm 15

Psalm 15:1-5
A Psalm of David.

O Lord, who may abide in Your tent?
Who may dwell on Your holy hill?
[2] He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness,
And speaks truth in his heart.
[3] He does not slander with his tongue,
Nor does evil to his neighbor,
Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
[4] In whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
But who honors those who fear the Lord;
He swears to his own hurt and does not change;
[5] He does not put out his money at interest,
Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things will never be shaken.

We Christians should all know about imputed righteousness. Imputed righteousness is that which we receive by faith. It's the righteousness of Christ that God reckons to our account when we trust His son as Savior and Lord. Without imputed righteousness we would have no hope. With it we become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21)!

What about ethical righteousness? Imputed righteousness is our standing before God but what about our present state? Are we living righteous lives? Are we living like children of heaven? Does our behavior match who we are and claim to be? The great blight of modern Christianity is that so many of its adherents are orthodox in their beliefs and ungodly in their behavior!

Psalm 15 describes the proper lifestyle of heavenly citizens. It's a beautiful description of ethical righteousness. How does your life stack up? Do you walk in integrity without hypocrisy? Reread these verses and ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart.

Let's commit ourselves to being a people who believe the right things and do the right things for the Father's glory. We want to be orthodox in our faith and our actions! Amen?

Ecclesiastes 1:1-9

Eccles. 1:1-9
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
[2] "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher,
"Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."
[3] What advantage does man have in all his work
Which he does under the sun?
[4] A generation goes and a generation comes,
But the earth remains forever.
[5] Also, the sun rises and the sun sets;
And hastening to its place it rises there again.
[6] Blowing toward the south,
Then turning toward the north,
The wind continues swirling along;
And on its circular courses the wind returns.
[7] All the rivers flow into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full.
To the place where the rivers flow,
There they flow again.
[8] All things are wearisome;
Man is not able to tell it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor is the ear filled with hearing.
[9] That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.

Have you ever felt like the writer of Ecclesiastes? Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. You go to work; come home, eat dinner and go to bed. You know you will repeat the same process over again tomorrow, the next day and the next day. Why? So you can continue to do the same old things you have always done. Basically, pay the bills and feed your family. It's not that these things are unnecessary or unimportant. It's just that sometimes the routine of them becomes drudgery and boredom. It all feels like vanity.

What's the answer? We must take time each day to focus on the eternal. We can do that several ways. Of course, the first and most important way is to spend time with our Creator. The God of all Creation wants to fellowship with us! How incredible! I hope this is your habit but that it never becomes simply a routine.

Second, we can share eternal truth with those we encounter. Such an encounter can take a hum drum day and turn it into an incredible spiritual adventure. Do you remember the excitement you felt the last time you shared Christ with someone? It was anything but boring!

Another thing we can do to break up the routine is read the biographies of faithful saints from the past. Recently I have been reading about George Mueller. His passion and faith have inspired me. His story has helped make the gray days of winter a little more bearable.

My point is that life may be routine, but it does not have to be boring or wasted. Not if we invest ourselves in the eternal! If we focus on the eternal we'll never find ourselves crying "Vanity! All is Vanity"