Thursday, March 30, 2006

#39 What A Difference A Day Makes!

#39 "What A Difference A Day Makes!"
"..and Kish said to his son Saul, "Take one of the servants with you and go look for the donkeys." and "Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul's head and kissed him, saying, "Has not the Lord anointed you leader over his inheritance?" (1 Samuel 9:3 and 1 Samuel 10:1)

What a difference a day makes. Saul went out on a mission to find his father's lost donkeys and the next day Samuel anointed him to be king over Israel. Little did he know that while he was traveling and making his way to see Samuel "so that he will tell us what way to take" (1 Samuel 9:8), God was working on his behalf by revealing to Samuel that a man was coming who he would anoint leader over Israel. Saul couldn't see it, he didn't know about it. God was working and things changed suddenly in a day.

David was keeping his father's sheep. Out in the pasture, he had no idea that a man of God was back at home with his father and brothers searching for the Lord's anointed one. Called in from his work, Samuel pronounced David the one and anointed him in the presence of his brothers. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. (see 1 Samuel 16:13) God had sent Samuel. From the beginning of time God had chosen David to be king. God was working and things changed suddenly in a day. What a difference a day makes.

Joseph was in Pharaoh's dungeon, accused of raping Potiphar's wife. Unjustly accused and forgotten by his fellow prisoner who promised to remember him when he was released. But Pharaoh had a dream. His friend remembered him. Joseph was brought to Pharaoh and interpreted the dream. He was then put in charge of the whole land of Egypt, second in command only to Pharaoh. Joseph went from the pit to the palace in one day. The Bible tells us that at every stage of Joseph's journey, God was with him. Even when it didn't feel like He was. God was working and things changed suddenly in a day. What a difference a day makes.

Would you allow me to go further? Moses was living on the back side of a mountain with the riches of Egypt far behind him when he had a burning bush experience and his life was changed forever. Gideon was threshing a small harvest of wheat, hiding in fear from the Midianites when God pronounced him a "mighty man of valor". Sons, shepherds, farmers, prisoners....going about normal days with no idea that God was working and things were going to change suddenly in a day. What a difference a day makes.

In one day, a teenaged girl named Mary went from being a normal adolescent looking forward to her upcoming marriage to her love, Joseph, to carrying the Christ child in her womb. Simon and Andrew went to work one morning, making their living as fishermen, just like every other day. By the end of the day they would become "fishers of men". Paralytics walking. Blind men seeing. The deaf hearing. The lame, dancing. In a day. Famous Christian killer, Saul of Tarsus, carrying letters allowing him to arrest those who followed Christ, was riding down the road to Damascus when light from heaven flashed around him. Knocked off of his horse and blinded, he became Christianity's greatest preacher and writer. All in a day. God was working and things changed suddenly in a day. What a difference a day makes.

One more, if you'll let me. On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, full of grief, made her way to the tomb where Christ had been laid. Those she left behind were also grieving and hiding from the authorities. The Bible says that "she saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance." She told the others. Angels appeared. Then Jesus. Right in front of her, in all of His glory. Alive! From grief to abundant joy! All in a day. God was working and things changed suddenly in a day. What a difference a day makes. I could go on and on but I think you get the point. Watch for these types of "one day" stories as you read the word. There are so many more.

I don't think that I need to expound much on the message here. Let the Bible itself speak to you about the potential that is in one day. And remember that God is no respecter of persons. What He did for them, He will do for you. I don't know where you woke up this morning. I don't know what impossible situation you are facing today. But God is telling you in His Word that He is working and things could change suddenly in a! What a difference a day makes!


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

#38 "Show Me The Place.."

March 21, 2006
"When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 'Where have you laid him?' he asked." (John 11: 33-34)

Lazarus was dead. Word had been sent to Jesus but He chose to delay in coming. The body was in the tomb. The stone was placed across it's entrance. It was done. No more hoping. No more possibility for a miracle. Over. Finished. It was over in Martha and Mary's minds. They had given up. They both said, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." But he did. So that was that. They buried their brother and stopped believing. It was over. Or was it?

Using this passage in a sermon, Bishop T. D. Jakes asked a question last week that has haunted me ever since. Paraphrasing Jesus' question, "Where have you laid him?", he said, "Show me the place where you stopped believing." I have been thinking about this for days and decided to do my musing over it with you. Maybe we can both find the answer.

We speak the right Christian-ese. We use the right words with the right message and we even convince ourselves that we are really dealing with our problems in faith. But are we really still believing? If we search our hearts honestly, did we give up a long time ago? Sometimes we blatantly, outright give up. We decide there is no hope and no use in believing any longer. Convicted and ashamed by our lack of enduring faith, I think we can enter into a more dangerous area which becomes quiet resignation. We stop talking about our problem. We may even stop praying about it. Our unbelief is masked with a false persona, a stoic face and the appearance to others that we are strong and patient in our belief that God will come through. But if we would take the time to search the deepest part of our hearts, we would find that we really just aren't believing anymore. Under that quiet resignation is just a tired heart that says, "It's just never going to happen for me and I might as well accept it."

Martha and Mary stopped believing when the stone was rolled in front of the tomb. Naomi stopped believing when her husband and sons died and she was left alone and bitter with a foreign daughter-in-law. Sarah stopped believing when she looked in the mirror and saw a woman too old to ever have a child, let alone with that old, worn out husband, Abraham. Sometime during the thirty eight years the man laid at the pool of Bethesda, he stopped believing that he would ever be healed. Failed marriage after failed marriage made the Samaritan woman stop believing that there was any man that could love her and never hurt her. Even the thief on the cross, right at the hour of his death didn't believe that there was any hope. ["We are getting what our deeds deserve." Luke 23: 41]

"Show me the place where you stopped believing." When was it for you? Be honest. There's no one there but you and God. And He already knows. You don't have to admit it to anyone but Him. It may have already jumped out at you. It may be much deeper, hidden under layers of stoicism and resignation. Faith is not resignation. Faith is not passive. Faith is not just appearing to be strong under pressure. "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) Sure means firmly established, with confident certainty. Certain is fixed, settled, indisputable. No passivity here. Faith is active and aggressive. "Faith sees more in a promise of God to help than in all other things to hinder." (John Bunyan) Faith is a knowing deep down in your spirit that it will eventually be okay.

You may have stopped believing in a doctor's office or in a divorce court. It may have been at a hospital bedside or at a funeral. Maybe in a jail cell, an unemployment line or a food pantry. Could be the place where there is always more month left than money. Wherever it was for you....start believing again. Lazarus was raised! Naomi and Ruth were blessed, redeemed and provided for by Boaz. Sarah and Abraham had Isaac, the child of the promise. The man at the pool was healed. The Samaritan woman found a man who gave her a testimony and she became an evangelist. The thief was with Jesus that day in Paradise. Your "that day" could be today! Psalm 77:14 says that God performs miracles. He did and He still does! This too will pass. "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10: 23) I believe for you a new sunrise, a new day, filled with new hope and belief in God for your future. Jesus will work it out. For you and for me.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

#37 Back to Basics

March 14, 2006
Read Isaiah 6:1-4; Luke Ch. 22-23; 1 John 4:7-21

Whether or not you believe in receiving ashes on your forehead and abstaining from meat, Lent is a perfect time for all of us to examine ourselves and reflect on the manner of life we are living for God. St. Paul urged the Corinthians to "Examine [themselves] to see whether [they were] in the faith; test yourselves." (2 Corinthians 13:5a) In my quiet times I have found three areas that I think we need to revisit and grab hold of. Three areas that we may find pretty basic and because of that, three important areas that we often take for granted and forget.

The awesomeness of God (Isaiah 6:1-4): We really don't take God as seriously as we should. It is a comforting fact that He is our loving Heavenly Father who abounds in mercy and grace toward us. We count on Him to hear and answer our prayers. We concentrate on His attributes. His faithfulness, His goodness, His loving kindness, His forgiveness, just to name a few, but do we really understand WHO God is? When Isaiah was granted a vision of the Lord in His throne room, he was so distraught, so aware of his sinfulness that he cried out. Doorposts and thresholds shook. I'm sure that Isaiah shook as well. Angels were all around Him singing and calling to one another, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory." (verse 3) Isaiah didn't see a wimpy, grandfather-like man sitting on the throne...he saw the Almighty God, the maker of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God who split the Red Sea and the Jordan River in two for His people to pass through. The God who sent plagues on Egypt so that His own people could be free. The wind and hail and thunder are in His storehouses waiting to be released. The wind and waves obey Him. Mountains move before Him. He has chariots of tens of thousands and thousands of thousands. He holds the keys to death and Hades. He has all authority and power.

There is a popular song with the title, "I Can Only Imagine." The singer is trying to imagine what he will do when he sees God in heaven. Not to dis the song or anything, but the answer is in Revelation 1:17. When John "saw him, [he] fell at his feet as though dead." Paul was struck down to the ground in a similar way when he saw Christ in His glory (Acts 9:4). Our minds cannot even begin to wrap around or comprehend God. Do we ever just fall on our face in worship because we realize just how holy God is? We can't understand it fully but we need to acknowledge the facts. And we need it to make a difference in our lives, in how we approach a holy God and how seriously we take the "fear of the Lord." We don't take Him seriously enough and we forget the awesomeness of God.

The magnitude of what Jesus did (Luke Chapters 22-23): We really don't take what Jesus did for us as seriously as we should. The cross has become something we wear around our necks and is systematically being removed from many churches today because it is deemed too confrontational to the seeker. Let me tell you, if any church that I went to decided to remove their cross...well, I'm outa there! I say, "Preach the cross. Preach the shame and disgrace that Christ went through." I need to make what Jesus did a part of me. Indelible images on my mind and on my heart so that I NEVER forget His suffering, His shame and His sacrifice. This Lent, revisit Luke: 22-23. Sit at the table of the Last Supper with Jesus and the apostles. Watch him dip bread with his friend, Judas, his betrayer. Watch as He knows that His own will run and His beloved Peter will deny Him. Go with Him to the Mount of Olives and hear Him pray, watch His anguish and see His sweat, "like drops of blood falling to the ground." Have you ever been in that kind of anguish? And His friends were all asleep! Watch Him be arrested after feeling the hot breath of His betrayer on His face from a kiss. Imagine the scourging that left His appearance so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness. (see Isaiah 52:14) And stand near the cross and hear His screams of agony as they crucify Him and He hangs there for hours until He dies. And hear one of the last things that He says, with a love that no other human has ever had before that time or since, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Read the account in Luke, maybe in all four gospels. Read it slowly, not just as a story you've read a thousand times before. He did it for you. Watch "The Passion of the Christ" again. Weep. Feel it. Take it seriously. Take HIM seriously. And let it make a difference in how you live.

Finally, the command to love each other (1 John 4: 7-21): We don't take loving each other as seriously as we should. We love selectively and conditionally. We love erotically. We don't love the way Christ did and the way that He commands us to. "Whoever loves God must also love his brother." If that brother happens to be black, white, sinner or saint....I love him. I love with an "agape", unconditional, benevolent love. I love if you are like me or not. I love if you smell more like the streets you sleep on than Old Spice or Chanel No. 5. I love you if your clothes are worn, tattered and dirty or if you are wearing a designer label. I am to love in your rudeness, your unwillingness to get with the program and I am to treat you with respect. I will not presume to think that I have all of the answers you need to come out of your personal crisis. But I promise to love you through it. God is patient with you...I must be too. And if you fall, I'll help to lift you back up and try again. This type of love seems near impossible but I believe that God never commands us to do anything that He doesn't know we can do. That would not be fair. 1 John 5:3 says that His commands are not burdensome. He gives us the power to do it in Him. Ask God to give you His heart of love. We don't take loving each other as seriously as we should.

We've got our work cut out for us, my friends. It's not enough for us to be content with the fact that we are saved and going to heaven. We have a life to live here on earth and it's time to get serious. Serious about the awesomeness of God. Serious about what Jesus did for us. And serious about loving one another. As I enter the last half of my life, I am bound and determined to live it for Christ, the way His plans for me intended it to. I don't want to come to the end of my life and regret that I never got serious. That I never loved the way I should. That I never fulfilled my destiny. How about you?


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

#36 "Why Rahab?"

March 7, 2006
"Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. "Go, look over the land," he said, "especially Jericho." So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there." (Joshua 2: 1)

I'm sure that there were more respectable women in Jericho. I'm sure there were many that had high moral standards and values. I'm sure that there were wealthier, more beautiful, more appropriate women in the city for the spies to choose from. Why did they choose Rahab and her house? And were they the ones who chose?

The Bible doesn't tell us how they chose. The spies may have seen her walking the streets and followed her. They may have been attracted to the fact that her house was built on the city wall. We don't know for certain, but we do know that this was a woman of "ill repute." She wasn't just an innkeeper as some would say. The Hebrew word "zona", and the Greek, "porne" (Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25) classify her as a common harlot. She was an immoral woman. Even the meaning of her name had bad meant "insolence; pride." She wasn't entirely bad however. She also had an honest occupation of linen weaving and dyeing. But God chose to point out her harlotry in His word. He didn't say that the spies entered the house of a linen weaver named Rahab. No, the word says that they entered the house of a prostitute.

Could it be that the spies were led entirely by the Lord when they found Rahab's house? Was she prepared beforehand for this very day? I believe that God, in His providence, led them there. The God who knew her in her mother's womb (see Jeremiah 1:5) had a plan for her life. She was predestined and chosen before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). She was "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [her] to do." (Ephesians 2: 10) And all of this was true in spite of her lifestyle and reputation. Two unknowing spies collided with one immoral woman by the perfect plan of God and salvation was brought to her and her household. The spies were there to get the necessary information for a successful battle. Rahab was there to have her life changed for all eternity. God had already decided to spare her from the judgement that would fall upon Jericho and use her to fulfill His purposes.

In Joshua 2, verse 11, Rahab declared her faith in Israel's God. In chapter 6, verse 25 we are told that Rahab, her family and all who belonged to her were spared. The grace and mercy of God met Rahab right where she was and won! She was met in her sin, and God chose her before she ever changed her ways. She was deserving of divine judgement just like the city she lived in, but Mercy said No! Knowing that she was a harlot boldly tells us about God's mercy in giving her faith and in sparing her. Rahab and her family were incorporated among the Jewish people. She afterwards became the wife of Salmon, a prince of the tribe of Judah (Ruth 4:21; 1 Chr. 2:11; Matt.1:5) and the mother of Boaz. She became a convert to the God of Israel and even became a part of the messianic line.

Rahab's story is my story. It may be your story as well. I can remember when God met me right in the middle of my sin. He didn't wait for me to change. He didn't expect me to be righteous before He would call to me. He was whispering my name each and every day while I continued to ignore Him, resist Him and go on sinning. But He was so patient with me. Every time that judgement demanded my death, Mercy said NO! He knew that I would eventually respond because He knew me all the way back before the creation of the world. He knew me and chose me in my mother's womb and had a plan for my life even then...just like Rahab. Jesus said that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of the "righteous". (see Matthew 21:31). Add my name to the list. Add your name as well.

So again I ask, "Why Rahab?" Because she was a sinner. Just like you. Just like me. Maybe you were not a prostitute, but you were a sinner. And so was I. Sin is sin. And we are compelled to look at the grace and mercy of our loving God in her story and in our own personal journey. A God who was willing to enter into our mess and pull us out. He then makes us into something beautiful for His divine purposes. Let's remember our story each and every day of our lives. Always remember where you came from and Who pulled you out lest you be quick to judge the Rahab's around you. You never know what God has planned for anyone. Ask me "Why Rahab?". I say "Why not?"