Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Lord is my Strength

Franklin Graham tells the story about a little girl he saw in Rwanda, after that country's civil war a few years ago. She was a refugee who had just witnessed the murder of her entire family, and she was sitting in the back of a truck, clutching a blanket and singing. He asked one of the soldiers what she was saying, and the soldier translated it: "Jesus loves me, this I know..." She had just lost everyone and everything that she knew, and she was singing praise to God!

Not many of us face such horrific circumstances in our lives, and that's by the mercy of God. But we all face battles where we are tempted to doubt the goodness or the power of God. This is part of spiritual warfare. Paul puts it this way: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).

The faithful Christian understands that there is an intense battle going on at all times. There are enemies all around, and hell doesn't give you a standing ovation when you commit your life to Christ. Jesus Himself knew warfare—His earthly ministry began with forty days of warfare with Satan in the wilderness, and it ended in Gethsemane, with Jesus sweating great drops of blood, before the last great battle on the cross.

As Christians, we are not exempt from suffering. It may come in the form of sickness or loss of a job, or through the terrible events like the little Rwandan girl experienced. Suffering intensifies spiritual warfare and the fear that may make us doubt the grace and the mercy of God.

Yet, we should not fear. Psalm 27 is a song of confidence in the Lord. It was written during the time when David was on the run from Saul, who was trying to kill him. Listen to what David says: "Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident... For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock" (v. 3, 5).

I encourage you to spend some time with this Psalm. Read it. Meditate on the truths it expresses. God knows and understands the battles you face. He knows, and He cares. Even if you are forsaken by everyone and everything else, the Lord will take care of you (see v. 10).

Whatever the challenges, whatever the battles, we can all say, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (v. 1).

Love God – Love People

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hot Hot Hot

I've was watching a news show about wildfires around the country. According to the report, in just two weeks over 1,700 fires have burned nearly and over 300 of the fires are still uncontained. The most dangerous fires are being contained, but the firefighters fear that might change. As they try to control the fires with bulldozers, controlled backfires and aerial drops of water and fire-retardant chemicals, they are wary of the weather. Temperatures may soon reach well over 100 degrees, with winds that could cause the fires to spread.

Just like a wildfire, the church in the first century spread everywhere. On the Day of Pentecost, the Lord added 3,000 people to the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 2:41), and it spread outward from there, despite all attempts to contain it. A young Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, was especially zealous in his persecution of the church, and he actively hunted down believers. But it was already uncontrollable by the time he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. It was everywhere. The more the persecution, the greater the spread.

I liken it to trying to put out a fire with your foot. I don't know if you've ever tried that--but don't. If you try to stamp it out, your foot creates enough of a draft to take those little embers and shoot them out and start fires everywhere. And so it's like the devil was trying to stomp the church out with his foot, and all these "on-fire" Christians were going everywhere spreading the gospel.

When Peter gave Jesus the profession of his faith, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus told him, "...on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." (see Matthew 16:16, 18). Jesus predicted that the church would stand up against any assault.

The church in Jerusalem was just doing the basics (see Acts 2:42-47), but the Holy Spirit was there, empowering it to spread. The church today can be just the same.

Over the years, many non-believing people have predicted demise of the church. More than a few political leaders tried to stamp it out. They not only failed, but they caused it to spread. There will always be opposition from those who don't want it to spread. But if we remain close to Jesus Christ we will be fruitful (see John 15). Even the gates of hell won't be able to stop the church.

Love God – Love People

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Freedom and Slavery

In the United States at this time of year we talk a lot about freedom, and that's only appropriate. The French writer Alexis de Toqueville once called America "the most enlightened and free nation of the earth." The Bible also talks about freedom. It says, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). We've been set free!

But what have we been set free from? And more importantly, what have we been set free for? The first question, probably most of us could answer. We've been set free from the bondage to sin. We've been set free from guilt and from punishment.

The second question is one not a lot of Christians ask. But here's the answer: We have been set free in order to become slaves of God. We've been set free from one master to become indentured to another Master. Did you know that? We're to be slaves of righteousness and slaves of God. (See Romans 6:18.)

Every person is a slave to something…or someone. If you haven't given your life to Jesus Christ, you might be saying "I'm nobody's slave!" but I disagree. "Don't you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master? You can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval" (Romans 6:16, NLT). You may be a slave to yourself--your own habits, your own lustful desires. And there's no freedom or peace in that.

In biblical times, if somebody couldn't pay off their debts, they might become an indentured slave. They would work to pay off their debts, and in the seventh year the master had to release them. But some who really loved their masters went on working for them voluntarily. So there were two types of slaves: those who served out of compulsion, because they had to, and those who served out of loyalty, because they wanted to. Paul often used this picture, calling himself a "slave" or "bondservant" of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1).

And the message of the Bible is the more you become His slave, the more freedom you experience. The more you become slaves to other things, people, etc., the less freedom you have.

The Cross of Christ can set any prisoner free, and once that happens, you become free to be His slave. That's what salvation is all about; it's turning from sin to God. God takes good care of His servants. And you'll discover that being His slave is the greatest possible freedom you can have in this life.

Some years ago, Bob Dylan wrote a song called "Gotta Serve Somebody," which contained these words: "You're gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody."

Or as the Bible says, "But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life" (Romans 6:22). "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Love God – Love People