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Archive for November, 2009

A simple, but powerful thought from one of my former students at Bethany:

“Despite my lack of understanding, I will choose to rest in what I do know. You are with me and are pleased with my best.”

This describes perfectly what I read in my quiet time today from Mt. 11:28-30:

28″Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

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What some have called our First National Holiday (from the word “holy day”) is one of the most astonishing stories in the history of humanity:

It’s the story of the founding of our nation as a Christian Republic, on the one hand, and of the evangelization of the native Indians on the other hand, by very godly men and women from England known as the “Pilgrims” in 1620.

The suffering that these greatly persecuted believers endured from the English government and the Anglican Church is heart-breaking: they lost their homes and their jobs because they wanted to worship freely outside of the Anglican Church that they rightly believed had been corrupted.

They were forerunners of free churches that were founded in England about 100 years later through Baptists and Methodists – especially through John and Charles Wesley.

Having no possibility of earning an income and becoming outcasts in their own country, they fled into exile into Holland, hoping to find a better life there.

But they were forbidden to share their faith in Holland and their children were becoming negatively influenced by the very ungodly Dutch youth.

After about 12 years in Holland, they heard about a voyage from England to an undiscovered land – called America – a voyage set up by the Virginia Company of England primarily to evangelize the natives of that land.

The Pilgrims immediately agreed to take the biggest step of faith in their lives – an extremely dangerous, three-month voyage on a tiny ship – the Mayflower. I’ve been on its replica and for 120 people (plus supplies), it was tiny.

They arrived in Plymouth, Mass in the dead of winter, with almost no food left and near starvation, but full of faith in God’s providence to provide for their needs.

Just before they landed on the shores of Mass., they set up a Christian form of government through what is known to us as the Mayflower Compact – the first time in recorded history that free men and women made a covenant together to voluntarily form a civil government under God.

The Mayflower Compact had a guarantee of religious freedom to worship and to share their faith freely and openly; so great was this compact that it served as the basis and foundation to our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.

We owe our freedom and prosperity directly to these courageous, godly men and women who suffered dearly for their faith and in founding this nation under enormous odds and in great duress.

In the midst of that freezing winter, many of their number died from starvation and sickness that turned into disease.

But in God’s providence, the Pilgrims were saved through His miraculous provision of three men: Squanto, who spoke English and acted as an interpreter for two Indian Chiefs: Samoset and Massasoit.

These men provided protection for the Pilgrims from a different tribe of Indians who repeatedly tried to kill them and these three men saved the lives of the Pilgrims by providing them with food and means of hunting and planting crops that would survive.

The Governor of the Pilgrims – William Bradford – invited these and other Indians to a thanksgiving feast to honor God for His faithfulness and provision, leading these Indians to faith in Christ and setting up a peace treaty that the Pilgrims honored.

This first Thanksgiving Day lasted for three days; almost 400 years later, we traditionally eat almost all of the same foods that they ate over those three days.

This day was publicly recognized as a national holiday by our first president, George Washington, shortly after he became president in 1789 and it was made a permanent national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

Although the Pilgrims were often sorely tested to murmur and complain from the time they became outcasts in England to their exile in Holland, during their perilous voyage to America and in the dead of winter when a large percentage of them died of sickness and starvation, their leaders refused to allow the murmuring and complaining to continue.

Instead, their Pastor, John Robinson and Governor Bradford led them at every test to find ways to thank God in the smallest and largest matters of life.

They understood that one of the most important virtues for any human being was gratitude to God – that is, thanksgiving – because that virtue is what brings His favor and blessing.

And here’s the connection for us today:

Just as the Pilgrims overcame overwhelming difficulties through the power of thanksgiving, so God and His Word call us to do the same thing: God’s Word and His ways have never changed and the Pilgrims learned thanksgiving through the same Bible that we read today.

For example, note with me this critical matter of thanksgiving in 1 Thess. 5:16-18: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

How can we possibly do what Paul just commanded us to do?

1) First, we do this through the aid of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us; the grace is already there for us.

2) Second, we purpose to do these things by opening our mouths in faith and speaking out words of thanksgiving – especially when we don’t feel like it!

3) We live out vv.16-18 by training ourselves to do this through keeping it simple: purposing to thank Him for the little things, on up to the big things.

4) And when we do this as a lifestyle, we live a Spirit-filled life and we glorify God. Here’s what a Spirit-filled life looks like, in part: Eph. 5:18-20.

5) Rejoicing always (1 Thess. 5:16) doesn’t come naturally or easily to most people; we have to work together with the Holy Spirit to discipline ourselves to rejoice when we don’t feel like it. Isn’t that true?

6) Memorizing verses like these, as well as so many other verses in the NT like them (e.g. Phil. 3:1; 4:4) will help greatly:

We quote the verse or verses out loud – to ourselves and to the Lord – until we get the breakthrough that we need.

And that, my friends, is how we move in the power to overcome life’s obstacles, challenges, tests, trials, afflictions, heartache, disappointment and tribulations.

Now, I want to ask you a question: will you put this into practice?

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I have long believed that the highest place on earth is on our knees or on our face in prayer.

This is where we find the greatest peace, fulfillment, problems solved, renewed strength, joy, and most importantly of all, intimacy with our Father.

King David — the gentle warrior and man after God’s own heart — understood this when he wrote this song:

“I will give You thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to You before the gods. I will bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name, for Your lovingkindness and Your truth” (Ps. 138:1-2).

The Hebrew word transalted “bow down” (v.2) is from the root Hebrew word shachaw and it means to prostrate, to crouch or fall flat; to humbly beseech; to do reverence (e.g. Ps. 5:7; 45:11; 99:5, 9).

Similarly, the Greek word for the same is proskuneo, and it also means to bow down, to worship (read Mt. 2:1-2, 11).

Friend, when was the last time you lay prostrate before God and just rested in His presence, without saying a word?

This spiritual discipline — when practiced — is the greatest “stress-reliever” I know of, because it puts us in the presence of the One who gives perfect peace.

Would you place yourself on the highest place on earth? Practice His presence in this manner and that’s where you’ll be!

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Disappointment with God

During Sunday’s message I made brief mention that I sensed someone in our congregation that had grown greatly disappointed with God and needed to forgive Him.

Because we were running late, I was pressed for time and didn’t explain what I meant by that statement, so I’ll try and do that here in this blog.

First, let me make it clear that God needs no forgiveness from anyone, because He never does anything wrong. He is never guilty of sin – there is no sin in Him – and He is not accountable to us, nor does He ever need our approval.

My suggestion to forgive God is simply a way of urging us to humility before Him when He doesn’t meet our expectations in the time and manner that we want: “forgiving” Him is for our benefit – not His.

When disappointment with God happens over time (due to our expectations of how or what we think He should do), we’re sorely tested to doubt Him, to get frustrated with Him and even to get angry with Him.

I’ve had many, many times over the years when I’ve stood patiently and confidently in faith for God to come through for me in certain matters. This is usually the case for me.

But I’ve also been guilty of impatience with Him; the impatience grew into frustration and the frustration grew into anger. I realized how wrong I was and repented of these things. I’ve even found myself forgiving Him – for my benefit.

This is similar to forgiving someone close to us for not doing something we expected the person to do – only to find out that that person was completely innocent in the matter. That is a humbling experience to go through!

Put another way, we often build up a grudge against others for reasons entirely our own fault. As a result, resentment builds towards that person – and most of the time, the person is entirely unaware that he or she has been the brunt of our silent animosity!

Of course, God is different; He knows our every thought. So whatever we can do to maintain a humble spirit before Him, we must be quick to do, for He says to us in Is. 66:2: “But to this one I will look: to him who is humble and contrite of spirit and who trembles at My Word.”

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“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6).

I love these two verses! They make the walk of faith (which pleases God: Heb. 11:6) simple!

But due to the sinful nature that we battle, we tend to make the walk of faith complicated, don’t we?

Let me break down this passage for you and show you a way to keep this simple. If you practice this method, you will find freedom and joy in walking by faith.

But I can promise you as well that walking by faith won’t be “a snap”; it won’t be easy because you must diligently train your spirit to overcome your mind: a mind that insists upon having everything figured out before you will truly trust God!

First, the Hebrew word translated trust — batach — carries the force of relying on someone for security. It can mean to lean on someone or something with the entire body.

Who are we trusting in? It is the LORD: This Hebrew name for God — Yahweh –refers to God as the personal, active, covenant-keeping God.

What does that mean for you and for me? That He is right there with us in a real and personal way — even when He is silent with us.

Moreover, He is at work on our behalf; it is His very nature to be at work on our behalf!

And finally, He is faithful to us; He keeps the covenant with us that He enacted to bless us.

That covenant also means He is devoted to us and is merciful to us. No wonder Solomon tells us to trust Him with all of our heart!

Therein lies a secret to walking by faith: our heart or our spirit is what must dictate to our minds.  The spirit must rule over the flesh.

Now here’s the really tough part: “Do not lean on your own understanding.”

Don’t we like to have it all figured out? Really, don’t we pretty much insist upon having it all figured out before we’ll really trust God?

But Solomon (the writer of Proverbs) gives us a major contrast: “Trust” is an intensive verb and it is a command.

Our trust is to be in God and not in ourselves. Do you ever lose by trusting in God?

But if we try to figure everything out on our own, we lose sleep, we get tied up in knots with worry, we get weighed down and the list goes on, doesn’t it?

He tells us in v.6 that in every single aspect of our lives we are to “acknowledge Him.”

To “acknowledge” in Hebrew means to “know,” and is the same word used of Adam “knowing” Eve.

The connotation obviously refers to an intimate, growing relationship with this incredible God.

To walk in faith requires that we have a daily, deepening and growing relationship with God.

Finally, note the promise in v.6: “He will make your paths straight.”

I can heartily testify to this truth, having seen God do this now for me and for others for 30 years.

Friend, do you want to keep this simple? Memorize these two verses and quote them out loud — to the LORD and to yourself — whenever you need to stand in faith.

Meditate on these verses — meaning “chew” on them; ponder them, speak them out loud — and do this over and over and over until in your spirit you know that you’ve truly placed the matter into the Hands of the only One who can really work it out for you anyway.

In time, you will be amazed at the power of these two, simple verses and at the power of God to work on your behalf.  And you will enjoy the freedom that comes with trusting God and not yourself or anything else! :-)

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