Friday, January 31, 2014

Peace Through Difficulties

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

Recently I was having one of those days.  I was having a difficult time trying to maintain my Christian walk. In a moment of frustration I put up a post that said, “Sometimes the Christian life is just hard.” What followed was a firestorm of conversation. It seemed everyone has something to say about the matter. I heard everything from agreement to condemnation for my lack of spiritual depth.

In reality, sometimes I’d rather yell at my kids than lovingly guide them in their faith. And humanly speaking, I’d much rather spend my Sunday mornings in the yard rather than sit through another sermon challenging me to love my neighbors as myself.

The truth is that if we find the Christian life a piece of cake we probably aren’t living it. Jesus Himself said that we would be persecuted because He was persecuted. That doesn’t sound too easy to me.

On the other hand Jesus also said that His yoke would be easy and His burden would be light. This is hard to understand but somehow in the midst of the challenges of the Christian life Jesus gives us strength for the times when we find the Christian life challenging. When I am weak he makes me strong. So in this I find great peace and contentment knowing that He will be beside me all the way.

Friday, January 24, 2014

More Important than Worship

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24(NIV)

Have you ever felt like God’s work in your life is being hindered? Does your spiritual life seem stale at times? A youth pastor friend of mine experienced that very thing in his youth group. He said students were not responding to the teaching of the Bible as they once had, and the teens did not seem to be growing in their faith.

Upon closer examination, he realized there was dissension in the group. Several of the kids had broken relationships with other kids in the group.

He decided to give his students an opportunity to confess wrongs to each other at the beginning of their worship time. He said a number of students immediately accepted the challenge. They got up and went over to other kids in the room to acknowledge sin, ask forgiveness, and make things right. After a few moments, students all over the room were mending broken relationships.

After this exciting experience my friend decided to start each youth meeting with a time for reconciliation. He began to see God work in unusual ways in the lives of his students. The group began to grow, and a number of students who had no previous spiritual interest began new relationships with God. There was also a fresh response to the teaching of God’s Word!

Do you desire for God to do a fresh work in your life? Is it possible a relationship needs to be mended before God can begin? It’s certainly something to consider this month as we think about relationships.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Inside of the Cup

Matthew 23:26 (NIV)
Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
A conversation that Jesus often had with the Pharisees had to do with their hearts.  He was constantly challenging them in areas of hypocrisy.  This was because their tendency was often to worry about what others saw on the outside and neglect greater sins of the heart.  They wanted to look holy and practiced their righteous deeds publicly for others to see.
At one point Jesus told them that it was like they were washing the outside of the cup but that the inside was dirty - It’s a gentle warning for all of us.  We should take care and make sure we’re not like the Pharisees practicing outward righteousness only to look good in front of others.  When I read about Jesus’ interactions with these men it causes me to evaluate my own heart and check for hypocrisy and it makes me want to maintain a clean heart before God.  I want to let God point out anything in my heart that needs attention.
It’s a danger with all of us to worry more about how we appear in our Christian walk to others while neglecting the more secret sins of the heart but the heart is really what God sees and nothing can be hidden from Him anyway.  So let us take note and let God investigate even the private struggles in our hearts. 
Psalm 51:10(NIV)
 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
  and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Written on your Heart

Jeremiah 31:33 (NIV)
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
 after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
 and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
 and they will be my people.
When I was a kid growing up in church I remember lots of discussions in our youth group that could all fit under the heading; "How Far is too Far?"  We were all asking, “At what point have I crossed the line into sin?
Many of those questions applied to dating and the opposite sex as well as other moral issues.  As I grew older and matured I began to realize that we were really concerned about how much we could get away with and still be okay.  Like a young boy playing in a camp fire we wanted to know that we hadn’t yet gone so far as to be burned.
Now in my adulthood I have a couple of observations.  First, it seems we were asking the wrong questions.  Perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask, “How closely with God can I walk?”  Or, “How far away from sins door can I stay?”  We certainly weren’t asking those questions.
Secondly, I’ve learned that we already know the answers to many of the things we question.  Like I often tell my children, “If you are asking the question you might already know the answer.”  If you are God’s child then you have the Holy Spirit constantly guiding you in what’s right and wrong.  So if there’s a moral issue that you are questioning today consider whether your real query has to do with its rightness or your willingness to do what’s right. 
Romans 2:15(NIV)
 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Gamer

Proverbs 3:11-12(NLT)
 My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
  and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
 For the Lord corrects those he loves,
  just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights
My son Andrew is what you’d call a gamer.  He loves to spend his time on the computer playing games with his friends.  They talk by video and play games of various kinds together and are constantly building something, blowing something up or scheming to take over some virtual empire.
Often times I glaze over as he begins telling me about some distant world venture where he faced certain death yet he and his friends managed to escape unscathed.  For me, hearing about these adventures is synonymous to listening to an unlearned foreign language.  One thing I can understand clearly is that he's quite excited about this challenging and fun activity.
Ultimately, I want Andrew to develop in a wide range of skills and interests, not just this one.  So we’ve intentionally limited his play time in the virtual realm and encouraged other activities like reading and physical activity outdoors.  We’ve also placed a timer and a list of expectations including rules like; “Homework must be done first,” next to the computer.  All this is with the goal that he should work toward self-management and self-discipline.   So if he steps outside of the guidelines he loses time on the computer – simple concept, so you’d think. 
God works with us in in similar ways to help us follow His guidelines.  He gently instructs us and encourages us toward righteous living and ultimately He works in a way that allows us the freedom to follow or not follow.  He wants us to be self-motivated toward obedience.
Sometimes I find this guidance easy and at other times I feel rather adolescent in my faith.  Still because I love Him I want to learn to follow and obey.