Ok but future uncertain

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In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:4-6


“Ok, but future is uncertain” was the answer that made me pause. It was part of a survey that I was asked to take about my congregation. Answers ranged from “closing soon” to vibrant and excited about the future”. We are in the black, but not by much as we depart the summer for fall and winter offerings. We are seeing the generosity of the members as money comes in for the new air conditioner. Yet, I always wonder about the future. The congregation is graying (although we are seeing some younger members). We are unsure about the future of Abiding Faith and how that will impact us. We struggle with Sunday school but are encouraged with a class of five kids who are about seven or eight. I thought back over my 35 years of ministry and realized that there were always challenges. 

Paul sits in prison awaiting his trial in Rome. His hands are tied in that he can do little for the Philippians other than writing this letter. His thoughts go back to the progress that the Lord was making in this little church. It didn’t start well. He was imprisoned falsely and beaten in Philippi, yet the church had grown. It had become the jewel in his ministry which provided financially for him and for the poor in Jerusalem. God had started something wonderful and would continue to bring blessings to this church and to its people. Good things were happening, but God was not done yet. There were more blessings to come.

Every church can look at the negative but it is more helpful to look at all that God is doing. We could look at the departure of the Stouts to live with their son in Las Vegas or we could look at the arrival of the new families. We could look at how we wish that we had a surplus of money or be glad that the Lord gives us our daily bread and has kept us in the black. As we focus on all that the Lord has done, we have confidence that he will continue to do those little miracles in the future. We don’t know what the future will bring. We do know that the future is not uncertain because God is at our side. As we cling to our Lord in His word and take all our concerns to Him in prayer, the future looks brighter. The Lord shines in our darkness with his love and power and the blues seem to melt away. Maybe the better answer to the survey is Ok and the future is certain with Jesus leading us onward.

What blessings in your life and at Bethany are you particularly happy about? What blessings will you pray for and be willing to work for so that the future is even better?

God has plans for you

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.


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The financial seminar was meant to make you uneasy about the future. How will you guard against the ups and downs of the market? How can you be sure that social security will be there when you retire? How will you manage the increasing costs of medical treatment? Of course, they had all the answers. They had a plan. We should trust them. Unless they have a time machine hidden in a closet, they don’t know really know the answers. They just know how to be cautious. God is different. He knows the future and He has an individual plan for you. His plans give me hope because He knows what He is doing.

Sometime after the second deportation in 597, Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles in Babylon to tell them how to behave in their new land. There was a puppet king left in Jerusalem, but Jeremiah wanted them to know that they should get settled in the land, but not too settled. 70 years later, God will visit His people and bring them home. God wanted them to know how to live while they were waiting so that they could prepare themselves for His plan and so that they would not impede the plan that he has for them. The plan is all God’s and there is nothing that they can do to make things happen faster. There is also no reason to worry because God will take care of them as they dwell in this new home.

I want you to claim the promise in the verse above as your own. In these confusing times, it is easy to get lost. We don’t always know what to do for the kid’s college or for future health problems. The answer is to draw closer to the Lord in worship, Bible study, and prayer so that the Lord can guide you and help you prepare in little ways for tomorrow. As you are close to the Lord, live out your life in His wisdom. Save what you can and have a good budget for your finances. Get some exercise and eat better foods when you can. Serve the Lord by working smartly and honestly at your job. Finally, take time for family and friends so that you can find fulfillment in their love. Do those “little” things and let the Lord take care of the big future that you can’t control. God has plans for you. It is time to trust God and stop worrying about tomorrow. Put your future in His hands.

What is one part of your life that you would like to put in God’s hands? What is one little thing that you can do to improve your finances, health or relationships with others?  

Shining like a star

Daniel 12:3
Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

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The media rang out her praises. “She was a pioneer in rhythm and blues. Her records sold billions of copies and the world won’t be the same without her” lamented the reporter. I scratched my head as I listened to the report and wondered if I had ever heard of her or her music. Despite the great accolades, I doubted that she would be remembered next week when we moved onto the next great loss for mankind. In contrast, I thought of Lou, Carol, Ray, and Jean. They are still remembered in our little church. They may have been dead for several years, but their influence and light still shines. They were the people who served others in the church and in their family. They were the wise ones who everyone listened to when they spoke. The media didn’t speak their praises, but the people whose lives they touched will speak of them for a long time.

The Bible is filled with names that shine like lights today. We think of Abraham, Ruth, Daniel, Mary, and Peter to name just a few. None of us has ever met these men and women but we have been influenced by their lives recorded in the Bible. Daniel will always be connected with a lion’s den and Mary with the manger in Bethlehem. Their actions showed faith and love that still excite us today. Their words are full of God’s wisdom that can guide our lives and show us how to live with joy in tough times. They are God’s people and their lives shine like the sun even after hundreds of years.

I don’t want to be praised like some musical artist or the next great football player. Their stars will fade and their accomplishments probably didn’t really change the lives of many people. I want to be like Daniel. I want to be someone who stands up for his faith and leads people to Christ. I want to shine with God’s wisdom so that others can see what God is like and why we should all follow Him. I want the people I touch to see my character and my willingness to serve rather than be amazed at my accomplishments. I am nothing. God is everything. I want His brightness shine in me.

What attributes of God do people see in you? How do you shine the wisdom of God so that others around you will have a better life?

Good can come from bad

2 Corinthians 4:17  
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

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 The sewer began to run slow. It ran so slow that it backed up a little when he ran a load of wash and worried him when he took a shower. Tim contacted a plumber and had the sewer augured out. It turned out that the oak tree in his front yard had roots in the sewer. The auger chopped through them and the sewer flowed freely. It rained the next day and water flowed into the sewer through the drain in the patio. So much rain came that a clogged sewer would have meant water in the basement. The inconvenience of a slow drain was nothing compared to the major headache of a flooded basement. So it is with life. Sometimes problems that are so difficult at the time seem nothing when we compare them to the good that can come out of them.

It is ironic that Paul would talk about his troubles being light. During his ministry, Paul was beaten, shipwrecked, thrown in prison and even left for dead. Yet, none of that seemed like anything compared to the glory that Paul could look forward to in Christ. The afflictions were momentary but the glory of heaven was eternal. Paul could also see that what God accomplishes in our lives through the times of affliction were greater than the pain we experienced. Paul was suffering with the purpose of bringing others into faith. He was also drawing closer to the Lord as he depended on the Lord and watched the Lord work through each problem. The afflictions were having a marvelous outcome.

We often cry out to the Lord when we have any pain and want Him to fix it right away. We express anger that God would let us go through illness, family problems, and sewer backups. It is as if we believe that Christians should be exempt from all those things. Yet, we never consider what we gained from each one. Often illness makes us stop and adjust our values and our goals in life. An argument in a marriage can push us off autopilot and force a couple to grow in their relationship with each other. Little problems in our lives like a slow sewer can make us fix things before they become bigger. There is often a purpose to pain. It forces us to make corrections. It can also force us to look heavenward and into eternity. Problems aren’t all bad. They force us to make changes and see the good we have in Christ.

What was the last problem that you had that brought you to your knees? As you look back, did any good come out of it like a new insight, a change in life, or an appreciation of God’s work in your life?

Be still so God can help

Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

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It will stop you dead in your tracks. Come face to face with a big brown bear as I did in the Great Smoky Mountains and you will want to stand still and keep quiet. Only a fool starts yelling or approaching the bear for that could bring disaster. Fortunately, the bear looked at me and walked away. I have pictures of the bear’s backside as a token of God’s gracious protection. If we have such respect for a bear, why don’t we respect God?

The psalmist says “Be still”, yet Christians question God all the time. Isn’t God greater than a bear and more worthy of our respect? The fool questions God and wants to tell God how the world should work. The wise will be still and recognize God’s glory and His greatness. They will surrender to the Lord and wait for the Lord’s direction and His wisdom. When we encounter God in His word or in prayer, God has something special to share with us that could change our lives. The wise will stand and listen. They will not have to be afraid as I was with the bear for the Lord is our friend and our heavenly Father. We know that He has our best interests in mind. He is not there to destroy but to uplift and renew.

Having met my Lord, I will exalt Him. I will share the insights that He has given me so that others will benefit as well. Part of knowing that He is God is knowing that whatever God says in His word is true and will be a benefit to every man, woman, and child. I exalt Him by sharing what He has taught me with others. They need to hear of my encounter with God and the lessons that I have learned just as I have told many about my encounter with the bear. They need to see the wonder and power and love of our God so that they will be still when He comes into their lives. Every person should be excited when God draws near and be ready for whatever message or task that God has to give us. Be still and let God speak so that your life is guided by His wisdom and not your own idle chatter.

What is bothering you in life right now? What message would you like from the Lord that He could give you in scripture or in your prayers? How could you share an important message with others in your family or among your friends?

Fighting fear in a new year

Deut. 1:19-36

 New Year, new challenges and for many of us in uncertain times, that challenge is fear.

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Camped on the east side of the Jordan River, the Promised Land was so close that they could smell and taste it. The children of Israel had waited 37 years for this moment, but they were not ready to cross. Their parents had failed at the edge of the Promised Land because of fear. Moses wants them to succeed where their parents failed. It all comes down to faith. There is a high cost for fear and their parents had paid dearly for their fear. People fail all the time because of a lack of faith. They are overwhelmed by the problems and they forget God. They wonder what they are going to do. Some even walk away from God thinking He can’t or won’t help them. This was a time for faith because people lose everything because they have fear not faith.

Failure comes when the enemy is too big v.27 Moses begins by recalling an. Many in the crowd were not even born, but that event 38 years ago affected their whole lives up till now. Scouts were sent into the Promised Land to determine where they should enter. Instead they came back with stories of giants and destruction. They cowered in fear in the barren desert instead of marching into the fertile lands God had prepared for them.

Failure comes when God is too small v. 32 Ten plagues had overwhelmed the Egyptians so that they begged the Jews to leave. Waves of water had washed aside the greatest army in their world. Food had fallen out of the sky so hundreds of thousands could eat each day. It was a miracle that the people were here in this place. Yet, they forgot what God had done. They forgot how God had defeated a great army and miraculously brought them to this place.

Victory and honor belong to those who believe v. 36 The model of such faith was Caleb. He was easy to pick out because Joshua and Caleb were the only men older than 60 years old in the whole camp. Caleb and Joshua had believed when no one else would. They had known that God could do great things for them and wasn’t afraid of the giants. Old as Caleb was, he and his sons would take the choice lands in southern Palestine that he had once looked 38 years ago.

Israel was at a crossroads. Would they repeat their parent’s failure or would they have faith. As God called them to cross into the Promised Land, obedience was important. Faith was essential. They need to trust the Lord so much that they would follow Him because they believed that He would not fail. It is a model for every person who finds themselves at a crossroads of life. Instead of panicking, you pray. Instead of worrying, you worship. Instead of stewing, you study. You bring the problems to the Lord on a daily basis and asking what He can do with the problems that you face instead of what you can do. You look into the word of God to find out how you live so that you avoid problems and do the kinds of things that will build life. Listen so you learn and live. Those who let the Lord be their teacher and guide will thrive in life.


Two questions we all face

Luke 1:26-38

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 She was just 13 or 14 years old and tradition says that she was gathering water at the well near town. An angel appeared to her and told her something wonderful was going to happen. The text says that it scared her and that she was troubled. How about you? What if God sent an angel who would talk to you as you got out of your car tonight? How would you feel? How you handle it all is a matter of faith and trust. It is one of the reasons that we admire Mary. God can have great plans, but He often uses people to make the plans work.

My first question if approached like Mary would be “Is it worth it?” What God was asking of Mary was going to be difficult. People would think of her as an unwed mother and sinner. She would bear their ridicule and scorn. She was taking on a great task from God himself to raise the “Son of the most high”. It would not be an easy task. We often voice our questions. We are afraid when someone asks us to teach Sunday school or to be on the church council. Too often we can make a list of excuses about everything under the sun. Something is not the way that we want it. We look at the bother that it will cause in our life. We just wonder if it is going to be worth all the bother or if we will work hard and have no results. Really, is it worth it?

My second question reflects Mary’s one question “How can this be?” While she is asking with faith for instructions on how God can do this, I often wonder if it can be done. I applaud Mary for asking details so that she can be a part of the miracle. She is asking logistical questions as she commits herself to being part of a miracle. When God lays the big task out for us, our natural question is how? Can God really do what He was saying? In our mind, we know that God can do all things. We know in our mind that he can, but will he? We don’t want to be left holding the bag. We don’t want to put all that effort in it and have nothing happen. The challenge for me is to trust God like Mary does.

It all comes down to trust. Mary was God’s servant and was ready to do the impossible. I wonder how much she really understood what was going to happen and how much was pure faith.  I often find that when God calls us to do something, He often doesn’t give us the full answer about what will happen or how. He just sketches things out and tells us that the details will come later. Trust me! Saying yes is more about believing in God than it is accepting that things can be done. Through the miracle, our faith will grow and we will be able to say yes to other things God proposes. The two questions will never truly be answered. The only question we have to wrestle with is whether we believe God can do the miracle He is asking us to be part of.

Embrace the King!

He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. Micah 5:4

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 The world is in confusion and terror is on every street. The year is 701 BC and the Assyrians are coming down from the north. They have already come down the coastline and are coming back up from the south to finish Judea off. Hezekiah the king is powerless to save them. It would seem that Judea will be destroyed just like Israel was twenty years before. Why has this tragedy come? It is because the people worship idols and are filled with greed. The nation that once had been built around God has forgotten their God. They have caused this destruction by their evil practices and their denial of the Lord. The year is 2017 and our world seems to be in confusion. Our nation is filled with rebellion on the streets and terror threats in our cities. We see degrading values in our culture and greedy politicians who trample on the common man. Gone are the days of the past where people followed the Lord. America has entered a new era and is facing many of the problems of Micah’s Judah. Fortunately, God has not forgotten His people and offers the same solution – a king to lead and save them.

 The King will be from Bethlehem. The prophecy was so clear that the Pharisees of Herod’s court could tell the magi exactly where to find the baby in the manger. He will be humble and be able to relate to people. He will not be born in a palace but in the little crossroads of Bethlehem about ten miles south of Jerusalem. Yet, he will be of the royal family and fulfill the promises made to David about a descendant who will rule forever. Many will reject the king, but those who are desperate enough and recognize their weakness will embrace Him. To those who seek Him, God will reveal the savior. They will have joy while others still struggle. They will bow down before the king and make Him their Lord while others are chasing after fleeting happiness and disappointing answers. The king will come to those who have fallen on hard times and are willing to put themselves in His hands.

In His hands, they will find peace. He will shepherd His people and they will depend on Him. He will lead them beside the quiet waters and He will restore their souls. This will be a king that will bring wholeness to people who live in chaos. We see it in the life of Jesus as He heals the sick and as He brings help to thousands sitting on the hillside looking for answers in a world of fear. The world around them may be chaos, but Jesus gives order and light to their lives so that the pieces of life work together to build stronger families and friendships. He changes them from the inside out so that they have character and values. Life is Shalom with Jesus. It has real peace. The fool will try to keep Jesus and His wisdom at a distance in life. God gave them a king, but not let Him rule. They will hear His guidance and think that they are so wise that they don’t need it. The wise will bow before this king and follow Him with their life. They will put Him first in their lives and hang on every word that He says in scripture and seek Him out daily in prayer so that they may have His guidance and comfort. They will thrive in the chaos because Jesus will be their leader and bring them peace. Disaster surrounds them, but in His care, they will have the confidence that eludes the masses. 

Bringer of Light

Isaiah 9:2

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

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 Darkness surrounds us even though the presidential campaign was over a year ago. We are just as divided as ever and name calling and persecution is on the rise. It seems odd that things that the world has known were wrong continue to be touted as what is suddenly right. Churches are seen as places of small minds instead of the wisdom of the Lord. Yet, the world seems to spin out of control as the light of Jesus is forsaken. The wise will be shown to be foolish. It is to the desperate that the light will come most this Christmas. It will be people broken by divorce, by job loss and by the pain of illness. While the rest of the world pretends that everything is Ok, the broken will be looking for the light. They will be open to the words of a carol or a bible left in a hospital room.And the savior will bring them hope and help. He will comfort them with his words in scripture. He will listen to the prayers and give them comfort. He will send people like you and me to give them food to eat and presents for the children of those in prison. The light will come because they need it most.

The ministry of Jesus will change lives. The families of Jairus and Lazarus would see life come into their midst. Dozens of people were healed of sickness and demon possession. Thousands were fed by Jesus on hillsides. But most of all were the people whose lives were changed by his words. As the days grow shorter and the darkness takes over from the summer’s sun, Jesus is the light that is needed so much. He is the cure for the blues that come with the darkness. He is the friend who will be there at our side when everyone else is busy. He is the one who brings real holiday cheer. Those who hold on to Jesus will find that he still works miracles. He answers prayers and he cheers our hearts as we read his scripture. He chases the blues away as we bask in his love. Ultimately, he gives us the hope of everlasting life. He lets us know that no matter who we are, things will be all right.

 As the Christmas season comes upon us, many of us will put up lights on the outside of our homes and decorate our homes with candles and tree lights. We hope to chase the gloom away and bring hope and peace in the darkness. Yet, I have always found that we need to bring Christ into the season in order to chase the darkness away. It is the Christmas carols played on the stereo or sung in a Christmas program that reminds me of his birth and his love. It is the times of giving like Angel tree or a donation to Salvation Army that bring a warmth to my heart. We can’t overcome the blues by ourselves. Those who make time for Jesus this season will find a joy that is often missing in the people around us. Those who let Jesus in will find that He brings real joy and peace no matter how dark life can be. His light and love are like a gentle fire that wells up in you bringing light and warmth to a dark cold world. Share the light and bring hope. Invite a friend to a Christmas service or concert. Let them see the light in this dark world. Let the light of Jesus shine so that our world can be brighter.

Plan or Propose?

Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14

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I entered the hospital room and was amazed at how life had changed in an instant. The healthy person I had seen earlier in the week was lying in the hospital bed clinging to life as he suffered the effects of a massive heart attack. Gone were the plans for a trip to Florida. Gone was the celebration of Christmas with the grandkids. It reminded me of how fragile life can be and how all our plans are but proposals before an Almighty God. We prayed and we asked the Lord to help this person and this family. Life had changed, but the love of God had not.

It is always good to have goals and plans in life. One drifts in the wind without them. Yet, plans should always include the Lord. We can ask, “What will I be doing next year or in five years?” However, we need to hold onto those plans loosely because the Lord or life can step in and rearrange our plans. I think of the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12 who made plans without the Lord only to lose everything in a single night. Life can change in an instant, yet if we put God’s desires at the center of our planning, we have a direction that will not fail us. He will help us through the difficulties of life. We hold onto Him because He will never leave us.

I bring find it helpful to bring my plans to the Lord in prayer. He helps me to weed out the selfishness of the rich fool and to be comfortable in this ever-changing world. I propose what I would like for the future, but I always ask the Lord to plan that future for me. My vision of the future is imperfect and cloudy. His vision of my future is crystal clear and filled with opportunities that I can’t begin to see yet. His future for me will always be better than my vision of that future. Life can change, but He will bring good things out of the bad and better things out of the good. I will propose what I want for the future, but I want His plan and not my own. His plan for me will not be taken away by the struggles of life. My plan is to place my life in His hands so that no matter what happens, I will be living in His plan for me.

Thankful for God Working in His Time

When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." 4  "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come." 5  His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." John 2:3-5

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 In this time of thanksgiving, I wanted to add one more thing to be thankful for and that is God’s time. We live in an age where everyone wants everything and they want it now. We work 24/7 and wonder why we are so stressed out and constantly going to the doctor for pains and problems. I don’t want it now. I want it when God thinks that I am ready. I think about this in all parts of my life, but especially my writing. I have met sever authors that wanted to break out with their one book and make the "big time". I am not one of them. I am happy to go slow and steady and arrive at God’s destination at God’s time. How could I devote more time to marketing and writing when I have a congregation to take care of? Where would I find time for book tours or six-month deadlines to get the next book done? We live in a fast-paced world that always wants things fast. I would rather move at God’s pace since He knows the best time and place to arrive at so that the most good is done.

In the text, Mary approaches Jesus with a simple bit of news. The family party has no more wine. Jesus’ response seems harsh, but it was an admission that He did not live according to her timetable, but to God’s. He and the disciples would not run to the next village to see if they could find some more wine. He would not call attention to Himself by doing some great miracle that would surround Him with crowds. He would wait for God’s time and God’s way. To Mary’s credit, she was willing to trust Jesus and told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. Wine would come in Jesus’ time and way.

I felt blessed at the Kentucky book fair. Many of the people around me had one book to their name. I have three and am working on the fourth. When God says it is time for us to take the next step, I want to be ready. Till then I will simply have the joy that comes as I dig deep into the Bible for the messages. Each one teaches me something that I didn’t know about my Lord and about my service. Getting upset that things are not moving faster accomplishes little. God knows the best time and the best way. As we trust Him with our lives, we have the best result. Like picking apples off the tree in June, forcing results too early leaves us with a small result that is not fully developed. God’s time is best and I am sure that He will let us know when the time has fully come. It just another reason to be thankful that I am His and that He cares about what I do so much that He watches over me.

How Do We Control Evil?

Mark 5:1-20

This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain.(v.3)

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The man had lost everything. He lost his home, his family, and his decency. He became more like an animal than a man living in the caves and running around like a wild animal cutting his body with stones. It was the life that Satan gives because Satan hates people. Satan likes to take everything away from people. He takes away their families, their self-respect, and their concern for others. The man with the demon in Mark 5 would fit easily into our society. The terrorist with a gun going into our schools or driving a vehicle into a crowded market is becoming far too common. Heroin addicts are becoming an epidemic as people want to escape the world around them. Satan longs to bring suffering. He wants control over people and will destroy their lives in an instant. He is still very active on the streets of our cities.

Sadly, there is nothing that we can do to stop Satan’s control over people. The people tried to control the demoniac, but it always failed.  For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. (v.4) It seems that all that society can do is isolate someone that Satan has under their control. In our day, we have homeland security trying to stop the terrorist and massive programs trying to “prevent” drug abuse. We spend lots of money as a nation trying to prevent Satan from taking over people. Yet, all our science and loads of cash don’t seem to be solving the problem. We are containing the problem at best. Satan is too strong for society to control.

Our only hope is Jesus. The demons fear Jesus. "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" (v.7) The demon sees Jesus and begs for mercy. There is no real battle here. Just the presence of Jesus is enough to make this demon cry out in fear. Demons still fear Jesus. He has the power to cure the drug and alcohol addicts. He has the power to help a person with their own demons get turned around so that they don’t become a terrorist. Those who encounter Jesus and ask for Him to take control of their life will find salvation. They will overcome their demons and start rebuilding their lives. They will have friends and a future. Jesus can conquer all the demons that people face in life. The world around us will continue to find themselves at the mercy of Satan as long as they push away Jesus. Jesus is the only hope for mankind as we deal with the problem of Satan and terror that surrounds us.

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Job 42:5

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     Right now, there is a lot of suffering going on in the world. Hurricanes have destroyed homes in the south. Wildfires rage in the west. A troubled man shoots people sitting in their church. Why does God allow it? Why doesn’t God use His almighty power to end all suffering? If you want the answer, you just need to read the book of Job. Here is a man who seems to have it all and loses it in a single day. His wealth and children were gone; he sits in an ash heap and is covered with sores. His friends condemn him as a wicked man through three waves of dialogs. Surely, there was never a more horrible situation come upon one whom God calls “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8).

     Satan is confident that if God allows Satan to strip away all of the blessings that the Lord has given Job that Job will curse God to his face. Something different happens. Job ends up with a deep understanding of the mercy of God. With all of life stripped away from him, Job begins to see God as the fog of life lifts from his eyes. The waves of condemnation from his three “friends” have made him ponder the mysteries of God deeply. He has had to unravel their half-truths so that he can see the truth about God. He is not afraid to cry out to God for answers, and God responds to a man who has nothing but God. In the end, Job will make his confession and gain a new understanding of God before God restores a single blessing that had been taken. The great gift Job receives is that God is no longer abstract to him. God is someone that Job has met and understands the enormous power and compassion of God.

     Lying in a hospital bed or at home having lost your job gives a person a lot of time to think. The busy life has been stripped away. Time has been provided for extended Bible study and prayer. You can lie there counting the dots in the ceiling tile, or you can spend time wrestling with suffering and asking God why. Through the tears and the fears, God will speak to us. He may be silent at first as He was for Job, yet given time He will speak. In those moments where your dignity has been stripped away from you, God will open up your eyes to see His great love for you. He will invite you to the throne room where you can gain a sense of His wisdom and wonder at His power. God allows suffering to strip away our pride and self-worth so that He can teach us His mysteries and give us a worth that comes from the cross and can never be taken away. 

Grace is more than getting to heaven

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- Eph. 2:8

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 Luther’s greatest concern was to find a gracious God. He wrote, “I am seeking and thirsting for nothing else than a gracious God. And He earnestly offers Himself as such and urges even those who spurn Him and are His enemies”. Early in his life, he beat himself because he saw all his sins and was ashamed. Later, Luther came to understand was that grace was a gift and an attitude of a loving God toward man. It was earned at the cross and that works are only our response to a loving God. It was at the heart of the reformation and of the Lutheran church that came out of it. Ironically, Paul, who had also been struggling under the law, also noticed that it was God who did everything. Everything that we do as good works are a response to all that God has done. Grace truly is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. On this week of the Reformation, let us celebrate this gift. 

God found us dead in our sins unable to understand or appreciate God or anything that God had done. We couldn’t do anything to save ourselves. The transformation of grace began with God’s love. There was nothing in us that made us loveable, but God is love and He looked on the people he created and He could not do anything but love us. He loved us so much that He picked us up from the doom of death and gave us life by sending His son to die on the cross for us. Satan spends all his energy trying to take this gift away. God protects us so we keep the gifts He has given. His purpose was not just to rescue us from the dump. His purpose was to keep us in salvation so that one day we might join Him in heaven. Finally, God keeps us by perfecting us that are working on our faith so that it is stronger every year of our lives. The Holy Spirit equips us with bible study and prayer so that we develop an armor that Satan finds hard to pierce. In grace, we go from infants in the faith to saints able to lead others.

There is a good reason why the verse above is so often quoted. It is the heart of all that we have talked about and it is what Luther learned that set him free. Early in his life, he tried to earn God’s grace and love. Here Paul tells us that it is a gift. Every good work that we do in life is a response to the great gift that we have in Christ. We never have to earn salvation – we already have it. We do good works to celebrate what we have so others see our God and do good works to help others and bring them closer to Him. Take time today to celebrate what you have in God’s mercy. You are no longer in the pit feeling guilty for your sin. You are a child of God who is loved by God and wanted by God. Celebrate what you have as God’s child for many have not discovered the joy of being saved by “Grace alone” Grace is what it is all about and it all starts with God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son”.

What really is faith?

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

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Faith is something necessary for salvation, but I find that it is rarely understood. We talk about faith all the time. We have faith in politicians or in a doctor ready to operate on us. We have faith that the weather. But such is not Biblical faith. It is only a hope or wishful thinking. Faith is certain and it is life changing. The text gives the example of Abraham as a man of faith. Elsewhere such faith is counted as righteousness for Abraham (Gen. 15:6). So what is this faith?

Faith begins with faith in the person of God. Abram had to believe in the person and truthfulness of God when God called Abram to travel to Palestine. That faith grew as he came to believe in the promises of God given in Genesis 12. He believed that God would make a great nation of him. He believed that his children would own the land of Palestine. He believed that God would bless the whole world through him. Abraham did not see any of those things come to pass, but because he believed in the person of God, he believed in the promises. It allowed Abraham to go to the mountain and begin to sacrifice his son. He knew that God would make it all come out right. He was certain of something he could not see or understand.

So what does that have to do with us? It shows where we must begin with faith. We must come to know who God is. You have to believe in God’s person before you will believe in the promises of scripture. We have to be sure of what we hope for. That certainty comes from knowing God. That certainty will allow you to do the impossible. Many actions in ministry must be done without any guarantee of the outcome. We witness to friends not sure if they will be open to the message. We serve in a ministry wondering, at times, if things will turn out OK. There are times that all of us must just go forward in ministry trusting that God will not lead us astray. We are certain that God can make good things come out of even our disasters because we are certain of God. Faith trusts God even when we can’t see where things are going. That was true of Abraham and it can be true of us.

Free samples of the three books that I have written are yours by simply clicking on this link

You have a Christian life worth sharing

Rom. 15:13-21

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Sometimes, I think we forget how good we have it as Christians. We forget what the grace and faith mean for our lives. We forget how wonderful it is to be comforted by the word or to lay our cares on God in prayer. We have something very special and it is something that we can share. In Romans 15, Paul tells them why he has written the letter. The year is 57 AD and Paul is writing a letter to the Roman church hoping that he will have a chance to stop by and meet them on his way to Spain. What he doesn’t realize is that he will get to Rome in two years as a prisoner appealing for his life before Caesar. During that time, he will share his life and they will see that even prison can’t take away the joy that Paul has as a Christian. It will be a powerful time for Paul. It is a model for us as well.

God is constantly preparing you to share your life so that it benefits others. We forget how far we have come. God has changed our life month by month so that we can be more like Him. We are kinder and gentler than we were before and we have been given opportunities to serve the Lord. God is not finished with us either. Paul knows that God will continue to help the people of Rome grow as God heaps His love and mercy on them. It will have a great effect letting them flourish in this pagan capital. His love will continue to change us as well. Paul also challenges the people to let the Lord work through them so that God has the chance to change others and give them the benefits that every Christian already has.

How can you change others? You use the opportunities that the Holy Spirit gives you. He will lead you and will give you the power to change lives. It may come as a simple meeting of someone at Walmart who you haven’t seen in a while or a friend who you visit in the hospital. Talk with them and let them know what the Lord is doing for you. The Spirit will guide you where He wants you to go. Don’t be afraid to take risks. The work you do is important. God is calling you to impact one person or group at a time just as Paul did. Your actions and words can bring them closer to the Lord and change their life. You are the luckiest people on the planet. God wants you to share those blessings with others so that they can be blessed as well.

Third book is now available on Amazon

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The Bible is an extraordinary book of ordinary people and a loving God that most people barely know. This series of 32 devotions will take you on a ride through much of the history of the Bible with the ups and downs of its people. Around every corner, you will meet individuals who can teach you lessons about how to live a fruitful life or how to avoid destructive habits. You will meet leaders like Joshua and Daniel as well as faithful women like Ruth and Esther. As you get to know them, you will learn lessons that can shape the rest of your life.

Woven in the lives of all these people is the story of a loving God. He will promise extraordinary gifts to some of them. He will teach and mentor these ordinary men and women so that their lives become miraculous. He will even discipline some of them so that they learn how to be great and be a blessing to others. Throughout the ages, the Bible is a diary of God’s love for these people and us.

The book also includes twelve bible studies that are meant to be shared. You have my permission to copy the student guides for your church or small group bible studies. Each Bible study is connected to one of the devotions and to a leader’s guide so that you can feel confident leading others to understand God’s word. My hope is that you enjoy the book with its devotions and studies and let the Holy Spirit change your life through them. God is ready to sit down with you through these studies and change your life.

For a free sample of this book, click here

Underestimating the greatest gift of all

 John 14:15-27

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 We drool over the latest cell phone and are willing to pay outlandish prices for them and for their monthly fees. The world stops for some people when football is on, nothing else matters. Why don’t most Christians have the same admiration for the Christian life? Shouldn’t we be excited about a ministry and willing to do anything for it? Shouldn’t the world revolve around Sunday worship and Bible class? The cell phone will be outdated in a year and won’t work after a few years. Who will really care what happened to the Bengals or some other team by February? Yet the gifts of God make an enormous impact. The character and values that come from being with God will impact our work, home, and life. The lessons that our children learn from Sunday school and youth group will protect them from danger. Eternal life gets more valuable as we age.

I can think of several gifts that come from being a Christian. First, you will never walk alone Christians are the most blessed of all people. Our God is always with us. He is only a prayer away at any time of the night or day. He is willing to comfort or guide us anytime we open up his word. Second, you can live a life worth living. We can have a life of purpose as we grow in meaningful service that uses the spiritual gifts and talents that he has given us. You can impact the lives of those you love. Third, the Spirit will teach you how to succeed.  Most of the world wanders through life hoping that they can figure out how to survive. The joy of being a Christian is that we have someone who wants to teach us how to succeed.

Have you ever had the feeling that it just doesn’t get any better than this? It might be a day on a cruise ship in exotic ports. It might be Thanksgiving with your family gathered around the table. It is a feeling that the entire world is right and ordered. Cares are gone and life is good. What you have described is very much like the peace that God alone gives. While we know the day on the cruise ship or the Thanksgiving feast must end, the peace of God can go on and on in our life. God can give us a kind of Feng Shui in life where things are ordered in our lives and where they work together. Why should our cell phones be loved more than Jesus? What activities could bring more peace than prayer? We are the luckiest people in the world. We have Jesus and when appreciate and use His gifts, life just doesn’t get any better than this.

Respect Others so God is Respected

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

1 Peter 2:17

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 There are a lot of people who are demanding respect these days. NFL players take a knee. People fill the streets with signs and chants. As a group, they are missing the simple fact that if you want respect, you have to give it. Only people with their opinion respect them for what they are doing. Others may be bullied into responding, but protestors seldom gain the respect of the general public. If they want respect, go down as a group and provide relief for those who have been hurt in the hurricanes or help the children in the schools. The national news might not even notice what you do, but the people who are affected will respect you for your actions.

Peter is writing to people who are being persecuted for their faith. Some are losing jobs and many are losing their lives. It would have been natural for them to complain or protest what was happening. What Peter wants is for them to show respect. Show respect to the Roman government even though they are killing many of you. Show respect to those in your community who don’t understand the gospel message. Show respect if you are a slave or servant to your master even if they are harsh. Most of all, show respect for other believers because they are your brothers in Christ.

Why show such respect? The answer is simple. You represent Christ. An angry protester makes every one of their race or creed look bad. A disrespectful Christian makes God and other Christians look bad as well. We want to bring them closer to the Lord and not drive them away from Him. We want people to see the love and mercy of the cross not feel that we want to nail them to a cross. Our God respects you and I even though we are sinners who can never keep His law perfectly. We must respect others even if they don’t respect us because the only way we will gain respect for God and for ourselves is for us to be people of love and not angry protests.

Ok, But Future Uncertain

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In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:4-6

“Ok, but future is uncertain” was the answer that made me pause. As part of the Re: vitality workshop, there was a survey that just the head pastor took. It asked for the health of the congregation. Answers ranged from “closing soon” to vibrant and excited about the future”. We are doing fine financially as we started the summer with a surplus. We are doing renovations with memorial money this summer and we are doing OK with summer block parties and a few new members over the last couple months. The question made me wonder about the future. We are graying with more than half of the congregation over 50. We struggle with Sunday school. Both of those are normal in a lot of traditional churches but are they healthy.

The future of the greater church is not in doubt for me. As we studied “The Story”, it was evident that the Old Testament Church had lows that the church has not yet experienced. The New Testament Church faced persecution that is unheard of in our time. God brought both churches through those struggles. He will bring the church of today through our struggles. It might take a crisis like an Old Testament famine (financial crisis) or a New Testament persecution to wake up church members like such crisis has done in the past. If so, I guess we have it coming. I trust God to do whatever it takes to bring people to salvation.

It made me wonder about Bethany. Like the Philippian church, we are small and we feel poor at times. Paul was confident about them. I am confident about us. Your willingness to be part of Re: vitality (at this time 15 of the 18 slots are claimed) is a sign of your faithfulness and confidence in the future. Your willingness to try things like block parties and trunk or treat events says a lot about your heart and your commitment to Christ. With Christ, the future is certain. It is just that we all have to be with Christ. Our Lord can do anything. He has resources that are infinite and power that can move mountains. Re: vitality is not about us figuring out how we can do it. It is about learning to partner with God so that He can move mountains through us. Maybe I need to change my answer to OK, but future is certain with Jesus leading us onward.