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.

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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.

Just Go Tell

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." Mark 5:18-19

He wanted to be with Jesus. He wanted to follow Jesus and learn more from Jesus. It was only natural. The man of God had just cast out a legion of demons from him. He could leave the tombs that had been his home. He could stop cutting himself and being tortured every waking moment. He begged to come with Jesus so that he would be safe. Jesus told him to go and free others. Tell what has happened to you. Let them know what God’s mercy looks like first hand. The text says that he went out and began to tell his story and people were amazed.

Sometimes I think we make sharing our faith harder than it needs to be. We want to have a class that tells us how to do it right. We want to have someone break it into several steps so that it will all be easy. God says to us just go and tell. Tell how being a Christian has helped you with worry and problems. Tell how being a Christian has given your children an edge. Tell people when Jesus helps and heals. Let them know that He is still working in our world. Let them know that Jesus is not dead but is alive and powerful.

They won’t know Jesus if someone like you doesn’t tell them. You are the message that they need to hear. They don’t care about theological articles and discussions. They want to know that being a Christian will make their life better. They want to know if it “works.” So tell them about the good things that Jesus brings into your life. Tell them how He is helping you and assures them that He will help them too. You don’t need training for that. You just need to play “show and tell.” Show them what Jesus has done.Tell everyone that it was Jesus who worked another miracle in your life.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalms 139:13-14

I touched her long black hair and delicate little fingers. I stroked her cheek and looked into her eyes as she searched out her surroundings. I held a miracle in my arms and I fell in love. Such were the feelings as I held Natalie, my granddaughter, this past weekend. I marveled at the complexity of her body and saw the miracle of creation. Only God could make something so complex – a human being that breathes and can explore her world at just two days of life. How could anyone believe in evolution when they look at the complexity of the human body? Only God could make something as individual and beautiful as this.

Then I thought about how unique she is. Her black hair and cute nose and, yes, I think I see the McArthur chin on this miracle of God. God took parts of Dave and Karen and knit together a unique child. God formed her just the way that He wanted her to be. He already has a path in life planned out for her that will use the unique gifts that He has given to her. It will be a joy to watch that plan unfold over the rest of my days. It will be a delight to see the person that she will be as a child of God. She will be baptized and her parents and grandparents will see that she knows the Lord on a very personal level so that she can be all that He has determined.

I could feel God as Natalie was baptized this past Sunday. He was there at her baptism holding her and telling her and her parents how much He loved my granddaughter. I feel sad that so many children are born who will never travel down the path that the Lord has planned for them. They will not be baptized or they will be baptized and fall away before they realize that goal. They will live lives without a God who wants to wrap His arms around them. They will live without a God who wants to provide for them and protect them every day of their lives. May more children have the love of the Lord as Natalie does.

I am lost without you Lord

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalms 42:1-2

We were just south of Montreal, Canada and Sunday was approaching. I had looked online before we left and was unable to find a Lutheran church that had an English service in this land of French Canada. We could sit at the campground and Joan and I share a devotion together. It just wouldn’t be the same. We longed to be with the Lord. We wanted to thank the Lord for the help He gave us driving through Boston and Montreal. We wanted to be fed as we listened to a sermon and sang the hymns. Life gets out of joint when we miss our time at His feet. It just doesn’t seem to go as smoothly and it just seems to be filled with more troubles.

It wasn’t the first time we had struggled to find a service. We had sat on logs in a National Park with the kids listening to someone who didn’t know what they were doing. We had gone to a Baptist Church on the edge of Mammoth Cave National Park because there weren’t any Lutheran Churches nearby. We had also had great experiences like worshipping at a historic Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina or worshipping at a friend’s church in Colorado Springs. You take the good and the bad when you worship on vacation. You are just glad you got to be with the Lord and let Him set the tone for the coming week.

In Canada, we asked at the campground office and a very nice young lady named Catherine looked online and found a Roman Catholic service nearby that would be led in English. The service was small and in a community center. It was the church’s mission to the English speakers in the area. Much of the service was the same as my Lutheran service and the priest’s five-minute message was uplifting words on “fear not”. As I sat down that day, I thanked the Lord that He had led us to find a place where we could be with Him. I have to admit that I am lost without the Lord. Like a drug addict who needs a fix, I just don’t function without some time with the Lord. Thank you, Lord, for always being there and for helping us when we are away from home and just need a chance to be with you.

Revival: Honor God as Your King

Focus: Neh. 10:27-39

The Jews knew how to honor a king. You bowed to the king because he held your life in his hands. Americans think that the President must bow to them. They elect the president and tell him what to do in polls and with protests. They slander him in newscasts and on late night talk shows. No wonder we struggle with God as our king. We want to treat him the way we do a president. We expect that our prayers will be answered in the way that we want God to work. If God doesn’t do so, God is discarded and mocked. That is dangerous. God is wiser and stronger than any Persian king that the Jews faced. Those who do not bow down to God and listen to Him do so at their own peril.

The danger of mixed marriages and families. v. 30 The Jews had intermarried with the surrounding nations. They began to worship the gods of the other nations along with the true God. Slowly, the values of Israel eroded as people ignored the laws of God and grew distant from their faith. A Christian brings blessings on a non-Christian spouse. A non-Christian spouse makes it harder for the Christian to worship or to give generously. A non-Christian makes it more difficult to raise Godly children. Families that have non-Christians in them should do all in their power to witness to the non-Christian. Their lives impact us more than we think.

The danger of no time set apart for God. v. 31 The gentiles around Jerusalem treated the Sabbath like any other day. It was a time to socialize and to do business. It was easy for the Jews to rationalize that they needed this business because they were poor. Our world sees Sunday as just another day. Children are encouraged to be at soccer games and Boy Scout campouts. Parents are taught to help at Sunday charity events instead of spending time with the Lord. This busyness keeps us from God. Satan loves to keep Christians busy with good things that keep us from better time with God. Soon we are running on empty and distant from God.

The danger of giving God second best v. 35 Malachi, a contemporary of Nehemiah, complained that the people gave blemished animals to the Lord and robbed the Lord of the full tithe. They gave God the leftovers instead of giving Him the best. No one would have dared do such a thing to a Persian King, but somehow God was not as important. Churches struggle to do the ministry and are falling into disrepair as God is not seen to be worth the bother. Malachi’s words of God getting the leftovers are still appropriate. People in Nehemiah’s day and our own expect God to give the "good life" while they allow His house and worship to fall into decay.

For the Jews, it was a time to start over. The past was forgiven but not forgotten. They had learned the lesson that life is better in God’s kingdom and they wanted to live in that kingdom and enjoy the blessings of a relationship with God. They wanted to have what their ancestors had missed. It was a time to begin under God’s grace. It is time for the church to begin to live under God’s grace. Our God is a God of second chances and new life. It is time to live as subjects of the kingdom and listen to our God and obey His will so that we might prosper.

Revival: God lifts us past our weaknesses

Focus: Nehemiah 9

Failure was all around them. They stood in a place of greatness, but all around them was failure and decay. The temple above them on the hill had once gleamed with gold. Now, their temple was simple and the walls made of burnt and broken stone. The glory of David and Solomon was long past. Would they ever be great again? It can feel the same way in the church today. We remember the days when it was fashionable to go to church and the Sunday school was filled with kids eager to learn. Now we step into half-filled sanctuaries, and the population of the church is graying. Times have changed, but God has not. God can lift us past our weakness.

God lifts us past our weaknesses because He is dedicated to us v. 19 The Jews were a story of disappointments and struggle. Ezra reminds the people that God did not let Israel die in the desert, and He will not let them die now. God still does not abandon his people. His people leave Him and chase after other things that they consider more important than God. They will chase after jobs, entertainment and “stuff” They will get too busy to take time for God in worship or bible study. God does not abandon His people. When times get tough enough, they will get down on their knees and look for Him again. He will help His church and its people. God is dependable even if we are not.

God is patient with us v. 30 While the people of God lived in sin, God actively waited. He sent prophets to let them know that God was ready to help if they would just call. He watched and cried as He saved them in the time of the judges and kings only to be forgotten by the next generation. God has patiently waited as Christians have become too busy to take time for their Lord. He has watched families put soccer, scouting and “quality time as a family” ahead of time with Him. God sits on the edge of His heavenly throne just watching and waiting for the church to cry in prayer and to put their trust in Him. He is ready when people realize that He is the only hope.

God keeps His promises v. 32 Why would God care so much? The simple answer is love. He has made promises to His people from the time of Adam and that gives hope. They could look back and see how God had time and time again in their history saved his people. God still cares. We look around at the sorry state of the church and feel discouraged. Instead, we should be looking at all the things that the Lord has done for his church over the years. As long as people cling to the Lord, they still have hope. God will keep His promises. We just need to put our lives in His hands and follow His path for our future.

There are two steps to a new future. The first is to admit reality in confession. v. 33 The glory that had once been Jerusalem didn’t fade because God had neglected them. They had filled His temple with idols and filled their hearts with greed and pride as they pushed God away. The church will have a new future when it stops making excuses about the culture or those people out there. It will only have new life when it admits that it has been too busy for God. Second, we need to look forward and commit to the Lord. v.38 Having confessed their sins, they made a written and binding agreement. It was a commitment to God, but it was also a commitment to their future and themselves. Without God, the future would look as bleak as the present.. It is time for Christians to make a pledge. It is time to define by God’s standard what it means to be a Christian. We need to commit ourselves to grow in our faith so that we are in the word and share salvation to the people around us.