Thursday, January 23, 2014

ALL FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD!

IMPROVEMENT TAKES HARD WORK!
Improving our lives usually requires some effort. We may even, at times, expend a great amount of time and energy to do so!

EDUCATION
A seventy year old man in Michigan has accumulated 30 bachelor or post-grad degrees over a great many years of study! Many in America at least, spend incredible amounts of effort to educate themselves, some because they love the field that they are studying for, others simply to make more money!

ART / SKILLS
Likewise, musicians, artists, actors, plumbers, electricians and carpenters, as well as those engaged in other many other skilled positions, have worked extremely hard and endured many difficulties to learn and  acquire their abilities!

CAREER / WORK
We also make great sacrifices for our careers by giving up marriage or having children, time for personal pleasures or pursuits. Others work many hours a day to pursue wealth or early retirement!

EXERCISE
Still others spend hours and hours at the gym. To them having the perfect body is worth the sacrifice and effort involved!

Athletes, celebrities, scientists, and almost an endless list of others, work diligently toward some temporal gain. I am not implying that this is entirely without merit. There is certainly good in some of these pursuits which benefit mankind and we cannot deny that we should provide for ourselves and our families!

THE KINGDOM OF GOD!
The question that comes to mind is...
Do we exert the same amount of effort into our Christian lives and our pursuit of The Living God that we do in these other life quests?

Paul puts his finger on what our motivation should be:

And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now THEY DO IT TO OBTAIN A PERISHABLE CROWN, BUT WE FOR AN IMPERISHABLE CROWN!
1 Corinthians 9:25

If a person's goal is to be an Olympic champion, he will work with a trainer to prepare him. The first day, the trainer may show up at his front door to summon him to run, lift weights, etc. He will have to  stop eating many of his favorite high fat foods, exercise to near exhaustion and practice his particular Olympic skill over and over to master it!

For what purpose? To win an Olympic medal! That medal will bring him great joy, pride and excitement - but eventually the glory of it will fade! It is a PERISHABLE CROWN!

If an athlete trains in a mediocre way or sits around eating Twinkies all day, he obviously will not win a medal or become champion.

Yet it seems in the race for Christ, we often do train in a mediocre way. How often do we visit our Heavenly Trainer for instruction in prayer? How often do we exercise our Christianity to the point of exhaustion? How much effort do we make to study God's Word over and over, to make sure when we use it, we are ready for the individual race God has set before us?

THE RACE!
Paul tells us how to run the race:

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? RUN IN SUCH A WAY THAT YOU MAY OBTAIN IT.
26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.
27 But I DISCIPLINE MY BODY AND BRING IT INTO SUBJECTION, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:24, 26-27

God spoke in a similar way to Jeremiah:

And you will seek Me and find Me, WHEN YOU SEARCH FOR ME WITH ALL YOUR HEART.
Jeremiah 29:13

Run to win the prize! Discipline your body! Search for me with all you heart! These are words which challenge us to strive with our best efforts in our Christian lives, not words that encourage mediocrity! 

THE TIMOTHY CHALLENGE!
Paul also instructed Timothy on how to live his Christian life!

7 But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and EXERCISE YOURSELF TOWARD GODLINESS.
8 For BODILY EXERCISE PROFITS A LITTLE, BUT GODLINESS IS PROFITABLE FOR ALL THINGS, HAVING PROMISE OF THE LIFE THAT NOW IS AND OF THAT WHICH IS TO COME.
9 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance.
10 For TO THIS END WE BOTH LABOR AND SUFFER REPROACH...
1 Timothy 1:7-10a

3 You therefore must ENDURE HARDSHIP AS A GOOD SOLDIER OF JESUS CHRIST.
NO ONE ENGAGED IN WARFARE ENTANGLES HIMSELF WITH THE AFFAIRS OF THIS LIFE, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
2 Timothy 2:3-4

BE DILIGENT TO PRESENT YOURSELF APPROVED TO GOD, A WORKER WHO DOES NOT NEED TO BE ASHAMED, RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH.
2 Timothy 2:15

The word "DILIGENT" is from the Greek word, "Spoudazo," meaning:
1) to study, hasten, make haste.
2) to exert one's self, endeavor, give diligence.

Time does not permit the many references to trials, battles, the armor of God, sacrifices, selling all for the Kingdom of God and many others, both in the Old and New Testaments!

A.W. Tozer, a great pastor and writer once wrote: 

"THE IDEA THAT THIS WORLD IS A PLAYGROUND INSTEAD OF A BATTLEGROUND HAS NOW BEEN ACCEPTED IN PRACTICE BY THE VAST MAJORITY OF CHRISTIANS!"

How much exertion and effort of "blood, sweat and tears" will we make to win this crown?

It is the most valuable prize we can win, in this life AND in the life to come! ALL other prizes and crowns are temporal and WILL pass away - but the prizes and crowns of God's Kingdom are eternal!

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

CAN DREAMS REALLY COME TRUE?

STEALING IDEAS FROM THE BIBLE!
When we genuinely and sincerely accept Christ into our hearts, God changes us. We are born again, a greatly overused phrase meaning many things to many people. The world of unbelievers has stolen many of their slogans and mantras from the Bible!

For example, when our family went to Disney World many years ago, the slogan, "All things are possible for those who believe" was often repeated, the very words of Jesus!  Of course, it meant something entirely different to the Disney corporation than it does in the Bible!

In the Bible, it is speaking very specifically about faith in God through Jesus Christ!

In the world, it means if you believe in any self-conceived dream, it will be possible for you.

"MAN-MADE DREAMS!
All things are possible if a dream comes from God and not from ourselves! For example, Shaquille O'Neal might dream of being a professional jockey. He might study incessantly and work out profusely to accomplish his dream. Unfortunately for Shaq, jockeys are chosen for their smaller height and weight.

Professional Jockeys average around 5 feet in height and 110 pounds. Shaquille O'Neal is 7'1" and over 300 pounds!

What type of horse would be able to hold Mr. O'Neal? A Clydesdale can be up to 72 inches tall and weigh up to 2200 pounds. The average thoroughbred used for professional racing is around 64 inches tall and averages around 1100 pounds! The problem: Clydesdales are too heavy and slow for racing!

The fastest Clydesdale might be able to beat the slowest thoroughbred but will never win the Kentucky Derby! Perhaps races specifically for Clydesdales might one day become popular but owners would still never choose Shaquille to be their jockey! Shaq may even have enough money to start a new horse-racing league in which all jockeys are required to be at least 300 pounds. In this case, with his athletic ability, he might win. But this would simply be a case of making his own dream come true.

In short, Shaquille can dream all he wants to be a jockey, work and study as hard as possible, and still fail!

BUT...
If God gave Shaquille O'Neal the dream to be a professional jockey, God could also make it come to pass - without changing the rules, without changing the horses in the race - but just as things are now. That's right. Shaq could be the winning jockey, riding a thoroughbred horse in the Kentucky Derby!

HOW?
We don't know how! Perhaps God could make Shaq lighter during the race and return him to his normal weight after the race! Perhaps he could make the horse stronger as he gave supernatural strength to Samson!

JOSEPH!
God gave Joseph a dream that he would rule over his father, other and brothers. As the youngest in the family, this was unheard of and generally would be considered impossible.

Notice that Joseph did not formulate his own "dream" or "follow his passion." He received his dream directly from God while he was merely trying to sleep! Against all odds, God used a series of setbacks and gave Joseph supernatural abilities to make sure the dream He gave Joseph came true!

DAVID!
David rose to power in a similar way. He was the youngest of eight brothers and at the bottom of everyone's list. When Samuel the prophet was told by God that one of the eight would be the next king, his family did not even consider him to be worthy of consideration! But God chose him to be the second king of Israel!

Notice that he did not "aspire" to be king; nor did his self-ambition or dogged determination play any part in his rise to the throne! That is the "Disney" version of dreams coming true for those who believe.

10 “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."
Isaiah 55:1010-11

God chose David by His Word to Samuel and it did not return void! God backed up His Word to David and made certain that it accomplished His will! Certainly we have a part to play, but when God speaks a Word or initiates a dream, He is determined to faithfully bring it to pass!

God specializes in doing the impossible - but has no obligation to support every man-made dream that we envision!

For all who testify that they made their own dreams come true, there are countless others who failed in their attempts. They believe just as much, put just as much effort into making their dreams come true but fell short! Think about it. In the two hundred plus years since George Washington was elected, there have only been a total of 44 presidents! Of the millions of people who have dreamed of one day being president, only 44 have been elected! Apparently there is more to having our self-created dreams come true than believing in them!

ARE ALL DREAMS FROM GOD?
We must also judge what we dream by its source and by its fruits. Some may dream of opening a strip club but is that from God?

Hitler also had a dream. Based on his fascination with Darwinism, Hitler believed he could create a "master race" of people by killing nationalities which he deemed inferior and by eliminating the weak, sick or those with mental disorders! What sane person would believe that dream came from God? Can I go out on a limb and hazard a guess that Hitler's dream was demonic in origin? The hideous fruit of his dream was the death and suffering of millions!*
*Recent estimates indicate that 11 million were killed between 1933 and 1945 during the Holocaust!

Let's face it - not all we envision or dream will come true in this life. God's original creation was of a perfect world with no sickness, disease or death. It was a world in which no harm is done to a neighbor with no wars, crimes or even a hint of selfish behavior - in short a world saturated with the perfect love of God! But sin has corrupted the beauty of this world!

God's will, in the form of the dreams that He gives us, will always move us closer to the world that God envisioned! Our own man-made dreams will move us away! Man's ways seem right but God's ways and thoughts are higher!

8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9

We must prayerfully submit our own will to the will of God if we want to flow with His eternal plan, and surrender our man-made dreams, exchanging them for the dreams that God implants within our hearts!

If we do, God will be faithful to back up what He started and the world will be a better place for it!

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

STARTING YOUR HOUSE ON FIRE!

UNCONTROLLABLE FIRE!
Lighting a candle in your home produces a small flame and a fireplace has bricks to control flames and a chimney to vent smoke.

But imagine just tossing a few logs in the middle of a room in your home and lighting them!

No one in his right mind would do such a thing! Why? Because the flames from the fire would not just burn the logs but would also kindle on carpets, wood floors, furniture, curtains and anything else flammable, and would continue to spread until the entire house burned down!

In a home, only a controlled fire is acceptable!

What about the fire of God? Jesus promised to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Like any fire, God's fire has similar properties in that it spreads beyond our control. God can control natural fire and spiritual fire but man cannot!

God spoke to Moses in the burning bush. The bush burned but was not consumed. God was able to allow the bush to burn yet not bot be affected by the hot flames. The three friends of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were thrown into an incredibly hot faming furnace - yet were not burned. Even the smell of flame was not on them!

We often speak of desiring God's power in terms of fire. We use expressions like, "He is on fire for God" or we pray, "God send your fire." We mean that God should impart power, inspiration, zeal and strength to our hearts and lives.

But do we really know what we are asking for when we pray for the fire of God?

If we call for God to send His fire to us, we need to understand something: His fire cannot be controlled by us!

The weather in Chicago has been very cold recently - well below zero on some days. When folks are out in this weather, it isn't very long before we yearn for warmth. We want to be in a nice warm house or sitting next to a cozy fireplace. Yet we wouldn't stick our hands into a fire or ask for someone to shoot a flamethrower at us to warm us. Why? Because we want to be warmed - not set on fire!

If we ask God to send His fire, we have to be fully aware that His fire will not only inspire or empower us, it will also burn the dross out of our lives!

Gold is refined to make it more pure. This process involves heating the gold to a high temperature. This makes the "dross," or unwanted, worthless and useless material rise to the top. The refiner then skims off this "dross" - anything that is less than pure! He then heats the fire hotter which brings more dross to the top which is skimmed off. This cycle of heating the gold and skimming the dross causes the gold to become more and more pure!

God is the great refiner!

6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,
7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7

The fire of God is always a good thing but know this:

THE SAME FIRE THAT "RE-FIRES" US ALSO "REFINES" US!

We so often want God to "re-fire" us with His Divine energy and inspiration but we cannot contain or control His fire to do only that. When it comes, it will also "refine" us. In short, God's fire will do whatever God wants it to do! God will send "fiery" trials to us, which heat us up to a very high temperature! Why? To destroy the gold?

It is important to have this deeply ingrained in us:

THE HIGH TEMPERATURES OF THE REFINING FIRE WILL NEVER HARM THE GOLD!

The refiner has complete control of the fire. Gold can be melted but the refiner will never allow the flames to burn hot enough to melt the gold! It's only hot enough to remove the dross.

Likewise, God's fire will never harm us! God will never allow the fiery trials to exceed our "melting point" - only be hot enough to remove the impurities!

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy
1 Peter 4:12-13

Therefore, we should always welcome the fire of God, knowing that we will never be harmed by it - but only purified!

At the same time, we must be fully aware that God will never bypass the refining character of His fire. If we want His fire, we must be willing to accept both the fiery trials which purify us as gold and the Holy Spirit baptism with fire which empowers us!

Father, we pray that you send the Holy Spirit baptism with fire to us. Inspire us, revive us, empower us and energize us to do Your will! We also welcome Your refining fire which burns out impurities from us so that we can reveal Your glory more accurately and more purely! 

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

ARE YOU A LIPIZZANER?

A VERY SPECIAL BREED!
The Lipizzaner horses are a very special breed which originated in Spain. These beautiful horses are famous for their highly stylized movements called the "haute ├ęcole," or "high school" movements.

These highly trained horses are able to perform very difficult exercises known as the "airs above the ground." These include standing and hopping on their hind legs, jumping in the air while tucking in their front legs and kicking their hind legs and jumping while tucking in both from and back legs.

It is said that these horses are so well trained that they respond immediately to even the slightest tug of the rider!

David spoke of God's willingness to instruct, teach and guide us. He admonishes us not be like horses and mules which must be forced to do the bidding of their masters:

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
   I will guide you with My eye.
9 Do not be like the horse or like the mule,
   Which have no understanding,
   Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle,
   Else they will not come near you.
Psalm 32:8-9

God is willing to show us the way if we will let Him!

The question is, what kind of breed will we be?

The Stubborn Mule - Will we be stubborn and pull back when the Master tugs on the reigns of our hearts?

The Rebellious Horse - Many horses are wild and difficult to train!

The Uncommitted Horse - Other horses may be trained to some level but are still not fully committed to the Master's will!

The Lippizaner - A noble horse, willing to follow the slightest tug of the Master in whatever direction He may lead!

God's tells us through David that He is willing to instruct, teach and guide us in His way!

He then commands us what NOT to do:


Do not be like the horse or like the mule,
Which have no understanding,
Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle,
Else they will not come near you.
(Vs. 9)

The command "Do not be..." implies that we have a choice in the matter!

What will you and I choose to be? A stubborn mule, a rebellious horse, an uncommitted horse or a Lippizaner?

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