Strength and Encouragement

Scripture Readings:
2 Chronicles 16:9: For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

This coming Monday, on Memorial Day, I will begin my duties as an on-call, volunteer chaplain, for St. Mary’s hospital here in Athens, Ga. I am excited about this new opportunity to serve God in ways that will be far different than what I have experienced so far. And, I must admit, that I am also a bit nervous about this opportunity that God has placed before me. Trying to bring comfort and peace to people in an emergency room setting is far different than the church setting or other health care settings. Being called upon to minister to someone that has just lost a loved one suddenly can be challenging.

Starting tomorrow, I will be on-call for seven days from 4:30pm until 8am. I could be called to the hospital several times during the week or could possibly not receive any calls. When called, I am asked to try to make it to the hospital within 15 minutes. There is little or no time to prepare, you just wake up and drive as quickly as you can to the hospital. When I arrive at the hospital, I am to check in with the nursing supervisor on duty in the emergency room, and that person will inform me as to why I have been called. I could be there for an hour or two or all night.

My wife and I have been talking about my fears and anxieties, regarding this volunteer opportunity, this past week. She reminded me that I have always talked about how I feel God’s presence with me when preaching, teaching, or especially when ministering to other people. When I don’t know, or can’t come up with the right words or the right prayer to say, the Holy Spirit always helps me to say the right things in order to bring peace and comfort to that person. My wife reminded me that God’s presence will be with me as I minister to people in this new setting as well.

In the gospels, we find countless examples of Jesus ministering to those who were sick with various diseases and to those people who were suffering. Jesus had compassion on people, especially those whom society had cast aside. Jesus was concerned with healing the person both physically and spiritually. While on earth, Jesus gave us many examples of how to minister to others, as followers of Christ. In the gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (John 14:12). Jesus was about to go back to the Father in heaven, and the Holy Spirit would be sent to provide strength and guidance, to anyone who continues to carry out the work of Christ.

Is there something in your own life that God is calling you to do, in order to bring comfort and encouragement to someone that is hurting, either physically or spiritually? Is so, take comfort in knowing that Christ has promised us that the Holy Spirit will help us, and will be with us, as we continue the work that Jesus calls each of us to do. Jesus loved people, and in his ministry we see so many examples of compassion and encouragement just when it was needed the most. And that is what we are called to give as followers of Christ. Jesus promises us that if we will just open ourselves up to help others that we will be strengthened through the Holy Spirit, in order to bring glory to God’s holy name.

2 Thessalonians 3:3-4: “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow! Thanks be to God for giving us the strength to do the work that we are called to do as followers of Christ.

Judging Others

Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:1-5
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

This teaching from Jesus comes from Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus began by teaching his followers about being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. By living a life that follows the teachings of Jesus, your light will shine before men and that will bring praise and glory to the Father in heaven.

The seventh chapter of Matthew begins with the teaching about judging others. Jesus warns us that if we judge others, then we will be judged by the same measure. All of us, at one time or another, are quick to pass judgment upon others. Sometimes, we come to a conclusion about a stranger that we have never met. Other times, we make up our minds about a person that we have seen but have never spoken to. And often, we pass judgment on friends or family, those special people that we should love and care about.

Jesus gives us a stern warning about being quick to judge others. Jesus tells us that we must first look at our own lives, and get our own house in order, before trying to point out the shortcomings of others. The text from Matthew makes it clear to us that we must first address the sin in our own lives before we can begin to pass judgment upon one another. Jesus tells us that we are a hypocrite if we don’t examine our own sin first.

We criticize others because it takes the focus away from our own imperfect lives. It’s far easier to pass judgment upon others without looking in the mirror first. Make no mistake that each and every one of us are sinners and we all fall short of the glory of God on a daily basis. God knows that, because He created us, and He knows that we are a fallen people. It is only by the grace of God, and the sacrifice of Christ, that we can be forgiven of our sin and our failures.

Jesus further illustrates his teaching on passing judgment in the eighth chapter of John. Jesus was in the temple courts teaching the people, when the teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” John tells us that they were using this question as a trap in order to have a reason for accusing Jesus.

John tells us that Jesus said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” As Jesus said this, those who heard began to go away one at a time until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus calls us to a life in which we are commanded to love one another and encourage one another. If we call ourselves followers of Christ, then we must be about building each other up, not tearing each other down. The next time you are tempted to pass judgment on someone else, remember the advice of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount and “take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Prayer: Lord, forgive me when I pass judgment upon others and help me to learn to practice forgiveness. Teach me to show love and compassion for others, and help me to examine my own life, and realize the many weaknesses that I have. As you help me to see my own weaknesses, you will help me to see, that I am no different from any other person that you created. Forgive me Lord, for not being Christlike in my relationship with others.

Signs at the End of the Age

Scripture Reading: Matthew 24: 36-44: The Day and Hour Unknown

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Most of you have read or seen on television, that a group associated with Family Radio Worldwide is predicting that Christ will return to earth on Saturday, May 21st to gather believers into heaven. Harold Camping, a retired civil engineer, said recently, “Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment.” Mr. Camping had predicted that the Rapture would take place back in 1994, but his followers claim that he was only referring to the end of the “church age.” Camping says that he has formulated a mathematical system to uncover hidden prophecies in the Bible.

Jesus’ disciples were curious about when the end of time would come and we read in Matthew chapter 24, that as Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

And Matthew 24:4-8 tells us that Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” And then in Matthew 24:14, Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” This is a missionary mandate from Jesus that this “testimony to all nations” must take place before the end of time will come.

The Zondervan NIV study bible notes from Matthew say that, “a specific outline of the future would be a hindrance, not a help, to faith. Certain signs have been given, but not for the purpose of making detailed sequential predictions.” Mr. Camping is certainly making a type of calculating prediction based on something that he says that he has read in the bible. I wonder how well he has read the entire bible. No, I wonder if he has ever read Matthew chapter 24, or Mark chapter 13, or Luke chapter 17. These gospels tell us that no man or woman can possibly know the exact date that Christ will return. Not even the angels in heaven know the time of Christ’s return.

I also worry about the effect that this careless prediction will have on those that are unbelievers. What will they think when this date passes and Christ does not return to earth. Unfortunately, most people outside of the faith may not even realize that this is not a mainstream Christian group. “When we engage in this kind of wild speculation, it’s irresponsible,” said the Rev. Daniel Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. “It can do damage to naive believers who can be easily caught up and it runs the risk of causing the church to receive sort of a black eye.”

Christ could return on May 21, 2011 or he could return in 2012 or Christ could return 500 years from now. Christ tells us that it is not for us to know the exact time of his return. What Christ does tell us is that we should be busy telling others about the faith that we as believers, have in Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus we should be following the advice of Jesus from Matthew, chapter 25:34-40. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Instead of trying to predict Christ’s return, we as followers, need to be following the plain, specific teaching of Jesus on how to do the work he has called us to while we are on this earth. If we are busy doing that, we won’t have time to wonder or speculate, when Christ is going to return. The last words of Jesus, before he ascended into heaven from Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Sources used: AJC.com, AP article by Tom Breen, May 18,2011
Zondervan NIV Study Bible, page 1554

A Joy Filled Life – Part 2

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:8 (KJV): Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Four days ago, I posted a devotional about living a joy filled life. As I write and post devotionals, I often contemplate how these writings impact other people’s lives. In other words, I wonder if what I am doing is helping someone through a difficult time or making a difference in some way to a reader. As I wrote this devotional about living a joy filled life in the midst of difficulties, I had no way of knowing what was coming my way.

For the next four days, I would be facing a difficult test on practicing what I preached (or wrote). Without going into any specific details, I will tell you that I have been challenged to try to think positive thoughts in the midst of an all out attack by Satan. Now I know that this will make some people very uncomfortable, but deep down inside my soul, I am certain that this is what I have been battling against this week. And the very fact, that I have been under this specific attack this week, has made me realize that maybe I was on to something. Could it be that my writing on Monday would help to encourage others in their daily walk with God? Could it be that Satan was trying to prevent me from sharing additional advice on how to produce good and positive thoughts?

So, in response to this, I am posting the same scripture reading again, this time in the King James Version. And I am also encouraging you to think about those things that are true, those things that are noble, those things that are right and pure, and that which is admirable. Philippians 4:7 gives us the following promise: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Tommy Newberry writes that Paul is reminding us that we have a choice. With God’s help, we can control our thoughts. Further, his words teach us that the choice is between good and bad, between excellence and mediocrity. Life is never completely good or completely bad. According to Newberry, there will always be some junk, and there will always be some greatness. Life is filled with peaks and valleys. But even in the valleys, there will always be something working really well in your life; and even on the mountain peaks, everything will not be perfect. Life is always a mixture of good and bad.

Newberry says that whether you choose to count your blessings or choose to complain, it’s helpful to understand that you have a choice. When you focus on the good, you not only notice more good but you actually create more good.

I had hoped that this attack would come to an end on this Friday the 13th, but it only intensified. My day began by unloading a truck by myself at work this morning at 6am. The truck driver was not a man that was full of joy and peace but he was a man that was angry and full of complaints and self-pity. He was complaining about his job and the company that he worked for. He complained about the people that he dealt with on a daily basis. This man just continued to complain and curse and wallow in self-pity.

I then dealt with customers throughout the day that were rude and uncaring towards anyone working in retail. I have learned, for the most part, how to handle those types of people that have very little regard for any other human being. These people are so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t notice or even care about anything that does not affect their own life. In spite of this, I tried to think positively and focus on the God that I serve.

As I write this devotional, I am wondering how many of you have struggled with thinking good and positive thoughts this week. For me, it seemed that each time I tried to think about those things that were true and right and pure, I was bombarded with negative and self-defeating thoughts. Satan placed many obstacles in my mind and in my path this week, but I serve a God whose power is greater than Satan and his demons. 1 John 4:4 reminds us that, the one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world!

I leave you with this final word from the book of Philippians: Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:3, NIV).

Source used: The 4:8 Principle by Tommy Newberry, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Living a Joy Filled Life

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I have been reading, The 4:8 Principle, a book by Tommy Newberry, that has been on the New York Times best seller list. I normally do not read many of these motivational, self-help books, but this particular one caught my attention and I am finding some useful advice about drawing closer to God in the pages of this book.

In Philippians 4:8, the apostle Paul challenges us to seek out and dwell on the positives in our lives. This is difficult to do when the world that we live in takes great joy in opening up old wounds and focusing on the ways others have hurt us and wounded us. Our way of thinking becomes increasingly negative and we begin to focus on things other than the purposes of God, our creator.

What is the secret to a joy-filled life? Newberry says that since the beginning of time, mankind has searched just about everywhere in hopes of finding out this secret. Today, most people are trying to find joy in something or someone outside of themselves. As humans, we search for joy in all the wrong places. We look outside, not inside. We search everywhere but within.

Living with joy is God’s intention for all his children. In 1 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul writes, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (5:16-18). God has declared us worthy of the blessing of overflowing joy.

Being joy filled does not mean that your life is perfect or that your life is great. Tommy Newberry explains what it means to live a life that is filled with joy; “It means that you emphatically trust God and believe that he has great plans for your life, regardless of what is happening right now. Joy is the infectious and uncontainable fruit of divinely inspired growth. It’s a deeply entrenched, unshakable belief, the result of sustained right thinking and dwelling on the nature and character of God. Joy is an outward sign of inward faith in the promises of God. It is a way of acting, and it is evidence of spiritual maturity. Joy is a path that you choose to travel each day.”

Newberry says that by using the 4:8 Principle as the filter for your thinking, you begin to focus on God and His goodness and exclude everything else. When you keep your thoughts fixed on God, the things of God will naturally permeate your life, and thus your goals will be in line with His will and His kingdom.

Remember that there is no need to be perfect. After all, perfection really doesn’t exist apart from God. All you have to do is concentrate on progress.

The secret conversations you hold in the privacy of your own mind are shaping your destiny, little by little. Research indicates that the average person thinks approximately 50,000 thoughts per day. This is either good or bad news because every thought moves you either toward your God given potential or away from it. The things that you constantly think upon will eventually work their way into becoming the words you speak and then your behavior, or your actions, will begin to reflect the “real” you.

Tommy Newberry writes: “The battle that you wage against your human nature is an invisible one that will be won or lost in the mind. Minute by minute, hour by hour, in the hidden workshop of your mind, you are constructing thoughts of good or evil, depression or joy, success or failure. You are writing your own life story as a human being with each subtle and soundless thought you think.”

Approximately 90% of our thoughts that we have today are repeats from yesterday and the day before. This makes it difficult to effect permanent, positive life improvements. You must discipline yourself mentally.

Think the thoughts you would think if you trusted God’s promises completely. Make the shift from random, reactive thinking to deliberate, purpose-driven thinking. You have authority over your thoughts. Right thinking is a choice you have to make for yourself the rest of your life.

In Romans 12:2, we are taught that transformation is the result of a renewed mind. The apostle Paul writes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will”. The idea is that you have to retrain your thoughts and feelings if you want to experience God’s ideal for your life and get the most out of every moment of every day. Most people struggle to change or renew their circumstances (lose weight, fix their marriage, make more money), when they should be asking God to help them renew their minds. When our minds are renewed, circumstances take care of themselves.

Do we want to renew your mind or do you want to continue the way of thinking that you have become accustomed to throughout your life? Many people do not want to give up some thoughts that have become a part of who they are, whether good or bad. This may be something that you really need to pray to God about, for His help in helping you to overcome thoughts that are defining who you are, in a negative light.

Remember the words of the Apostle Paul: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Source used: The 4:8 Principle, by Tommy Newberry, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

My Redeemer Lives!

Scripture Reading: Psalm 104:7-9; 19-20a; 24
But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth. The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, it becomes night. How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all.

The following are the lyrics to the song, My Redeemer Lives. I hope that you find these words as inspiring as I do. I am including at the end of this devotional a version of this song, by Nicole C. Mullen. This song has been recorded and performed by several groups but this version is my favorite. Let me know what you think of this. I pray that it will comfort you and give you strength to finish out your week. God is alive and all of creation must testify that God is great!

Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning?
And who told the ocean you can only come this far?
And who showed the moon where to hide till evening?
Whose words alone can catch a falling star?

The very same God
That spins things in orbit
Runs to the weary, the worn and the weak
And the same gentle hands that hold me when I’m broken
They conquered death to bring me victory

Now I know, my Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives
Let all creation testify
Let this life within me cry
I know
My Redeemer

He lives To take away my shame
And He lives
Forever I’ll proclaim
That the payment for my sins
Was the precious life He gave
And now He’s alive and
There’s an empty
Grave!

And I know
My Redeemer lives
He lives
I know
My Redeemer lives
Let all creation testify
Let this life within me cry
I know my Redeemer

I know
My Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives